Ola Hnatiuk, "Odwaga i strach" (Courage and fear)

Wydawnictwo KEW, Wrocław 2015
/ Оla Hnatiuk,Widwaga i strach
Translated by Marta Bojaniwska, Duch i litera, Kijiw 2015

Ukrainist, literary scholar and translator of Ukrainian literature Ola Hnatiuk’s new book is mainly devoted to Lviv’s intelligentsia during the Second World War. This excellent piece of writing – published almost simultaneously in Polish and Ukrainian, and recipient of awards in Lviv (Grand Prix, Lviv Publishers Forum, September 2015) and Warsaw (Warsaw Literary Premiere, October 2015), will not seem easy to readers accustomed to the monolithic narrative of the nation: it is not a conventional story about “friends” (regardless of whether they are Ukrainian, Polish, or Jewish), or the atypical, though commendable acts of individuals belonging to a monolithic group of “foes”. The author challenges the national stereotypes and national expectations of the national narrative by juxtaposing the Polish and the Ukrainian common perceptions of specific people (the most obvious example of which seems the people’s radically different appraisal of Mykhailo Marchenko, rector of the Lviv University, “brought” by the Soviets in 1940, see Chapter 4, “Barbarzyńca w ogrodzie” [Barbarian in the garden]).
The book seems rather demanding; it may become confusing to those unfamiliar with major events in the history of eastern lands of the Second Polish Republic – and its political/ideological divisions. It must be added, however, that Ola Hnatiuk gives fairly equal treatment to her characters: she provides the same amount of information about all nationals she discusses and everyone is presented almost casually, but sufficiently to situate them in the broader context of Lviv. Not a single aspect ofOdwaga i strachis addressed to the privileged national group of “imagined readers” – Hnatiuk has completely dismissed the nation-oriented approach, which has been part and parcel of both Polish and Lithuanian literature. The historical, political and social background of Polish-Ukrainian-Jewish relations as a whole constitutes a uniform landscape, which – albeit likely to confuse readers unfamiliar with the subject – aims to indicate that a mono-national perspective is absolutely essential in any comprehensive discussion of Lviv.
There is yet another aspect that makes this book demanding: many paragraphs seem like statements summarising a potential essay, calling for a fuller exposition, where allusions, subplots, background information and references could be presented in detail. An example can be found in the chapter entitled “Academic kaleidoscope”, in the part devoted to theatre critic, essayist and poet Jan Kott’s journey back to Lviv via Białystok in late September 1939, to join his wife Lidia, the daughter of Hugo Steinhaus. His travelling companion Władysław Broniewski’s subsequent life is described by Hnatiuk very vividly – but tersely, while it is most definitely worthy of a separate feature article or essay.
The book is based mainly on partially unknown autobiographical material, including some information from Ola Hnatiuk’s family archive. Some already existing printed diaries and memoirs are re-analysed, yet Hnatiuk tries to find out what their true purpose is. Are they about events themselves, or perhaps how events were perceived by those who described them? How does the filter of “national historical narrative”, “national corrective memory”, affect the final version of the text that goes to print – for example – fifty years after it was written?
Various editions of memoirs referring to the same events, but written from different – namely, national, ideological, professional – perspectives; official Soviet press articles (if you leave out the propaganda you may learn some truth), secret service reports (hard to interpret, but often providing detailed information as written on the spot)... The multitude and diversity of material combined with Hnatiuk’s usual diligence make this portrayal of Lviv’s intelligentsia – sucked down into the vortex of history between 1939 and 1944 – profound and appealingly ambiguous.
I feel somewhat ashamed to say thatOdwaga i strachalso seems an instruction to us, “intellectual workers in the sphere of education” forced to live in a world of bureaucracy, clauses, charts and inter-office memos – as it implies that the true power of intelligentsia lies in interpersonal contact. Ideas can only spread through discussion, polemics – and whether it is face-to-face talk or written correspondence, it can only make sense when conducted by non-anonymous individuals. There is no other type of relationship than the relationship between master and pupil that can shape communities. And it also involves personality, let me add.

Katarzyna Kotyńska

Translated from the Polish by Paweł Łopatka