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The Ukrainian crisis and history.

Most historians are probably drawn to their craft not only by an innate curiosity for "tales of bygone years," but also because they intuitively sense that the past is always with us. Ordinary people are drawn to history for the same reason. Just as prior events and processes objectively shape the world in which we live, so too people look to the past to make sense of the present and to find inspiration for forging their future. In times of crisis, recourse to the past may prove especially compelling, as it generates a narrative structure in which people may situate, and thus interpret, otherwise bewildering events.

The situation in Ukraine beginning in November 2013 represents one such crisis. The geographical distribution of support for Viktor Yanukovych before his ouster in February 2014, and for the new government after that, is virtually unintelligible without reference to the historical trajectories of the different territorial pieces from which contemporary Ukraine was assembled. Likewise, the politics of the crisis abound with symbols of the past--particularly, but not only, those connected with World War II. That the history is sometimes bad and different sides at times invoke the same events to serve radically different purposes should not surprise us. But the centrality of history for the Ukrainian crisis--both as a foundation for the present and as a resource for political mobilization--invites historians with knowledge of the region to bring their expertise to bear. It may also compel nonspecialist historians to rethink some core assumptions about Ukraine and its status within the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

It was the recognition of this imperative that inclined Kritikds editorial collective to organize a forum on the significance of history for the Ukrainian crisis. Enlisting specialists based in the United States, Canada, Ukraine, and Russia/Hungary, we asked how historical knowledge can help us make sense of the crisis. What should our readers know about the history of Ukraine (and/or the Russian Empire and the USSR) and about this situation in order to understand it better? What are the different ways in which history informs the actions of political leaders and ordinary citizens alike? In which broader historical narratives does it make most sense to situate the extraordinary events of 2013-14?

The small but distinguished team of scholars that we assembled includes Faith Hillis (University of Chicago), author of a recent monograph exploring efforts in 19th-century right-bank Ukraine to harness the forces of nationalism in defense of the Russian Empire; John-Paul Himka (University of Alberta), who has written extensively about religion and nationalism in Galicia, on last-judgment icons in the Carpathians, and on the reception of the Holocaust in postcommunist Ukraine; William Jay Risch (Georgia College), author of a monograph on the role of the USSR's western borderlands, and the city of L'viv specifically, in the Soviet state's demise; Alexei Miller (European University, St. Petersburg, and Central European University, Budapest), author of numerous works on Ukrainian and Russian imperial history and the problem of Russian nationalism in an imperial setting; and Georgiy Kasianov (Institute of the History of Ukraine, Kyiv), who has sought to link the history of Ukraine to the broader practice of transnational history and to explore the different vectors of history writing in Russia and Ukraine. (1) These authors faced a demanding task: to comment on a conflict that was (and is) still unfinished and that generates strong emotions and passions. We salute their willingness to embrace this challenge. (2)

As the intricacy of the crisis warrants, the forum's participants emphasize various issues and are not always in full agreement. Yet a number of common themes emerge with clarity. One involves the intrinsic complexity of Ukraine's history, despite efforts in both past and present to simplify it. Thus Hillis insists that Ukraine's historical relationship to Russia has been ambivalent (121). She emphasizes that for centuries, the peoples inhabiting Ukraine played a central role in shaping the history of imperial Russia and the Soviet Union but just as frequently rebelled against encroachments by the Russian state and developed demands for freedom into a source of self-identity. Hillis regrets that after 15 years of promising efforts "to build a civic nation that affirmed ethnic, linguistic, and ideological diversity" (125), various players are now attempting to "transform a complicated history of intimacy and antipathy into a monolithic narrative" (125). Himka's essay offers a more fine-grained analysis of regional distinctions than the typical West vs. East/ South division suggests. The "West" features not just the three oblasts that were parts of Austrian Galicia but also Chernivitsi and Transcarpathia, which reveal distinct historical trajectories connected to Romania and Hungary. Risch, meanwhile, delves into the "multiple meanings" (137) of Ukraine's recent revolution but devotes special attention to the symbols of the Far Right on the Euromaidan and their 20th-century history to explain why their appeal to the present generation may not "represent a return to the politics of ethnic violence or ethnic exclusion" (144)--Russian propaganda notwithstanding. Miller proposes that many Ukrainian citizens, especially Russian-speaking ones, have been compelled to choose between stark options and have lost the luxury of "cultural ambivalence" as a result (147). While insisting that Ukraine's historical inheritance offered a number of different possibilities, he draws attention to a deep process that has influenced outcomes in Ukraine, including its status as a buffer between Russia and Central Europe and the longer history that made a "Little Russian" identity difficult to maintain. Kasianov likewise finds that until the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the rise of Vladimir Putin, there was still space for "a mixed and thus ambivalent version" (151) of history that combined elements of an exclusivist, Ukrainian nationalist narrative, on the one hand, and a "Soviet-nostalgic version" (151), on the other; he finds little space for such ambivalence today.

The memory of World War II represents another common theme. Himka calls the war "the biggest memory divide relevant to the Euromaidan and the separatist movement in eastern and southern Ukraine" (134). Of particular importance are differing views on the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), the group created in 1929 to promote integral Ukrainian nationalism whose armed force, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), participated in anti-Polish and anti-Jewish violence during the war and conducted an anti-Soviet insurgency lasting until 1950 or so. All the authors note the emergence of OUN symbolism as part of the Euromaidan phenomenon: the resurrection of OUN and UPA slogans such as "Ukraine above all," "Glory to Ukraine," and "Glory to the heroes"; prominent displays of neo-Nazi insignia; a torchlight parade on the birth of OUN leader Stepan Bandera on 1 January 2014, and so on--much of this accompanied by the destruction of Soviet monuments, such as statues of Lenin.

More difficult is the task of interpreting this symbolism. On one level, torchlight processions and neo-Nazi insignia can only agitate a liberal conscience. But both Himka and Risch emphasize the transformed meaning of this symbolism for most Ukrainians. As Himka remarks, "a broad coalition of Euromaidan supporters, including gay rights activists and democrats as well as radical right nationalists, greet each other with a slogan that may have a completely reinvented meaning" (136). Risch similarly emphasizes "how easily we [may] confuse symbols with their meaning" (143). "Activists at die Maidan were a diverse lot" (142), he insists, and their symbols included not just portraits of Bandera but also Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and even Rosa Parks (144). At a minimum, we may say that the issue is more complicated than die Kremlin's propagandists would have us believe. At the same time, few would dispute Himka's observation that the resurrection of such symbolism became a "gift" for such propagandists. Nor did all this appear suddenly at the end of 2013. Both Hillis and Kasianov emphasize that the rehabilitation of the OUN and Bandera dates back to the Yushchenko regime (2005-10), which aligned itself with Galician nationalists and declared as national heroes several figures whom Jews, Poles, and Russians are inclined to regard as criminals (125, 152). Kasianov notes that between 2007 and 2010 no fewer than 40 new monuments and memorial sites to Bandera appeared in western Ukraine (154).

As of this writing, the crisis in Ukraine continues, and its final outcome remains unclear. Nonetheless, the short essays in this edition of Kritika offer our readers a set of analytical and conceptual tools for thinking about the unfolding events, as well as references to a historical literature that establishes a framework for interpreting ongoing developments in the region. If the past is anything to judge by, the future will bring many unexpected new developments, as there has been much in the Ukrainian crisis that has surprised even the best-informed observers. We will all be flipping through our reference manuals trying to find precedents for each.

With this issue, Kritikas collective bids farewell to one of our most valued colleagues, Sergei Bogatyrev, who joined the journal as associate editor for medieval and early modern Russia and Eurasia in 2007. We will miss his broad and deep knowledge, his ability to bring specialists from around the world to the journal's pages, and the attention he gave to works published in Russia, Ukraine, and Western Europe as well as Britain and the United States.

At the same time, we enthusiastically welcome his replacement, Brian J. Boeck, associate professor of history at DePaul University, whose works on the borderlands of Rus', Muscovy, and the early Russian Empire include Imperial Boundaries: Cossack Communities and Empire-Building in the Age of Peter the Great (2009). Welcome aboard, Brian!

(1) Faith Hillis, Children of Rus ': Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013)--reviewed in this issue of Kritika; John-Paul Himka, Religion and Nationality in Western Ukraine: The Greek Catholic Church and the Ruthenian National Movement in Galicia, 1867-1900 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999); Himka, Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009); Himka and Joanna Beata Michlic, eds., Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Post-Communist Europe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013); William Jay Risch, The Ukrainian West: Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011); Alexei Miller, The Ukrainian Question: Russian Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2003); Miller, The Romanov Empire and Nationalism (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2008); Miller and Stefan Berger, eds., Nationalizing Empire (Budapest: Central European University Press, forthcoming); Georgiy Kasianov and Philipp Ther, eds., A Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2009); Kasianov and Miller, Rossiia-Ukraina: Kakpishetsia istoriia (Moscow: Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi gumanitarnyi universitet, 2011); Kasianov, "The 'Nationalization' of History in Ukraine," in The Convolutions of Historical Politics, ed. Miller and Maria Lipman (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2012), 141-74.

(2) Here we should draw attention also to the extensive forum published in Ab Imperio: "Ukraine and the Crisis of 'Russian Studies': Participant Observation of History in the Making," no. 3 (2014): 22-228; as well as to a panel at the January 2015 convention of the American Historical Association, described briefly at http://blog.historians.org/2015/01/ history-historians-ukraine-crisis.
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Title Annotation:From the Editors
Publication:Kritika
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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