One of the major issues addressed in Fowler’s Beau Monde is the tension between the cultural exchange inherent in Ukrainian culture, and the Soviet desire to portray Ukrainian culture as authentically as possible, thus requiring the separation of the different ethnic elements of Ukrainian culture into different institutional and aesthetic forms. This prompts the question, how did the policy of cultural separation affect inter-ethnic relations between artists and people more generally in the Soviet Ukraine?
Chapter one starts with the portrayal of inter-ethnic relations in Chekhov’s story “Rothschild’s Fiddle”, which depicts the contradiction that such relations held. On the one hand, while Jews and gentiles participated in each other’s musical ensembles, Jews suffered under fierce anti-Semitism from there gentile counterparts in these ensembles.
As shown in the reading, the Russian Empire even encouraged this cultural exchange in that, as opposed to the situation the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were no guilds to limit the travel of musicians: “Soviet ethnomusicologist Moshe Beregovski told a revealing story about recording a musician he assumed was an authentic Klezmer, only to find out that the fellow was, in fact, a Pole playing Jewish tunes in Kyiv courtyards. Unlike Austria-Hungary, whose strictly enforced guild system made it difficult for musicians to travel outside their local district, Russia had no such guild system limiting musicians’ mobility. (Fowler, Pg. 47)
Lastly, the cultural exchange not only occurred between artists in the context of musical ensembles, but also in the domestic sphere: “Ukrainian women often served in Jewish homes. Jews, therefore, would hear Ukrainian lullabies and everyday sounds and, in turn, Ukrainian women would have taken Jewish melodies back to their own families.” (Fowler, Pg. 47)
As can be derived from the text, this mutually beneficial cultural exchange happening within the domestic sphere did not occur without some level of antipathy between Jews and gentiles engendered by the employer-employee relationship that was between Jews and gentiles. This is most readily seen in the Ukranian play The Hireling, which depicts a Ukrainian orphan abused by a Jewish master.
As Fowler goes on to describe, during the Soviet era, the policy of Korenizatsiia tried to separate the different elements of Ukrainian culture: “The literary fair solved this dilema, like good Soviets, by organizing the arts according to ethno-national categories: Jewish audiences were assigned to the Jewish theatre with Jewish artists and Jewish plays; Ukrainian audiences to the Ukrainian theatre with Ukrainian artists and Ukrainian plays; Polish audiences to the Polish theatre with Polish artists and Polish ; and so forth.” (Fowler, Pg. 119)
The question is, did this attempted separation of the arts change the relationship between Jews and gentiles in Ukraine more generally? Did the policy of Korenizatsiia paradoxically lessen anti-Semitism between artists in the Soviet era, did anti-Semitism lessen for other reasons, or does Fowler just neglect to mention anti-Semitism in the Soviet era to the extent that she brings it up in the pre-Soviet context?
One glimpse we get into the relationship between Jewish and Ukrainian cultural institutions has to do with the Ukrainian theater lending money to the Yiddish theater even when it did not have enough money for itself. This would indicate a level of respect and friendship between the artistic communities of the two ethnicities, even when the Soviet government officially privileged the Ukrainian language theater because it was a theater associated with the titular nationality.
While there was this level of financial friendship, and while Fowler does recognize that the ethnic categories set up by the Soviet government broke down both “artistically and institutionally”, the example she gives of possible interaction between Ukrainian and Yiddish theater involves the director of the Yiddish theater in Kharkiv, Saul Guzhnovskii, refusing to put on the Ukrainian play Myna Mazailo because of fears that his Jewish audience would not be able to understand it, even if it were translated into Yiddish. This is despite the fact that as a general principle, Guzhnovskii believed that there should be more Ukrainian plays translated into Yiddish, and performed on the Yiddish stage.
Tangentially, I want to conclude with the question: Just as the policy of Korenizatsiia separated the constituent parts of Ukrainian culture, could it be that the Tsarist policy of Ukrainian and Yiddish cultural repression brought the cultures together?