Reconstruction of Ukraine

3 09 2022

While the war continues, it may seem premature to discuss the reconstruction of Ukraine, but that is precisely what several of Ukraine’s leading cultural institutions feel is needed. It will be the topic of an online symposium entitled “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity. A Symposium of Ideas and Strategies,” to take place this week on September 9 through 11:

Over 40 expert Ukrainian and international speakers – architects, artists, historians, economists, poets and others – will gather this September to discuss Ukraine’s past, present and future in light of Russia’s ongoing invasion. The overall theme of the conversation will be reconstruction: broadly-conceived to refer to the rebuilding of architecture and infrastructure, but also of institutions, social bonds, individual and collective bodies and minds.

The symposium is organized by a network of institutions, including the Центр міської історії / Center for Urban History, Urban Forms Center, Kyiv Biennial / VCRC, ReStart Ukraine, UCL, and Yale University.

The symposium will take place virtually over the course of three days from September 9−11. The official website for the symposium, along with more information about the event, can be found here: To register, please follow this link. Accompanying links to the symposium’s Instagram and Telegram channels can be found here. 

The round table discussions held over each of the three days will range from housing, preservation, masterplanning, the political and economic challenges of reconstruction, the impact of gendered and sexual violence, remediation of the country’s psychological trauma, among many other subjects. 

You can register for it here.

Возможно, это изображение текст «The Reconstruction of Ukraine Ruination Representation Solidarity A Symposium of Ideas and Strategies 9, 10, 11 September 2022 (online) Center for Urban History, Lviv, Center for Urban Studies, Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture; Re-Start Ukraine; University College London; Urban Forms Center, Kharkiv; Yale University, New Haven; Visual Culture Research Center, Kyiv.»

Radynski: deconstructing Russia

9 08 2022

I find Kinga Dunin’s conversation with Ukrainian filmmaker and intellectual Oleksiy Radynski refreshing — not because Radynski is a nuanced, scholarly thinker, but because he is a creative, provocative, connective thinker, more Deleuzian in spirit than anything else, which is a missing element from so much thinking on the present Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

Scholars, for instance, will debate whether and how democracy functions in Ukraine (Mikhai Minakov’s and Matthew Rojansky’s 2018 piece was good on that, and here’s one attempt to update that), and whether and how Putinism fits the label of fascism (Cain Burdeau’s recent overview of those arguments is helpful). Radynski simply uses the terms to think with and beyond them.

On democracy, here’s an exchange between Dunin and Radynski:

KD: It’s turned out that the Ukrainian state is quite well organized, efficient, and works surprisingly well despite the war.

OR: This is not the power of the state, but of democracy. February 24 completely changed our vision of what democracy is. It was not the state that organized resistance, but the people who self-organized. Nothing in my life has brought me around more to people’s democracy. I think this is why Russia lost the battle of Kyiv, which one day, with hindsight, may turn out to have been a breakthrough moment in this war. They had a completely vertical and nondemocratic way of managing their military. The commanders of various ranks weren’t allowed to revise their action plans; they were supposed to march ahead, encircle Kyiv, and seize it. Perhaps it’s a weak argument for democracy, but as far as I know the Ukrainian army is fighting democratically, which means it’s in total disarray. It was so especially during the first weeks, when the territorial defense forces were forming and an incredible number of people wanted to join. This story is yet to be written, it was … Makhnovshchyna [referring to Nestor Makhno’s early twentieth century anarchist militia]. A kind of people’s army. There was something Cossack about it.

Radynski describes Russia as fascist in part due to its “blocking” of “the development of culture” (“What they use is some kind of newspeak, a necro-language,” whereas “we,” Ukraine, “are the only country where free speech in Russian exists for the time being”). He replies to Dunin’s question “So Russian culture should not be boycotted?” with the following:

This would be too big a favor to Russian imperial culture. Russian culture deserves a punishment much more severe than a boycott. It deserves a deconstruction. [. . .]

Deconstructing Russian culture means challenging the existing pantheon, now headed by “Tolstoyevski”—Tolstoy, the “good Russian,” and the mad right-winger Dostoevsky. And not by, let’s say, truly radical writers, such as [Nikolai] Leskov. After the deconstruction of this culture, we will also look in a completely different way at Ukrainian literature, for example at such a decolonial revolutionary as Taras Shevchenko.

He also mentions Vladimir Sorokin’s dystopian futurist novel Telluria. Radynski’s future Russia is a “deconstructed” one that has effectively “decolonized” and “disintegrated” into regionalist movements that can no longer constitute the kind of imperial power we see in full force today.

There’s an idealism here that ignores the potential violence of this “disintegration” as well as its impacts on global geopolitics. But it is a kind of “creatively deconstructive” thinking that’s needed to balance out the “realism” of the Mearsheimers, Chomskys (despite the latter’s anarchist ideals), Kissingers, and others who cannot see a future beyond present configurations.

Radynski has shared the following backgrounder on his Facebook page:

e-flux published an interview on the decolonization of Russia that I gave to Kinga Dunin around three months ago. In the meantime, the idea to decolonize Russia kind of skyrocketed. It’s no longer a niche thing: it’s actively debated at international forums, popular magazines and even at panels organised by the State Department. It’s been picked up as a scarecrow by Russian propaganda, which increased its visibility by a multiple.

But we have to be careful with the popularity of this idea in the West. The Russian Federation should be decolonized (read: dismantled) as a result of its own internal contradictions, and not as an outcome of external meddling: this would only lead to a stronger fascist reaction in Russia. What we should do is take advantage of those internal contradictions to help the oppressed peoples liberate themselves.

We in Ukraine are best positioned to take this advantage. Our post-colonial situation allows us to understand the Russian system much better than it understands itself. In addition, we know how to use Russian language and are able of freely doing this, while the total majority of people in Russia are not.

Radynski’s conversation with Dunin can be read on e-Flux Notes.

Musical politics

15 05 2022

As Ukrainian performers Kalush Orchestra, whose “political statement” was allowed by Eurovision organizers for “humanitarian reasons,” went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest (while Russian performers were banned), and as Vladimir Putin continues to complain about western “cancel culture” (while canceling those who disagree with him), the arts world more generally has come to heavily feature the cultural politics surrounding Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

Ani Bundel writes that Eurovision has always been “a stand-in” for the political climate, despite organizers’ insistence that it is not. The same thing can be seen in other places on the musical spectrum.

Time’s Andrew Chow writes about how “A Russian DJ’s Silence About Ukraine is Dividing the Electronic Music Scene.” The scene, as Chow writes, is divided between people like Clone Distribution’s Serge Verschuur — for whom “the house and techno scene [has] stood up for” (and been “built by”) “minorities, for the less privileged, for the oppressed” — and, on the other hand, the “toxic positivity” of the ravers who want to “have fun” and not “think about anything.” In contrast to DJ Nina Kraviz are others like Ukrainian DJ Nastia and Russian DJ Buttechno, who urges his fellow Russians “to admit the imperialistic and colonizing approach of Russian culture and politics throughout Russian history.”

And writing in the New York Times, Gabrielle Cornish describes Ukrainian musical modernism and its destruction at the hands of Stalinism. The article quotes Ukrainian-American ethnomusicologist (and my collaborator) Maria Sonevytsky, who perceptively refers to the association of “greatness” with Russian culture as “Russian soft power” — the “kind of exceptionalism that empires produce and make seem virtuous that smaller countries, depicted as the ‘threatening nationalists’ on the border, are denied.”

See also The Conversation on “How Russian musicians are taking a stand against the war in Ukraine,” The Guardian‘s interview with Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz, or my recent interview with David Novak.

Pomerantsev on how to end this war

2 05 2022

Documentarist and disinformation analyst Peter Pomerantsev’s latest piece for The Atlantic, “‘We Can Only Be Enemies‘,” is a brilliant dissection of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the ground, and of what it may take for Russia to be reclaimed by civilized life…

“Putin’s famed propaganda system has always been less about ginning up enthusiasm and more about spreading doubt and uncertainty, proliferating so many versions of “the truth” that people feel lost and turn to an authoritarian leader to guide them through the murkiness. In a domestic political context, these tactics make sense: They keep people passive, unsure of what is truly happening. But they show their limits when you want to move a country toward the rabid enthusiasm required for war.” […]

“Whether Putin has the repressive mechanisms necessary to rule purely through fear is unclear: The prisons are already packed. The endgame in Russia doesn’t involve anything as dramatic as regime change, to say nothing of revolution. All it needs is for people to stop pulling their weight, because they can see that the government is no longer competent or acting in their interests.”

The entire article can be read here.

Kuleba on the third superpower

28 04 2022

It’s the rare minister of foreign affairs who writes about reshaping the world order by referring to its “tripolarity,” with the third pole being the emerging community of digital “netizens.” That is what Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba has just done in a piece published in Foreign Policy, “The Fight for Ukraine Is Forging a New World“:

The world of tomorrow will be tripolar. Two obvious poles will be the United States and China. India will be gaining force as a strong democratic power. But the third, less obvious pole will be the newly emerging, decentralized community of global internet users, and it will be defined by rapid technological development and disruptive innovation.

Some of what Kuleba has to say sounds clunky to me (such as the sentence that follows the quoted one, which refers to the “third pole” “largely” centering on the “metaverse” — seriously?). With its digital utopianism and its references to Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity” and to “two political models: the communal future and the hierarchical past; the existing political order and the emerging one,” the piece reminds me a bit too much of the pronouncements of the early cyberlibertarians, and, more promisingly perhaps, of the New York Times and Jonathan Schell’s declarations, after the 2003 announcement by the Bush administration of its war on Iraq, that global civil society constitutes a “second superpower.”

Those comparisons aside, Kuleba is correct to point to the role that “netizens,” including the cyberhacker network Anonymous, have been “playing an active part in Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion.”

The piece can be read here.

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).

Babij: “this is about ground”

17 04 2022

For the next several weeks I will be on the road and likely not posting very much. But occasionally I’ll share bits and pieces that come to me that I don’t find being shared elsewhere. Like this one.

Writer and curator Larissa Babij‘s blog A Kind of Refugee has been providing a kind of refuge of poetic and inspired reflection on the reality of the Russian war on Ukraine. Most recently she writes about spring sunshine in Kyiv and how the “great energy to do something fully in the moment” provides the ground on which Ukrainians stand today.

The choice, she writes,

between subjugation to Russia or obedience to the West was never a particularly palatable one. and so Ukraine just plodded along ambiguously, neither here nor there, but “not dead yet.”

But “under increasing pressure and finding no safe path or protection” Ukrainians began to fight, not out of a rigorously theorized perspective — “Ukraine doesn’t have philosophy,” she provokes — but

Ukrainians have the audacity to do things. without asking. without thinking too far ahead. without mapping out in their imaginations how it will work or endure in the long run.

UCSB talk: Causes & implications of the invasion (2 variants)

7 04 2022

My talk “The Invasion of Ukraine as a Turning Point” tries to make sense of the causes of the Russian invasion and its potential effects on the future of global media, migration and refugeeism, democratic and authoritarian politics, and climate change. It can be viewed here.

For those who don’t have time to watch webinars, I’ve also created a summary in the form of two Twitter threads. The first part is here (or click on the first image below). It continues here (or second image below). Or you can read the continuation as a thread here.

In the intro to the talk, I mention two ways we can learn from (and partially “redeem”?) such events: (1) by understanding their causes so that they can be prevented from arising again, and redirected if they do arise, and (2) by seeing the effects as a range of possibilities, of which some are better (and to be followed) and some worse (to be avoided), with some of the better ones being new and not so easy to see. The third, which must accompany the others, is justice and reparations.

Thanks to Professor Sarah Weld, the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, and the Graduate Center for Literary Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for sponsoring and organizing the talk.

Part 1:

Part 2:


Koposov: on Russia’s national interests

6 04 2022

One of the questions we will all have to struggle with, in the near term future, is how to reintegrate Russia back into the world community once all of this is over. (I say that in full recognition that “the world community” is very much a work in progress, and still needs a great deal of work before it feels like an integrated and inclusive place.)

Historian Nikolay Koposov’s “Nobody Knows What Russians Want, Not Even Russians Themselves” helps us think about that. It also raises basic questions about the importance of democracy — in the sense of some way of representing people’s real, legitimate, and considered interests — in any future that could possibly accommodate and include Russia. This is, of course, an issue that underlies the future of the world community, which is why it will require serious thinking about what democracy means and what forms it can take. But Koposov’s effort here is a starting point. He writes:

Having subjectivity here means being free to make rational and responsible decisions. The acquisition and possession of subjectivity entail several things. First, the group must have access to relatively reliable information. Second, it should be able to openly discuss its situation, formulate various action plans, and promote them in the public space. And thirdly, it must have agreed-upon decision-making mechanisms to determine which plan is the best.

None of these exists in Putin’s Russia.

[. . .]

Perhaps the time will come when Russia can take its subjectivity back from Putin and stop this shameful war. But until then, Russia has no subjectivity and no legitimate interests.

Musical interlude

5 04 2022

I was interviewed yesterday by UCSB music professor and KCSB DJ David Novak. The hour-long interview offers a highly personal take on Ukrainian music since the 1980s. It features an adventurous mix of work by contemporary Ukrainian composers and bands from Kharkiv (The Moglass), Odesa (Kadaitcha), and Berlin (Zavoloka), as well as a piece of Polissian (Chernobyl area) traditional singing by the authentic folk ensemble Drevo, and a little from my own late 1980s-1990s Ukrainian-Canadian band Vapniaky, a.k.a. Stalagmites Under a Naked Sky.

The interview can be listened to in Soundcloud; click below or here. The playlist, which you can find here, includes links to further listening.

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