Dnipropetrovsk Diary: Summer School in the Heat

My first introduction to Ukraine was through a Summer School twenty years ago. It may not have been San Francisco’s Summer of Love, but Summer 1990 was when things first opened up in Ukraine. The Popular Front “Rukh” had been launched the previous Fall and quasi-competitive elections in March 1990 had brought a lively opposition, mostly Rukh, to a Vekhovna Rada (parliament) that suddenly mattered. By the summer, everybody could get a visa, even the folks at Radio Svoboda. A first congress of the newly created International Association of Ukrainian Studies was announced for early September, as well as a conference on the Famine.

In this maelstrom, a young scholar at the Institute of Literature by the name of Ihor Ostash had the idea of organizing an International School of Ukrainian Studies (Mizhnarodna shkola ukrainistiki). As a doctoral student in political science, I had only decided a few months before to focus on Ukraine (on language politics). I heard of the school from Alex Motyl at Columbia and signed up. I taught myself Ukrainian from a dictionary and landed in Ukraine in early August with my American friend Charles Furtado, without really having heard Ukrainian before. Ostash brought us upon arrival to a radio station and I was asked straight-up to answer in Ukrainian. It may not have been pretty, but it wasn’t Russian. The School brought together mostly diaspora Ukrainians, from Latin America, North America, and Central Europe. Since the Amerikanis did not speak Russian, and the Central Europeans did not speak English then, Ukrainian became the only common language and I learned fast.

Ostash’s school did not outlast his career in politics (he became a deputy in the 1994  parliament) and diplomacy (the world being small, he has served as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada since 2007, a ten minute drive from the Chair of Ukrainian Studies), but the memories of the school, which I ended up attending three times, have remained strong. And here I was, twenty years later, taking part in an exhilirating Summer School in Dnipropetrovsk, on July 5-9, and living anew the rare intensity of the experience, although from the other side, as a faculty and co-organizer.

The Summer School is the brainchild of Guillaume Colin and Anna Colin Lebedev, both former doctoral students at SciencesPo in Paris. Guillaume works in the cultural and scientific section of the French Embassy in Kyiv and the School is officially “under the patronage” of, and largely financed by, the Embassy, thanks to his initiative. (For comparison, the Canadian Embassy has virtually a zero budget on culture). Anna, who defended her dissertation last year on the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in Russia, is the chief organizer, in terms of program and logistics. For someone born in Russia who came to France at the age of 14, she is also the quintessential Franco-Russian (although I can’t see her in any other way than French), with native fluency in either language.

While my 1990 School was primarily on Ukrainian language and culture, the Colin-induced Summer School is on social sciences. A first edition, on the study of memory, was held in Uman’ in 2009. The Second Summer School, in Dnipropetrovsk, was sponsored by three university-based institutions—in Ukraine, France, and Canada—and a fast-rising Ukrainian scholarly journal. The Ukrainian involvement came from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Doctoral School and its director Mychailo Wynnyckyj, Canadian-born, but living in Ukraine for the past eight years. Wynnyckyj is known to long-time UKL readers as someone who provided daily analysis during the Orange Revolution. To the army of dezhurnaias, who populated every floor of the resolutely pre-Orange Hotel Dnipropetrovsk where we stayed, he was the celebrity who appeared almost every night on the popular talk show Shuster Live in the past year. Mohyla, currently in the news for having been placed under the jurisdiction of the ever so subtle Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk, is one of the few higher educational institutions in Ukraine that produces internationally competitive graduate students, as the yearly Danyliw Seminar application process can attest.

The French partner, with the unwieldy name of the Centre d’études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen, or CERCEC, is located within the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), one of the two top social science institutions, along with SciencesPo, in Paris, and the only one with an actual research center devoted to the area. While the CERCEC’s traditional emphasis has been on history, its director, Alain Blum, straggles historical research (his forthcoming book, co-authored with Yuri Shapoval, is on the police in Ukraine in the 1930s) and contemporary demography (the theme of his presentation at the School), and research fellows are increasingly sought in sociology and political science.

The Chair of Ukrainian Studies completes the trio. Since the Chair is based in an officially bilingual (French-English) university, and devoted to the study of an unofficially bilingual (Ukrainian-Russian) state, a School where all four languages can be informally heard all day can only be a natural. The Chair may be functioning in English for its publications, international seminars, UKLs, blog, web site, and announcements on Facebook, but you wouldn’t believe how French is actually spoken behind the scenes all year long…and now on the road!

The theme of the Dnipropetrovsk School was on “Post-Soviet Transformations”, not limited to Ukraine, and yet half of the students were from Ukraine, although several are currently based abroad. This was the great change from twenty years ago. The 2010 School was split down the middle between Ukrainian and international students working on Ukrainian or regionally-related themes and was a unique opportunity to get acquainted with promising students and young scholars. A field is vibrant if young people are drawn to it. A School is a great way to tap these networks.

The Embassy, Mohyla, CERCEC and the Chair also partnered with Ukraina Moderna, a remarkable “thick” journal edited by Andrij Portnov, a young scholar actually hailing from Dnipropetrovsk, who convinced the rest of us to bring the School to the formerly closed city which exemplifies the contradiction of economic transformation and Soviet inertia. Andrij, whose new book Uprazhnenie s istoriei po-ukrainski, seeks to present the controversial Ukrainian “politics of memory” to a Russian audience, is one of those polyglots who glides effortlessly between German, French, English, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian (although he was beaten by one of our students who could actually speak seven languages). He also provided the link with the local intelligentsia: four guests came to the School for a lively roundtable in mid-week. Since Guillaume’s work at the Embassy is necessarily transient, like all diplomatic postings, the challenge is for the partnering institutions to make the Summer School a permanent fixture. At this very early juncture, the prospects are bright.

The School program featured presentations by students on their work (two of them were actually past the doctoral stage), lectures by faculties on the theme of the day, and excursions. (Invited faculties included Peter Rutland, Ioulia Shukan, Donnacha O Beachain, Vladimir Gelman, Myriam Désert and Sergei Zhuk). All in the middle of the heat wave that afflicted Europe and North America! Thankfully, air conditioning could more or less be counted upon, although the dearth of restaurants in the city meant for long walks back and forth, which is fine to keep in shape, but less so in stifling humidity. The food was a blur, except on closing night at a Japanese restaurant, but summer schools are meant to be a bonding experience, not culinary ones. The key was to have a bottle of mineralna (preferably nehazona) handy at all times.

Substantively, the School revealed quite interesting research projects. Mihai Varga (University of Amsterdam, defending this Fall) investigated the paradox of weak industrial trade unions in Ukraine whose strikes in 2008-2010 prompted a swift government intervention in their favor. Political involvement, from the Tymoshenko Bloc or the Party of Regions, made up for the paucity of mobilizational resources. Christine Plank (University of Vienna) studies the little-known sector of “agro-fuel”, the capacity to produce energy from agricultural compounds. Since independence, EU protectionism on agriculture has deprived rural Ukraine of a growth export market, but the EU’s increasing reliance on agro-fuel as an alternative source of energy could break the deadlock. Iryna Solonenko (International Renaissance Foundation) showed how EU norms have failed to take root in Ukraine, compared to its Central European neighbors, since the fact that Ukraine was not on a EU membership track meant that Ukrainian elites knew they could get away with non-compliance at no cost. A more upbeat take, on Ukraine’s “European Choice”, was presented by Kateryna Shynkaruk (Shevchenko University, Kyiv). Serhiy Kudelia (Mohyla Academy) explained how constitutional reforms that took away the presidential power to nominate and dismiss ministers—a power that Yanukovych now seeks to restore for himself, surprise, surprise…—removed their incentives to implement presidential executive orders. In this model, people comply if they are coerced.

On the identity front, Huseyin Oylupinar (University of Alberta) works on the memory battle of Poltava, which has received far less coverage than anything having to do with Bandera and the OUN. In 2007, the local commemoration of Mazepa, seen as a “traitor” in Russian-Soviet narrative, and a hero in the Ukrainian national  one, was essentially hijacked by the Russian state, with the support of the Tymoshenko Bloc-controlled city administration and in an area that had voted massively for Yushchenko in 2004. Khrystyna Chushak (University of Monash, Australia) notes that a serious reflection on the meaning of the Soviet heritage in Ukraine never took place and she is interested in finding out how the very word “Soviet” is being used in its Russian (sovietskii) and Ukrainian (radianskyi) forms in intellectual discourse, a discourse that she does not want to limit to traditional “national” voices. Myroslava Keryk (Lazarus University, Poland) works on the changes in urban landscape, gender relations, and social identity in the heretofore border mining town of Chervonohrad in Western Ukraine. Lisa Vapné (SciencesPo, Paris) studies the puzzle of Soviet Jews, whose Jewish identity, while not outwardly meaningful in the Soviet context, still mattered in terms of Jewish social networks and whose presence as immigrants in Germany, a society politically open, yes socially close to immigration may have the effect of enhancing their Jewish identity.

The School also featured sociological research on elite political networks (Tetiana Kostiuchenko, Mohyla), regime transformation in Russia and Ukraine (Inna Melnykovska, Kiel University, Germany), attitudes towards well-being (Olena Muradyan, Kharkiv University), and regional identity (Gennadii Korzhov, Donbas). Several presentations were also devoted to non-Ukraine topics, the most inventive, arguably, by Perrine Poupin (EHESS, Paris), using a video camera to analyze urban demonstrations in contemporary Russia.

And, yes, one of the excursions included a visit to the famous Sobor immortalized by Oles’ Honchar, although we couldn’t get in.  We did visit afterwards a male monastery, a most pleasant affair until a young monk showed up at the souvenir shop and started to treat the Uniates and “vse ostal’nye” among us as“raskolniki”, which was not the most optimal of conducting business. Speaking of business, the unexpected success of our outdoor program was a visit to a successful young entrepreneur (and graduate of the Mohyla MBA Program), who delighted us with tales of how he and his partners manage to be constantly one step ahead of government, custom and tax officials. The key point of the meeting is that he does not mind paying taxes, and even a “surcharge” that does not quite land in state coffers, as long as everyone, meaning his competitors, is charged equally.

The 2011 Summer School will likely be in Western Ukraine. Stay tuned!

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The Restructuration of the Political Opposition

The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) just released its latest political rankings on its website, based on an all-Ukraine survey conducted on June 11-20. The Party of Regions is crushing the Tymoshenko Bloc 38.0% to 11.3%, with only the new formations of Serhii Tyhypko (Syl’na Ukraïna – Strong Ukraine) and Arsenii Yatseniuk (Front zmin – Front of Change) crossing the 3% threshold, with 7.1% and 3.8%, respectively. The Communists and the extreme right party Svoboda are just under at 2.5%, the Lytvyn Bloc is at 1.1% and Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine virtually extinct at 0.7%. Eight percent were against all. Among those who had an opinion and intend to vote, which is was count statistically in an election, the Party of Regions is just under 50% (48.2%), and the Communist and Svoboda are just above 3%.

These results suggest that the political opposition is undergoing a major restructuration in Ukraine, with Tymoshenko in a free fall (Yushchenko has not been a player electorally in more than a year). The Party of Regions does lead in Central Ukraine, but with only 34 percent of the vote among those intending to vote (and not against all). In Eastern and Southern Ukraine, the Regional domination is scary, with 64% and 81% of the vote that counts. Island of opposition seem to be disappearing in Yanukovych’s Russian-speaking fiefdom. Interestingly, most of the support for Tyhypko, initially seen as a challenge to Yanukovych in the East, comes from Central and Western Ukraine (as well as in the South, presumably in Kherson and Mykolaiv, the two areas whose support for the Orange Revolution was significant). In terms of support for potential presidential candidates, Tyhypko is now nearly head to head with Tymoshenko, just below 12%, yet far behind Yanukovych.

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Language and Incentives – One Step Behind in Ukraine

If there is one thing that I have learned growing up in Quebec, it is that language politics never goes away. Forty-one years after language riots in the Montreal suburb of St-Leonard (over whether children of immigrants should be allowed to study in English) and thirty-three years after the adoption of the Language Law (Bill 101, preventing children of immigrants from enrolling in English schools and making French the sole official language of Quebec), language politics is still making headlines here, this time over whether high school graduates should be free to study in college (an intermediate level, before university) in English (they have been free thus far, per Bill 101). (This latest brouhaha is empirically groundless, if you ask me, but this is for another day).

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OUN-Bandera: An Open Debate With Whom?

My initial post “OUN-Bandera, the 1948 War in Israel, and the Utility of Open Debate” has inspired three replies that all raised the question of who should be included in such a debate. Borys Potapenko (UKL446, item 10) writes that the claims that the OUN instigated a pogrom in Lviv in Summer 1941 have been “authoritatively exposed as part of a Soviet disinformation campaign,” a tainted source feeding the debate. Stephen Velychenko (UKL446, item 11), quoting extensively from a recent article by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books, points out that Orthodox Jews, uninterested in a critical stance towards historical or contemporary Zionism, increasingly control the Israel-Palestine debate in the United States and can thereby hardly be counted upon as debate partners on Ukrainian-Jewish history. Evgenyi Finkel, in a comment reproduced at the bottom of this post, argues that the debate, first and foremost, concerns Ukrainians and must be conducted in Ukraine among Ukrainians, irrespective of narratives emerging from Israel, the Jewish diaspora or Russia.

The question is pertinent. If we believe in an open debate on controversial aspects of a national narrative, such as the role of the OUN and Bandera during World War II, then we have to have a clear idea about the players interested in these matters.

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On Holodomor Denial

In the second issue of Holodomor Studies, librarian Jurij Dobczansky, in an article reproduced with permission in UKL445 (7 June 2010), writes that the Library of Congress has introduced, last Fall, the new categories of Holodomor denial literature (“for works that diminish the scale and significance of the Ukrainian Famine of 1932‑1933 or assert that it did not occur”) and Holodomor denial (“for works that discuss the diminution of the scale and significance of the Ukrainian Famine of 1932‑1933 or the assertion that it did not occur”).

It seems to me that the category of “Holodomor denial” conflates two distinct strands in the charged debate over the Holodomor—that of “Famine-as-Mass-Murder” denial and that of “Famine-as-Genocide” denial.

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Welcome to the Chair of Ukrainian Studies Blog

The Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa, the only research unit outside primarily devoted to the study of contemporary Ukraine, is inaugurating the Chair of Ukrainian Studies the Blog. The Blog will offer musings on ongoing developments in Ukrainian politics and society, on Ukrainian Studies and on activities of the Chair. Comments on the posts are welcome at darel@uottawa.ca. The best ones will be published on The Ukraine List (UKL). The Blog is managed by Dominique Arel, Chairholder, at the Chair of Ukrainian Studies.

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OUN-Bandera, the 1948 War in Israel, and the Utility of Open Debate

The OUN-Bandera debate, sparked by Yushchenko’s decision to declare Stepan Bandera a “Hero of Ukraine” last January, has generated a passionate debate, reproduced in two recent issues of The Ukraine List (UKL441 and UKL442), the Chair of Ukrainian Studies electronic newsletter.

In UKL444 (item 17), sent yesterday, Stephen Velychenko, of the University of Toronto, raises an important point in directly comparing the violence perpetrated against Poles and Jews by Ukrainian nationalists (OUN) in the 1940s with the violence perpetrated against Arabs by Jewish nationalists (Zionists) in 1948.

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