Blogging Jesenská: Mykola Riabchuk, Ukraine, on 9/11

Dichtung und Wahrheit

Mykola Riabchuk

Where were you on September 11 ten years ago? Most of us were sitting in front of a TV watching the unbelievable: two airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York. Ukrainian writer Mykola Riabchuk, who was a Milena Jesenská Fellow at the IWM at that time, recalls his feelings on the day the Twin Towers collapsed and asks: can we write poems about 9/11?

For my wife and me that day was supposed to be a small celebration. We had just come back to Vienna from Ljubljana where I was enjoying, at the time, a Milena Jesenská fellowship at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen. A few days earlier my wife had won a major award – the Vilenica Crystal – at a poetry festival in Slovenia, and now we intended to celebrate with a few of our Austrian friends.

I dropped by my IWM office nearby our apartment just for a minute to check the mail. There was nothing special. It was a sleepy vacation period. I switched off my computer, locked the door and rushed back home where the guests were assembling. Yet, in the corridor at the Institute, I met an Albanian colleague who asked a strange question: “Have you heard? There is news about some crazy guys who have wrecked the World Trade Center. By plane!”

I couldn’t believe it. It looked like a journalistic canard. Or a Hollywood film.
Nevertheless, back at home, I asked my wife and the friends, who had already arrived and were leisurely sipping a Vilenica wine, to turn on the television.

All of the channels were showing the same thing – the burning tower of the WTC and a plane that slowly, like a knife through butter, pierced the neighboring building.

Shortly afterward, my wife wrote a poem called The Crazy Airplanes. It was eventually translated into a number of languages, but I feel that the text was a failure. My wife seems to share the same intuition, hesitating to include the poem in her new book.
“Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch“, – said a German philosopher shortly after the war.

There are some stories, indeed, that can be discussed only in the language of documents.

The story of humankind is one example. Half of it dwells in a magnificent skyscraper while the other half is closing in on it in an airplane.


Mykola Riabchuk is one of Ukraine’s most prominent public intellectuals. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Ukrainian Center for Cultural Studies, Kiev, and was a Milena Jesenská Fellow at the IWM in 2001. He is the author of Die reale und die imaginierte Ukraine, published by Suhrkamp Berlin in 2006 and contributes frequently to the Current Politics in Ukraine Blog.

  The Milena Jesenská Blog with all posts can be found here.

IWM, 2011. Copyright © 2011 by the author & the IWM. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically, in whole or in part, without written permission from the IWM.