Himka on Ukrainian history

20 04 2022

It’s difficult to briefly summarize Ukrainian history — the best books on the topic clock in at 432 pages (Plokhy’s) and 896 pages (Magocsi’s) respectively — but John-Paul Himka has done that in 10 “turning points” at Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, a web site that is in some ways very kindred to UKR-TAZ. HImka’s piece on Ukraine’s socialist heritage also fills in some of the blanks on that side of Ukrainian history (and shows how the worst thing that ever happened to socialism was Stalin).





Bojcun: on a new peace strategy

27 03 2022

Jacobin has published an excellent interview with social historian and political economist Marko Bojcun, which covers the history of left-wing social and political movements in Ukraine, the specificities of national and regional identity (including in Donbas), and the prospects for peace today.

In case Jacobin‘s left-wing readership is unfamiliar with what happened to a generation of Ukrainian socialists, some of the details Bojcun provides are worth repeating:

“Ukrainian identity as a choice for self-determination, which grew stronger in the 1920s, in conditions that allowed Ukrainians to enter into political life, was brutally brought to an end in the 1930s and driven underground with the Stalinist purges and the terror. The large majority of all Ukrainian political and cultural leaders were eliminated: 140 out of 142 members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine in 1933 ended up in the camps and prisons or executed outright. There was a wipeout of the intelligentsia during the famine of 1932–33, which broke the back of the peasantry as an autonomous political force.”

As for the prospects for peace, Bojcun notes:

“Russia has twenty-one military bases and installations outside of its own borders, eighteen of them in independent ex-Soviet states. These are instruments of the Kremlin as a gendarme of the entire region. Ukraine finds itself caught between two regional military powers protecting their respective regional integration projects. […]

“Ukraine finds itself caught between two regional military powers protecting their respective regional integration projects. […] These two regional integration projects have been expanding for a long time now; it’s now come to a confrontation. […]

“We have to begin with first principles. That firstly means each country has a right to defend itself, but it should withdraw all of its military forces that are outside its own country if it has placed them there. Secondly, it means that we need to disarm, to reduce and eliminate offensive weapons. […] We need to talk about creating a cooperative environment and linking up people, that is to say, civic and social and human rights movements, productive collectives and labor organizations across borders, to build up mutual trust and support rather than relying entirely on governments. […]

“Right now, however, Ukrainians cannot take part in discussions about a durable future peace. That must come later, at war’s end. They are demanding an immediate end to the aggression against them, desperately asking for help from those who say they stand alongside them. […] Our task is to stay with them, build and maintain our links with them, and to demand that Putin’s regime stops the killing. The ties we make with them will lay foundations for in-depth discussions and decisions later about the long-term peace.”





Decolonialism and the invasion of Ukraine

22 03 2022

Placing the Russian invasion of Ukraine into the context of postcolonial and decolonial theory can be a tricky business. This post takes a few recent articles as its starting point to explore some of its ambiguities.

Decolonization, take 1: Ukraine and Russia

Writing in e-Flux journal (and reprinted in left-wing German magazine Taz), Oleksiy Radynski, filmmaker and cofounder of Kyïv’s Visual Culture Research Center, astutely untangles the deeply colonialist underpinnings of Putin’s war on Ukraine and Ukrainians. In “The Case Against the Russian Federation,” Radynski briefly pursues two fascinating lines of argument. (Each of them has been developed in greater depth by others, but not to my knowledge combined in such a concise and currently relevant way, thus my focus on it here.)

The first argues that Putin’s, and many Russians’, anti-Ukrainianism — the “deep ethnic and political hatred towards Ukrainians” evident in his recent speeches — is a disavowal of that which threatens them internally. Ukraine today represents “a radically different Russia,” with the disavowal working in both directions.

Read the rest of this entry »




Long live the golden-domed city

27 02 2022

Kyïv* has had its share of battles and even demolitions — by Suzdal prince Andrei Bogolubsky in 1169, Batu Khan’s Mongols in 1240, Crimean Khan Mengli in 1482, protracted wars between the Ukrainian Peoples’ Republic (Central Rada), the Bolsheviks, and a series of others between 1917 and 1922, and the Nazi occupation in 1941-3. Each time it has recovered, rebuilt, and thrived.

It is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful cities in the world — beautiful in its topography, its potential, and more recently its spirit. Whatever happens tonight and in coming days, it will rebuild again.

Read the rest of this entry »




Plokhy: Background reading

21 02 2022

The Five Books blog has published an insightful interview with eminent Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy, in which Plokhy discusses not only his choice of five excellent books for understanding the current Russo-Ukrainian crisis, but also his thoughts on the country and its people. You can read it here: https://fivebooks.com/best-books/russia-ukraine-serhii-plokhy/





Yermolenko: Ukraine as ‘Tabula Rasa’

5 06 2020

New Eastern Europe has published a very interesting interview with philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko.

A few snippets:

Some countries are ruled by military juntas, Russia is ruled by the KGB and Ukraine, I believe, is in fact ruled by a corrupt conglomerate made up of the judiciary, prosecution and the police. The army in Ukraine has been very weak for a long time and we did not really have intelligence services, so the police and judiciary took advantage of this power void and took over the country. These institutions are successfully reproducing through family ties and thanks to universities such as Odesa Law Academy run by Serhiy Kivalov (former chief of the State Election Commission under President Kuchma and head of the High Council of Justice under President Yanukovych). Unfortunately, reforms aimed at increasing the independence of judiciary encouraged by European institutions have only lead to strengthening of this judiciary and prosecution mafia. These changes were designed in accordance with models supported by the Council of Europe and based on Montesquieu’s idea that a judiciary can only be just if it is independent. However, in Ukraine the independence of the judiciary has simply meant that this corrupt system continues without challenge. As a result we are now in a deep crisis and it is hard to say what we can do about it.

[. . .]

Read the rest of this entry »




Velychenko: Prelude to the present

25 05 2014

In “Ukrainian Marxists and Russian Imperialism 1918-1923: Prelude to the Present in Eastern Europe’s Ireland,” historian Stephen Velychenko provides some interesting background to the debate about what happened to the Ukrainian left. The article is long, but worth reading, as it covers an important historical episode in the relations between the Ukrainian left and the Russian left that, Velychenko suggests, is echoed in debates among leftists today.

Velychenko writes:

Read the rest of this entry »





Snyder: Europe and Ukraine

16 04 2014

It’s difficult to provide a well-rounded history of Ukraine, from Kievan Rus onward, in a few dozen paragraphs. Historian Timothy Snyder does this in his newly published piece, “Europe and Ukraine: Past and Future,” which originally appeared in German in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The piece covers the collapse of Kievan Rus, relations with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Cossack state, the emergence of Muscovy and later the Russian empire, the fall of empires and Soviet revolution, the world wars, and so on. Along the way we get oligarchic pluralism (in the Poland commonwealth, and then again in the last two decades), self-determination (led by the Cossacks), the rise of a nationalist elite that “rebel[s] against [its] own biographies and present[s] the subject of history not as the elites but as the masses,” the twists and turns of Soviet policy, Ukraine’s positioning between Stalin’s “internal colonialism” (as Stalin himself called it) and Hitler’s “external colonialism,” the war in all its messiness, the rhetorical “politics of fascism and anti-fascism” — which in a convoluted way have managed to accompany both Stalin’s and Putin’s courting of the European far right — the Brezhnevian cult of the Great Fatherland War, the fall of the Soviet Union and emergence of independent Ukraine, the politics of hydrocarbons, and the future of the European Union.

Read the rest of this entry »








Skip to toolbar