Before I go much further, I promise that while I'm about to kind of rant, I'll try to do it in a mostly coherent and organized way. I also must acknowledge my self-identification as a Rusyn. It is often painfully obvious that I am not indigenous, which is fine, but regardless of where we're all from, what we have in common is that we're Rusyns. In fact, in a conversation on the street afterwards, it was suggested that it would be good for me to familiarize myself with the Rusyn mentality, and I jokingly (though truthfully) replied that I was already well acquainted with it! I have been using we and us while talking to other Rusyns -- it's so important to me to communicate my self-identification (and as a result what I consider to be our mutual self-identification). Of course, being Rusyn is only one part of my overall identity, but for now we'll pretend that it's the one and only.
This was a meeting of Rusyn intelligentsia mostly from Prešov -- meaning people who are from the villages but now live in Prešov. The program was the hardcore historiography and metaanalysis that we Rusyns do best. (As usual,) I was the youngest person in the room, but one of the presenters was a young Rusyn scholar just a few years older than I. Most of the presenters sat down at a head table and read from papers they had prepared, though some were more dynamic and had visuals that would have made an excellent Powerpoint. I can't comment too much about the actual content, because I have to concentrate so hard to understand. But perhaps more telling was that multiple people nodded off at various points and others were obviously not paying attention, yet they were willing to sit there for the entire morning. This can't be the way to do things! Not even most of the people there were engaged. And yet, this is how things continue to be done. Regarding the structure, content and our apparent fetishization of historiography and meta-analysis, I was really frustrated until I read the following by Stuart Hall this afternoon:
"Sometimes national cultures are tempted to turn the clock back, to retreat defensively to that 'lost time' when the nation was 'great', and to restore past identities. This is the regressive, the anachronistic element in the national cultural story. But often this very return to the past conceals a struggle to mobilize 'the people' to purify their ranks, to expel the 'others' who threaten their identity, and to gird their loins for a new march forward."It seems to me that this is exactly what I saw today, except that 1) it may already be too late, or 2) there's never enough time, what are we waiting for by "girding our loins"? Avanti, popolo!
My questions became where are the people? I don't want to only know the so-called intelligentsia, I want to see the masses, the supposedly hundreds of thousands or half-millions or millions that just are Rusyn and don't need to constantly re-overanalyze it (and I do include myself in the group of re-overanalyzers) -- and where is the new culture being developed? Instead of making historiography, where and what is making history at the grassroots? I genuinely believe that it is (the concept of) the Museum where the grassroots and the intelligentsia can meet, and I hope and do think that I will see that while I'm here.
The real fun came during lunch, wherein the assembled engaged in oft-colorful polemic (talk about Rusyn mentality -- it was proposed to me this afternoon that this is a genetic characteristic, and I can't disagree -- and woe to me who gets such a thing from the Italians also! + what am I engaged in by writing this?) and preached to each other's choir about the same causes they've been concerned about for the last 15 years, most of which are not culture-building, nor necessarily progressive, but about which I can say that they are trying to make something that is inherently intangible into something more tangible -- though to what end I don't quite understand.
There are so many other things that I'll not even get into, because I have the sneaking suspicion that such things are perennial and will present themselves again in the (near-ish) future. I am so happy to be able to observe how normal, everyday Rusyn culture is practiced here (though of course today was only one iteration of cultural expression -- and I've not been here long), and it's really excellent to meet everyone and be able to talk more with everyone. I am trying to explain to people that I know we American Rusyns don't know really what happens here, and Euro Rusyns definitely don't know what happens in America -- and so I'm just trying to understand everything, and it's definitely absolutely fascinating. Today I felt like I was at the center of the (Rusyn) world, which is really quite cool.