Round Table II: New Challenges for Ukrainian Studies | Discussion

Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak:

Well, I was very impressed by my fellow panellists and all the work that is being done in the field of Ukrainian studies, especially as far as the most recent generation is concerned. I am just wondering if there are enough specialists, or if there are enough people interested in Ukrainian studies. The problem I saw in the United States is—Rory [Finnin], you are right—a very slight presence of Ukrainian topics in general publications, even within the Slavic field. For some reason I think the things that make us strong as a Ukrainian society are the things that also tend to undermine our effectiveness; that is, the amount of time that one has to spend on internal Ukrainian issues, social issues, or other issues limits the time and the interest that we have available for general issues. When I was running the program on translations, one of the things that was very difficult to explain to scholars who were requesting funds—for instance, to translate the basic documents of the Iranian culture—was to convince them that they should explain why precisely this document, why precisely this thing, why is it important? How can you explain it to the American congressman who is going to say that the money is needed for other issues? And I think that is also the problem that all of you have stressed: the need to position Ukrainian studies within a general context but also to explain why it is particularly important. Now, as far as the crisis of individual centres, I was not aware that CIUS is in any crisis, given the amount of material that comes out of it. It is certainly the most productive of the centres of Ukrainian studies. This reminds me of the problems of the 1960s that the individual small colleges had when facing competition from the larger state universities or from the larger, better-funded institutions. And simply, the argument is that small is better, and in the case of Ukraine perhaps that is also an effective argument.

Rory Finnin:

I do think it is a great privilege, particularly for me, to be sitting up here with everyone, with scholars whom I greatly admire and respect. I think all I would like to say at the moment is that we need to be clear about the presentation of Ukraine as both a centre and an interstice, that is, a kind of nexus. I worry that sometimes, when we talk about, say, transnationality and comparative work with Ukraine, we mean that we are going to be diluting, essentially, our focus, in a disciplinary fashion, on Ukraine and Ukrainian-language material itself. I think we need to do both. We need to be thinking about how, for a prospective literary scholar, one can work on the once-banned political pamphlets of Mykola Khvylovyi in Ukrainian, or the early prose of Olha Kobylianska in German, or the samvydav (or samizdat) of Boris Chichibabin from Kharkiv, in Russian, or the novels of Shamil Aladin in Crimean Tatar—and never leave the Ukrainian context at all. That is a really exciting prospect for any scholar of literature, but of course we still have to be equipping our students and cultivating our field with expertise in the variety of texts that simply are not being studied any longer. We need to be looking more deeply into other areas beyond, say, canonical literary figures, into texts that were very widely read but rarely studied. The recent inroads into studying Volodymyr Vynnychenko are really important—one of the great, best-selling writers of the first half of the twentieth century, who slipped through the cracks. So I suppose all I would like to say is that I think it is terrific for us to be thinking about all the ways we can incorporate Ukrainian material into Russian material, Polish material, etcetera. I seek to do that.

At the same time, I always wish to ensure that we work on the canon and that we do try to make central our focus on Ukrainian material. I suppose there is only one thing that I would mention before passing the baton to fellow panellists: to a degree, it seems to me that for decades in Ukrainian studies there has been, let us say, a lack of emphasis on undergraduate education. We have been very good at funding, equipping, and training postgraduates, and that has been terrific. The issue is that I think sometimes we have students who come through their undergraduate career having worked in Russian or Polish, and so by the time they get to their postgraduate career, they come to Ukraine as kind of a second destination. I really believe in teaching undergraduates, equipping them with the kind of theoretical, methodological tools to handle complex Ukrainian historical, cultural material, so that by the time they get to their MA program, their PhD program, they are already used to fending off the very familiar Russocentric historiographical narratives. They are already accustomed to a variety of things that I think we need to be seeing from scholars of this region. So an emphasis on undergraduate education is something I think we can really promote going forward.

Andrii Portnov:

I would add to make a kind of provocative comment, if I may. First of all, we should keep in mind and always remember the enormous economic differences and inequality between those of us who work, averagely speaking, in Ukraine, and those who are do not. You probably know how much people receive as professors or associate professors in Ukraine. I could give you the numbers; they are, you know, incredible, lower than the lowest fellowship for students in Germany. I have heard this many times from my students, because they have stopped their academic career in Ukraine just to go to Germany as students, to start from the beginning. It makes more economic sense, and let us not pretend that it is not a problem. It is a huge problem—especially, for instance, if you do not have your own apartment in Kyiv or Lviv. The university will not pay for you, and you cannot pay for it if you are merely a scholar; this was my problem also, for years. So we should really keep it in mind. Generally speaking, we are in the company of well-established people who have no such problems, but I really know what I am talking about. That is first.

Second, there is another inequality, no less important: it is a kind of generational inequality, if you wish. I am talking about the difference between people who started their real academic careers in Ukraine in the early 1990s or late 1980s; those who started, like me, in the twenty-first century; and those who are starting now. Again, that is a very different context, and even a fellowship from CIUS differed significantly in the 1990s and when I got it, in 2006 or 2007. So let us face this issue seriously and not just pretend that it is a kind of abstract topic, because it is not an abstract topic at all.

And another point, a different one: I very much support Rory’s point about culture because it is also a significant problem in Germany and in France. Last spring I was giving lectures in Paris, and it was the same problem, you know. A very practical suggestion, if I may, in this respect: if you would like to give a student a good book, Ukrainian literature, to read in English, in German, in French, there would be a huge problem because we have pretty much translations only of recent, present-day literature. Everyone says too much, sometimes, but there are absolutely no translations of authors like Valerian Pidmohylny, Viktor Petrov (“V. Domontovych”), those who could actually give a very positive, very modern view of Ukraine. I was also giving lectures on Ukrainian literature in Berlin, and I found that there was no chance that you could give a lecture about Oles Honchar’s novels. But Honchar was a socialist realist, and Pidmohylny was not, and that is a huge problem. I would hope that at some point the best translators will not just translate our young writers—we know their names—but translate Pidmohylny, Domontovych, and authors like them. It is very important—a real task for all of us—and it could influence our teaching of Ukrainian literature and culture outside Ukraine.

Mark Von Hagen:

I would like to come back again to the [present] war, and what the war has exposed in the field, and the divisions that have been alluded to a bit before, and the risks that we need to keep in mind all the time. Remember, the Soviet Union was an economy that was not supposed to fail and a party system that was never supposed to lose an election, so risk is a much bigger problem than even what scholars are facing. But coming back to Germany, at Humboldt University in Berlin, which was mentioned by Andrii a couple of times, two of my colleagues who are known as Russianists primarily (or at least were once known primarily as Russianists), Andreas Kappeler and Karl Schlögel (especially Schlögel), have been leading the media and sort of educational prosvita activities to counter the Russian narrative. And most recently, Karl Schlögel wrote a book called Entscheidung in Kiew, in which he says that the destiny of Ukraine is being decided in Kyiv. That is a German-language thing, and scholars who had a different relationship to Russia have now had some sort of epiphany since 2014 that we need to help them with, because history is becoming a topic of war right now. The story of Crimea—whether it is Chersonesus and Volodymyr, Vladimir, or whether it is the Crimean War of 1853–5[6]—is being waged by historians, pseudo-historians, and would-be historians.

And again, in the American case […] I bring to this example a book called Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine. It came out in Moscow in 2015. It is in English, a translation. I think Ambassador Fraser mentioned Ruslan Pukhov—he is involved in this thing. The foreword is by David Glantz, and the reason I brought the New York Times is that David Glantz is cited as an expert on Soviet and Russian uses of maskirovka[1] and other unconventional forms of asymmetrical warfare. Glantz, one of the preeminent historians of the Soviet Army and World War II, has written endless volumes. He knows the field, and I just want to give you something from his foreword:

If the world is to contend with many new and often irrational challenges, it would be better served if instead of brothers armed, the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Ukraine, together with those of the United States and other nations, become brothers in arms.

And in an earlier sentence, he writes:

The geopolitical realities in today’s world confront the Russian Federation, the US, and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine, with common challenges, whose importance far outweighs the fate of Crimea or the eastern provinces of Ukraine.

Again, the concluding statement is by another general, [Peter] Zwack, and he writes:

I myself, as an old Balkan hand, have seen tangible albeit itchy US-NATO co-operation with SFOR,[2] at a time few said it could have been possible, have always had a predisposition toward finding a way to work with the Russian military on the multitude of next-generation threats facing us both. We have much in common and need to focus on areas of potential co-operation. In closing, I must emphasize how much I admire and care for the Russian people and Russia’s rich culture, and respect the members of the Russian military. Needless to say, the current difficult state of affairs with Ukraine and Russia must be resolved beyond force of arms.

What I wanted to emphasize with this is that even in the American military there is a kind of Russian hegemony that continues and is expressed in these American versions of brotherhood of peoples, the older brother, the friendship of peoples. In all this, General Zwack’s statement, there is not a word about Ukraine or his respect or love or admiration for Ukrainians, who are also dying in this war (and he is an American, of some kind of ethnic East European background), but the Russian hold on our discourse is very strong. And again, comrade Putin is making very good use of this, whether it is Trump (who has been mentioned a few times) or General Zwack and General Glantz, who are experts on the Russian army but seem to forget that there are other countries involved in these conflicts. That is, again, a challenge. I am working on Khrystiuk and Shulhyn back in 1917, 1918. Dismantling the Russian narrative is something we cannot not do anymore. Serhii Plokhii’s book Unmaking Imperial Russia—I mean, that is what we have to do, and Ukraine is the best example. This is the best time to do it, and we should not squander our opportunities.

Serhy Yekelchyk:

So, two brief comments: one on the use of social media, which David [Marples] picked up on, and the other on the Ukrainian communities. On social media, I think there is actually quite a bit of pressure from university administrators to get involved in it, but in a way that is fundamentally misleading, because they encourage professors and graduate students to go online and tweet endlessly and put pages on Facebook. Then you realize that, say, fifteen people saw this page, and you know all of those fifteen people, and you could have talked to them in the classroom instead, right? [Laughter.]

But of course there is a different approach to that—letting students run free and then come back with what they really like. Because once you ask them what they find new and exciting on social media related to Eastern Europe, you realize that there is an entire different world you have no idea about. And then, of course, there would be a challenge: all this stuff that they should not in fact read, or should read with a very critical eye, and finding the stuff that they find “cool” and you find interesting in terms of critical analysis.

And the community. I am very privileged actually to be working with a small but strong Ukrainian community in Victoria—many of them are retirees from Edmonton, actually, escaping the snow—and the position is nice. It is funded by Ukrainian[-Canadians’] money, and what they are doing is something very important long-term—they are working to create scholarships, not necessarily very large ones. But what I realized is that strategically, over the long run, if you create five to ten Ukrainian scholarships, it means that when I retire and it is my turn to serve “perogies” at the Ukrainian  [Cultural] Centre, they are actually going to hire another Ukrainian specialist in the so-called Russianist European position because they would want to spend all this money on the scholarships. Also, as I mentioned, I am really grateful for the presence of the perogies (which should not be called “perogies,” of course) on the Victoria scene, because everybody knows where the Ukrainian Centre is. So many people line up around it for Friday night Ukrainian dinners, and it is an easy way for students to go and actually take a look and chat with our distinguished retirees serving these dishes. It is what universities talk about a lot but rarely do—community-based learning. So, as I keep saying all the time, I am getting ready for the period when I am retired, and I am ready to serve perogies, and then, you know, a new generation will show up. [Laughter.] I will know what to say to students when I hand them their plate.

David Marples:

To comment on what I would call “populism,” including on social media, it has kind of descended into manipulation of facts, manipulation of the truth. It applies not only to Russia today, it also applies in some ways to Donald Trump. If you listen, with Donald Trump it does not really matter what actually happened; it is just a matter of the perception of what happened. And I think Russian “media”—I would say “quote unquote” because it is not really media—has kind of taken off in this regard. It has forged new paths in deception and pure lies. But also, at the same time—someone mentioned it this morning—it has used the Second World War as kind of the basis for the existence of the present Russian state, which is somewhat ironic when you consider how many nationalities took part in that war, and proportionally how many Russians died in that war compared to some of the other republics, like Belarus and Ukraine. But nevertheless that has taken place, and then the question is, how should one respond to that? How does Ukraine, for example, or how do people in Ukrainian studies respond to such lies, which have impact? Obviously they have impact, because there are so many scholars today who have supported, by and large, the Russian version of why Russia is waging war in Ukraine, or in fact, as it sometimes says, “not waging war in Ukraine,” although recently Putin has decided that he is waging war in Ukraine and did actually invade Ukraine. And this brings up the question of history, questions of the past—something CIUS tried to do back in the 1980s, where it was really providing an alternative voice on Ukraine and Ukrainian studies. And I think World War II is probably the biggest single dilemma for Ukraine today: it simply does not know what to do about the Second World War. Recently I was in Ukraine, I visited the Museum of the Great Patriotic War—in which, when you first enter, you find Russian tanks that were taken in the Donbas and brought back to Ukraine, just to show that Russians were in fact in Ukraine—but when you actually get inside it, it is almost exactly the same as it was in the Soviet period, word for word, with one exception. The exception is that now it also covers 1939 to 1941, so there is a room devoted to 1939–41, whereas in the past, Russia kind of denied that the war even began in 1939. Some time ago, in Kharkiv one could actually find in the museum of history an exhibit of the Holodomor, and on the second floor the Soviet liberation of Kharkiv from the Nazis! That kind of paradox really has to be eliminated, and I do not really think the way the Ukrainians have gone about it, particularly the Institute of [National] Remembrance, is the best way forward. That is, more or less, to replace old heroes, if Lenin was an old hero—old heroes with new heroes. We have our heroes. I think a broader, more sophisticated approach is necessary, and I think that is something where Ukrainian studies in the West could play an important role.


Rory Finnin:

I just want to point out that we have said quite a lot this afternoon, and we said a lot this morning, but there are two things that really stand out to me.

First, a lot of the challenges, and prescriptions for overcoming these challenges, speak to the need for institutions like the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. Number two, a lot of the ways in which we are talking about how we can package Ukrainian studies, reinvigorate Ukrainian studies going forward, speak to our capacity to build a market for more students—students who, let us say, are coming from unexpected quarters. So in the first session, we talked about the problem of supply and demand, particularly with respect to academic jobs, a hugely important topic that we need to take very seriously. Presuming a steady state with respect to the size of the market, I think we could absolutely grow that, for all the reasons that we have mentioned. And I do want to agree very vocally with what Andrii said earlier about our colleagues in Ukraine, the state of salaries being abysmal. You have seen a number already, I am sure, of pieces in Politico about academic corruption in Ukraine, written from an individual perspective. This is something we need to keep addressing and pressing.

For my part, I think I have failed in Britain even to convince authorities that I have been in contact with in the Border Agency and the Foreign Office for quite some time, to at least reduce the cost of an academic visa to go to the U.K. I mean, it is something on the order of a hundred pounds, which is much more than a month’s salary for an academic in Ukraine. And the way I often explain it to colleagues in Cambridge and political officials is to say, “Well, can you imagine spending something like £3,500 for a visa to travel to Ukraine, for instance, because that is the equivalent of a month’s salary for an academic in the United States, or the U.K., for that matter.” So this is a really important issue that we can only address successfully if we work together on it. If it is just a few of us here and there in separate contexts, we are not going to have the desired effect. But we need these types of venues, these types of networks and institutions, for us to do this more effectively. I just want to make that point a bit more clear.

Yaroslav Hrytsak:

I just realized that I am the only scholar here from Ukraine. So if I may, in the few minutes that are left, [I would like to] provide some kind of Ukrainian perspective, which also extends to my personal perspective. But this is also a perspective being discussed very much in Ukrainian academia.

I believe there are two kinds of challenges. One is structural: we have discussed a number of institutes we should create, money to raise salaries, books to translate—which is perfectly fine, because this is the bread and wine of Ukrainian studies. It is called “hardware,” and you cannot function without it. But in Ukraine the “software,” the agenda, is much more important. If you are creating an institution, to what purpose? Do we continue the work that we have done so far, good or bad—I believe good—but still, does it suffice?

There are three scholars living in Ukraine, none of them of Ukrainian origin, who do not really know one another well but came to the same conclusion, and it relates to what Marta [Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak] was saying: that postmodernism has ended, and it ended in Ukraine on the Maidan. [None] of them is Tim Snyder, even though one of them is his wife, Marci Shore, who reached this kind of conclusion. Another is Vic Pomerantsev, Jr., who wrote a brilliant book on Russian propaganda, how it functions. He says, what is Russia now? It is not sufficient to say anymore that it is a kind of imperial regime. Rather, he says that it is a perfect postmodern state. And the third is Ilya Gerasimov, probably the most brilliant Russian historian, who now has to find shelter in the US because he was accused of being a Western agent back in Russia. So what is important here is that there are three scholars who came to the same conclusion. They believe that Ukraine stands in the forefront of the processes that are going on in the world and that also have some effect on academia.

Lilia Shevtsova, a name that I believe is familiar to you—she is one of the fiercest critics of Putin, a liberal author who was the director of the Carnegie Fund in Moscow and had to move to Washington, for obvious reasons. By the way, she was born in Lviv. She made a point once during a discussion: what is the intellectual problem with Ukraine in crisis? It is not just that we have to withstand the challenge from Russia; it is that we do not have any book, not even the [hint] of a book that we could grab to get explanations about what is going on in Russia. We do not even have a vocabulary to describe this conflict. New concepts are emerging, like “hybrid war.” Who ever heard of hybrid war before? This is the first thing. Or new terms—there have been many during the Maidan that I do not believe were present in any kind of Ukrainian studies before—“precariat,” for example. A key aspect, I believe, of why the Maidan happened in Ukraine is generational. Another is, why the social energy in Ukraine?—and most important, why is this energy not limited to Kyiv or Lviv only but [also found] in Odesa, Kharkiv, Dnipro? So what I am saying here is my impression. But again, it is shared by my colleagues in Ukraine, because for us it is a very urgent issue. It is that we have not yet begun to formulate and pose new questions, right questions, that can help find a right answer, so to say. We are still dealing with identity, with language—which is necessary, I am not denying the importance of this issue—but they do not explain really what is going on in Ukraine.

Just to give you one example, for months and months the most important issue in Ukraine—the status of the Russian language—was getting zero attention in the media. Nobody cares nowadays in Ukraine, but look what our scholars are writing, say, in the United States (I will not name names, but you can probably guess): that Ukraine is suffering from language schizophrenia, that something has to be done! But once we stop dealing with it, then we can refocus our attention on the most important issues, like corruption. So I believe that we are still very much stuck in the old agenda. It sounds renovated, refurbished, but still it is very much about national identity, or identity per se—which is important, no way to deny it, and it is necessary. But it is not sufficient: you cannot get a real understanding of what is going in Ukraine if you just focus on this idea. I have many examples, but I will not exceed my allotted time.

Just a final point. There is no doubt that we have to fight Putin on the front of identities and narratives; without a doubt, that is a must. But if we fight only on this front, we cannot win, because it is his playground. He has many more resources, and we simply cannot withstand them. […] He is stuck with a Huntingtonian agenda. I know for sure that Putin believes Huntington,[3] and I know people who say that actually he treats Huntington very seriously. You probably know that Putin is very fond of conservative thinkers, Huntington included. I would say that he really believed the divided-country idea [concerning Ukraine], and his plan for dividing Ukraine, for the Russian Spring, was based on reading Huntington. But I am afraid that many Ukrainian scholars read Ukraine the same way. And so—Huntington, the importance of the Russian language—if we deal with these kinds of issues, we have no chance to win the war on Putin’s playground, because we still believe that national identity, nationalism, those kinds of things, and historical memory are very important. Representation is very much a part of this postmodernist agenda. But I would say that there are much more important, more real things to discuss. I am afraid that we are not covering them, and my experience comes from working in think-tanks in Ukraine. There are several think-tanks, both state and civic ones, which are trying to come up with a new strategy for developing Ukraine and some kind of vision—and believe me, there are no academic scholars in the think-tanks. They have nothing to say when it comes to these things.

It took me a long time to find an economist in Ukraine who could provide me with statistics on the share of the so-called service economy in Ukraine, which I believe is probably one of the most important phenomena. During these Euromaidan years, there has been a transformation: the industrial sector has ceased to be the main source of GDP in Ukraine. Now the main part belongs to the service sector, but again, you could not find such data. I believe that to a certain extent it is a result of our agenda, because we still follow the old agenda—which is fine, it matters—but we do not discuss the challenges. You have to come up with a set of ideas, suggestions to help this country fight the historical legacy (not with historical memory per se). I believe that corruption is a part of this legacy. Who will write the history of corruption in Ukraine? Who will explain why corruption is so persistent? Why is it so different, say, from other countries of the former Soviet Union? That said, I believe that Ukrainian scholars have a unique opportunity to formulate a new agenda for Ukrainian studies. That might be a new field of study for the humanities—exactly what Gerasimov is saying. About post-colonialism. Because Ukraine and Ukrainian scholars—I am talking about Ukrainian scholars in Ukraine—definitely have to start speaking in their own voice, [which requires] formulating a new agenda, and I believe we still [greatly lack] discussion along these lines.

Questions and answers

Bohdan Medwidsky:

I have a minor question. There used to be in Germany a Ukrainian Free University. Is it dead now?

Mark Von Hagen:

As dean of the philosophy faculty of the Ukrainian Free University, I do not think it is dead. It is not in its golden age, I would say that, and it is facing many of the same problems that we have been talking about, the flight from the humanities. And ukraïnistyka, one of the faculties at the Ukrainian Free University, is one of the least subscribed to because all the Ukrainian students in Germany—well, not all of them, but many of them—are looking for more practical and profit-making opportunities, including business and law and administration. So ukraïnistyka, even at the Ukrainian Free University, is not in good shape right now.

Since 1991 the Ukrainian Free University has not received German government support because of [Ukraine’s] independence, so it has relied entirely on diaspora fundraising efforts. And it is taking in not only students who decided for one reason or another that their future was not in Ukraine, but also a lot of faculty from Ukraine who are teaching on a regular basis, every year. Political science, history, literature, language. So it is going on, but it faces many challenges, not so different from the ones that Alberta and Arizona and other places are also facing.

Bohdan Medwidsky:

The Mizhnarodna asotsiiatsiia ukraïnistiv,[4] is that dead, too? Because they should be doing the work.

Yaroslav Hrytsak:

If I may answer very briefly, it is more dead than alive. [Laughter.] Hopeless, believe me. Very much like academia in Ukraine.

Frank Sysyn:

I am not sure that Professor [Michael] Moser would agree with you about that, so it is interesting. But that brings up Vienna. Just one comment on what Yaroslav said at the end: I think it is an antidote to say that maybe too much attention is paid to language. But it is not just scholars abroad. It is the Kyiv Patriarchate, for example, as each time it takes over a parish, it talks about the right to pray in Ukrainian. The radio controversy about Ukrainian songs did not come from scholars abroad, either, so there are still tendencies in Ukraine where we see language and cultural production there. Somewhere between what Yaroslav said and what Rory said, which were the opposite sides of this thing, we do indeed want culture and language paid attention to.

On the general discussion, one thing that strikes me out of all this is that Ukrainian studies have developed differently, but always because of an ability to take opportunities when they come up. I thought specifically of Cambridge—we heard the story, and I want everyone to remember it: two hundred students in the past eight years taking Ukrainian at Cambridge University. Right? I would have said before, phenomenal! It took a number of things; one of them was that the Department of Slavic Studies wanted to do Ukrainian. Many years ago, Simon Franklin approached Ihor Ševčenko and said, “Can you find a Ukrainian donor in North American who has three and a half million quid, who could hand it over to us for Ukrainian studies?” But they did want to do it.

The second thing is that they have an academic spine in Cambridge to defend academic traditions, to not go along with whatever the last bureaucracy or dean says: redo all the studies, abolish this department, stick it there…they kept Slavic studies, they knew how to develop it, and they have done it. And then it always takes a person who can do it, and Ukrainian studies can develop if we take hold of these opportunities—if we are able to provide support, which in some cases the Ukrainian studies community has done. The very different situation we have heard about in Germany is that of a much more bureaucratized government in a top-down society—but no one in Germany planned that Andreas Kappeler would get interested in Ukraine. Right? Kappeler had a chair, decided he was interested in Ukraine, and then within a decade, German scholarship on Ukrainian history in the West jumped tremendously. With one generation of his students, we had eight or nine or ten basic monographs, and you could argue that a graduate student in North America [specializing in Ukraine] who does not read German is no longer abreast of his discipline.

I think of that as another of these opportunities. What I fear is that it also tells us that we get wedded to whatever structure we have. We are doing forty years of this institute, Harvard will do its anniversaries. You get a model, it goes for a while, but it is not always going to work, and we have got to be ready to go on and change rapidly. And you have to bet on specific people. If Giovanna Brogi had not been in Italy, had she not done all she did at that time, Italy would not have become a leading force for the study of baroque literature, of Ukrainian literature, for generations. It may not continue now. We will see if she has a good student who is taking over, but each of these were opportunities for the field. Every time I have dealt with my European colleagues, they have said, “Oh, well, it is not like North America, where you have a Ukrainian diaspora that can create a community and go on and do it.”

Raymond Pallard:

There was mention earlier about Cambridge University’s great tilt toward the East, Central Slavic studies, and how Ukraine has benefited from it. If I might pose a question: is that some sort of atonement for Cambridge University’s production of all the Kim Philbys and the others from the 1930s—the “House of Traitors” from England? [Laughter.]

Rory Finnin:

It must be an atonement for Kim Philby. There is a lot to atone for with Kim Philby. I would like to say that one of the proudest moments I have had at Cambridge actually is pointing to another alumnus named Gareth Jones. We all know him as the one journalist who put his name on the story of the Holodomor, and paid for that quite dearly. Coming from a North American Ukrainian studies context, we are aware of the name, and I had gone to Cambridge thinking that everyone would know Gareth Jones there too. He was not known at all, even at his alma mater, Trinity College, where he performed with first-class results in Russian and was invited to a lot of secret societies that people like Kim Philby joined. He always declined because he was worried about this kind of monolithic ideological thinking that secret societies invite. And we displayed his diaries that were put together during 1933 in particular, when he crossed the border into Soviet Ukraine and wandered around Kharkivshchyna,[5] seeing the situation in the countryside.

So now, instead of Kim Philby, you will often hear Gareth Jones’s name spoken about. However, when I bring this up, I also have to point out that guess where Walter Duranty went to university? [Laughter.] So Cambridge has a lot to be proud of, a lot to atone for. But of course all universities do, and one with 800-plus years has got a lot in the rear view.

Oleksandr Melnyk:

I will ask maybe a slightly provocative question. Since we are at a Ukrainian studies conference, there is a little bit of temptation for each of us to engage in some kind of self-serving agenda here. That is normal, we all have our interests. Suppose we abstract ourselves from the field of Ukrainian studies itself and try to project toward the real world that we study, to which we contribute in different ways. What if I were to ask each one of you: what do you see as the most important problem confronting Ukraine today, or the home societies in which we live? And the second question is: given your competencies and interests, what could you possibly see yourself doing to sort of elevate the problem in that particular domain?

Rory Finnin:

I suppose, really, I am perplexed by the epistemological problem that the study of Ukraine presents. Why are we in this position? As Marta [Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak] was saying earlier about defending Ukrainian studies (I am not sure who actually brought up this question), it is absolutely right that we should not have to defend Ukrainian studies. But why is it that certain areas of study, from African studies to Balkan studies to Ukrainian studies, why is it that they are considered niche areas? I mean, when we abstract ourselves, as you put it earlier, from this issue, we try to think about our various individual intellectual journeys to our field of study. In the end, it is a massive territory, highly complex, geopolitically significant. The fact that actually we are in some ways marginal still baffles me, and I suppose that is the one problem that I cannot quite get my mind around.

Even during this war, we still encounter this problem, and, as Slavko [Yaroslav Hrytsak] just put it, these problems keep sneaking around. And we are not yet, with our colleagues, particularly those in Russian studies, able to break free of these old methodological, intellectual fetters. We need to be thinking in radically new ways about a Ukrainian national identity, which I would say is probably the most powerful and yet underestimated force in modern European history. All the most renowned historians in this room taught me very clearly that Ukraine was composed of three different imperial peripheries that were themselves civilizational peripheries in the eyes of the West, yet somehow they created a new centre for themselves in Kyiv. That is not supposed to happen—that is defiance of geopolitical gravity. It’s fascinating. Why do we keep revisiting these topics? Why can we not get past them? I suppose that is the problem I find myself scratching my head about, whether it is Ukraine or other contexts.

Mark Von Hagen:

I would like to pick up on Rory’s challenge but also come back to Slavko’s question about Putin and civilization and Huntington. And I agree with you that Putin does have a very—well, not so simple-minded reading of Huntington, and when I talk about civilizational conflict, as with Eurasia, it is anti-Huntingtonian. And I did come from Columbia, where [Edward] Said was one of the leading critics of Huntington on Islam. And recently, for my sins, I went back and reread Huntington because I wanted to make sure that when I talked about civilizational conflict, it was on some firm ground. Huntington did not even mention Sunni and Shia when he talked about Islamic civilization, which is kind of the most important civilization for him in that book. But even when he talks about Orthodox/Slavic civilization, he assumes a kind of monolithic unchanging essentialist unity, which Putin would like to believe too. Putin talks about the “Russian World” and about Russian values and decadent Western values, all that good stuff.

It is a kind of paradox in that this self-righteous wonderful Russian identity of Orthodox/Slavic morality is, on the one hand, so “superior” to us but, on the other, it is so “weak and fragile” that we [Russia] have to shut down alternative newspapers, we have to shut down alternative media, we have to fight against Gay-ropa[6] on all kinds of social media. So it is at once powerful but very vulnerable and subject to contamination by these strange “civilizational” things. So when you go back and read Huntington on Orthodox/Slavic civilization, how does he explain Orthodox Russia fighting against an Orthodox patriarch in Constantinople and Crete, with Serbs and Bulgarians, and against Ukrainians and others? […] You know, for the first time in—I don’t know, a thousand years?—it was an attempt to reunify Orthodox civilization that failed this summer. So where was this uncontested Orthodox monolithic civilization? Not to be seen. And then you have Orthodox Russia attacking Orthodox Georgia. You have Orthodox Russia attacking Orthodox Ukraine, ostensibly over a Muslim Crimea. So does this mean, if anything, that this war and Putin have exposed how simple-minded and how wrong Huntington was? And what was he wrong about? He was wrong in believing that these civilizations are watertight, hermetically sealed, unchanging, and monolithic, and the only way they can exist is in a permanent clash, and that we, the West, have to keep all those other civilizations at bay.

Instead, what we all believe, I think, and I tried this with Eurasia a long time ago, I did not do anything but provoke a lot of controversy. Civilizations, cultures, societies are not one thing, but they are mixtures, they are migrations, they are boundary crossings. And thank you, Rory, for reminding us that Ukraine was at three imperial intersections, interstices, so it is a civilization that is, again, hybrid, not watertight, not completely separate from others. I mean, even Orthodox civilization lived with Jewish civilization, and Islamic civilization, and Protestant and Catholic Christian civilization, so this idea that there is some sort of hermetically sealed, perfect Orthodox civilization is bunk. So we need to convince those people who believe that, including Huntington and Putin, that that is not reality but a wished-for kind of reality. One other opportunity that I raised earlier that we have not come back to is the hundredth anniversary of 1917, the first Ukrainian state. How is Russia going to mark that? Putin is obviously not going to like February, because that is democratic. Even October is Lenin, and Lenin was guilty of all kinds of crimes, like giving away [what became] eastern Ukraine. So Lenin is not good, October 1917 is not good, so what is left? The White Russian counter-revolution. Again, if you look at his favourite authors from that period—Anton Denikin, Ivan Ilyin—the only thing that Russia is going to celebrate, if anything, is the White Russian reaction and counter-revolution.

Ukraine, by contrast, has the opportunity to celebrate the most democratic revolution it ever had. It failed, but why did it fail? Because the Bolsheviks did not play by the rules. The Ukrainians were playing by the rules, they had a majority of the vote, and they were willing to accommodate the Jews and Poles and Russians in a unique experiment of national autonomy (that did not last long), but Ukraine was the only country that did it on its own. And I do not think this revolution is known by Ukrainian citizens. It is certainly not known in the West, and that revolution is something that is worth—I do not know about celebrating, but at least having a more positive intervention in the study of revolution. And that is why I mentioned that I went to Israel for the first time. And why did I go to Israel? Because of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917—because Israel is planning a whole bunch of events next year to reconsider, revise, and revisit what happened in 1917 and its impact to this day, and I was invited because I work on the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917. And if that is not an opportunity for us, I do not know what is.

Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak:

I would love to continue this discussion on a very high plane of what would be the great issues, what issues Ukraine should be facing, and how to do that. But I think that is one of the major problems Ukraine has had. Maybe it is the end of the Soviet reliance on Kant and the need always to have an ideological justification. But from my long travels over Ukraine, I have come to the conclusion that basically Ukrainian society is a quintessentially bourgeois society that really wants a good, decent life, and forcing people to come to a decision of what Weltanschauung, or world view, they all have to accept is generally not top on people’s agendas.

I think it is necessary for us scholars to understand that we should write the books we want to write. I would personally urge Ukrainian scholars and Ukrainian journalists to write something readable and try to publish what [other] recent émigrés from the [former] Soviet Union are now publishing in the New Yorker. We do not! Ukrainians do not publish [there]; we publish in our journals. […] But when it comes to practical issues, when it comes to what Ukraine needs, Ukrainian scholars—and we all—need to realize that we will always have an eternity of issues, and we will always keep trying to resolve this generational conflict, this marginalization. We personally will always be on the margins. All this reminds me of the earliest sessions of the feminist movement—trying to define yourself. For God’s sake, you cannot define yourself without defining your whole community. What I think the Ukrainians should do is solve those issues that can be solved, in whatever way they need to be solved, and let their children deal with the rest.

Serhy Yekelchyk:

Just two very quick comments. One on language, culture, and society, which is something I have been thinking about as well. I would argue that it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate these issues now, because in the course of revolutionary events, I think the Ukrainian language and culture acquired the status of a symbolic marker—which is attached to the concept of true democracy, anti-neo-Stalinism, against Putin, against the Russian agenda—and it is now kind of difficult to artificially, analytically separate them. If a person demonstrates respect for them—not necessarily when practicing the Ukrainian language and culture—that alone positions this person politically, I think, in a very important way.

Also, I would argue that the core values of the recent revolutions were in fact civic and political, so this is the new identity that Ukraine is building but language and culture are [still] markers. Secondly, I thought that it would be important also to kind of issue a warning against walking into Putin’s trap, which is what I see in present-day Ukraine quite a bit, especially in connection with the far right, which tends to get rejuvenated every time elections are nearing. And somehow they are not at the front, yet somehow they are right in front of the parliament, and on Khreshchatyk,[7] being funded from some rather obscure sources. These may in fact be connected to Russian television, which is benefiting from the picture of these people demonstrating in the centre of the Ukrainian capital with various emblems and symbols that look very much neo-Nazi. So that is playing right into the hands of Putinist propaganda, and there is, I feel, a bit of a temptation in Ukraine, and also among the younger public, to identify with the most extreme opposite of Putin’s Russia. It is as if the depiction of Bandera becomes acceptable on the Maidan because for Putin’s Russia, Bandera is construed as its diametrical opposite, not because people on the Maidan have read a lot of Bandera’s work, so they join the organization and things like that, because this is what Putin hates most. But this is the symbolic function, and there is always a danger that beyond that there would be an acceptance of political practices, which would only play into Russia’s hands.

Yaroslav Hrytsak:

If I may, […] I would just tell you a story. Two years ago, I met [a young professor] in the Warsaw airport. He was returning from Moscow, he was working there, and he had a presentation at the so-called Vyshka,[8] probably the best university in Russia nowadays […] in the humanities. He said to me, “Can you imagine what the world is coming to? I, an American professor of Jewish origin, had to defend Bandera against the accusations of a Russian professor and students.” He himself is very much disliked (to put it mildly) in Poland for bringing up the Jedwabne issue.[9] So that is why I am saying this here. What a complicated story we live in, and Ukrainian things do belong to this story, Bandera included.

The British ambassador to Kyiv put it in a very nice metaphor that I like very much. He says that Ukraine confirms the paradox of the bumblebee. According to all laws of aerodynamics, bumblebees should not fly, but they do. According to all the theories, Ukraine should not exist as a viable state, but still it does. So this is the beauty of Ukraine, because it defies gravity, and we are still following this law of gravity because we believe it is important. But this exactly is something that we have to explain—in what way is Ukraine defying this kind of paradigm, these kinds of laws? This is what I see as probably the main challenge for Ukrainian studies, because I believe it is a Ukrainian riddle, a Ukrainian paradox, but also, I believe, a paradox of today’s world, which is becoming more and more “Ukrainian” in that way.

And, talking about myself, I am also caught by the transformation, by political events in Ukraine. It is quite a different perspective from being here…and I believe it would be very selfish to continue with my academic career by writing a new book, six hundred pages, that probably only fifteen people would read. So what am I doing? I am blogging. I consider blogging a very important part of the academic agenda nowadays. You should offer some ideas to a large audience, especially to this new young middle class, and your blog must be very short. It is a challenge, for nobody reads more than two pages. If their attention is not caught by the first two paragraphs, forget it, they will not read your third paragraph. So along this line, my ambition is to write a very short history of Ukraine—but a global one, based on the bumblebee paradox. Not according to Hrushevsky—which I believe is important—many people wrote about Hrushevsky, and Hrushevsky himself wrote—no one could do that better than Hrushevsky. But my book would deal with countries such as Ukraine in order to explain their corruption and authoritarianism. Douglass North and Ronald Inglehart, who are not historians but political or social scientists, have written global histories of this kind. And this is exactly what I believe Ukraine now needs, because it provides a new perspective and helps to better explain what is going on.

Andrii Portnov:

To answer Oleksandr [Melnyk]’s question: for me, at least at the moment, maybe the most interesting aspect of what could be said about Ukraine is the question of the origins and nature of violence. I am trying to write something about it, actually using your paper as well, and it is incredibly helpful and interesting in this already mentioned transnational context, because you could perfectly use the story of ex-Yugoslavia and also some parts of northern Africa to compare it critically.

As you also know, we are doing intellectual projects on Ukraine all the time, at—actually, one of our contributors is also here, Oleksandr Pankieiev, one more function of his—and I should also tell you that it is done almost entirely without money. I could tell you the annual budget: nobody believes me, especially when I talk to Russian or Polish colleagues who are doing comparable projects. Their budgets are hundreds of thousands of euros; ours is a couple of thousand euros. It is not just that I am sitting in Berlin and trying to learn German; I am also trying to be very active in Ukraine, maybe even too active, and it also interferes considerably with my attempts to find a position in Germany. And I am very sorry for the other colleagues [here waiting to speak], but I would still insist on the importance of inequality, for I wish to give you two more practical suggestions.

First, Ukraine desperately needs—but of course I do not see it as realistic in the nearest future—something like a higher school of economics, already mentioned by Yaroslav [Hrytsak], or even, if you wish, Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. Russians and Kazakhs, as well as Americans, can go back to their countries and work and teach and be well paid. Not so in Ukraine, and that is why almost nobody goes back. Everybody tries to stay in Poland, Germany, or Canada, anywhere.  If you go back, you go back to the situation described by Rory [Finnin]. You have no money to pay even for a British visa, which was also my case a couple of years ago.

The second thing is a kind of abstract vision. Maybe we need a program to translate the very good books produced and published in Ukrainian, in Ukraine, into English. Such programs exist in Lithuania, Poland, and some other countries. I can identify some very good books Ukrainian by Valerii Vasyliev on communism, Hennadii Yefimenko on Soviet politics in the early years, and Volodymyr Masliichuk on eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, they could not write those books in English, and if we are thinking of integrating Ukrainian-based and Ukrainian-language scholarship into international debate, maybe we need a program to do something real, not just talk about beautiful concepts.

Paul Robert Magocsi:

There are two points that I would like to share with you, since we are in the discussion mode. First, we should always keep in mind that we are already today, and in general, in a very luxurious mood—that is, we have the luxury to discuss a success story. We are really talking about the price of success. Ukraine has been an enormously successful “project,” to use the modern term. A hundred and fifty years ago there were no Ukrainians. No one in the world knew about Ukrainians as a separate people, as a distinct people, as a distinct language. Since 1991 an independent country, against all odds, has now existed for twenty-five years. Now, whether one wants to use the metaphor of the bumblebee or not, really we are talking about the problems of success, the challenges of success.

The other thing is the direction of this panel. I am a bit confused. We started this panel—in the context of this entire conference—to discuss the past and present challenges of the academic enterprise of Ukrainianists, primarily in the West. What this panel was starting to do—and maybe what many of us get drawn off in—was asserting that Ukraine has a problem right now: its greatest enemy is Putin, and what should we, as academics, be doing to counter the activity of Putin in Russia. Well, excuse me, that is not our job. Our job is as academics, and we should not be mixing up academic goals, scholarly goals, or pedagogical goals and activity with work as propagandists or political activists vis-à-vis an enemy state. That is for somebody else to do. And Yaroslav mentioned that for him personally, what is the point of writing academic books anymore, for him or for you, at this particular moment in your life? You feel it is more important to do your two-minute blogs. Fine, but you said that is what academics should be doing. I do not think so—[that is for] public intellectuals. So if you want to move from the status of an academic concerned with larger matters, long-term matters—if you want to be a public intellectual and go out on the barricades against the enemy, that is fine too. This is what I mean by “I am confused” here, because I think it is very dangerous to move along that slippery slope of being concerned first and foremost with scholarly, pedagogical, and academic matters, and then becoming—as if we suddenly have a responsibility to be fighting against Putin. That is not our job.

David Marples:

I think what Professor Magocsi said is very pertinent, that academics should not become politicized, but I do not necessarily think there is a real contradiction between someone using a blog and being an academic, if the goal is to simply disseminate more widely among an audience. Obviously it is not a scholarly contribution. I would also say that one of the stipulations that seems to be emanating from the office of our president [David Turpin at the U of A] is that we have to become public intellectuals. He said that directly. You know, basically, then, for someone like Professor Magocsi to stand up and say, “Well, we cannot be public intellectuals and objective academics,” does not seem to me to make a lot of sense. I think that one can be both. Obviously the line can be crossed at times, and there are academics who have become political activists (I could name ten off the top of my head, but I would not do it here). The goal, though, should be to avoid falling into that category, but I do not think that one necessarily negates the other.

I was going to make a comment earlier about Putin and about Russia, because I think the emphasis on Putin is overdone. I realize that if you are sitting in eastern Ukraine or somewhere like Dnipropetrovsk, there is a very real threat of conflict in your area. At the same time, to demonize Putin makes him much more powerful than he actually is, and I would ask people at least to take into consideration a couple of not exactly statistics, but just information. The GDP of the European Union is seven times larger than the GDP of Russia—not the West, but the European Union alone. The European Union is more than three times larger than Russia, whose population has been declining for the last twenty years. When you talk about Russia, you are talking about many autonomous regions that would, in fact, like more power [ceded] from the centre and have been deprived of power for the last ten years. In other words, Russia is not a monolithic entity run from Moscow under one man, Putin. Putin is not even the most extreme of Russians by a long shot. There are people far more right-wing, “fascist,” than Putin. So I think we give him too much credit, quite honestly, and I think the focus on Putin is really overdone when it comes to Ukraine.

In fact, if you look at the summer of 2014 and the forces fighting among the separatists, Putin simply abandoned them, completely abandoned them and left them to their own fate. And it was not Putin’s idea that they would suddenly move from Sloviansk to Donetsk; he did not plan that. He simply gave up because the concept of New Russia, or Russkii Mir, had clearly failed, mainly because most people in Ukraine refused to go along with it and were not interested in being annexed or invaded by Russian forces. I think Russian leaders have actually seen that, and this is one reason why they do not know what to do with Donetsk or Luhansk today. So I think we can take that into consideration when looking at the future of Ukraine.

I do not think the future of Ukraine is in any doubt. It is really a matter of looking perhaps more at regions than simply at one particular entity—just as, if you look at the Canadian state, you could also say the same thing: it is divided into very distinct regions. What do we here, for example, really have in common with the Maritimes? Not a great deal; they are farther away from us than, say, London is from Moscow. So I think that more emphasis on the regions of Ukraine is important, and even—this is something Volodymyr [Kravchenko] talks a lot about—border issues as well, because there are certain commonalities between border regions of Russia and Ukraine, just as between Ukraine and Belarus, just as between Ukraine and Poland.

Yaroslav Hrytsak:

As I understand, the question from Professor Magocsi was addressed personally to me. So let me continue, because “public intellectual Hrytsak” was mentioned, correct? [Laughter.] I am sorry if I gave the wrong impression that I would force you to write blogs. God forbid. You are doing your work brilliantly.

I have two points. First of all, the challenges depend on conjuncture, what you stand for, where you come from, what the issues are where you live in your society—and I believe that therefore our perspectives are very different. There is one take if you live in Ukraine, and your colleagues are going to the front, and if you feel endangered, so it is quite a different pressure and probably one that is not as luxurious as you said. That is okay. It does not mean that one is better and the other worse, just different.

Secondly, I do not believe there is anything wrong with being a public intellectual. I believe it is very good. It is rather an issue of quality, whether you are a good public intellectual or a bad public intellectual. For sometimes, the less public you are, the less intellectual you are—this is really the danger, and good public intellectuals are aware of this danger. So just let me provide you with a list of very famous historians who have been public intellectuals—in my estimation, very good public intellectuals. Mykhailo Hrushevsky was the first. I am talking about professional historians, because [Ivan] Franko was also—but Mykhailo Hrushevsky was the first. Ivan Lysiak Rudnytsky was a public intellectual. Mykhailo Drahomanov, it was also discussed, was a public intellectual. […] A. J. P. Taylor was an intellectual, a public intellectual. Ernest Gellner was a public intellectual; he wrote a lot of pieces, short pieces in The Guardian on academic-related issues. Tony Judt, who in many ways is my idol, also wrote extensively. And Tim Snyder—this is the same ethos—he is a public intellectual. In the Russian case, there was Dmitrii Furman, who I believe was one of the historians with the best understanding of the difference between Ukraine and Russia. He was a very good historian, and he was a public intellectual. Do read the two-part essay by Perry Anderson in his review of books on Dmitrii Furman, because it says that he was both a brilliant historian and a very good public intellectual.

Final point: a book that is very much discussed nowadays, the History Manifesto, written by the chair of history at Harvard.[10] His main point is that there is an impression that the world is going in the wrong direction. Why is it important? Because we have lost [our bearings]; because many of the issues that we are now facing are not short-term issues, not snapshots. They have long-term causes, and to find and explain them you need a long-term perspective, which means a historian’s perspective. Who will do it—economists, political scientists, politicians? No, this is something that historians have to do. Therefore, the History Manifesto ends up saying that historians should stand up and fight. I am not saying that everybody has to be a historian and teach public history, although probably it is not a bad idea to have a public history. But at a certain point, for certain people, being public intellectuals does not necessarily mean bad things.

[1]    Russian word for military deception (lit. “masking”).

[2]    Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1996–2004).

[3]    The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington (1996).

[4]    MAU, Ukrainian acronym for the International Association for Ukrainian Studies (

[5]    Kharkiv region.

[6]    Anti-Maidan homophobic slur against Yevropa (Europe).

[7]    Main street in the centre of Kyiv.

[8]    National Research University—Higher School of Economics.

[9]    Local Polish involvement in an infamous Nazi pogrom in 1941.

[10]  The History Manifesto by David Armitage and Jo Guldi (2014).