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Four Traumatizations That Created Ukrainian Identity.

George O. Liber, Total Wars and the Making of Modern Ukraine, 1914-1954. xxxiv + 453 pp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016. ISBN-13 9781442627086. $39.95.

Are there not already too many books on the history of Ukraine? And has Timothy Snyder not described in sufficient detail the mass killings that occurred in the area between Central Europe and the Ural Mountains? (1) Both questions have to be answered in the negative after reading George Liber's book that describes one specific result of the murderous cataclysms that shook the vast lands of Eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Liber sets the ambitious goal of providing a new answer to the old question of how nation-states emerged. But rather than entering the dispute between primordialist, perennialist, and modernist theoreticians, he describes on a practical level what happened in and around the area of present-day Ukraine and how this resulted in the formation of a modern nation-state called Ukraine. (2) According to Liber, the "total wars" of the first half of the 20th century brought about a "social realignment" in Ukrainian society (279) and made possible the formation of this nation-state. These wars reshaped the multicultural area into one with a Ukrainian identity. But at the same time, they loaded the existence of the Ukrainian state with unsolved burdens of the past--causing phantom pains over disputed territories that had been incorporated into its neighbor states.

The modernist discourse (and Liber is more modernist than anything else) is based on, among other things, Miroslav Hroch's assumption that nations--especially those emerging from "incomplete" nonstate peoples in Eastern Europe--are the creations of intellectuals and activists. The national intellectual elites convince the inhabitants of these lands of their particular cultural quality and forge a political program based on a cultural agenda. (3) Although Liber does not refute Hroch's scheme, he advances a different interpretation of the nature of state formation. Instead of the nation building taking place in peaceful times, he concentrates on clashes, mass murder, deportations, and the "social chaos" (279) in deadly times of war and persecution. His bold thesis is that there was no "linear road" to the Ukrainian nation state. Rather, the emerging Ukrainian nationalism was an "interactive response" to wars and violence that in essence created present-day Ukraine (11).

Quite in line with Ukrainian integral nationalists of the interwar period, (4) but in contrast to most ideologues of modem-day Ukraine, Liber identifies the Ukrainian-speaking population of the pre-1914 period as "an ethnographic mass" (34), lacking most accessories of modern nationhood. After establishing this ground zero, he proceeds to describe in length how--according to his count--four traumatizations (all part of the "total wars") changed the mental and demographic situation in the Ukrainian lands.

For Liber, the first traumatization comes not in 1932 (as for Timothy Snyder), but in 1914 (11). Although the military confrontations of World War I were accompanied by mass murder, Liber's focus is rather on the wartime encounters between different groups of Ukrainians as well as between Ukrainians and other peoples. It was in the context of the war that Galician Russophiles were disappointed by the Russians, less nationally conscious Eastern Ukrainians met nationalist Western Ukrainians, and numerous evacuees mixed with locals in whom they suddenly recognized their co-nationals. For Liber, these wartime encounters constituted the first step in the process of replacing loyalty to non-Ukrainian ruling dynasties and imperial identities with a common Ukrainian national identity. Liber's description of what happened after the war differs sharply from the narrative of nationalist writers: he considers Soviet Ukraine, notwithstanding its shortcomings, to have played an important part in shaping Ukrainian national identity. Like Richard Pipes, he calls Soviet Ukraine a "subversive institution" (78), because it implanted Ukrainian nationhood into the Soviet system, whose declared goal was to overcome nationality. (5) In this sense, it was quite similar to Sergei Uvarov's doctrine of "official nationality," which unintentionally introduced a nationalist discourse to the Russian Empire in 1833. (6)

The second trauma came, of course, with the artificial famine that, according to Libers account, began in 1928 and ran into the period of the Great Terror of the late 1930s. Differing from some official Ukrainian historians, he quite convincingly underscores the famines link to the Soviet industrialization effort and the (definitely not unrealistic) fear of a foreign attack. (7) Most originally, however, Liber argues that these years created a Soviet consciousness of being Ukrainian ("Ukrainization Reconfigured")--one that was not necessarily based on the Ukrainian language or a desire for independence but included a regional "neutered national identity" (285)--in areas such as the Donbass.

There is no need to explain in detail how many parties contributed to Ukrainian nation building during the third traumatic period (1939-47): uniting most Ukrainian territories under the auspices of Soviet Ukraine and Nazi Germany, killing or deporting non-Ukrainians and Ukrainians alike, creating military and paramilitary units, stressing otherness even toward population groups with whom the Ukrainians had allied earlier. The UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) saga as well as the actions of Soviet partisans and Ukraine's UN membership, which came just after World War II--all fall into the same category of strengthening aspects of Ukrainian identity, although full independence came only in the fourth earthshaking period of 1989-91. It was only then, and possibly only for a short period of time (at least, as far as Russia is concerned) that both Ukrainians and their neighbors were prepared to accept an independent Ukrainian state, which had been constructed mentally during the preceding century. Liber dissects the different sources of Ukrainian national consciousness that gave Ukrainian nationalism a specific quality, which he treats as both an asset and a liability.

Libers original concept is embedded in a fact-laden account of Ukraine's history in the 20th century. The abundance of details is not always a service to the reader, who may have difficulty recognizing how they support the author's thesis. Liber takes his information from a wealth of sources, but unfortunately he often does not discuss differences in interpretation or discriminate between scholarly works and tendentious writings. In the militant Ukrainian historiographical landscape this is obviously a dangerous flaw. The same holds true of his reliance on the misleading "national" interpretation when he discusses the leftist Ukrainian People's Republic of the Russian revolutionary era (xvi). He also provides a much too short "prehistory" of "his" period (9).

A book of so broad a scope inevitably contains some mistakes. For example, Kholm was promised to the Ukrainians in 1918 but never actually transferred, as Liber claims (67); Rakovski was of Bulgarian, not Romanian, descent (116); Konovalets' served in the regular Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, not with the Ukrains'ki sichovi stril'tsi (93); the OUN split happened in 1940, not "before the Soviet takeover" of 1939 (208); the explicit order by Hitler to "execute ... the entire Jewish population" is still not directly available (214); "local government organs" of the Nazi administration up to the raion level were manned by local inhabitants and not by Germans, of whom there were very few around (223), and Katyn was not in "former Eastern Poland" (229), unless you go back to the 17th-century Polish state.

The author would have also done himself a service if he had concentrated more on his innovative interpretation and had not tried to recount in significant detail episodes in Ukrainian history that are well known to specialists. On the whole, however, this book is both interesting and thoughtinspiring. It demonstrates that conventional historical narratives are not the only way to tell a story. Most important, Liber reveals that there are many productive ways to interpret the quagmires of Ukrainian history.

Universitat Hamburg

Historisches Seminar

von-Melle-Park 6

20146 Hamburg, Germany

(1) Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

(2) On this dispute, see, e.g., Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism (London: Routledge, 1998).

(3) Miroslav Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe: A Comparative Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European Nations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

(4) See, e.g., Iu. Vassyian, "Do holovnykb zasad natsionalizmu," Rozhudova natsii, no. 1 (1928): 33-42, here 34, 36.

(5) Richard Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-- 1923 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954), 296-97.

(6) See Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, Russian Identities: A Historical Survey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), chap. 7.

(7) The most prominent example is Stanislav V. Kul'chyts'kyi, Holod 1932-1933 rr. v Ukraini iak henotsyd (Kyiv: Natsional'na akademiia nauk Ukrainy, Instytut istorii, 2005). Kul'chyts'kyi, a Soviet historian, radically changed his views on the Holodomor after Ukraine became independent. On the political use of the Holodomor, see Heorhii Kas ianov, Danse macabre (Kyiv: Nash chas, 2010).
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Author:Golczewski, Frank
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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