Open Letter in Defense of George G. Grabowicz’s Honor and for a Reform of Ukraine’s National Taras Shevchenko Award

December 2015
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You may add your signature to this open letter and state your position regarding the smear campaign against George G. Grabowicz at the following link to Google forms. Signatures will be published in the order of their arrival.

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An Open Letter to the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, and Ukrainian Civil Society

Dear Mr. President!

Dear Members of Ukrainian Civil Society!

We, the representatives of an international community of scholars, artists, and civil society, wish to express our outmost concern regarding the instances of ideological pressure that accompany the nomination process for the 2015 National Taras Shevchenko Award. At the same time, we would like to call upon you to introduce in-depth reform of the National Award with the goal of restoring trust in this recognition of distinction for achievements in Ukrainian culture, scholarship, and art.

The unacceptable level of ideological vilification surrounding the nomination of George G. Grabowicz, the Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi Professor of Ukrainian Literature at Harvard University, prompts us to voice our concern. Post-Maidan Ukrainian society that fought for dignity, universal values, and democratic freedoms deserves a National Award that meets international standards. Instead, the discussion is rife with accusations of “lack of patriotism,” “anti-traditionalism,” “rampant liberalism,” and other criteria that have no place in a serious conversation that seeks to assess quality of contribution.

The Shevchenko Award was founded in 1961 by the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic with the goal to honor works that are “ideologically highly committed  and artistically outstanding” and those that “further the development of Ukrainian Soviet literature, music, visual arts, theater, and film.” Since the Award’s inception and to this day it was precisely the ideological side of this prize that has outweighed the criteria of aesthetic quality and scholarly insight, which has led to an increasing discreditation of an award that bears the name of Ukraine’s outstanding poet. For some time now the Award has not done credit to Taras Shevchenko’s genius and has had little influence on Ukraine’s cultural and scholarly developments.

Works by Professor Grabowicz were nominated for the Award in the category “Literary Studies and Art History” by the Taras Shevchenko Institute of Literature at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences. The current discussion surrounding George G. Grabowicz’s nomination for the Award epitomizes the depth of the current crisis and the level of the Award’s ideological bias.

As professor of Ukrainian literature at Harvard and president of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the US, George G. Grabowicz has made an invaluable contribution to the study of Ukrainian literature and culture on the highest international level. As the editor in chief of the journal Krytyka and Krytyka Press, he is one of the most influential advocates of objective, balanced, and rational discussion of all the complex issues of Ukrainian history and culture throughout history and to present day. Professor Grabowicz’s deep and innovative works attract both young and established scholars from all over the world to Ukrainian questions. With his works, he introduces the highest standards of international scholarship into Ukrainian studies and serves as an intermediary between Western and Ukrainian academia. This applies to his explorations of Ukrainian-Polish and Ukrainian-Russian literary relations, the Jewish theme in Ukrainian literature, his studies on many Ukrainian writers – from Ivan Vyshens’kyi to Mykola Khvyl’ovyi and Pavlo Tychyna, – and his critical research on the colonial and totalitarian heritage in Ukrainian literature, culture, and scholarship. Professor Grabowicz’s research on Taras Shevchenko, to which he has devoted over 40 years of his life, deserves particular praise.

Yet George G. Grabowicz’s advancement to the 2nd round of the competition for the Taras Shevchenko Award provoked a series of attacks on the scholar’s persona and his works. Representatives of right and ultra-right radical organizations, movements, and parties (“Svoboda,” “Pravyi Sektor,” and the “Dmytro Dontsov Scientific-Ideological Center”) as well as scholars of dubious or compromised repute who ideologically align with these forces have launched a massive smear campaign against him. In their published statements and appeals, these individuals and organizations resort to methods of discrediting and destruction of the opponent that we know well from Soviet times.

Thus they tear out of context and distort his formulations and statements, and ascribe to the scholar those ideas whose mere voicing should evoke “righteous anger” among those who are not even familiar with the scholar or his work. Guided by their antiquated and highly ideologically-driven conceptions of contemporary Ukrainian society, these forces attribute to George G. Grabowicz precisely those statements and attach those labels that, in their view, will most effectively shock Ukrainians into believing that awarding the prize to such an individual would be unacceptable. Needless to say, such methods are far from the principles of literary studies and research, or impartial public debate.

Since Ukrainian civil society has not yet developed any mechanisms of effective defense against such smear campaigns, and because Ukrainian law continues to remain ineffective in fighting defamation, we strongly speak out in defense of the honor and dignity of George G. Grabowicz, our colleague and a devoted friend of a democratic Ukraine.

We call on all people of honor to join us and resolutely condemn such attacks as unacceptable and destructive to the new Ukrainian society that seeks democratization and riddance of the past totalitarian heritage.

We also call on you, Mr. President, for a radical reform of the National Shevchenko Award and for the award’s decisive removal from the influence of ideologically biased forces. To achieve effectiveness and prestige, the Award needs only to confer the prize based exclusively on aesthetic achievements and scholarly criteria by a committee that consists of competent and ideologically unprejudiced artists and scholars who enjoy international recognition.

We call on all Ukrainian civil organizations and all concerned citizens of Ukraine to counteract the smear campaign against George G. Grabowicz. We see his nomination for the 2015 National Shevchenko Award as a unique chance to begin the Award’s reform that has been long overdue.

We are willing to join the efforts in defining the principles of such a reform of the National Shevchenko Award and to participate in its practical discussion.


Vitaly Chernetsky
Associate Professor, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Kansas, USA
Director, Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, University of Kansas, USA
President, American Association for Ukrainian Studies

Tamara Hundorova
Corresponding Member, Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences, Professor, Doctor of Philology
Head, Department of Literary Theory, Taras Shevchenko Institute of Literature, Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences
Dean, Ukrainian Free University, Munich, Germany

Oleh Kotsyuba
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), College Fellow and Lecturer, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University, USA
Chief Online Editor,

Mykola Riabchuk
President, Ukrainian Center of the International PEN-Club

Mykhailo Minakov
Associate Professor, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Kyiv, Ukraine

Serhii Plokhii
Professor, Mykhailo Hrushevs'kyi Chair of Ukrainian History, Department of History, Harvard University
Director, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University

Michael S. Flier
Professor, Oleksandr Potebnja Chair of Ukrainian Philology, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

Oleksandr Pronkevych
Doctor of Philology, Professor
Director, Institute of Philology, Chornomors'kyi State Petro Mohyla University
President, Ukrainian Association for Spanish Studies

Giovanna Brogi
Professor, University of Milan, Italy

Mykhailo Nazarenko
Candidate of Sciences in Philology, Docent, Chair of the History of Russian Literature, Institute of Philology, Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University

Oksana Lutsyshyna 
Lecturer in Ukrainian Studies, University of Texas, USA

Serhii Bilen'kyi
Historian, Toronto University, Canada

Andrii Zaiarniuk
Lecturer, University of Winnipeg, Canada 

Andrii Mokrousov
Director, Executive Editor, Krytyka Press 

Alessandro Achilli
Eugen and Daymel Shklar & Ukrainian Studies Fund Fellow 2015-2016, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University

Yuliia Bentia
Musicologist, archivist 

Yosyf Zisel's
Dissident, member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, human rights activist 
Head, Vaad of Ukraine
Executive Vice President, Congress of Ethnic Communities of Ukraine

Hryhorii Starykov
Candidate of Sciences in History, Research Fellow, M.Hrushevsky Institute of Ukrainian Archeography and Source Studies, National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine

Mykola Borovyk
Candidate of Sciences in History, Postdoctoral Fellow, Higher School of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, Germany

Martin Paulsen
Associate professor of Russian studies, University of Bergen, Norway

Oleksii Skoryk
Director, State enterprise "Crimean House"

Agnieszka Korniejenko
Doctor Habil., Professor, Higher State Eastern European School in Przemysl, Poland

Halyna Hryn
Doctor of Philosophy
Editor in Chief, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Harvard University

Dmitrii Kuz'min
Candidate of Sciences in Philology, Director, Association "Literature Without Borders," Latvia
Translator of Ukrainian poetry

Larysa Holovata
Doctor of Sciences in History, bibliographer

Volodymyr Ivanenko
Professor, Doctor, Founder and President of the Ukrainian University, Co-Founder and President, International Foundation of Leadership, Washington, DC
Literary scholar and translator

Halyna Korniyenko
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Kansas, USA

Nadiya Kravets
Doctor of Philosophy
GIS Postdoctoral Fellow, Ukrainain Research Institute, Harvard University

Motria Poshyvanyk Caudill
Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago

Myroslav Marynovych
Vice Rector, Ukrainian Catholic University, L'viv 

Valery J Cool-Kulakov
Antiquarian Bookseller & Publisher,


(Collection of signatures is currently in progress - please refer to the Ukrainian page of this open letter for the currently most complete list of all signatures. Please come back later for an updated list of signatories in English.)


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Join the conversation! (1)

Andreas Umland's picture
Andreas Umland December 20, 2015, 12:34 am

Andreas Umland
Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Kyiv

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