Yurii Andrukhovych: “Germany is open to other cultures”
Ukrainian author Yurii Andrukhovych is receiving a Goethe Medal for bringing Ukraine and Germany closer. It would take a novel to explain recent events in Ukraine, he says. Perhaps he should write it in German.
The Goethe-Institut honors non-Germans each year for their outstanding service in conveying the German language and promoting international cultural relations.
Writer Yurii Andrukhovych from Ukraine shares the 2016 prize with Nigerian photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi and the Georgian museum director David Lordkipanidze.
Andrukhovych, who has translated the works of German poets like Rainer Maria Rilke into Ukrainian, was praised by the Goethe-Institut for “giving the readership their new access to the German classics.”
On the other hand, with his own literary work, Andrukhovych has “familiarized German readers with the literary territory of his home country. Migration and transitional movements through Europe have always been central themes of his writing,” wrote the Goethe-Institut.
Andrukhovych, Akinbiyi and Lordkipanidze will receive their Goethe Medals on Sunday, August 28, in a ceremony in Weimar. DW's Alexandra von Nahmen spoke with Andrukhovych about his experiences in the Ukrainian revolution and what he really thinks of Germany.
Mr. Andrukhovych, two years ago, you were among those who demonstrated at the Maidan for closer ties to the European Union. When you look back and consider the current situation in Ukraine, what do you think? Are you proud or disappointed?
Juri Andruchowytsch: For me personally, I'd say the former. I don't regret my involvement, neither for the whole political process, nor for this time period. It was a revolution of dignity. Most of all, it was a sign that the values that the European Union is based on are still alive. These values have such a strong impact that they can mobilize millions of people in a civil movement.
At the same time, a lot of humor and irony were involved in the events in Ukraine. It was unforgettable. And should I write another novel in my lifetime, then I would write about this time. I dream about it often, though it doesn't get me anywhere.
Can you think of a particularly interesting incident from that time at the Maidan?
Juri Andruchowytsch: Yes, of course. For example, the unknown piano player. It was already the last phase at the Maidan, when it was really dangerous. It was the time when the first demonstrators were being killed. People slowly shifted into a different gear – into fighting mode, you could say.
And then there was this unknown musician, who was prepared for battle with his camouflage and mask. No one could see his face. An old piano stood in front of the City Hall in Kyiv. He would sit fairly often at the piano and play music by [Italian composer] Ludovico Einaudi or “Imagine” from John Lennon or Chopin études.
It was a juxtaposition – this military look and then this very, very professional performance. For me, it was a symbol of what we had in Ukraine. It was not a peaceful revolution. Unfortunately there was a lot of blood and fighting. And in Europe we are still not really understood because of the violence that took place. It would take a novel to explain it.
You've lived in Germany and understand the country. You sometimes perform your texts in German and translate works by German poets. Why are you so interested in Germany and the German language?
Juri Andruchowytsch: At the beginning, I didn't have a choice. At the age of seven, I was sent to school in Ukraine, where German was taught. I went to a school that gave extra German courses. We learned Goethe's poems by heart at the age of nine or 10 and knew, for example, “Heidenröslein” by Goethe. That lasted for 10 years and got my imagination working a bit.
I never thought that I would have the chance to actually speak German with a native speaker. At the end of the 1970s, I did not have an opportunity to go to East Germany – let alone to West Germany. But fortunately, times have changed.
In the early 1990s, I went to Germany for the first time as someone who had translated the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke. That was a cultural and poetic bridge into this world that was the language that I liked very much.
You have received many international and many German prizes. Now you are receiving the Goethe Medal for your contribution to German-Ukrainian ties. Do we Germans really understand the Ukrainians?
Juri Andruchowytsch: I think Germany is the country in Europe that's most open to other cultures, to what others find important, to what they want and think. I can refer to my own career and how it has changed over time. It was one thing to talk about Ukraine in 1992 and another thing to talk about it now. Of course that was over 20 years ago, but I'm happy about the development. I think that at the moment in Germany there is a lot more understanding for and knowledge about Ukraine.