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A Tale of the Human Quest for Enlightenment
Author Biography: Oles Berdnyk
Soft cover, 288 pp; ISBN 978-0-99877750-1-6
Oles Berdnyk was a man of many talents who towered above most of his contemporaries physically and intellectually. Standing at over six-and-a-half feet, with broad shoulders and thick long hair, he caught the attention of all who saw him and captured the imagination of all who heard his philosophical, futuristic musings on the mysteries of the universe, interstellar travel, contacts with exotic civilizations, the need for a spiritual rebirth of humanity, the implementation of cybernetics by humans to control their own evolution, and the imperative of attaining a harmonious unity among all of creation. A deeply spiritual man and an erudite original thinker who was ahead of his time, he has yet to be fully appreciated for the ideas that he so passionately espoused for building a society where joy, love, freedom, and truth reign.
The fact that he pursued these ideas while living in the tyrannical and oppressive Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in which the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was held captive from 1922 to 1991 demonstrates an incredible will to think independently and to have the courage to follow one’s conscience, regardless of the consequences. In the USSR, a communist police state in which individuals had few rights, a writer had to be especially vigilant to toe the party line at all times.
Oles Berdnyk (Oleksandr Pavlovych Berdnyk) was born on Nov. 27, 1926, into a peasant family in the village of Vavylove in what is now the Ukrainian province of Mykolayiv. His father was a blacksmith who descended from a long line of blacksmiths, but Oles broke with that family tradition: he was destined to try forging not steel, but human souls. In 1930, the Berdnyk family moved to a village in the province of Kyiv, and there they managed to survive the genocidal Holodomor, the man-made famine perpetrated against Ukraine by Stalin and his regime that killed millions in 1932-1933. A few years later, the Second World War began, and in 1944, Berdnyk joined the Red Army of the USSR as a volunteer and served on the front lines against the Nazis. In April 1945, he was wounded and demobilized.
After the war ended, Berdnyk studied theatre art in Kyiv at the Ukrainian Drama Theatre, and worked for some time in various productions. While thus engaged, he made the mistake of openly expressing his utter dismay that some of his colleagues, at the instigation of the authorities, were spuriously denouncing fellow actors as traitors.
In 1949, while Berdnyk was employed as the executive secretary of a newspaper in the town of Halych, this mistake caught up with him. He was arrested and summarily charged with making public statements against collectivization and discrediting Marxist-Leninist teachings. During his trial in April 1950, he accused his captors of torturing him during the pre-trial investigation, and because he had the audacity to speak out against the authorities, an additional charge of slandering law-enforcement bodies was brought against him. He was sentenced to ten years to be served in the far north and in the Kazakh SSR. After serving six years he was granted a pardon, and he returned to Kyiv and began his writing career by publishing literary works in periodicals.
Berdnyk’s first book, a collection of stories fortuitously entitled Beyond Time and Space, was published in 1957, the year that the USSR launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be put into the Earth’s orbit. The launch marked the beginning of the Space Age, and spurred the imaginations of writers like Berdnyk. The next dozen years proved to be a period of intense literary work and prodigious productivity.
The stories that he wrote during this time drew heavily on his remarkable knowledge of the myths and legends of many cultures, and were written in a Romantic vein with many folkloric elements such as dreams and visions, superstitions and premonitions, mysterious forces and phenomena, and fantastic beings from other worlds. As a writer he was fascinated by the reaction of people who were placed in a particular situation, and his science-fiction stories, replete with interstellar travels and adventures, were imbued more with the characters’ perceptual impressions and spiritual experiences rather than with technological possibilities and achievements.
In 1958, Berdnyk was accepted into both the Writers Union of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Writers Union of the USSR. In the early 1960s, in keeping with his bent for exploring all aspects of the unusual, Berdnyk headed a club known as “Friends of the Incredible” that was affiliated with a widely circulated science magazine called Knowledge and Work. In the latter part of the 1960s he embarked on writing articles and giving lectures on his unique view of futurology, a topic that won him a large, enthusiastic following of fans, especially among students.
Unfortunately, his growing popularity brought with it increasingly negative attention from the authorities, and the last three novels that he wrote in this period, The Chalice of Amrita (1968), The Eye Flower (1970), and The Astral Corsair (1971), called forth the unmitigated wrath of official critics because they were deemed to be contrary to the Soviet ideology that all phenomena, including those of the mind, are controlled by matter, and that there is nothing beyond the material here and now. All the printed copies of The Eye Flower were destroyed, and The Astral Corsair was banned after it was published. Interestingly enough, despite being proscribed, The Astral Corsair, which spoke of humans attaining a higher, god-like level of evolution by using their will and the transformative power of love to conquer their own nature, became a cult novel with a wide following of readers who risked the probability of arrest if they were found to have it in their possession.
By 1972, after Berdnyk had published some 20 novels and established himself as a popular writer of science fiction, the authorities decided that it was time to clip his wings. They publicly accused him of deliberately indulging in idealism and mysticism, and of deviating in his literary works from the precepts of socialist realism, the only style of writing that was permitted in the USSR. As a result, Berdnyk was thrown out of the Writers Union, put under the surveillance of the secret police, and subjected to intrusive searches of his living quarters. When his private correspondence, archival materials, and even his typewriter were confiscated, Berdnyk went on a hunger strike that lasted for 16 days until he was granted a meeting with the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party. At the meeting he was told that while the Communist Party did not condone the actions of the secret police, it could not interfere with their activities.
Prohibited from writing, Berdnyk had to turn to manual labour to survive. At the same time he focussed his attention on the concept of building a Ukrainian Spiritual Republic that he believed would lead ultimately to a perfect world of Spiritual Nations. For assistance in attaining this ideal he called upon Pope John II, all Ukrainian communities around the world, and various international bodies including the United Nations. He also worked on a project that he called Alternative Evolution and sent materials about it to the United Nations where they were registered as working documents. At this time his reputation as a mystical and utopian thinker was growing in the West where some of his works had been smuggled and published, and he received a number of invitations to lecture at universities in the U.S. and Canada.
Heartened by these invitations Berdnyk started applying in 1974 for a visa to immigrate to the U.S. When Soviet authorities rejected his application, he appealed to American Presidents Ford and Carter to help him obtain a visa and to grant him American citizenship. The appeals were left unanswered.
An unexpected and devastating blow came on Aug. 13, 1976, when the Main Directorate for the Protection of State Secrets of the Council of Ministers of the USSR issued an order that read: “The books of Oleksandr Pavlovych Berdnyk (Oles Berdnyk) are to be withdrawn from all general and specialized libraries and from the book-trade network of the USSR.”
Later that year Berdnyk had discussions with Ukrainian dissidents and human-rights activists about creating a Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG), and on Nov. 9, 1976, he became one of its founding members. The UHG outlined the need for a human rights movement and made public a list of Ukrainian prisoners of conscience. It also promoted the observance of the Helsinki Accords that had been signed in 1975 by 35 countries and the USSR. These Accords recognized the inviolability of the post-World War II frontiers in Europe, and the signatories pledged to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to cooperate in economic, scientific, humanitarian, and other areas.
In 1977, Berdnyk became acting chairman of the UHG and for the next two years he worked assiduously to pass information to the West about Soviet violations of human rights. On May 8, 1978, he wrote open letters to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, to Amnesty International, and even to Leonid Brezhnev, the President of the USSR, citing flagrant violations of human rights in the USSR and demanding the release of all imprisoned members of the UHG as well as of the Moscow Helsinki Group.
On March 9, 1979, Berdnyk was arrested and accused of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. Among other offences he was specifically charged with writing and distributing the poetic work “The Curse,” which he had written to mark 325 years since Eastern Ukraine was annexed by the Russian Empire. In December he was tried and sentenced to six years in a special regime labour camp and three years of exile. While in this camp he participated actively in the protest actions of prisoners and was declared a particularly dangerous repeat offender. On March 14, 1984, he was pardoned by a Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
In addition to continuing his literary career, he promoted his ideas through a number of civic organizations, the aims of which were “the preservation of the spiritual values of peoples and tribes, gained in the ages of harsh cosmic history, which are being irretrievably lost and undermined in the whirlwind of pseudo-civilization.” In 1989, he was elected head of the civic group that called itself the “Ukrainian Spiritual Republic,” and he published the newspapers Holy Ukraine, and The Accord.
After the persecution that he had experienced in the USSR, one can imagine his joy when Ukraine declared its independence in August 1991. Now he was free to travel to the U.S. and to Canada, and to experience firsthand countries like India and Tibet to which he felt so inexplicably drawn. In 1994-95 he gave what was to be his final lecture series called “The Asteroid of Freedom” at the Kyiv Planetarium in which he presented his views as a fantasy writer on the cosmogony of the universe.
On Dec. 1, 1996, a jubilee evening was organized in the Ukrainian Home in Kyiv in honour of his 70th birthday and 40 years of literary activity. It was to be his last public appearance, for after publishing his final work The Tuning Fork of Dazhboh, a sequel to the novel The Astral Corsair, in 1997, he became ill and withdrew from public life. After a lengthy illness, Berdnyk died on March 18, 2003, and in keeping with his request, he was buried at his home in the village of Hrebeni.
(For more information about Berdnyk see the author’s official website: www.berdnyk.com.ua)
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