"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Ukrainian Nationalism and Ukrainian History

One of the longest "foreign" trips I undertook 20 years ago was to Ukraine. That capped a decade of extensive international travel to five of the world's continents, which included numerous trips just to Europe itself. In the summer of 2001 I left Canada in late June and did not return until late August, spending all but 24 hours in Ukraine (with an overnight stop in Warsaw en route). My two months in Ukraine were wonderful and I have always wanted to go back. In the meantime, I I keep a close eye on Ukrainian realities and national struggles. 

So I took special notice, when reading a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, of the ads from publishers of new books about Ukraine, including these two. First up is Ukrainian Nationalism in the Age of Extremes: An Intellectual Biography of Dmytro Dontsov by Trevor Erlacher (Harvard University Press, 2021), 654pp. About this biography the publisher tells us this: 

Ukrainian nationalism made worldwide news after the Euromaidan revolution and the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2014. Invoked by regional actors and international commentators, the “integral” Ukrainian nationalism of the 1930s has moved to the center of debates about Eastern Europe, but the history of this divisive ideology remains poorly understood.

This timely book by Trevor Erlacher is the first English-language biography of the doctrine’s founder, Dmytro Dontsov (1883–1973), the “spiritual father” of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Organizing his research of the period around Dontsov’s life, Erlacher has written a global intellectual history of Ukrainian integral nationalism from late imperial Russia to postwar North America, with relevance for every student of the history of modern Europe and the diaspora.

Thanks to the circumstances of Dontsov’s itinerant, ninety-year life, this microhistorical approach allows for a geographically, chronologically, and thematically broad yet personal view on the topic. Dontsov shaped and embodied Ukrainian politics and culture as a journalist, diplomat, literary critic, publicist, and ideologue, progressing from heterodox Marxism, to avant-garde fascism, to theocratic traditionalism.

Drawing upon archival research in Ukraine, Poland, and Canada, this book contextualizes Dontsov’s works, activities, and identity formation diachronically, reconstructing the cultural, political, urban, and intellectual milieus within which he developed and disseminated his worldview.

The next book is by an excellent historian who needs no introduction, whose previous books have been fascinating and important: Serhii Plokhy, The Frontline: Essays on Ukraine’s Past and Present (Harvard University Press, 2021), 416pp. Plokhy is one of the most important and prolific historians of East-Slavic realities. About his newest work, HUP tells us this: 

The Frontline presents a selection of essays drawn together for the first time to form a companion volume to Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe and Chernobyl. Here he expands upon his analysis in earlier works of key events in Ukrainian history, including Ukraine’s complex relations with Russia and the West, the burden of tragedies such as the Holodomor and World War II, the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and Ukraine’s contribution to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Juxtaposing Ukraine’s history to the contemporary politics of memory, this volume provides a multidimensional image of a country that continues to make headlines around the world. Eloquent in style and comprehensive in approach, the essays collected here reveal the roots of the ongoing political, cultural, and military conflict in Ukraine, the largest country in Europe.

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