Competing for a Place in History

Den/The Day in Khmelnytsky

As The Day reported earlier, the Khmelnytsky-based University of Management and Law (KUML) recently hosted a readers’ conference on the book Wars and Peace, which was in fact the first public discussion of The Day Library’s new publication since its official launch at the Publishers Forum in Lviv and an unofficial mini-book launch of the pre-publication copy at the Crimean Ukrainian High School (Simferopol) in mid-September. Although the Khmelnytsky conference didn’t attract very many people (about 40), it was a very representative audience. In addition to KUML students and faculty, it was also attended by representatives of Khmelnytsky National University, Kamyanets-Podilsky State University, the Khmelnytsky Institute of Staff Development, and the Liberal Arts Teacher Training Institute. The conference was a success, perhaps because both Khmelnytsky and Kamyanets-Podilsky are very well acquainted with The Day Library’s two previous books, Ukraine Incognita and Dvi Rusi and, by all accounts, were looking forward to a third book in this series.

Although the book Wars and Peace deals with the history of Ukrainian-Polish relations, the conference broached a far broader range of issues. The factor of pre-election tension in society was also brought into play — the question was not “whom to vote for” but “what world view Ukrainian society must embrace.”

“It is quite obvious that we have done the right thing by implementing a number of major historical projects over the past few years: now that everybody is amazed at the incredible upsurge of activity in society, we can say it is a society that has at last found some sense of identity,” Ms. Ivshyna noted. The trouble is that not everyone — both inside and outside this country — feels this identity. Ms. Ivshyna has often said that our politicians and public servants should take exams in Ukrainian language and history. This time she suggested half-jokingly that this exam should also be given to diplomats before they present their credentials, so that they know where they have arrived. “For it is an open secret that the Russian or Soviet version of Ukrainian history still dominates abroad.”

Naturally, the conference could not avoid the problem of civilizational reference points. Responding to the statement that Ukraine should not lean toward East or West, Ms. Ivshyna noted that “neutrality is only a good thing for such states as Switzerland, which is surrounded by affluent and civilized countries. But neutrality is too expensive a proposition for the society and economy that we have now. Until now we have had too few internal forces to make our independence irreversible.” The conference participants in fact tried to find a suitable way to avert this kind of “reversibility.”

Excerpts from this discussion follow.


Radomyr KONDRATYEV, Doctor of Law, Professor, Pro-Rector for Research, Khmelnytsky University of Management and Law:

“You are saying we need to return to civilization, and this raises the question: What is civilization? What do you think are the signs of civilization? From what and to what are we supposed to return?”

Larysa IVSHYNA: “Actually, Serhiy Krymsky spoke about this, and I was impressed by his idea. He believes that now our task is to compete for a place in history and return to civilization, not in terms of having a cold— and hot-water supply but in terms of the civilization-making process that embraces the entire world. Incidentally, globalization is an entirely different thing. What some call ‘globalization’ and others ‘Westernization’ is nothing but the way certain living standards spread. I don’t think Serhiy Krymsky meant just that. On my part, I think the return to civilization should comprise the spiritual, political, economic, as well as social, signifiers of living standards.

“One should just look closely at how concrete individuals in a particular country are living ‘from A to Z:’ what matters is not only the amount of money they are paid but also other benefits, including spiritual ones, and their quality. Passing by the village of Verbky, I noticed there was a strip bar called Maria. I thought this was also a kind of involvement in what people consider to be civilization in the most simple and distorted form. That striptease club in Verbky proves that people want to belong to a world that lives somewhat differently. But people should realize that the ‘different world’ has a lot of other things. Out there, considerable funds are being invested in education; many efforts are being made to establish institutions of memory, which is certainly one of the signs of civilization. A great many countries (I mean African peoples) have ‘vanished into thin air’ because they either were eradicated by clan wars or they are unable to pay off their debts. They will never rise as states again. These states have lost their bid for a place in history and are unlikely to be part of civilization as nations. They will only be present in labor markets. Ukraine now has the choice of becoming a regional leader, a puppet entity, or to be dismembered. And these likely scenarios must sober up everyone very quickly. Of course, you may condemn what is going on in the world now, but in any case you must adopt a certain attitude and participate in these processes-one way or another. In other words, you must try and take an active stand.”


Iryna PREDBORSKA, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Khmelnytsky Liberal Arts and Teacher Training Institute:

“First of all, I would like to thank you for such a timely, useful, and meaningful book. The most important thing is that it represents a multi-vectored approach, i.e., viewing problems through history, culture, and political science. I’d like to look at these problems from the philosophical angle. The first, never-ending, philosophical and historical problem is the sense of history. As far as I can see, the book interprets sense of history as a search for reconciliation based on further mutual understanding. The book starts with the question ‘Why?’ Why did Poland emerge under Pilsudski, while Ukraine under Petliura did not? To use Toynbee’s famous metaphor that history resembles a constant pulsation along the ‘challenge-response’ axis, Poland has both the challenge and the response, while Ukraine does not have the latter. Why does this happen all the time? This question emerges under various circumstances. And the challenge is very interesting. Today, history should be not only objective but also to some extent subjective, i.e., the historian should take a certain stand. One should try to look at history from inside, from the viewpoint of people who had a direct part in those events, who lived in one epoch or another. For such a view of history enables us to understand what took place back then, why they did it that way, while we would do it differently now. This is crucial for the formation of our democratic society because nowadays we are developing our social hearing; we must learn to listen to one another. And we ought to develop social hearing not only in physical but also temporal space, i.e., we must learn to heed our ancestors, too. In this case, harmony in space and time will be the basis for reconciliation in our society.

“Another problem is national identity. Solving this problem is a major challenge for a society in transformation. Last year I spoke about this problem at the World Congress of Philosophy in Canada. You know, the audience could not understand the reason why now, in the 21st century, we consider seeking national identity as one of our major problems. Why is this? People asked me a lot of questions. Interestingly, these were people who knew history from other sources besides Soviet ones. For example, I was asked in Istanbul, “How can Ukraine possibly do without Russia? Doesn’t that mean that you have betrayed your forebears? For Bohdan Khmelnytsky made a deal with the tsar, and you’ve just betrayed him.” Clearly, when I answer questions, I cannot avoid making an excursion into history. But when I open the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, I see that Skovoroda founded Russian philosophy. At the Philosophy Department at the University of Pittsburgh (USA), Ukrainian philosophy is only mentioned as part of Russian philosophy. Modern Russian books on philosophy claim that Skovoroda and Yurkevych were Russian philosophers. This raises the questions: Do we have anything? Do we have nothing? What do we have? In a monograph I wrote that identity may be regarded as an essential system- forming principle of a nation or society. Therefore, the search for and maintenance of identity is a key condition for the self-preservation of ethnic groups, societies, and cultures. Some researchers say that an identity crisis or even identity death may occur in this period of transformations. Identity is a multi-faceted phenomenon consisting of several components. And today we are speaking of the historico-cultural component of identity, which is presented in the latest book from Den/The Day’s Library. In other words, to decide where to go to, we must figure out who we are. There are so many models and so many answers to this question! Then there’s the geopolitical problem: who are we going with? If Ukraine is not Russia, then who are we? For instance, Serhiy Krymsky, whom I deeply respect and share his ideas, says that we always were and still are part of Europe, and we must stay there. The Ukrainian political scientist and philosopher Mykola Mykhalchenko recently released a book entitled Ukraine as a New Historical Reality: Europe’s Substitute Player. What is the role of a substitute player? This is a player who sits on the bench throughout the season without playing soccer and loses his skills. But he can also come out just in time to score a goal. So are we a substitute player? Where are we sitting? These identity questions are crucial. And once a society finds the answer, it assumes its proper place in history and begins to develop.

“Recently we hosted an international conference attended by guests from Poland. They also visited Kamyanets-Podilsky, and when they came to the historic place where Pan Wolodyjowski supposedly lies buried, one woman stood up, enchanted, and recited a fragment from Sienkiewicz’s novel. And what about us? Do we know where our prominent historical figures are buried? No monuments — no historical memory, your book rightly says. If a Ukrainian finds him/herself in Romania or France near the tomb of a famous compatriot, will they be able to rise and recite something? And what is the role of our education in this respect? How do our textbooks generally shape national identity? Our institute trains elementary school teachers. I have analyzed an elementary school manual that portrays Ukraine as a frustrated, abandoned, and aggrieved mother. I realize these are our classic images, but it’s high time we rejected this and moved on; otherwise we will continue to develop an inferiority complex because someone who is frustrated and abandoned needs to be pitied. Or take another case. Where can you find a showpiece Ukrainian family that promotes Ukrainian values, culture, etc. — in the countryside? But sociologists claim that some villages will soon have no primary schoolchildren at all. So where is the model Ukrainian family? And what about those who live in cities? How are we shaping our national identity? On the basis of what examples?

“As for a ‘Ukrainian civilization,’ this very notion means that we must become a subject of history. This in fact is our choice. We must create and take part in history.”


Ruslan STEFANCHUK, Candidate of Sciences (Law), Professor, Department of Civil Law Disciplines, Khmelnytsky University of Management and Law:

“We all know that Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is now acting as Ukraine’s advocate in the EU. He sincerely wants Ukraine to join the European community. Do you think Polish-Ukrainian relations have changed in form only or in content as well? For in fact many things indicate that Poland defends us just because it doesn’t want to be a periphery.”

L. I.: “ I can say there have been profound changes in the relations between Ukraine and Kwasniewski’s Poland. At the same time, considering my personal contacts with Poles (with President Kwasniewski as well as with key figures in his government) I should add that they are Europeans, more often than not possessed of broad views, but first of all they are Polish patriots. Some of them are more radical (like those who would go to any lengths about the Eaglets Cemetery in Lviv.) Others are more moderate. These individuals call for a cautious approach, ‘until the earth absorbs all the blood,’ as Jacek Kuron has written. Yet there is one more important circumstance. Peace is a challenge. Our competitiveness can only be a guarantee of a good relationship. I don’t like it when people say that Poland is our advocate in the EU. We have allowed ourselves to be put into this humiliating position by our irresoluteness in the past few years. There is no reason whatsoever for Kwasniewski to be our advocate. But, on the other hand, since this has happened, we should certainly develop good relations and take full advantage of their favorable attitude toward us. Polish society is highly diversified. A well-known Ukrainian poetess said she once visited Poland with her first husband and after signing a book was astounded to hear, ‘So you’re Ukrainian? That’s odd, you are so beautiful.’ Such everyday reactions are astonishing, of course. But first of all, we must feel proud of ourselves, and then we will behave in such a way that no one will even think of saying these kinds of things. The issue is internal self-esteem and self-fulfillment. But the problem is not only in what we think of ourselves but also in what we are doing and what the result is, if any. I believe that once the ice is broken, the Poles will reckon with us. Yet they are special neighbors, while stereotypes are slow to die. Let me give you an example. One time my uncle, who brought me up and is now in his eighties but still has a lucid mind, said, “It’s good that we are in Iraq, but we need reliable companions there because Poles are Poles.” He said this because he used to serve in the Polish army. He remembers the Peace of Riga. I believe, though, that the joint presence of Ukrainian and Polish peacekeepers in the Balkans and in Iraq is a very powerful factor from the viewpoint of civilization. Whatever attitude you may take to what is going on in Iraq (we were not the one who started this war) our joint presence there means that we are participating in new history. It is also an answer to the question whether our relations are undergoing profound changes. This is perhaps the first time in many years that we are not against each other but in solidarity.”


Yevheniya SOKHATSKA, Associate Professor, Department of Ukrainian Literature, Kamyanets-Podilsky State University:

“We have gathered here at a time when all hitherto dormant problems are coming to the fore. One of these problems is the continuing crisis of our spirituality. In my view, the Ukrainian spirit and its overt Ukrainian orientation is disappearing from our spirituality. Conversely, the books under the editorship of Larysa Ivshyna endorse the idea of Ukrainian spirituality. The preface to Den/The Day Library’s third book notes, “Ukrainians (in the political, not ethnic, sense) are very scarce, while there are still lots of Soviet-minded people.” This kind of identity, this kind of Ukrainism, needs remedying. In my opinion, the new book (as well as the two previous ones) is valuable material for educating the nationally conscious Ukrainian citizen.

“These books teach us Ukrainism, with Wars and Peace doing this through the Polish prism, if I may say so. Indeed, if the Poles are proud of their Pilsudski, their Europeanness, and their language, why are we unable to make an effort to understand who Petliura was and take pride in him? Why do we reject European attitudes? Why do we hold ‘reservation-type’ competitions among connoisseurs of the Ukrainian language? When will we finally be overcome by national shame? Where is our pride, like the one the Poles feel? Kamyanets-Podilsky’s mayor recently turned down the proposal of a group of political parties and non-governmental organizations to erect a monument in the city to Simon Petliura whose 125th birth anniversary was celebrated in May — our application was not even discussed at the city council session. As you know, the same thing happened not long ago around the issue of naming our university in honor of Ivan Ohiyenko (to tell you the truth, there has been some progress: by the end of this year the university may bear his name). But don’t we have the right to put up monuments to the people who are the pride of Kamyanets? We are a strange nation indeed. We like praising ourselves in public, claiming that we adore our customs and traditions, but when it comes down to the crunch, it seems we have an acute shortage of politically strong-willed people. As a matter of fact, Den’s books, especially the third one, are supposed to teach us to match the Poles at least in this aspect, i.e., display a similar kind of national pride.

“Another thing that I like about Ms. Ivshyna’s projects is her ability to organize people. See how many intellectuals appear in Den/The Day Library’s three books: Lina Kostenko, Dmytro Pavlychko, etc., not to mention historians (as a literature expert, I am more familiar with the first two names). Special thanks are due to the compilers Viktor Horobets, Volodymyr Panchenko, and Yury Shapoval. I perfectly understand Lina Kostenko, who said in an interview with Larysa Ivshyna and Yury Shapoval: ‘Polish history went through everything: the deluge, despair, and ruin. But their spirit was never destroyed.’ But what about us: where is our Ukrainian spirit? Unfortunately, even language is a source of conflicts and insults instead of being the object of pride and veneration. And now, in the heat of the election campaign, it sounds really absurd when a pro-governmental television channel shows a young academic who says he doesn’t want to feel second-rate in this country only because he speaks Russian. But who, may I ask, is discrediting the Russian language? Perhaps it is just the contrary, when Ukrainians have been discredited by the shortage of Ukrainian-language newspapers and books? When I was in Shepetivka recently I couldn’t buy anything to read — neither Holos Ukrayiny [The Voice of Ukraine], nor any opposition publications. This situation is obviously not just in Shepetivka. So is there any discrimination of Russian speakers? I work at the Ukrainian Language Department. This year we had an insufficient number of applicants who wanted to major in the Ukrainian language and literature. So, pride and honor are not enough. We won’t go very far unless we have some governmental support and guidelines.

“The book Wars and Peace is really an effective blend of profound scholarship and readability. So Den/The Day Library books must be promoted so that they will find their way into every home. For Ohiyenko once said only books would bring happiness to the Ukrainian people. Indeed, if we have more books like this, we will be true Ukrainians and take pride in this. I personally prefer this book’s articles on culture, for example, the splendid profiles of Ukrainian figures who contributed to the strengthening of Ukrainian-Polish relations, such as Panteleimon Kulish, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Bohdan Lepky, and Yevhen Malaniuk, and on the other hand, Poles who had a connection to the Ukrainian land: Adam Mickiewicz, Karol Szymanowski, et al. There are a lot of ethnic Poles living in the Khmelnytsky region today. They should certainly know about this book, and we are grateful to you on their behalf. We should also thank those ethnic Poles who support Ukraine, have not gone to Poland, and who are working to promote our statehood. I am sure this meeting will furnish you, Ms. Ivshyna, with new like-minded people, adepts, and contributors.”


“What is your attitude to the notion of ‘nationalism?’ Is it a malady and manifestation of chauvinism or something that we must cultivate in people?” (a note from the audience)

L. I.: “I think nationalism in our condition, marginal as it is, is the hyperfunction of and a reaction to the oppression of an organism. Conversely, patriotism is the normal condition of an ordinary society that faces no threats or challenges. Under normal conditions (if nothing threatens the nation), chauvinism is a malady to be healed. Chauvinism and resultant expansionism is, of course, unhealthy. “In her interview, Lina Kostenko pointed to the way the Poles would nickname their kings — Brave, Bold, etc. Our princes were named Wise, Great, etc., while Russian tsars were Long Arms and Terrible. This reflects those particular factors that shaped certain genotypes of government and rule. What can I say in reply to those who accuse Ukrainians of nationalism? I do not know exactly what they mean by this. I think they mean our right to be ourselves. I believe we do have this right. I think we have very little nationalism (in the interpretation of those who hurl this accusation at us). And if are nationalists in their interpretation, we will become patriots in the final analysis.”


Volodymyr HAZYN, Associate Professor, Department of Ukrainian History, Kamyanets-Podilsky State University:

“There are a large number of historical publications, various books, including fundamental studies, being published today. Yet historical monographs often do not focus on the historical problems that Den/The Day deals with. Although some of them need further elaboration and examination, they are still vital.

“I’d like to note straight off that I don’t mean political pamphlet-type articles. Every historian who contributed to this book did research based on many documentary sources. Among them are Valery Stepankov, Viktor Horobets, Taras Chukhlib, and Serhiy Lepyavko. I know them personally; they are highly skilled, serious, and respected researchers. I can only welcome the fact that the newspaper invites professional historians of this caliber to contribute.

“Continuing the debate on whether Ukrainians are a European nation, I’d like to note that if we say we are neither European nor Asian, then we are Eurasian. This is an idea being marketed by Russia: we are special, we are a race apart, let us, Russians, Belorussians, and Ukrainians, build ourselves a small Slavic house. In other words, let us not go to Europe: they don’t want us, they won’t accept us; they’ll be scoffing at us and imposing their concepts on us. They are frightening us with NATO. But I think we are European, we must be in Europe. History shows that Ukraine has always been marching toward Europe. Volodymyr the Great, who blazed a trail to the West, Yaroslav the Wise, and Bohdan Khmelnytsky were well aware of the Ukrainian people’s European essence. Yes, the problem of Ukraine was a long borderline and, hence, an extremely difficult geopolitical situation. Nobody was ever interested in Ukraine becoming a strong state. The history of the Ukrainian national revolution of 1648-1676 was ample proof of this. The foreign factor was one of the major causes of the defeat of that revolution: Moscow, Poland, Sweden, and the Porte reeled at the very thought of a strong independent Ukraine, for it would have radically changed the structure of and correlation of forces in Eastern Europe. Naturally, this suited no one. In spite of this, we must still go and pave the way to Europe. For our place is there only. As for NATO, this is not just a military-political alliance; it symbolizes European democracy, European standards, and European tolerance.

“Somebody here said that Poland might lay claim to some of our territories in the future. I personally do not believe this because today’s Poland is not the one it used to be. Poland is a European civilized country. The point is not even in the fact that President Kwasniewski has adopted a pro-Ukrainian stand. Kwasniewski was elected by a nationwide vote. He is the product of the Polish people’s overall vision. In other words, he is the mirror of Poland itself. We may be facing a great danger in our east. I agree with Ms. Ivshyna that one should not be neutral today. One must take a stand at any moment: which side are you on? As an individual always faces a choice, so too does the entire nation. We must choose between European democracy and the Eurasian system of values.

“As for Den/The Day Library’s books, I think this series of publications has rosy prospects because they broach a large number of interesting subjects. For example, Kamyanets-Podilsky recently hosted a very interesting conference, ‘Loyalty and Treachery in the Consciousness of Early Modern Society,’ which was attended by many historians who collaborated on your books. I also gave what I consider an interesting talk entitled ‘Hunting for Traitors as a Way to Come to Power: Some Aspects of Political Technologies in 1663.’ I said at the very beginning that the term ‘political technologies’ seems to be inapplicable to Ukraine’s early modern and ancient history. At the same time, if you look at the proceedings of the Black Council in 1663, you can easily draw parallels with today. I mean that the Council went beyond the limits of the routine course of events. Before that, the usual course was as follows: there was a chief contender who would refuse several times and then still become the hetman. In this case, there were two actual contenders, who draw support from quite different political forces. What is more, their political struggle — the election campaign, to use modern parlance — in 1661-1662, before the Rada was convened, showed the same features that we see today, for example, the use of black and white PR. There were reciprocal accusations of treason, not only treason that was committed but also treason that was likely to be committed in the future. For instance, one of the ‘candidates’ was maligned on the grounds that he was a relative of Yury Khmelnytsky’s. Today, too, we see emphasis being put on family ties. Or take ‘white PR’ — promoting oneself, flaunting one’s loyalty, etc. Another thing was the impact of the foreign factor. Russia wielded a great deal of clout at the time. With Muscovite voyevodas present, each of the contenders for the hetmanate was trying to prove his loyalty precisely to the Moscow tsar. And what do we hear today — talk of dual citizenship and the Russian language. In other words, we are seeing the same steps, the same political technologies; we clearly see that history is repeating itself. So we must study and take into account the lessons of history. We can’t do without this. For, as the saying goes, ‘whoever does not know history cannot act today.’ Again I would like to express my agreement with Ms. Ivshyna’s statement that a politician should know the Ukrainian language and history and take exams in these subjects, while we, professional historians, can conduct these exams and guarantee an unbiased approach.”


Serhiy VALCHUK, second-year student, Law School, Khmelnytsky University of Management and Law:

“Although the conference was promoted as a book launch, it dealt with a far broader range of issues — not only Ukraine’s relations with Poland and other countries but also our domestic political situation and other contemporary problems. So I think it would be interesting and useful for every conscientious citizen of this country to become familiar with the conference materials.”

Andriy NYZHNY, third-year student, Law School, Khmelnytsky University of Management and Law:

“I haven’t read read the book yet, but I fully share the views of the people who spoke here. In general, it is very gratifying to see that such views are beginning to prevail in our society. I’ve also gained very good impressions of Den/The Day’s editor-in-chief, for she is concerned about what is going on in our society; she not only knows the situation but also wants to put her vision across to other people.”

Ruslan STEFANCHUK, Candidate of Sciences (Law), Professor, Department of Civil Law Disciplines, Khmelnytsky University of Management and Law:

“In principle, any meeting is primarly an exchange of ideas. Although I am a lawyer, not a historian, it was interesting for me to hear about certain historical events because events in today’s world can be extrapolated from them. We have an opportunity to view Poland and Ukraine’s past relations through the prism of today’s realities. I think we can still draw many lessons from history so that we, as well as our children and grandchildren, do not repeat the mistakes of our forefathers.”

Anatoly ANDRUSHKO, Head, Department of Civil Law Disciplines, Khmelnytsky University of Management and Law :

“I am very pleased with the conference and would like to wish the newspaper Den/The Day further successes and a larger readership. As for the books, which should come out annually, I think it would be good if readers could also express their opinions about potential projects on the pages of this newspaper.”