Buenos Aires Postcard: Translating Borges Into Ukrainian

Jorge Luis Borges in 1979
Jorge Luis Borges in 1979
Daniel Mecca

BUENOS AIRES — "I'm in the literary gang and Borges is my godfather..." Serhiy Borschevsky is the "last remaining" translator in Ukraine of the works of the 20th-century Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Speaking to Clarin on his first-ever visit to Argentina, Borschevsky noted that "Borges is very popular in Ukraine. His books sell out and intellectuals cite him all the time." ​

The 73-year-old translated an anthology of more than 100 Borges poems in 2010, which followed his 2008 contribution to a compilation of Borges short stories and essays. In 2017 he translated The Book of Imaginary Beings, in 2018 The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory in one volume, and his translation of Seven Nights, which compiles Borges lectures from 1977, is to come out this year in Ukraine.

Borschevsky has translated other notable Spanish-language authors, including Calderón de la Barca, Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa.

The first examples of Argentine literature translated into Ukrainian trace back to the 1950s. Borschevsky, who was born in March 1946, studied foreign languages in university. In 1976, in a local literary review Vsésvit or Universe, he read The Immortal, a Borges short story and the first of his texts to be translated into Ukrainian. For Borschevsky, it was an entry into a whole new world.

Translators are links between cultures.

"I immediately fell in love with that story," he said. "That moment was something new, very new. The manner of exposure. It was an unknown type of literature." Effectively in the 1970s, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, hardly anyone had heard of Borges. Between 1983 and 1984, someone gave him Borges the Memorious, a compilation of conversations with the novelist.

As a young man Borschevsky would take a bus to the city center, to go and listen to Latin American students. It was the only way of having contact with that culture, he says, while living in "that cage called the Soviet Union."

While in Madrid in 1920, Borges wrote a book of poems, The Red Psalms or Red Rhythms, wherein he extolled the 1918 Bolshevik revolution. One of his biographies recounted how nobody would publish them, and how he ended up burning them before returning to Argentina. He told an interviewer in 1981 that he initially supported the Communist revolution, hoping it would bring a "world without frontiers' and social justice, before he observed its dismal return "to czarism." Later, he would "break with all that," says Borschevsky.

Collection of poems by Borges translated into Ukrainian — Source: Olx

Culture, says the translator, is common to humanity, and distance is not in itself an obstacle. "Borges himself considered Shakespeare, Homer and Milton his contemporaries. It is the same with me. I am a pupil of Borges and his thought. He understood these things. My work consists in bringing my people closer to these treasures. Translators are links between cultures."

Of his first visit, finally, to Buenos Aires, he added: "The city, the people. I feel at home. I don't feel in a foreign surrounding. For me, it's a very intimate city." Argentina, he notes, recognized a briefly independent People's Republic of the Ukraine in 1921 and was "the only state in this hemisphere that recognized our independence. I don't forget it a single day of my life." Argentina awarded him a medal for his work in 2014.

Borschevsky describes himself as the last of four Ukrainian translators of Borges. "New translators appear but I couldn't say for sure whether or not they will stay. Earning a living from translation is very difficult. The fees are quite small."

What is his favorite Borges poem, I ask. "Poem of the Gifts," he says. And his favorite story? The Immortal — though he pauses and adds, "I prefer to answer another way: the complete works of Borges. He never disappoints, ever."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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