Konstantin Sigov: An Invitation for the Pope to Visit Kyiv

By: Constantin Sigov

April 3, 2022

Constantin Sigov, Ukrainian philosopher and director of the European Center at the University of Kyiv, has decided to stay in Ukraine as a witness. In this interview he discusses the three catastrophes that occurred on February 24, the echoes of the 2014 Maidan protests that can be seen today, and why he would like Pope Francis to visit Ukraine.

Sigov is director of the European Center for Research in the Humanities at the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and consultant on religious questions for the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience.

What happened on February 24?

Three disasters occurred in a single day: the first concerns my country. In a few hours we returned to hear the heavy artillery in action, the screams of civilians, a din that after the Second World War we could have forgotten. A few days ago a Russian rocket hit the television antenna in the center of the city; from that moment the citizens of Kyiv, from all over Ukraine, were afraid of waking up in the morning and discovering that, during the night, a bomb had hit one of the sacred places of our capital: the cathedral of Saint Sophia, the monastery of San Michele, the Lavra Monastery of the Caves. During the war the Soviets had destroyed the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin; already in 1936 the Bolsheviks had razed the cathedral of San Michele to the ground. Since Putinism is now manifesting itself in its most brutal form, that of a regime born of neo-Stalinism, I would not want the Russian artillery, which today acts as if it is bewitched by an unrepentant neo-Soviet government, to strike what the Bolsheviks did not have time to destroy.

The second catastrophe affects all of Europe: what is happening affects us all. I am referring to a tragedy perhaps worse than Chernobyl: this time, in fact, it is not a technical malfunction. For the first time since the Second World War, Europe is facing an enemy who wants to destroy it and is doing so openly, declaring its goal. The war is not only between Russia and Ukraine, but between our culture and those who consider it as a threat to be annihilated: a dichotomy that was not generated in 2022, an antithesis that arose in recent years. Crimea was invaded in 2014 and throughout this period, we can now say, many have been afraid and have not looked at what was happening, the threat behind an invasion that has been going on for eight years already. All of us have underestimated the extent of an evil that has come into play today and has caused what appears for all intents and purposes as the worst crisis of the twenty-first century; an emergency not only military and economic but, above all, of a spiritual nature. A tragedy that is taking place less than a three-hour flight from Rome.

The third catastrophe concerns Russia: in a month every effort that has been made for more than 30 years to restart after the end of the Bolshevik regime has been made useless. What we see now is the worst manifestation of Bolshevism and Stalinism: after the Revolution of 1917 in Russia, there were still many people who testified to life, today the majority appear to be subjected to a destructive power, a narrative and a culture that is totally ideological. To give just one example: hundreds of professors and rectors of Russian universities have signed a document in favor of this war, the tangible sign of a total defeat of Russian culture.

What does the Ukrainian population claim in this situation?

What strikes me first of all is solidarity: I see with what attention the women who are giving birth in the Kyiv subway are being helped; they are bearers of a new life and remind us that our resistance is born to affirm life, love, and our humanity. This aspect seems important to me, the Ukrainians know what they are defending: they protect the human being, our families, our society, our freedom, and our only desire, to be able to live in peace. I repeat, it is a war that does not only concern the Ukrainians and the Russians; what is happening is a conflict between those who love their humanity and those who try to annihilate it: for this reason I believe it is essential, when our land is free, to investigate the causes that have triggered this catastrophe; only then will there be the possibility of a just peace, and I underline this adjective. Those who have committed, and are still perpetrating, crimes against humanity will need to be tried. Personalities like Nemzov and Dmitriev have affirmed that the atrocities of communism have never been punished or judged. I think it would be a grave mistake to continue this path of amnesia. Now more than ever the urgency of a judgment is emerging, an essential step for the future of the entire Russian society. Not to plan a vengeance but so that a new life can bud and sprout and the whole of humanity can carry out that "purification of memory" that John Paul II already spoke of.

What does it mean?

It is important that the Russians, Ukrainians, and the whole world judge what is happening and remember. When this work is betrayed, humanity does not survive, it is lost. On February 23, before the war broke out, I wrote a letter, at the request of some German Catholics, in which I stressed the danger that could arise after the Russian decision to outlaw Memorial, the largest association for the defense of human rights in the country, committed to safeguarding what happened and making the crimes committed in Soviet times internationally recognized. Ukraine was attacked for this: with its very existence, in fact, it does not allow the memory of the crimes perpetrated by Stalinism and Putinism to be erased.

Pope Francis, the Church, the whole world prays and takes to the streets for the war to end. Does the support of the peoples reach you?

We see that we are not alone. The help that reaches Kyiv is there and it is very important: whether it is bulletproof vests, clothes, food… even the word, our dialogue, makes us feel that we are not isolated from the world. As for prayer, this, on the other hand, is essential because it makes the veil fall, it makes us discover that evil leads only to nihilism, to self-destruction, and this is what we want to fight. I add one last consideration: the great theologian Bonhoeffer said that worse than evil there is only stupidity and I fear that this other danger lies behind the violence we are witnessing. While evil by its very definition ends up being self-destructive, stupidity, on the other hand, is strengthened and strengthened over time. This threat can only be overcome if we act on a spiritual level, a purely cultural one is not enough.

The 2014 Maidan protests come to mind. Even then the world followed what happened in Ukraine; what's left of those moments today?

This question is profound because it is closely linked to what is happening now: in 2014 there was the Revolution of Dignity. Now we are fighting a war to defend the dignity of man. In 2022 it is no longer just the Kyiv Maidan that speaks, the whole country has become a huge square that asks to respect the individual, whatever his ethnic identity: man, in fact, is infinitely more important than any power and no tyranny can suppress the right of each to life, to freedom. As soon as the war broke out, I talked to pianist Valentyn Silvestrov: on the night between February 24 and 25, the night in which the bombings ruptured the Ukrainian sky for the first time, he sent me some recordings he had made in 2014, on his way home from the Maidan. A song is heard, it is our national anthem. The melody, however, is different: it sounds like that of a psalm, a prayer born to support the protests in Kyiv which is now able to express what the whole world is going through. He is 84 years old; in recent weeks composers of the caliber of Arvo Pärt invited him to leave Ukraine and at the beginning of March he finally accepted: Silvestrov left Kyiv with his daughter, traveled for three days and three nights until he reached the border. Here he crossed the border on foot; the Muscovite poetess Olga Sedakova compared him to King Lear, the Shakespearean ruler who walks under the sky. My friend Silvestrov arrived in Berlin where he was invited to a large church: before starting to play, he repeated the Decalogue, all ten commandments. Then he performed a piece that he composed along the road to the west: a nostalgic melody, able to overcome all language barriers and to tell everyone about the war; the journey of those who have left their country and the hope of all the Ukrainian people.

What do you hope for?

A few days ago, the mayor of Kyiv invited Pope Francis to come to Ukraine. Some European political leaders have already decided to go to our capital; I think, however, that a visit from the pope would be something unique, a fact with prophetic connotations. I know that this request appears paradoxical, but the current pontiff has accustomed us to such gestures. I really hope that Francesco accepts and that he is not stopped. I invite anyone, starting with the readers of this interview, to support and promote the invitation, so that a decisive step may be taken, not only for the achievement of peace in our country, but for the good of all humanity. 

This interview originally appeared in Italian in Tempi.

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