Von Hagen on Brogi Bercoff and Pavlyshyn and Plokhy, 'Ukraine and Europe: Cultural Encounters and Negotiations'

Giovanna Brogi Bercoff, Marko Pavlyshyn, Serhii Plokhy, ed.
Mark Von Hagen

Giovanna Brogi Bercoff, Marko Pavlyshyn, Serhii Plokhy, ed. Ukraine and Europe: Cultural Encounters and Negotiations. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. 480 pp. $95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4875-0090-0.

Reviewed by Mark Von Hagen (Arizona State University) Published on HABSBURG (June, 2018) Commissioned by Borislav Chernev

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=51893

This conference volume explores the historical and cultural ties and tensions in relations between Ukraine and Europe—both operate here as symbols that are variously interpreted and contested. The topic of Ukraine’s ties to Europe has become a much more prominent discussion since the proclamation of independence from the Soviet Union and, by extension, Russia in 1991. In Soviet Ukraine the ties of the “fraternal” Russian and Ukrainian peoples were privileged over any connections to Europe; indeed, scholarship that highlighted ties of Ukrainian culture to European movements was discouraged and heavily censored. Ukraine’s geopolitical position between East and West is clearly not a new concern. However, it has taken on new urgency and meaning since Russia’s war with Ukraine in 2014, after the government of Viktor Ianukovych withdrew from an agreement on Ukrainian accession to a European partnership agreement in favor of membership in Russia’s alternative Eurasian Economic Association. Besides this volume of essays, the first two volumes of an ambitious multiyear series have appeared, also titled “Ukraine and Europe,” but with a focus on the interwar years 1921-39.[1] The editorial board of the new series includes three authors of the volume under review.[2] The distinguished German historian Karl Schlögel has also recently published an English-language translation of the originally titled Entscheidung in Kiew (2015), in which he argues that the very future of Europe is being decided in Kyiv and Ukraine more broadly and that Ukraine has virtually always been a part of Europe, if often relegated to its periphery.[3]

The twenty-six essays in the volume under review range widely in chronology from the early modern period to the Euromaidan, or recent “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013-14, and their focus is above all on cultural, religious, and intellectual history, especially the history of literature. Curiously missing is any discussion of Kyivan Rus’ and its ties to Europe, most recently highlighted in controversies over the “national belonging” of Anna, daughter of Kyivan Prince Iaroslav the Wise, who married into the French royal dynasty in the eleventh century. Also notable, and a sad commentary on the state of contemporary Ukrainian-Russian relations, is the absence of a single contributor from Russia on these important matters.

This is not a volume for newcomers to the field of Ukrainian history. Instead, most of the essays are part of the authors’ larger oeuvre; indeed, many of the essays’ footnotes cite the authors’ several earlier essays or books on similar topics. But these are not random authors or random essays. Although the editors fail to provide any information on the contributors, they are nearly all—with two notable exceptions of assistant and associate professors—senior scholars (and, by the time of publication, several are now retired) at major centers of Slavic studies.[4] All have been leaders in the revival of Ukrainian studies even before independence. The editors themselves—Giovanna Brogi Bercoff, the Italian scholar of early modern east European cultures and president of the Italian Association of Ukrainian Studies; Marko Pavlyshyn, Australian-Ukrainian scholar of Ukrainian literature and culture; and Serhii Plokhy, Myhailo Hrushevs’kyi Professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, with roots in both Soviet and Canadian Ukrainian academia—“come from three continents: Australia, Europe, and North America, while the authors are scholars working in Ukraine, countries of the European Union (Austria, Germany, and Italy) and the United States and Canada” (p. 5). The important contributions of Italian scholars to the history of Ukrainian-European relations is noteworthy and a good introduction for those not familiar with Italian-language scholarship. (The Italian Association of Ukrainian Studies has issued its call for papers for its upcoming annual conference in January 2019, this year devoted to Ukraine and Europe.)

Also prominent in the collection is the key role of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) in the shaping of our understanding of these periods. Eight of the contributors (George Grabowicz, Frank Sysyn, Natalia Pylypiuk, Giovanna Siedina, Edyta Boyanowska, Maxim Tarnawsky, Oleh Ilnytzkyj, and Halyna Hryn) earned their doctorates at Harvard. The volume is framed by a prologue by Grabowicz, former director of HURI and now president of the Shevchenko Scientific Society of America, and an epilogue by Plokhy, current director of HURI. Michael Flier, also a former director of HURI, also contributes an essay in the history of religious art on the image of the intercession of the Mother of God in Ukraine. Flier is one of four scholars who are from neither Ukraine nor the Ukrainian diaspora. Plokhy, on the other hand, represents a hybrid scholar, having received his first higher education degree in Soviet Ukraine but then becoming familiar with North American Ukrainian studies during a stint at the University of Alberta in Canada before his move to Harvard.

The authors attempt to steer the reader away from reified Europe(s) or Ukraine(s) but also insist on the tensions between these two sites of self-definition and other-definition. Nor is there any facile assumption that Europe and Ukraine have always desired each other; on the contrary, today’s European Union has been disappointing to many Ukrainians in its lack of enthusiasm for Ukrainian membership, and this is not the first time history has witnessed the unrequited love of Ukraine for Europe. The process of recent Ukraine-Europe estrangement is the subject of Ola Hnatiuk’s essay. Her vantage point is not just that of a scholar; Hnatiuk served as ambassador of the Polish Republic to Ukraine from 2006 to 2010. But, as Grabowicz argues in his opening essay, this, too, is not entirely new, and Ukrainians also have a tradition of “resistance to Europe and a determination to protect and assert values perceived as autochtonous”; moreover, this resistance to Europe has been “as much a motif of modern Ukrainian literary and cultural history as is a yearning to embrace Europe” (p. 6).

In a collection of this range and number, a reviewer must choose a few to speak for the whole. The essays are divided into three parts: part 1, “Ukraine in the Common Cultural Space of the European Baroque,” is the best defined and most coherent. Part 2, “Ukraine’s Romanticisms and Modernisms,” ranges from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the start of the twentieth. Part 3 is the least coherent and returns to the nineteenth century (and Gogol) and ends with the Euromaidan of 2013-14. Indeed, part 1 will be of particular interest to cultural and intellectual historians of early modern Ukraine. Sysyn sets the Ukrainian baroque, a term he does not use himself, in the context of the general crisis and European revolutions of the seventeenth century but highlights how the Khmelnytsky uprising differed from similar phenomena farther west. In her essay, Bercoff situates Ukrainian culture between Polish and Russian systems and is the first of several authors to stress the importance of the geopolitical location of the Cossack Hetmanate as a defender of Orthodoxy against both the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Bercoff’s topic is plurilingualism, what we call today linguistic pluralism, and which allows writers in the cultural spaces between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Muscovy and St. Petersburg to perform different identities in different contexts. She surveys panegyrical literature, sermons, and hagiography, and, in a grand finale, considers the epistolary writings of two Orthodox churchmen at the time of Peter I, the Cossack’s son Dymytrii Tuptalo, known in Russian literature as Dymytrii Rostovskii, alongside Stefan Iavors’kyi. Both men trained in Polish Jesuit colleges. She also discusses where these works fit, namely, into which national literary canons. It has not been uncommon, for example, for Russian literary scholars to claim for the Russian canon works that Bercoff identifies with a Ukrainian canon, despite the fact that these two men served in Russia: Tuptalo in Moscow as placekeeper for the patriarch, and Iavors’kyi as hegumen of the Holy Spirit monastery in Vilnius. She describes the sentiment and psychology of melancholy and bitterness that the two felt in a religious culture that they found alien and, in the case of Peter’s famed court debauchery, morally repulsive.

Natalia Yakovenko also seeks to understand when Europe became imaginable for Ukrainian writers and what Europe they most often had in mind by studying which texts were translated and which works could be found in the libraries of religious schools, such as the Ostrih Academy and the Kyiv Mohyla Collegium, perhaps the most important educational institution of the Ukrainian baroque. Pylypiuk also emphasizes the important role of the Kyiv Mohyla Collegium and sees the influences of European humanism entering Ukrainian culture—albeit delayed—through the privileged position of Latin in the instruction there. She returns to Tuptalo and Iavors’kyi but interprets different texts from those analyzed by Bercoff. Siedina reinforces the focus on the Kyiv Mohyla Collegium and looks at neo-Latin poetry found in manuals of poetics and argues that panegyric poetry was one of the principal genres of this poetics, again similar to Bercoff. Siedina also reminds us of the importance of the Collegium for reform of the Orthodox Church in Russia under Peter I.

Part 2 begins with the essay of another of the coeditors, Pavlyshyn, on the recovery of Europe in the nineteenth century in a Ukrainian prose of secular humanism grounded in a belief in the nation. He looks more closely at the major writers of the Kharkiv Romantic School and their polemics with the burlesque verse of Ivan Kotliaevs’kyi. The importance of German romantic thought, above all that of Johann Gottfried Herder, is key in this polemic. Along the way, Pavlyshyn proposes an agenda for future researching and revisiting the oeuvre of well-known authors, including Panteleimon Kulish and Marko Vovchok. The importance of Herder is reaffirmed in Boyanowska’s essay surveying Russian reviewers of collections of Ukrainian folk songs in the 1820s-30s; she also revisits the tangled issue of which canon, the Russian or Ukrainian, can claim ownership of this in-between genre. Giulia Lami embarks on a different task, namely, to explore how the West imagined Ukraine in the 1880s; she does this by examining travel literature and, in particular, the account of a popular Swiss-French writer, Victor Tissot. Tarnawsky considers a major figure of Ukrainian realism, Ivan Nechui-Levyts’kyi, and his critique of modernism in Ukrainian literature in defense of Ukrainian identity, the “core element in all of [his] writing” (p. 269). Tarnawsky has written a recent major study of the author, but he appears to have little sympathy for his subject in this essay. Two final essays in this section move from Great Ukraine to western Ukrainian modernism. Both authors have written books about the iconic national poet of western Ukraine, Ivan Franko. Stefan Simonek studies the impact of Johann Wolfgang Goethe in the work of the Ukrainian poets affiliated with the modernist group Moloda Muza (Young Muse), particularly Petro Karmans’kyi and Bohdan Lepkyi. Yaroslav Hrytsak reflects on the impact of Franko’s visit to Vienna. He returns to the theme of Ukraine’s interaction with a second-hand Europe that was imported from the West but argues that Franko’s case illustrates how the Ukrainian project in Habsburg Galicia arrived third-hand via the East, namely, the Ukrainian lands of the Russian Empire.

Part 3 moves the authors’ attention to the twentieth century with four essays (by Ilnytzkyj, Tamara Hundorova, Alexander Kratochvil, and Hryn) touching on the Ukrainian literary renaissance of the 1920s largely centered in Kharkiv, the Free Academy of Proletarian Literature (VAPLITE), and the leader of the Ukrainian avant-garde, Mykola Khvyl’ovyi. Oxana Pachlovska, daughter of the late Ukrainian poet Lina Kostenko, offers an interesting reinterpretation of the poetry of her mother’s generation of dissident Soviet writers, the Sixtiers (shistydesiatnyky). Her reading of the poetic legacy of Vasyl’ Stus’, Ivan Drach, Vasyl’ Symonenko, Lina Kostenko, and others sees the impact of French existentialism—Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus above all—and Ernest Hemingway and the génération perdue (lost generation) after the First World War. As do many authors in this volume, Pachlovska attributes great importance to the work of translators of foreign poetry, including Mykola Zerov, Mykola Bazhan, Vasyl’ Mysyk, and Borys Ten. Finally, the volume concludes with two reflections on post-1991 developments that continue to revise and rewrite the relationship of Ukraine and Europe, most notably, the so far unfulfilled hopes of the Euromaidan protestors for entry into the European Union. If anything, pace Polish-Ukrainian scholar Hnatiuk and Ukrainian-American historian Plokhy, the gap between Ukraine and Europe is growing wider, with many Ukrainians now resigned to living in the shadow of their eastern neighbor and former imperial masters.

In conclusion, this volume is not for beginners seeking an introduction to Ukrainian culture and its relations to a variety of historical Europes from the early modern period to today. For scholars already familiar with the basic outlines and interpretations of these relationships, the volume will offer several gems of interpretation.


[1]. The series is a joint editorial project of the L’viv-based journal Ukraina Moderna and the Kyiv publisher Ukrains’ki propilei; the first two volumes in the series are Iurii Shapoval and Oleksandr Shums’ki, Zhyttia, dolia, nevidomi dokumenty: Doslidzhennia, arkhivni materialy (L’viv and Kyiv: Ukraina Moderna and Ukrains'ki propolei, 2017); and Ol’gerd Ipolyt Bochkovs’kyi, Vybrani pratsi ta dokumenty, 2 vols. (L’viv and Kyiv: Ukraina Moderna and Ukrains'ki propolei, 2018). See the editorial manifesto of Yaroslav Hrytsak in Shapoval and Shums’ki, Zhyttia, dolia, nevidomi dokumenty, 3-5.

[2]. By way of personal disclaimer, five of the contributors—Yaroslav Hrytsak, Tamara Hundorova, Frank Sysyn, Giovanna Brogi Bercoff, and Marko Pavlyshyn—served as vice presidents of the International Association for Ukrainian Studies during my presidency of the association from 2002 to 2005.

[3]. The English-language translation does not convey this anxiety about Europe. Karl Schlögel, Ukraine: A Nation on the Borderland, trans. Gerrit Jackson (London: Reaktion Books, 2018).

[4]. Furthermore, the editors do not mention that the conference convened in July 2015 in Lago di Garda, Italy.

Citation: Mark Von Hagen. Review of Brogi Bercoff, Giovanna; Pavlyshyn, Marko; Plokhy, Serhii, ed., Ukraine and Europe: Cultural Encounters and Negotiations. HABSBURG, H-Net Reviews. June, 2018. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51893

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