KYIV – When Ivan Malkovych, the renowned poet and book publisher, took the podium to accept this year’s Taras Shevchenko National Prize for literature, he passionately exalted the Ukrainian language and voiced disapproval for how the award’s namesake is portrayed in society. The selection committee for the nation’s most prestigious state award in the arts had asked him to give a five-minute speech for his prize-winning poetry collection “A Plantain with New Poems” (Podorozhnyk z Novymy Virshamy). Mr. Malkovych, 55, instead spoke twice as long, and very quickly at that, on March 9. He first lamented that school curriculums still portray Mr. Shevchenko as a “serf and peasant poet-martyr.”
Instead, the founder of the A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA publishing house called the bard “modern and contemporary… because the real meanings of Shevchenko in many of his works sound like heavy, hard rock, and not syrupy pop music.”
The Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast native then called for a law that will predominantly replace Russian with the Ukrainian language in media, including television and radio, and on advertisements by introducing quotas. Noting that “language is the most significant marker of national self-identity,” Mr. Malkovych invoked the 19th century Irish nationalist Thomas Davis by saying that “a nation should defend its language more than its territory…”
He added, “if there’ll be Ukrainian language here, then we’ll have order; and if not, then we’ll have an eternal Putin [a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin], no matter what he may be called.”
Another historical reference was to Winston Churchill.