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You're reading: Sex, nationalism and academic freedom: The controversy at Kyiv Mohyla Academy

One can get a good sense of what was being shown at the exhibition from the review on the internet journal Art Ukraine (http://www.artukraine.com.ua/articles/812.html). It is clearly not pornography, as NaUKMA rector Serhiy Kvit disingenuously told the media when he closed the exhibition down (http://ua.euronews.net/2012/02/14/ukraine-modern-art-controversy/). Clearly Dr. Kvit has not gone on the internet to find out what real pornography looks like. Instead of functioning as pornography, “The Ukrainian Body” challenges the conventional sexual and aesthetic norms in Ukrainian society, and exhibitions like this have naturally caused controversy all over the world but also stimulated important debate about gender, sexual, and cultural issues. One would hope that Ukraine belongs to the set of countries where such a show can exist, rather than to the international pariahs that abort such exhibitions before they can even appear. It is more reasonable to interpret “The Ukrainian Body” not as pornography but as a contribution to the critical discussion about conservative morality that has emerged in Ukraine in conjunction with the proposed law on morality and also as a response to the activism of the innovative “Femen” movement.

The closure of the exhibition has raised questions about the extent to which the higher administration of NaUKMA respects the principle of academic freedom. It is generally accepted in the global academy that the university should be a place where all manner of opinions can be aired.

But the situation soon took a turn for the worse. Following hard on the heels of the closing of “The Ukrainian Body” came the closing of the VCRC itself. This was motivated by the VCRC’s willingness to host a lecture on the Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera by the German scholar Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe. The talk was sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, well known for its promotion of democracy and human rights. In his announcement on 24 February abolishing the VCRC, Dr. Kvit referred to the proposed talk by Mr. Rossolinski-Liebe as having a “scandal-propagandistic, and not scholarly, character.” Mr. Rossolinski-Liebe is highly critical of Bandera and the radical right nationalist movement he founded, as am I. The rector, however, is a declared admirer of the nationalist theoretician Dmytro Dontsov and is himself active in radical right political initiatives.

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