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A Review of Krytyka 6/2012

April 4, 2013 - Anna Wylegała - Articles and Commentary

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Krytyka has always written about intellectual debates revolving around three important topics: 1) history and identity, 2) the current political/ social situation in Ukraine, with special focus on democratization and human rights, 3) high culture and popular culture. The combination of these subjects is important when considering the role of the intellectual in public debate. For obvious reasons, the last few numbers of the magazine have been dominated by the second topic, especially by discussing freedom of speech and the media conditions. However, in the face of the actions taken by the state, such as restrictions of freedom at universities, censorship, pressuring scientists and the aggressive promotion of particular visions of Ukrainian history as well as discussions about history and identity are inextricably linked with discussions about politics. An example of one of the more interesting blocks of texts on this subject are articles by John-Paul Himka, Roman Serbyn and Vladyslav Hrynevych published in the 6/2012 issue.

Himka and Serbyn are two Canadian historians of Ukrainian origin; their texts are polemic. Himka writes about in his opinion, the two most significant historical myths contributing to Ukrainian identity today: the Great Famine as genocide, and the heroism of the UPA as a national liberation movement, he also explains why he considers it appropriate to unmask them. Serbyn defends both issues as a historian, but also presents arguments from a different point of view. He claims that myths, no matter their nature, are needed to bond the young Ukrainian national community. It is therefore not only a significant discussion to the extent of showing important disputes in Ukrainian historiography, but it also asks fundamental questions about what to build the modern national identity on. It asks whether or not and how to use history, as well as how it includes the double role of the historian as a scientist and public intellectual. This can be seen everywhere in the ongoing discussions on the status of European history and memory in creating a sense of belonging to the European community.

This theme continues in the third text of the block in which Kiev historian Vladyslav Hrynevych, examines the historical policies of successive Ukrainian presidents, focusing on the very different in this respect, Yushchenko and Yanukovych presidencies. In conclusion, he outlines three types of European memories of the war, which are connected to building a collective identity with different values. Central European memory is the national memory, focused on the repression of its own group. The Western European model (German model) is based on repentance, the condemnation of any war and the recognition of all the victims, with particular emphasis on the Holocaust. The post-Soviet model is built around the pride of victory, which designated a clear division between "ours" and "foreign". Hrynevych said that Ukraine would prosper most with the combination of central and Western memory, while with the Yanukovych's presidency the more powerful option is to return to the post-Soviet model.

All three texts are a continuation of the ongoing 20-year divided debate in Ukraine about the country's historical experience and, whether or not it is possible to develop a common memory of it. It is important to remember that while all public opinion polls and sociological studies show that there are still divisions in society, there are no more major supporters of post-Soviet identity-option. There are more liberal intellectuals as well as pro-Russian or indifferently oriented political elite, supported by Russia, which is trying to make a symbolic return to the post-Soviet Ukrainian community memory. This last element makes the debate very political.

Krytyka was founded in the spring of 1997 by a group of Ukrainian intellectuals, by the initiative of a literary and cultural historian, professor at Harvard University George Grabowycz, who until now remains the chief editor of the magazine. Trademarks of Krytyka issued in Kiev, are analytical texts, essays and reviews.

This review was written within the Free Speech Partnership programme supported by the Visegrad Fund.

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