СЛОВО АМЕРИЦЬКОГО НАУЧНИКА ИЗ НЬЮ-ЙОРКА
ЗА КНИГУ ИВАНА ПЕТРОВЦІЯ
Reconstructing Rusyn culture through the media (2)
Full frontal Uzhorod
Ivan Petrovcij is controversial figure not only within Ukraine but also in Rusyn circles at home and abroad. A poet best known for his Ukrainian translations
of French, Hungarian, Slovak, German and Russian poetry, Petrovcij has also published numerous books in Ukrainian and lately several controversial books in Rusyn, most recently Bitangus'ki
Spuvanky, Rusyns'kyj Eros (Songs of Youth - Rusyn Erotica) last year. In 1998, he won the Aleksander Duchnovyc Award for Rusyn literature.
Arguably, Ivan Petrovcij's most important contribution to Rusyn literature is Rusyns'ka Bysjida, the world's first Rusyn-language literary journal which he founded in 1997. The journal represents a break with the traditional function of the Rusyn-language press - to convey information to the community in its native language - and has branched out into exploring the scope of that language.
Language as a weapon of self-defense
Rusyns'ka Bysjida, published in a four-page broadsheet newspaper format, premiered in September 1997 and ran as a monthly until the following March. Since then it has unfortunately appeared only intermittently - twice in 1998, three times in 1999, twice in 2001 - due mostly to funding problems.
The journal regularly features coverage of cultural events and issues. as well as book reviews. Poetry, however, is its most important feature. Every issue features a significant amount of poetry, and every word serves the purpose of illustrating the breadth of the Rusyn language.
Petrovcij himself has translated works by Edgar Alan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Shakespeare, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sergej Yesenin all into Rusyn for Rusyns'ka Bysjida, proving that Rusyn can hold its own against world languages like English, German and Russian.
Petrovcij has also gone further, translating classic works of Rusyn poets like Aleksander Duchnovyc into Ukrainian, and classic works of Ukrainian poets like Taras Sevcenko into Rusyn. The intention is to show the distinction between the Rusyn and Ukrainian languages, and the result is compelling. Perhaps Petrovcij is stretching to make his Rusyn more different from Ukrainian than it would otherwise be, but still, if Rusyn really were simply a dialect of Ukrainian, it would be difficult to explain the oftentimes huge variances between the translations and the originals.
Aside from Rusyns'ka Bysjida, Petrovcij has also published thirteen Ukrainian-language books. In 1993, he published Dialektarij abo z myla knyzocka rusyns'koi bysidi u virsach (Dialektarij, or a Dear Little Book of the Rusyn Language in Verse), a dictionary of Rusyn words cleverly defined using Ukrainian-language poetry. With his Nashy Spuvanky (Our Songs, 1996) and Nashy i Ninashy Spuvanky (Our and Not-Our Songs, 1999), Petrovcij switched entirely over to Rusyn.
Bitangus'ki Spuvanky, Rusyns'kyj Eros (Songs of Youth - Rusyn Erotica) is Petrovcij's latest book. Published in early 2001, the book is ostensibly a collection of erotic poetry, but the poetry is often better described as dirty, vulgar or even pornographic.
According to Petrovcij's introduction, he collected these poems wherever he could, "in the village, behind the village, in the town...in the offices of the highest officials." He recorded them from "bakers and drivers, from retired people and children, from university professors, from the most well known writers, painters, composers of music..."
But Petrovcij is quick to point out that erotic poetry bears a much more impressive pedigree than many of his sources do. In the introduction, he describes a historical tradition of erotic poetry that includes such luminaries as the Roman Empire's Martial, England's Shakespeare and Russia's Pushkin. He also quotes Simone de Beauvoir and uses epigrams by Sophocles, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Isaac Bashevis Singer, showing clearly that this sort of poetry is found across many cultures and eras.
While it is interesting enough to see the erotic poetry of Bitangus'ki Spuvanky put into an international context, it is perhaps even more interesting to discover that erotic poetry is not exactly foreign to Rusyn literature either.
U koliby: vybor obhrouble eroticke poesie verchovinskeho lidu na Podkarpatske Rusi (In the Hut: A Selection of the Coarse Erotic Poetry of the Highlanders of Subcarpathian Rus) was published in Mukacevo in 1933, while Subcarpathian Rus was still part of Czechoslovakia. The book consists of erotic poetry gathered by Czech ethnographers doing fieldwork in Subcarpathia.
Some sixty years later, the topic was explored once again in the book Erotica Ruthenica - Erotika Rutenika, published in 1995 in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. A major feature of this book is also ethnographical fieldwork, this time conducted by Volodymyr M. Hnatjok (1871-1926) in the Rusyn villages of Ruski Kerestur, Kucur and Vinkovci in 1897 and 1899.
Today, both U koliby and Erotica Ruthenica have been forgotten. With Bitangus'ki Spuvanky, however, Rusyn erotic poetry has moved from the field of ethnography into literature and is back with a vengeance.
Ukrainians: Worst lovers in the world?
Given Petrovcij's interest in the erotic poetry of other cultures along with the fact that Bitangus'ki Spuvanky was published in Ukraine, it would logically follow that the book would at least touch on the erotic poetry traditions of the Ukrainians. On the contrary, a significant part of the book is given over to Rusyn translations of the erotic poetry of the Russians, the Ukrainians' cultural rival.
Petrovcij's explanation, which does not just appear in the introduction to the book but also in the excerpts from it published in Rusyns'ka Bysjida, is simple: the Ukrainians are no model for the Rusyns, since they are the worst lovers in the world!
He sees the Russians as being much more hot-blooded and knowledgeable about the ways of love, pointing to the Russians' greatest poet Aleksander Pushkin in particular. Petrovcij also has high praise for Ivan Barkov, one of Russia's earliest and most prolific writers of erotic poetry. Barkov had a major influence on Pushkin, who himself wrote a significant amount of erotic poetry. In fact, a book of Pushkin's erotic poetry called Ten' Barkova (The Shadow of Barkov) was recently published in Russia. Bitangus'ki Spuvanky also includes Rusyn translations of poetry by the Russian poets Lermontov, Turgenev, Mayakovsky, Yesenin and Vysotsky.
As if this was not enough of a slight to Ukrainians, Petrovcij's introduction offers a biting critique of the place of love in Ukrainian culture: "Of the many gifts which the Lord God so generously gave man - love, work, food, rest and others - each nation has its favorite in first place. For the Rusyn, 'love' is in first place: both spiritual - for the homeland, as well as physical - for his wife…"
"And for the Ukrainian?" Petrovcij then asks.
He then cites literary passages from the works of Ivan Kotljarevskij, Ivan Karas' and other Ukrainian writers, and concludes that "...these suffice, since there are millions of such examples which show that the Ukrainian would only eat, sleep, rest and - worst case scenario - work. But love?"
It gets worse: "When we read in English dictionaries of the world of sex about the best theoreticians and practitioners of this holy act, we are not surprised that in first place is the French, followed by the Japanese, Chinese, Jews, Abkhazians, Yakutians...but the Ukrainians are never once mentioned. But they mention Rusyns!"
Bitangus'ki Spuvanky created something of a spectacle in both the local Rusyn and Ukrainian press. The Ukrainian weekly Dzerkalo Tyznja blasted not only the book, but also Rusyns'ka Bysjida as well as Petrovcij himself. Dzerkalo saw the fact that Rusyns'ka Bysjida was publishing erotic poetry on its front page as symptom of a larger problem:
No small role is played by the weak authority of [Rusyn] leaders, incapable of adapting to the interests of young people. In attempts to attract young people's interest to the Rusyn language, many activists have gone to extravagant measures. And so, several issues of Rusyns'ka Bysjida featured erotic poetry from the book Bitangus'ki Spuvanky. Rusyns'kyj Eros, by the well-known Transcarpathian writer, Ivan Petrovcij, who is coincidentally also the paper's editor.
The Ukrainian paper went further, saying "...already the poems (a couplet or two) have been gladly reprinted twice in the most influential of regional independent newspapers Rio. Bearing in mind the respectability of Dzerkalo Tyznja, the poetry can only appear here in part." And so it did, with any and all offensive words censored out.
"Young people do read it with pleasure, but they are not lining up to join the Rusyn organizations," Dzerkalo Tyznja concluded.
Given that the public face of Rusyn culture is most frequently composed of villages, wooden churches and children in delicately embroidered costumes performing folk dances set to folk music, the fact that Bitangus'ki Spuvanky and Rusyns'ka Bysjida are exploring themes of sexuality and using dirty words is nothing short of shocking, not only to the Ukrainians, but also to the average Rusyn reader.
Dirty words - New additions to the Rusyn lexicon
It is true that the introduction and several of the poems were reprinted in Rusyns'ka Bysjida, thereby making it the book's primary advertiser; symbiotically, the erotica became a major attraction to the newspaper. However, Petrovcij sees no shame in what he is doing. As far as he is concerned, there is no question that Rusyn profanities are worthwhile to document, "since the Lord God gave man every word, just as he gave them gave him every drop of his living blood," as he writes in the introduction.
Rusyn profanities, however, differ little from those of the other Slavic languages. Asked if he could come up with any distinctly Rusyn ones, one Lemko originally from Poland said "this is not only strange, but also difficult. I have asked my mother and my wife's brother and they could not come up with anything." When Lemkos swear, they use Polish.
A girl from Ruski Kerestur, in the Vojvodina, gave virtually the same answer: "I'm not even sure whether Rusyns have or had "original" swear words - I think that most of them were sort of nicely said descriptions."
In the Vojvodina, Rusyns use Serbian when they want to swear. This is a common practice throughout the former Yugoslavia, where Serbian was prized for the colorfulness and intensity of its profanities. As one Slovene journalist wrote:
Even though Yugoslavia was a land often characterized by inter-ethnic tension, swear words were one thing the national groups freely borrowed from one another. Serbs serving with Albanians in the federal army loved to swear at their girlfriends in Albanian. When Vojvodinan Slovaks, Rusyns and Hungarians swear, they only swear in Serbian, saving their own languages for more noble expression.
Accordingly, Erotica Ruthenica - Erotika Rutenika uses mostly Serbian profanities when it (rarely) feels the need to.
Nevertheless, Bitangus'ki Spuvanky - and the excerpts from it published in Rusyns'ka Bysjida - is full of profanities. These dirty words are essentially the same as those used in other Slavic languages, and some of them are even found in Hungarian and Romanian.
The most frequent dirty word that appears in the poetry is the verb jebaty, "to fuck." To describe different aspects of fucking, words like pojebaty, dojebaty, ujebaty, zjebaty, perejebaty and variations like jobnuty and jebatysja are used. The word also appears in idioms like jebi-ho, which translates as "fuck it." Derivative nouns include jeblja, jebanja, jebana (all of which mean "a fuck") and jebak ("fucker").
Another frequent word is pyzda, a coarse term for the female organ, along with pyca and its diminutive pycka. While still on the topic of women's bodies, the words cici and cyc'ka - which both mean "tits" - should also be mentioned.
The two basic nouns for the male organ are khuj (cock) and puca (dick), and euphemisms include kolbasa (kielbasa) and soloma (salami). Khuj pops up in such idiomatic expressions as na khuj, which refers to something that is worthless, and khuj mu dam, which translates as "to hell with it." The other interesting part of the male anatomy shows up as the word jajca, but sometimes as jajka or even jajecky - all of which refer to testicles.
One word that shows up in virtually every other poem is kurva, "whore." Derivatives from kurva include kurvacica (a little whore) and kurvaryty (to whore around).
Reading this, an English speaker will no doubt understand why older Ukrainians and Rusyns are so scandalized by this poetry - but at the same time younger readers will immediately see why young Rusyns in Ukraine are eating it up.
Reimagining Rusyn language and literature
Ivan Petrovcij and his literary journal Rusyns'ka Bysjida are certainly paving new ground in Rusyn language and literature, but more importantly, they are bound to have influence on the self-image of the Rusyns themselves.
Rusyn culture since the revolutions of 1989 in much of Eastern Europe has looked backward, trying to preserve folk, religious and village traditions, while not looking far enough ahead to ensure that the culture is sustainable in the future. What use is a culture stuck in the nineteenth century in the face of globalization, which is hastening a process of international homogenation? If Rusyns want to ensure that their young remain Rusyns and do not assimilate into a larger - sexier - group, clearly work such as Petrovcij's is not only necessary but crucial.
Petrovcij's publication of Rusyn erotica and Rusyn profanities puts a new spin on the image of the Rusyn as a demure, folksy, religious figure and should help attract the interest of more young people than a collection of poetry about sheep, wooden churches and mountain pastures ever would. Even while Dzerkalo Tyznja accused Petrovcij of pandering to younger audiences, it did point out that young people were in fact reading the poetry. Laughing at it, perhaps, but reading it nonetheless.
Although Petrovcij's introduction does not point this out, it does bear mention that aside from Pushkin and the other Russian poets included in the book, many other important Slavic poets, such as Slovenia's France Preseren and Serbia's Vuk Karadic, have left similar writings.
Perhaps it is not wrong to compare Ivan Petrovcij to such great literary figures, but according to Bitangus'ki Spuvanky, Rusyns'kyj Eros, Petrovcij sees his role somewhat differently:
Урусинськuмнашuмдiлi In our Rusyn task
Ярольяйицьмаву. I have the role of ball.
Хотьупиздунивлiзаву, Though I never come close to a cunt,
Тавроботi помагаву. I help the work along.
Rusyns'ka Bysjida. Various issues. Uzhorod, 1997-2001.
Ivan Petrovcij. Bitangus'ki Spuvanky, Rusyns'kyj Eros. Uzhorod, 2001
Erotica Ruthenica - Erotika Rutenika: Zbornjik erotskih pripovedkoh, pisn`oh, aneqdotoh, beren`oh, zahadoh, juhoslavjanskih rusnacoh. Sekcija za skarb Druztva za ruski jazik i literatura, Novi Sad, 1995
Ivan Petrovcij's website http://gayfa.narod.ru/
Konstjantin Losik "Narod je - Nacional'nosti Nemaje, abo Dejaki Dani pro Pidkarpats'kikh Rusyniv," in Dzerkalo Tyznja
Bernard Nezmah "Fuck this Article: The Yugoslav lexicon of swear words" in Central Europe Review.
The Alternative Dictionaries