Friday, September 10, 2010

Montreal's Ukrainian Festival Organizers have gone astray!

One of the first thing's I received in my e-mail today was about the arrest and detention of Ukrainian historian Ruslan Zabiliy who just happened to working on a piece of history that Moscow and the current Moscow friendly regime in Ukraine would rather wish never existed. UPA or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. This news came to me from my good friend and film maker Yuriy Luhovy who had worked closely with the detained individual in researching his films. 

This incident, in my opinion in but one of many that will follow as Ukraine tries to rewrite its history in such a way which appeases our younger brother to the north. He is younger but he still won't admit it, just like the alcoholic dealing with his problem, Russia, rather than admitting the real historical facts would rather write its own history, and unfortunately the current government in Ukraine is not Ukraine friendly, in fact they are just the opposite. A problem with this, is that most of the world has been buying into Moscow's version of history since it started calling itself Russia.

About six months ago on a discussion list made up of Ukrainian Canadian Broadcasters, journalists, writers, as well as some bloggers and in the know progressive individuals from Ukraine I publicly stated that we should all exercise caution regarding individuals who will be coming to Canada, or tried contacting us for various reasons. In addition I mentioned that while we could and should recognize the institution of Ukraine's presidency it did not mean that we had to accept who is president.

The one thing I ask anyone reading this to remember the following:
  • The current president of Ukraine and his entourage along with their financial backers in Donetsk are here to stay for a long time whether we like it or not;
  • This administration doesn't give a rat's ass about anything culturally Ukrainian, its as simple as that;
  • They have already started to find ways of marginalizing the use of the Ukrainian language through interesting public relations campaigns and will continue to do so;
  • Freedom of speech and civic liberties are rapidly on the decline in Ukraine;
  • Remember diplomats are not your friends and not necessarily friends of the Ukrainian-Canadian, Ukrainian-Australian or any diaspora community they are going to do what their Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells to them to tell you, as the represent the regime in power and not necessarily the will of Ukrainians who have some cultural esthetics and values.
While those are just a few things I hope you will remember while reading on and putting things I am relating to you the reader, in this light and no other. This is the way we must understand a contemporary Ukraine right now, without doing so does not do any justice to those who have always fought to preserve Ukrainian culture and language and those who died in trying to ensure it was free of foreign occupiers over the centuries.

Now in the light that I have put forward I will now get to the issue which is bothering me. As most of you know, I host a short segment on a radio program called Nash Holos, Our Voice in English. It is not by simple coincidence that I host this segment nor is it because someone pays me money to do so, but is because I have certain values of what it is to be Ukrainian, and that the world really knows too little about Ukrainian culture both in a historical sense and in a contemporary sense. Unfortunately, there are many Ukrainians who live beyond Ukraine's borders who do not understand the contemporary issues which face Ukrainian society today, and part of that is its culture.

As I was preparing my segment for broadcast I had decided to cover a topic that was close to home in the very literal sense in that it is an event which is taking place in my home town of Montreal in the form of the Montreal Ukrainian Festival(hereafter MUF). It's a festival that has its roots in a time that I was not in Montreal, but living in Ukraine, with Ukrainians. At a time when a friend of mine, often referred to as a muckraking journalist, by the name of Georgiy Gongadze, disappeared and his headless body was found in the woods some one hundred kilometers away from Ukraine's capital Kyiv. I lived through the events of a contemporary Ukraine and I worked with a number of different musicians on different projects, so I am not a stranger to contemporary Ukrainian culture.

As I went through the list of performers the MUF has lined up for this weekend there was something that struck me as rather odd, but there were a few other things that bothered me but those are the topic of a completely different blog entry and not a topic which I have not touched on before. As I went town the list of the performers everything was quite copacetic until I hit the name of one individual, but there were others that really have no place in a Ukrainian Festival. The individual who caught my eye is a young man by the name of Andrij Svirsa so I read the little blurb about him:

“Andrij Svirsa is a graduate of the Donetsk Conservatory (voice). He has toured in China and twice received awards at international jazz festivals. Svirsa is capable of singing in a wide range of styles: from operatic arias and jazz stylings to pop and folk. He is even capable of performing female opera parts with his falsetto. Andrij has given solo concerts before large audiences many times. He is also a composer, lyricist/poet and performs his own works.”

Following that little blurb was a link to visit his website. When I got there I was appalled for two reasons, and if I were on the organizing committee I would have had to question what does this individual have to do with Ukrainian culture. Firstly, his site espouses not a single element of Ukrainian culture; secondly, there is not a single recording of his that is in Ukrainian. Were the organizers of the MUF blind, and if so why? Then there was the most obvious which I was able to determine from his PR blurb. He is from Donetsk.

No I have nothing against Donetsk as a place in fact I have been there a couple of times. However, where there is a lot of money there is even more corruption and those who have come to power in Ukraine will do everything in there power to discredit anything Ukrainian including the disapora. Having worked in the cultural sector in Ukraine for a good portion of my time living there I consider myself to be abreast of the comings and goings, so I decided to do a quick search on this Mr. Svirsa. In all of Google his name appeared all but two significant times. The first was as a performer at the MUF website and the second on a page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, how he was performing at the Independence Day Ceremonies at Ukraine's Embassy in Ottawa. Would you not find it odd, if this individual was worth anything in Ukrainian cultural matters and only to appearing twice in a Google search?. I know I found it extremely odd. Why the Festival's organizers didn't is beyond me? In fact they wouldn't have found a single mention of if it were not for his these two events. And that was for a search for his name in Ukrainian. In English a couple of his videos pop up on YouTube, but the only thing that tells me is that he understands shameless self promotion, and searching for his name in Russian just confirmed the SSP route.

While I have put the question to the MUF organizers, what obligation do they have to this ANDY character? What was their criteria for selecting him? What is it that is so intrinsically Ukrainian about him? Is it because he can sing the Ukrainian standards in his own particular way? Such songs such as Ukraina, Ridna Maty Moya, Znaydy mene, Chornobryvtsi, Ty podobayesh meni, as the MFAU so demonstratively states on their website or is there something we don't know about him? Because he clearly doesn't seem to portray being overtly Ukrainian. There are countless questions that come up and any one who tries to bring up the BS that it is to bridge East and West I lived in Ukraine long enough and I don't buy it.

Now there is another angle which is a little bit more taboo and some will not like me for it, but let's call a spade a spade. Traditionally, Ukraine has been a nation state with Christianity as its back bone. Unfortunately the traditional churches have not been doing that well in Ukraine or anywhere in the world for that matter. I would hear it quite regularly on visits to Ternopil from Kyiv. “What is with all these sects?” “Why are there so many Jehovah's Witnesses around now?” The answer was always the following: “The traditional church is not doing what it should be doing and all these sects as you call them are picking up the slack.”

While many may not believe it, but religion is big business and this is even more of a case where there are people who are trying to find their way in the morass of discombobulated life in post-Soviet Ukraine. So you may ask, what religion here has to do with the MUF. It doesn't but it clearly has something to do with our new friend from Donetsk who goes by the name of ANDY. As it turns out hidden behind ANDYS Company site which has no vestiges of anything Ukraine and is very Soviet in its nature, is a site which I am sure is not sanctioned by the traditional religions in Ukraine, it seems to be more of an Evangelical type of Church, but in short it is no secret that hiding behind a religious organization is a great way to launder money. Take a close look at the name of the previous URL. Do you see the word “exclusive”. The question is for whom is this exclusivity? There are all kinds of videos on that page, yet Mr. ANDYS main page is as barren of much of anything, particularly anything that is even closely being related to Ukrainian culture.

While, I am still waiting for answers from members of the MUF's organizing committee, I am not waiting to get the word out. The principles of being a Ukrainian Festival have been trodden upon, be it by design of some individual or group of individuals or due to the lack of principles which should guide the organizers of such a festival. Now given that the only place that I found mention of Mr. Andriy Svirsa other than on the MUF website was the MFAU website, I am starting to think that the illegitimate government of Ukraine stands behind pushing this piece of trash into Montreal. I have no question of his singing abilities, don't get me wrong, but Ukrainian cultural values do not exist in any form whatsoever.

I welcome thoughts and commentary on this post, as well as some explanations from the organizers of the Montreal Ukrainian Festival who seem to have been misguided on what is Ukrainian and what someone tells them is Ukrainian. Mr. ANDY is no more Ukrainian in his relationship to Ukrainian culture, because he of where he is from, than I am related to native North American culture.  So people, wake up and smell the coffee. You and your committee have been duped! 


  1. I don’t understand why some people who call themselves Ukrainian are so hell-bent on watering down our beautiful culture.

    While I can't blame this particular performer for doing what he does (it's his life, and his business), if he doesn't do Ukrainian tunes then it is rather peculiar (to say the least)for him to be a headliner at a Ukrainian festival.

    I can't speak for what's happening in Ukraine, but what's happening in Montreal might just be a typical Canadian-ism.

    Last year I was at the Festival du Bois in Coquitlam and they had Celtic and East Indian acts on stage. Interestingly, while the crowds flocked to the Francophone acts, they thinned out considerably when the non-Francophone acts came on.

    Quite frankly, I felt very ripped off. I enjoy Celtic and East Indian music just fine, and if I went to a Celtic or East Indian festival I'd be just as annoyed if they had Francophone acts on stage.

    The point is, a good festival delivers on what it promises. If it's a Francophone or Ukrainian festival, then dish up Francophone or Ukrainian culture for crying out loud. If I'm in the mood for Indian or Celtic acts, I'll go to one of their festivals!

    So, a heads-up to all ethnic festival organizers ... how about a bit of authenticity, hmmm? It is, after all, just being honest with the people who come to your event. It's only decent to give them what they came for. Anything else is a rip off.

  2. Vasyl: excellent post!

    The only good thing I got from visiting ANDYS websites is a tan :)

    This guy is definitely out of place as a representative of true Ukrainian culture. Similarly, Ukraine's 2010 delegate to the Miss Universe Pageant showed the world - whenever she spoke - more about what it means to be Russian than Ukrainian.

    One pre-requisite about representing Ukraine as a Ukrainian on any stage is being able to SPEAK and ACT like a Ukrainian - at least part of the time!

    Keep up the good work!

    Na razi,
    Andrij ... aka "Endy" - just for today :)

  3. Excellent post indeed Vasyl. It was sad to hear that a Donetsk (Russian) plant has infiltrated the Diaspora and will be performing at the Ukrainian Festival in Montreal. If I do go, I will definately go for some Ukrainian Varenyky and enjoy some of the other Ukrainian hospitality while he performs.

  4. Very interesting article and well researched to say the least. Oddly enough, I did see Andy perform not to long ago at a Ukrainian Embassy function. I didn't put 2 & 2 together at the time, but after reading this blog it all makes sense. I found it odd that he sang the Ukrainian national anthem by reading the words (maybe even the music as he did go off at times and did not sustain any of the phrases where he should have) - it was quite bothersome to say the least. And in that true "ukrainian z Ukrainy" fashion, he sang with a microphone with the accompanying music full blast - to a handful of people. Since when do we need music to sing our "nationalnyj himn"???? When I spoke to him, he spoke only russian with a few Ukrainian words tossed in. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Thanks again Wasyl for bringing this poignant issue to light.

  5. Following Vasyl' logic, the Festival should ban everything what isn't pur Ukrainian. So, Poles, Russians, Latinos - don't touch our Festival, go away!

    From my point of view that's ridiculous.

    Я не розумiю, чому пан Василь - автор блогу - накинувся на нещасного Свiрсу. Та краще би подякував - людина приїхала майже задурно, проспiвала гарною українською мовою, росiйської мови на сценi не вживала. І спiвав гарно, старався.

    Василю, може Ви самi заспiваєте на наступному Фестивалi зi сцени? А де Ваш уславлений канадський Кулiш, для землякiв задурно не спiває, га?

  6. Yes, you seem to have been able to figure out the logic correctly yet I have no idea of who you are, because you decided to not share your profile when you registered on blogger.

    You seem to miss the point of even having a Ukrainian festival. We have a lot more to be proud of than traditional song, and clearly you are just annoyed because I slighted a poor singer who is purportedly trained as a professional. With what is going on in Ukraine right now I have every right to slight anyone or anything that is presented to me. Or are you not aware of past or contemporary Ukrainian politics?

    Would you expect Russians or Poles, or Italians to present Ukrainian performers at their festivals? And who are you to have such a point of view? Are you some incredible music specialist or marketing specialist that the world doesn't know about, or are you stuck in the 1970s and 1980s with your vision of Ukrainian music? It is because of attitudes like yours that the Ukrainian community has lost the interest of its youth.

    Я маю повне право накидатися на кого я хочу, бо організатори фестивалю працують не на тому рівні які повині працювати, зі різні точки зору. Це що людина приїхала чи виступала задурно мені не цікавить. Мені цікавить якість та рівень професіоналізьму та дотримання якісь певні українські ціностей! Українці, переважно тут в діаспорі, якось думають що це великний гріх працювати на достойному рівні!

    Найбільша проблема яку я бачу є це що все ви хочете задурно. Користуєте аргументе які не є актулальними в сучасному світі.

    If you took the time to identify yourself I would at least understand why your knickers are in a knot. My points are all valid, and I am sick of Ukrainians who think that mediocre is good enough. This young man may have talent, but you know this is now the 21st Century and Ukrainians have a lot more to show than your antiquated ideals of Ukrainian performing artists.

  7. It is a total no-brainer that non-Ukrainian performers are not appropriate at a Ukrainian festival. Duh!

    If someone wantsto see Polish, Russian, Latino or etc. they should go to one of those festivals. While I personally would not mind seeing a Ukrainian act at one of those festivals, I would certainly wonder what the organizers were thinking!

    It should be clear to any rational person that, given its name, the Montreal Ukrainian Festival is not a multicultural festival, but a *Ukrainian* one.

    So festival organizers who decide to throw something obviously non-Ukrainian in the mix are not giving people what they came for. Which at the very least, is extremely inconsiderate ... if not downright dishonest.

    This really isn't rocket science...