Table Of Content
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Note on Transliteration
- Introduction: From (Global) Russian to Ukrainian Culture—and Back Again
- From Russianness to Russophonia
- In-between (Literary) Russophonia
- Recasting “Ukrainianness” through the Prism of “Russianness”
- The Long Road to Post-Soviet Transition: A Russophone Perspective
- Part I From Culture to Politics— Displaced Hybridity/ies (1991–2013)
- Chapter 1 The Missing Hybridity: Framing the Ukrainian Cultural Space
- Ukraine: A Laboratory of Political and Cultural Identity/ies
- Shifting Social Dynamics in Post-Soviet Ukraine
- New (Old?) Cultural Standards in the Post-Soviet Era
- Post-Soviet Russophonia in Ukraine: An Intellectual (and Political) Debate
- In Search of a New Self-Determination
- Chapter 2 Post-Soviet (Russophone) Ukraine Speaks Back
- Ukraïns’ka Rosiis’komovna literatura versus Rosiis’ka literatura Ukraïny
- The Self-Identification in Post-Soviet Ukrainian Literature in Russian
- At the Intersection of Two Cultural Models
- From Marginality to Minority
- Chapter 3 A Minor Perspective on National Narrative(s): Deterritorializing Post-Imperial Epistemology
- Andrei Kurkov: The Displaced Transition in Mass Literature
- Of Other Spaces (and Of Other Times): Aleksei Nikitin’s Literary Heterotopias
- Vladimir Rafeenko: The Ukrainian “Magical Realism”
- Part II From Politics to Culture— After Revolution of Hybridity (2014–2018)
- Chapter 4 Hybridity Reconsidered: Ukrainian Border Crossing after the “Crisis”
- Dialectic of Transition from Post-Soviet to Post-Maidan: Between Old and New Narratives
- Moving Centripetally: Reconsidering Hybridity
- The (Political) Acceleration of Cultural Change
- Chapter 5 Values for the Sake of the (Post-Soviet) Nation
- Towards Shifting Cultural Policies in the Post-Maidan Era
- Envisioning Identity Markers after the Ukraine Crisis
- At the Crossroads between Normative Measures and Blurred Cultural Boundaries in the Post-Soviet Space
- Chapter 6 Towards a Postcolonial Ethics: Rewriting Ukraine in the “Enemy’s Language”
- Demistifying Anticolonial Myths: The “Ukrainian Russians”
- Transgressing the (National) Code: Recasting History and Language in Light of War
- The End of the Transition?
- In Place of a Conclusion: The Future of “Russianness” in Post-Maidan Ukraine
- Series index
In the contemporary context, diasporization and hybridity have become conditions for novel ways of “translating the world” […] The question of whether we should talk about one global Russian culture or many finds an answer only provisionally and, paradoxically, locally. (Rubins 2019: 46)
Following a 2017 report based on data on language use from national censuses and the United Nations, collated by Euromonitor International, we witness how significantly “Russian has lost more ground than any other language over the past 20 years as newly independent former Soviet states have attempted to assert their linguistic sovereignty” (Johnson 2017). In his commentary emblematically entitled Russian Beyond Russia, Alexander Morrison (2017) observed how “language is harmfully intertwined with politics these days in Eurasia.” On the one hand, this followed former president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev’s decision in 2017 to move the Kazakh language from the Cyrillic to the Latin script for the sake of national “modernization” (Nazarbaev 2017). On the other, the Kremlin elite is still implementing new policies for supporting “the Russian citizens and compatriots who live abroad, the defence of their rights, including the right to receive education in Russian,”1 within the framework of the 2015 Concept Russian School Abroad (Russkaia shkola za rubezhom; Prezident Rossii 2015).
In a wider perspective, these are only some of the measures undertaken in the realm of official policies affecting the public debate in the post-Soviet scene, where over the past decades we dealt mainly with categorical assumptions that rendered national languages and cultures as part of ←13 | 14→the new state ideologies. As highlighted by Sheila Fitzpatrick in her 2005 study Tear Off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia, after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 we witnessed an intense process of resignification of the old cultural symbols and social practices in the “new Europe.” Nonetheless, the new national models emerging from this historical rift have been shaped in the absence of new “proper verbal signifiers” (Oushakine 2000: 994) that have the potential to reflect ongoing social processes in the post-Soviet scene. It was in a “state of post-Soviet aphasia,” borrowing Serguei Oushakine’s definition (2000), that the culture of (post-Soviet) crisis—“revising the past, depicting the present, and foretelling the future”—became “comprehensive and ubiquitous” (Etkind 2017: 2).
It is especially the contested revision of the role and position of Russian language and culture in the region that still represents the true bone of contention in reframing the configuration of the post-Soviet political, cultural and social landscape. Its definition influences not only the creation of a definite and territorially bounded Russian identity, but also affects the emergence of “novel ways of ‘translating the world’ ” (Rubins 2019: 46) in the so-called Near Abroad. As emphasized by Kevin M. F. Platt (2019a: 3) in the introduction to the pioneering volume Global Russian Cultures, this is the result of the “process of global dispersion”—of “millions of ethnic Russians and others who identify with Russian language and culture”—that “has produced novel and thorny questions concerning Russian culture and identity,” not only in the former Soviet space but even globally.
Nowadays these “Russian” subjectivities, together with their extremely diverse range of political and social positions, lie at the core of an intense process of external appropriation or, alternatively, internal rejection in the post-Soviet national discourses. As testified by the so-called Crimean euphoria—that is, the dynamics of the public debate in Russia following the contested annexation of Crimea and the war in East Ukraine in 2014—geopolitical clashes in the region served as a catalyst for new political projections of the Russian idea (and cultural space) beyond the borders of the Russian Federation. It is especially the theorization and contested ideological appropriation of the concept of the Russian World (Russkii mir), which was “once created as an alternative to nationalism and imperialism in any form” and is now “strongly identified with them” (Nemtsev ←14 | 15→2019), that contributes to an understanding of the fluidity of the narratives implemented by political actors in the post-Soviet arena.
As retraced by Mikhail Nemtsev (2019), the origin of the concept is deeply rooted in the late Soviet years, when the historian and philosopher Mikhail Gefter introduced the idea of Russkii mir in his analysis of “the Soviet Union’s future prospects through his philosophy of world history” as “a possibility for humanity to save itself from self-destruction.”2 Throughout the 1990s, the concept was then “suitable for conceptualizing a ‘new Russian-language self-consciousness’ [Russkoiazychnost’ myshleniia] for post-Soviet people” in the work of “humanitarian technologists” in Eltsin’s times. It was only in the 2000s that we witnessed the political appropriation of this philosophical concept by the Kremlin, directly affecting its original “universal appeal” and tying it “to the geographical boundaries of the former Soviet Union” (Nemtsev 2019). The Russian world came thus eventually to be externalized beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, but within the blurred boundaries of the Russian cultural space.
In spite of the highly politicized narratives around Russkii mir, it is only through the lens of the dynamic changes occurring in post-Soviet societies that we can still understand where symbolic politics fails to represent a vivid picture of the Russian cultural space. When focusing on the local developments of Russian culture—and on its interrelation with local cultures, societies and traditions—we clearly witness how today “ ‘Russianness’ [Russkost’] is still deterritorialised,” or “largely ‘broken off’ from any geographic boundaries or ethnocultural traditions of the Russian ethnos” (Nemtsev 2019).
Interestingly enough, only in the 2010s did scholars in post-Soviet studies start to reconsider the role of the new Russian cultural phenomena emerging locally.3 In the aftermath of the dramatic political developments in the last ←15 | 16→decade, and following the specious misuse of cultural categories in the public debate, new research questions arose: “Could there ever be ‘another Russian World’?” (Nemtsev 2019); “Where is Russian culture properly located?” (Platt 2019a: 3), or “How can we even posit a single entity called ‘Russian culture as a whole’?” (Platt 2019a: 5). While “rethinking Russianness,” today, scholars and observers in post-Soviet studies wonder about “new ways of translating” the other Russian world in all of its diversity. This creates the ground for developing new analytical tools not only for an understanding of the new local places and shapes of Russian culture in the region, but also for better interpreting the heterogeneity of post-Soviet local scenes through the lens of the global—and transnational—location of culture.
Over the past 30 years much attention has been devoted, especially in the social and political sciences, to the role played by such “groups of people who are referred to variously (often interchangeably) as (ethnic) Russians, Russian speakers and Russophones” (Cheskin, Kachuyevski 2018: 3) in the post-Soviet scene (Brubaker 1996; Kolstø 1996; Laitin 1998; Zhurzhenko 2002b; Gorham 2011). Geopolitical developments related to the implementation of new nation-building policies and the formation of new national majorities and minorities in the former Soviet republics, the heritage of the Soviet policies of nationalities and ethno-federal structure, the emergence of new normative measures in the Russian Federation devoted to the protection of the alleged “Russian diaspora” and compatriots, and eventually the rise of migration flows within and beyond the former Soviet Union: all these factors have contributed to the methodological cul-de-sac affecting ←16 | 17→the creation of a solid research framework for the study of this complex mosaic of peoples, ideas and traditions as a whole.
Yet the problematic conceptualization and terminology adopted throughout the last years to define such a diverse and heterogeneous group of people—together with their political and social ideas, activities and behaviours—still deserves further discussion. A constructive point of departure has been proposed by the contributors to the previously mentioned volume Global Russian Cultures (2019). While retracing the background behind the title of the book, Platt highlights how the shared stance of the scholars who participated in the research venture is that Russians “have gone global” (or, better, “plural”): “Our use of the plural ‘cultures’ corresponds to our shared conviction that these formations must be seen as an interconnected web of distinct entities rather than a totality that can be captured in any definition or formula” (Platt 2019a: 4). Yet global Russian cultural life is “a highly complex area of study that varies across time, space, social environment, and the vagaries of individual cases” (Platt 2019a: 5). Focusing on the dialogical relations between cultural production and political forces—in post-Soviet Eurasia and globally—we witness how “ ‘being Russian’ or ‘performing Russian culture’ is everywhere subject to local constraints, but those constraints, and therefore the content of ‘Russianness’ as well, are distinct in each new context” (Platt 2019a: 6).
The kind of approach brilliantly described by the scholars who contributed to this research venture can help us deconstruct the multiplicity of labels and categories based on strictly exclusive territorial, linguistic and ethnic terms, especially whereas we understand that paradoxically, as in the case of Central Asia, the “Russophone cultural-linguistic space might continue to function here even without a larger presence of ‘Russians’ ” (Kosmarskaya, Kosmarski 2019: 90). Moving further to an understanding of the complexity of the “Russian-speaking” world, new insights emerge from the analysis undertaken by the Kazakhstani scholars who contributed to the thematic issue emblematically entitled When Global Becomes Local: Modern Mobilities and the Reinvention of Locality (2017) in the scholarly journal Ab Imperio. At the core of Akbota Alisharieva, Zhanar Ibrayeva and Ekaterina Protassova’s research proposal lies the opportunity to study Russian as a polycentric language, following the analogous case of the field of the so-called “World-Englishes,” which was first developed ←17 | 18→in the 1970s in the aftermath of the decolonization process (Kachru 1992; Bolton, Kachru 2006). Here again, “[i];n theoretical and pragmatical terms […] the use of the term ‘Englishes’ emphasizes the autonomy and plurality of the world varieties of the English language” (Kachru et al. 2006: 4). Similarly, nowadays the “Russian-speaking space” is influenced by the new demographic processes, national cultural standards and language practices which have followed the Soviet collapse since 1991:
As a result of the collapse of the USSR, the Russian-speaking area has reduced and changed its configuration. Russian speakers live in almost all countries of the world. Diaspora is growing, but it is not subordinate to a single center as before […] Russian philologists working outside the Russian Federation are faced with the question of how to describe new phenomena in Russian language, when this deviates from the previous standard and the interaction with local languages affects its vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation—even among those for whom it was the native language.4 (Alisharieva et al. 2017: 232)
Research provides preliminary evidence supporting the hypothesis that the Russian language in Kazakhstan, or “Kazakhstani Russian,” has acquired autonomy from the “global” Russian language.5 Such dynamics have been ←18 | 19→recognized even in other post-Soviet contexts where the cultural proximity of Russian with the state language, in spite of a “downgraded” official status, is more pronounced (see the Ukrainian case: e.g. Del Gaudio 2011). Yet these reassessments have implications well beyond the sphere of linguistics, as they redefine the terms in which social scientists—and even politicians—contemplate the issue of the “Russian speaking communities” in post-Soviet countries.6
The above-mentioned authors of the article “The Kazakhstani Russian: An Outsider’s Perspective” (“Kazakhstanskii Russkii: Vzgliad so storony”) further emphasize that whereby, on the one hand, “in Russian studies such analyses have just started,” today “the study of the variability of the Russian language is still tied to observe the exclusive normative model of Russian supported by the scientific and political resources of the Russian Federation” (Alisharieva et al. 2017: 234).7 Interestingly enough, on the other hand, here again the main factor affecting the actual and habitual use of the local varieties of Russian language “from below” is “the subjectivity of the speakers: how do people answer the question of who, strictly speaking, owns the language and who has the right to speak it?” (Alisharieva et al. 2017: 235).8←19 | 20→
An answer to this question—and to the proliferation of cultural constructs that still tie categories such as “Russian” and “Russian-speaking” to territorially, ethnically or ideologically bounded labels—can be identified in the emerging field of “Russophonia.” Yet, as mentioned by Robert A. Saunders, still in 2014 a Google search for Russophonia only produced “a list of pages dedicated to ‘Russophobia’ or the ‘fear of Russians’ ” (2014: 1). While addressing a necessary practice of reflection on terminology, Dirk Uffelmann (2019: 208) used the term to describe “the global community of Russian language and culture,” significantly—and provocatively—switching the focus from the speakers to the set of speech acts. Disembodying language from its carriers, we can consider even the room for “Russophone Russophobia,” highlighting how nowadays a “critique of all that is constructed as Russia(n)—namely, Russian politics, mentality, culture, and above all language—if expressed in Russian, can collide with the performance of using the Russian language” (Uffelmann 2019: 214).
Eventually, the term “Russophonia” brings the attention to the performative acts of speaking Russian (and even speaking back to Russia), thus laying the ground for a new potential methodological orientation, with the aim to overcome contradictory ideological constructs based on ethnicity, nationality and territory.9 Most fundamentally, Russophonia highlights the self-conscious and autonomous nature of the performance that carriers of the Russian language are enabled to produce with their individual speech acts, finally switching the focus to the agency of these new cultural actors—thus creating the ground for an extremely interesting field of study aimed at an understanding of the multiplicity of Russian political and linguistic cultures and identities.
In the closing lines of the lecture given at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on the occasion of the awarding ceremony, Sviatlana Aleksievich (b. 1948, ←20 | 21→Stanislav—today Ivano-Frankivs’k), the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 2015, reflected upon one of the most controversial issues mirrored by the kaleidoscope of post-Soviet identity:
I have three homes: my Belarusian land, the homeland of my father, where I have lived my whole life; Ukraine, the homeland of my mother, where I was born; and Russia’s great culture, without which I cannot imagine myself. All are very dear to me. But in this day and age it is difficult to talk about love.10 (Alexievich 2015)
In an attempt to define the different cultural, historical and political affiliations of the writer Sviatlana Aliaksandrauna (in Belarusian)/Svetlana Aleksandrovna (in Russian) Aleksievich, a number of different labels have been adopted: (post-)Soviet, for her historical-cultural background; Belarusian, for her citizenship; Ukrainian, for being born in the Soviet Stanislav, today’s Ivano-Frankivs’k; and, finally, Russian, for her native language and artistic-literary instrument. Eventually, this created the ground for the rise of a contested reception of Aleksievich’s success in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, where she was at times appropriated or rejected along the “own/other” divide (Charnysh 2015).
In an article published the day after the awarding of the prize to Aleksievich, the Ukrainian journalist Vitalii Portnikov (2015) offered an interesting key to an understanding of this controversial issue. Reflecting upon the observers’ attempts to position the writer’s experience within the borders of a single national literary canon, the Ukrainian journalist highlighted how today at the core of the dispute lies “our inability to shift cultural frontiers” (nashe neumenie razdvigat’ kul’turnye granitsy; Portnikov 2015). For Portnikov, Sviatlana Aleksievich is a Belarusian writer “to the same extent that Joyce and Yates are Irish writers, Mark Twain and Hemingway are Americans, García Márquez is Colombian, and Vargas Llosa is Peruvian”11 (Portnikov 2015). According to Portnikov, “[i];n the ←21 | 22→contemporary world the national belonging of a writer is not determined by language, but by a choice of civilization”12 (Portnikov 2015).
Following Portnikov’s reflections, today it is still literature that can show us the path to undertake even while turning the gaze to the other “Russian World”—and to the diversity of its local historical and cultural experiences. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we witnessed the textualization of new speech acts that contributed to developing “new ways of translating the world” (Rubins 2019: 46)—that is, new tools and symbols able to reflect the reshaping of the cultural frontiers of modernity. As highlighted by Maria Rubins (2019: 21), “Russia has been no stranger” to the “global trends that informed much of the world’s cultural production in the last hundred years”: among these trends, we can mention the fall of multiethnic empires (i.e. the Tsarist empire in 1917) and totalitarian regimes (i.e. the Soviet Union in 1991), revolutionary cycles (i.e. the October Revolution in 1917, perestroika and the fall of the communist rule in 1985–1991), wars (i.e. the two World Wars in the first half of the century, and the Afghan war in late Soviet era, above all), massive migrations and displacement. These events created the ground for the “proliferation of hyphenated, hybrid, translocal and transnational identities” that make up today the so-called “archipelago of Russian culture,” borrowing Rubins’ definition (2019: 24).13
Whereas, following a geocritical approach, Rubins observed how globally “the interdisciplinary study of the archipelago has challenged the binary conception of mainland versus islands, recasting the entire cultural space as an archipelago” (2019: 25), in the 2000s the peculiar “glocalization” (Kukulin 2019: 171) of Russian language and culture in post-Soviet times has been the focus of studies adopting the postcolonial methodology for research on the post-communist region. It is also as a result of this emerging approach that in his review of the latest English editions of Aleksievich’s novels Second Hand Time (Vremia sekond-khend, 2013) and ←22 | 23→Chernobyl Prayer (Chernobyl’skaia molitva, 1993), emblematically entitled Neighbours in Memory, Serguei Oushakine (2016: 12) significantly came to describe Sviatlana Aleksievich as “the first major postcolonial author of postcommunism.”14
Notwithstanding the historians’ enduring reluctance to endorse the methodological hybridization between postcolonialism and post-communism, Aleksievich’s experience reveals once again the presence of multiple points of intersection between the two “post-”: postcolonial linguistic and cultural hybrids, textual and identity deterritorialization, conflictual binary discourses re-emerge in a different form—but, at the same time, akin to classical colonialism—in the cultural contexts of the new countries that have arisen from the ashes of Communism. It was significantly “[t];he opening up of Second world cultures to increased global contacts as a result of the policies of perestroika and glasnost and, even more so, the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe and the suddenly former USSR” that “highlighted this jarring omission” (Chernetsky 2007: 7) in postcolonial research.
Among the most productive points of contact between the two “post-,” we witness the revision of the so-called “East–West” divide in the heart of Europe, which opened the ground to global contacts and interdisciplinary research perspectives. The studies undertaken by the post-communist scholars who contributed to the volume Postcolonial Europe? Essays on Post-Communist Literatures and Cultures (2015), edited by Dobrota Pucherová and Róbert Gáfrik, reflect the original perspectives offered by this methodological orientation. As highlighted by the editors in the introduction to the book, the unifying idea behind all the contributions is to give voice to new actors in the contemporary debate on European identity.15 ←23 | 24→As argued still in 2012 by Dorota Kołodziejczyk and Cristina Şandru, the editors of a special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, here we deal with “an inquiry that does not so much seek some postcolonial status for East-central Europe as it strives to find, theorize, and make productive spaces of difference within similar paradigms of subjection, subalternity and peripheralization” (Kołodziejczyk, Şandru 2012: 116).
Generally, drawing upon the path undertaken by the editors of the volume included in this book series, Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism (2016), the proposed framework answers the need for exploring “not only the heuristic potential of postcolonial approaches to postcommunist cultures on the meta-theoretical level,” but also “literature’s specific contribution” (Smola, Uffelmann 2016: 14) to a broader understanding of post-communist societies. On the one hand, as emphasized by Klavdia Smola and Dirk Uffelmann (2016: 17), “for East and East-Central Europe, it might be useful to stress selected concepts of postcolonial studies such as hybridity or inbetweenness that are compatible with interpretative routines such as deconstruction […] or global paradigms such as transnationality or world literature.” On the other, whereas together with the editors of the volume we argue that “Slavic literatures after communism are postcolonial […] in a no more metaphorical way than the allegedly ‘classic’ cases of postcolonial literatures,” we can still maintain that they “need not, however, necessarily be postcolonial in the same respect” (Smola, Uffelmann 2016: 15). It is exactly following this path that we can go beyond the question posed by David Chioni Moore still at the dawn of the new millennium in his seminal essay “Is the ‘Post-’ in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet?” (2001), and eventually create the ground for a new epistemological approach to the post-communist—and, namely, post-Soviet—culture and society. As suggested by Smola and Uffelmann (2016: 14), we should reframe the main research question as follows: “on what levels are the literatures of postcommunist countries postcolonial?”16 The complexity ←24 | 25→and heterogeneity of a space where “neighboring cultures with mutual linguistic intercomprehension and cultural and religious similarities” (Smola, Uffelmann 2016: 15) were in a state of constant interaction and exchange prevents us from giving a univocal answer to this question.17 Nonetheless, the peculiar in-between position which emerges from the diverse historical experiences of Slavic cultures still represents one of the main characterizing traits of the postcolonial setting in Eastern Europe. Paradoxically, shared historical dynamics make the definition of new post-Soviet ethnic and national identities in Eastern Europe—together with the demarcation of the respective fields of national cultures—even more complex and contested than in overseas colonialism.18
Most fundamentally, regarding my research focus, the “trans-nationalization” of Russian culture also seems to regard a broader process taking place in the post-Soviet region as a result of a peculiar (post-)colonial experience in (post-)Soviet times. As emphasized by Susanne Frank, ←25 | 26→the ambivalent multinational Soviet literature “that emerged as a project of cultural and literary policy in the mid-1930s can be seen as not the least important part of political enterprise of nationalities policy in the Soviet Union” (Frank 2016: 193). This project, proclaimed as anti-imperial, still had some characteristics that allow identifying it as imperial: “the dominance of Russian as lingua franca and the language into which all (relevant) literary texts had to be translated was only one feature, others being dogmatism of one aesthetic doctrine—Socialist Realism—and universalism” (Frank 2016: 193). According to Frank, the heritage of this transnational project—that forged “a literary reality of dense intercultural entanglement” (2016: 201)—comes to still influence the “post-imperial” developments of post-Soviet literatures. Especially, when identifying its “unintended result” for “the space of Russian-language literature,” Frank recognizes that “nearly everywhere […] there are authors today who use Russian as their writing language” (2016: 213). This is “a group and a tendency in-between” (Frank 2016: 213), living at the crossroads between the processes of “nationalization and/as de-Sovietization” in former Soviet republics and “nationalization in Russia itself” (Frank 2016: 212). Recent literary developments in post-Soviet cultures could be thus included “on the one hand in the context of current global tendencies of literary transnationalization, and on the other in a historical perspective as effects and consequences of the project of Soviet multinational literature” (Frank 2016: 214).
Interestingly, it is also through the lens of the global decentralizing process of literary and cultural studies that the US scholar Naomi Caffee, in her dissertation “Russophonia: Towards a Transnational Conception of Russian-Language Literature” (2013), proposed the introduction of a new framework “for discussing literary works from past and present communities of Russian speakers regardless of citizenship or ethnic identity, both within and outside of the Russian Empire and its successor states” (2013: 20). On the one hand, Caffee identifies “Russophonia” as “the totality of social, linguistic, and geo-political environments in which Russian-speaking authors write and live,” while on the other—“taking a cue from postcolonial literary studies” and “especially from the disciplines of Francophone and Sinophone studies”—considers “Russophone” as describing “literature written in the Russian language” (2013: 20). Caffee ←26 | 27→defines “Russophone” as “the most accurate term available,” mainly in light of the misuse of ethnic and linguistic labels in public discourse.19
Even if the research area still remains quite vague in temporal and spatial terms, following Caffee’s proposal, the potential discipline of Russophone studies answers the need for providing “the crucial interdisciplinary space” for the analysis of “pressing contemporary issues” (Caffee 2013: 24). Among these, Caffee mentions “a preoccupation with establishing identity, and also with categorizing and hierarchizing identities” (2013: 36), which emerges quite clearly as a central theme in “Russophone literature”: this includes works that “often belong to more than one literary tradition concurrently,” and authors who “are acutely aware of this gap between traditions, between identities and between locations” (2013: 36).
In an attempt to analyse the dynamics characterizing “the very essence of culture’s ‘in-betweenness’” (Caffee 2013: 36) as experienced by Russophone authors today, we need to be aware that in the archipelago of Russian culture “each center” presents “a unique combination of local and global factors,” giving rise to “hybrid island identities” which are “subject to continuous redefinition” (Rubins 2019: 25). It is exactly these blurred dynamics in the field of global Russian culture that makes the investigation of its local centres and provisional status an extremely compelling field of research.
Today, the contested encounters of the Russian language and culture with other languages, cultures and traditions in the post-Soviet space raise “pressing contemporary issues” related to—and affected by—political and social developments, the presence (or, alternatively, the lack of) cultural institutions and, eventually, market dynamics. This reflects global tendencies affecting cultural practices in contemporary multicultural societies. It is no surprise that still in 1997, in his study Translating and Resisting ←27 | 28→Empire: Cultural Appropriation and Postcolonial Studies, Jonathan Hart could question the ambivalence of global cultural processes: “Can all the claims of different cultures find expression in a community or nation?” (1997: 138). The classification of subjectivities and cultural phenomena that do not necessarily respond to a knowledge paradigm based on the demarcation between the centre and the periphery, the superior and the inferior, discloses the need for new analytical criteria able to understand the complex dynamics of today’s cultural métissage.
As emphasized by Hart in his analysis of the developments of Francophone literature in the 1990s, the emergence of new narratives built around the cultural negotiation between centre and margin are the outcome of the global experience of migration, diasporization and hybridity.20 Looking at the rise of transcultural subjectivities in the post-Soviet space through the prism of global cultural dynamics, we may assume that cultures “based on a model of penetration and interconnectedness are to be understood as externally networked and internally hybrid, dynamic, and fluid constructs” (Hausbacher 2016: 417). It is not by chance that, while describing the globally emerging literary narratives through the lens of “transculturality,” Arianna Dagnino (2013: 4) comes to the conclusion that “what makes this kind of writing different is first and foremost its resistance to appropriations by one single national canon or cultural tradition.”
In this book I will focus on the case of the contemporary Ukrainian cultural process, in an attempt to understand the result of the interplay between literature, politics, market and identity. Most fundamentally, focusing on the perspective of Russophone intellectuals and literary actors, I will try to go beyond the binary opposition in the Ukrainian intellectual environment between the local Ukrainian-language and Russian-language literatures as separate realms, thus positioning the latter within the global developments in post-Soviet culture and society. Following these lines, the purpose and the core research questions of this study are threefold:←28 | 29→
a) What are the different ways that Ukrainian literature and culture can be defined in 2019? Literature and culture produced in the Ukrainian territory? Literature and culture produced by citizens of Ukraine in any language (and, namely, also in Russian)?
b) What is the role and position of Russophone/Russian culture in Ukraine? How can the dynamics of Ukrainian culture lend insight into the possibility of a global Russian culture, or multiple Russian cultures, in the contemporary world?
c) And, eventually, may hybridity as an analytical tool help us address the global “pressing contemporary issues” that have arisen as a result of political and social developments in the post-Soviet space?
Framing Ukrainianness and Russianness: following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the national question has been at the core of the intellectual and political debate in Ukraine and Russia since the 1990s. As emphasized by Igor’ Torbakov, in post-Soviet times the ambivalent directions of nation-building policies in Ukraine and Russia reflected a complex process of “rebounding” the contested legacy of their historical encounter, revealing both symmetric and diverging features:
Not surprisingly, both Ukraine and Russia find themselves in a kind of postcolonial condition, because their histories had been closely entangled throughout the imperial and Soviet eras, and both have been struggling to adapt to the postimperial realities after 1991 […] The pattern of Ukraine’s and Russia’s hybridities and ambivalent behaviours during the postimperial period seem to be similar but one might also observe a crucial difference: “Ukraine is only a subaltern, whereas Russia is both subaltern and an empire.” (Torbakov 2016: 91)
Taking into account the historical dynamics of the contested Ukrainian–Russian encounter, the duplicity of the role of Ukraine in the imperial ventures—“as the core of the Russian and Soviet projects, on the one hand, and as the center of the anti-imperial and anti-Soviet resistance on the other”—and its special status as “a contested borderlands” (Hrytsak 2015: 733–734) between empires makes the postcolonial “not enough” to describe its complex dynamics. Though assuming that “Ukraine was not a classical colony of the Russian Empire” (Kappeler 2003: 178)—whereby it lacked most of the classical attributes of colonies, such as “geographic, cultural, and racial distance”—the paradox still lies in the fact that here, as ←29 | 30→emphasized by Georgii Kas’ianov, “[i];t is possible to consider Ukraine as an example of postcolonial syndromes without colonialism”21 (Volodarskii 2017a): these syndromes include the reframing of diverging memories, cultural categories and identity markers along rigid binary lines.
The cultural specificity of the Ukrainian postcolonial condition was thoroughly theorized already in the early 1990s by Marko Pavlyshyn, who highlighted how modern Ukrainian tradition “had been built up on a binary opposition between the self and the other, where the other was the intruder, the colonizer, the enemy” (1992: 48). Even today we can understand the historical complexity of Ukrainian postcoloniality only through the lenses of its oppositional relation with the external “hegemonic discourse” taking shape in the contemporary Russian Federation, where “[Belarusians and] Ukrainians are still regarded among the ethnic groups of the ‘near abroad’ as particularly close relatives, with whom one gladly cooperates and to whom one is ready to make certain concessions, but whom one does not recognize as socially and culturally equal or accept as independent nations with national states” (Kappeler 2003: 181). Interestingly enough, whereas on the one hand this kind of narrative shows how in the case of contemporary Russia “the postcolonial discourse has not undergone a social process of deconstruction” (Berg 2004) yet,22 on the other this also helps us ←30 | 31→clarify how still nowadays Ukrainian postcoloniality and “postcolonial syndromes” paradoxically emerge from the conflicts engendered by cultural proximity. Mykola Riabchuk puts it in historical perspective,
The simple truth is that Ukrainians were not discriminated against as Little Russians, i.e., as loyal members of a Russian regional subgroup, who recognize their subordinate position and do not claim any specific/equal cultural rights. But as Ukrainians, i.e., as members of a nationally self-aware and culturally self-confident group, they were not merely discriminated against, but also politically persecuted as dangerous “nationalists.” (2010: 12)
Here we may grasp the peculiar historical continuity of post-Soviet narratives with imperial and Soviet “hegemonic discourses,” which today still come to affect contemporary cultural and political dynamics in the region. Following these lines, according to Roman Dubasevych (2016: 38), the “term ‘postimperial’ thus seems for several reasons to better match the complex reality of the Ukrainian-Russian encounter.”23 Most fundamentally, the postimperial frame creates the ground for discussing the case of Ukrainian–Russian cultural relations in light of the contested annexation of Crimea to Russia (March 2014) and the armed conflict that erupted in Donbas (April 2014), since even “if before 2014 the anti-imperial tendencies in Ukraine never led to interethnic violence, they manifested themselves in symbolic struggle over cultural hegemony, embodied in the reluctance to recognize Russian as a second official language, and in multiple ‘memory wars’ ” (Dubasevych 2016: 136). According to Dubasevych’s insights, the present conflict could be thus interpreted “as an effect of a long-term alienation between Ukraine ←31 | 32→and Russia, Ukrainophiles and Russophiles, that has been growing since Ukrainian independence in 1991” (2016: 134).
In the Ukrainian intellectual environment these dynamics intensely affected the conceptualization of the national canon: today the litmus test for the meaning of Ukrainianness and attitudes towards it still remains the language question. The problem stems from the fact that in contemporary Ukraine, besides the people who identify themselves as ethnically Russian, there is also a large community of Russian-language Ukrainians.24 In light of the very complex and fluid ethnolinguistic pattern of contemporary Ukraine, the definition of the cumbersome nature of Russian language and culture in post-Soviet times thus continues to play a central role in the debate around the definition of the national identity.
In September 2017, while discussing the recent developments in defining “Ukrainianness” in the national debate, Ukrainian philosopher Serhii Datsiuk significantly declared that “in the coming decades the solution of the Ukrainian question is not possible without the solution of the Russian question”25 (Datsiuk 2017). This followed the publication of controversial commentaries by Galician intellectuals, such as Taras Prokhas’ko (2017), Iurii Andrukhovych (2017a; 2017b; 2017c) and Iurii Vynnychuk (2017), debating the Ukrainian question on the online platform Zbruch. In these commentaries, the Russian language was depicted as an attribute of the “enemy,” “a language of violence” (mova nasyl’stva), which is embodied by those Ukrainians who are not able even “to sleep” in the national language, that is, the “Ukrainian Russians” (Ukraïns’ki rosiiany)—the term used by Prokhas’ko (2017) in his column entitled “Do You Sleep in Ukrainian?” (Chy ty spysh ukraïns’koiu?) to address indiscriminately both ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine. Paradoxically, in his analysis of the problematic relationship between literary text and territory within ←32 | 33→Russia, Il’ia Kukulin similarly came to the conclusion that “in an era of regret and anxiety over Russian state collapse and turmoil around its (re)expansion, the cultural problem of Russianness—whether conceived as an overarching matrix of many cultures and people, unique ethnic identity, or nation wrapped in an imperial destiny—has yet to be resolved” (Kukulin 2019: 181). Here we may witness the persistent entanglement between the solution of the “cultural problem of Russianness” (Kukulin 2019: 181) and the creation of a shared and inclusive “Ukrainianness” in the post-Soviet space.
Yet the developments of the national question should be viewed and interpreted within the broader context of the search for new self-identification in post-Soviet societies. Interestingly, it was only in the aftermath of the Euromaidan revolution in 2013–2014—the wave of protests starting in Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv on the night of November 21, 2013, after the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend the signing of the association agreement with the European Union—that scholars and observers in post-Soviet studies started to highlight the emergence of a “civic turn” in codifying the national identity in Ukraine (Gerasimov 2014; Goble 2015; Kulyk 2015, 2016; Pavlyshyn 2016a). From this vantage point, Ukrainian “hybridity” (Gerasimov 2014: 32) appeared to be a new form of collective subjectivity, as it offered new terms to describe “Ukrainianness […] as an attribute freely chosen by people favourably disposed to the Ukrainian nation-state without regard to ethnicity or cultural orientation” (Pavlyshyn 2016a: 76–77). The (re)emergence of this language of self-description in post-Soviet societies is the result of a long-term process, which still lacks a full-fledged explanatory model. According to the Ukrainian historian Andrii Portnov: “To define this new language, the new Ukrainian studies needs to analyze the specifically post-Soviet Ukrainian hybridity as a distinctive and autonomous subjectivity and fully accept that Ukraine is a complex and dynamic society, which requires nuanced inquiry” (2015: 730). Conceptualizing Ukrainian hybridity, we deal with “a fundamentally interdisciplinary research field in which history meets anthropology, economics, sociology, literary studies, political philosophy, and art history” (Portnov 2015: 731).
Indeed, it is especially the field of “literary politics” that since Ukrainian independence has seemed to privilege “the plurality and hybridity of ←33 | 34→national and cultural identities” (Rewakowicz 2018: 2). As suggested by Maria Rewakowicz in her recent work titled Ukraine’s Quest for Identity: Embracing Cultural Hybridity in Literary Imagination, “the issue facing literary critics (which till now has not been adequately addressed) is to decide how to arrive at the body of texts that form a national literature” (2018: 2). And here the debate comes to emblematically include the ongoing negotiation around the actual content and shape of Ukrainianness.
Following Rewakowicz’s stance, it is the space of Ukrainian literature that in the long term better reflects the room for hybrid forms—and their contestation—in the post-Soviet space.26 Especially in the aftermath of the revolutionary cycles experienced by Ukrainians throughout the last decades (i.e. the Revolution on Granite in 1990, the Orange Revolution in 2004–2005, and the Euromaidan Revolution in 2013–2014), we may use and readapt the postcolonial categories to Ukraine as a post-Soviet (and post-Maidan) society for creating new tools for translating the new local dynamics. The proposed approach is aimed at creating a productive path to disembodying nation-ness in the post-Soviet space and, especially, at achieving an understanding of how, paradoxically, an answer to the eternal question on the role and position of global Russian culture can be found “only provisionally and, paradoxically, locally.”
This book is aimed at deeply rethinking and better understanding the different approaches to the “Russian question” in Ukraine, by analysing both the political and cultural narratives that emerged before and after the Ukrainian–Russian clash of discourses which followed the contested annexation of Crimea to Russia and the military aggression against Eastern Ukraine in 2014. My study is based mainly on the results of a research carried out from 2012 to 2019, including interviews with prominent cultural figures ←34 | 35→(cultural journal/magazine editors, publishers, writers, scholars) conducted in Kyiv, Donets’k and Kharkiv on the eve of Ukraine’s Euromaidan. Through the lens of the intertwining of political and cultural developments in post-Soviet Ukraine (and parallel dynamics in Russia), throughout the sections of the present book it is possible to retrace the origins of the debate on hybridity and hybrid subjectivities in post-Soviet times.
Under the umbrella of the global decentralizing process of traditional literary and cultural studies, I mainly devote my attention to the provisional status of a “displaced transition” experienced by cultural actors and phenomena emerging “in between” national languages and traditions. The category of hybridity discussed in this research (and its variegated vocabulary in theoretical discourse, such as métissage, transculturation and creolization) was developed mostly by postcolonial studies to problematize the discourse of empire, by revealing the “in-between space” where the “meaning of culture” takes shape. By going further in defining the rather generalizing theory famously advanced by Homi K. Bhabha,27 I will follow Anjali Prabhu’s further theorization of hybridity. Turning to the legacy of Frantz Fanon and Édouard Glissant,28 she attempted to reframe the concept by highlighting the need to demarcate “a particular framework or closing-off of an historical moment, action or geographical space as hybrid by also specifying the terms between or among which such hybridity occurs or is called up” (Prabhu 2007: 5):←35 | 36→
I therefore think it is important to provisionally, but clearly distinguish between hybridity as a theoretical concept and a political stance that we can argue, and hybridity as a social reality with historical specificity […] For me, the most productive theories of hybridity are those that effectively balance the task of inscribing a functional-instrumental version of the relation between culture and society with that of enabling the more utopian/collective image of society. (Prabhu 2007: 2)
Following Prabhu’s analytical theory of hybridity, and adapting it to the case of post-Soviet Ukraine, we will see how hybrid subjectivities are first a product of a cultural debate that emerged in Imperial and Soviet times, and then the result of a political clash of national paradigms in post-Soviet times: nowadays these are subjected to a constant internal and external delegitimizing process, influencing the transitoriness—or provisionality—of this “third space,” as alternatively being subject to processes of cultural appropriation or peripheralization. In the proposed analytical framework, Ukrainian hybridity appears to be “tied to revolutionary social change,” and “linked to contingency and […] time-bound.”29 More importantly, Ukrainian hybridity entails practices of dis-identification, by providing “a way out of binary thinking,” (Prabhu 2007: 1) and responds to the possibility of a third space of enunciation, whereas it represents “a completely new political community that cannot rely on any preexisting ‘national’ structures to sustain itself” (Gerasimov, Mogilner 2015: 720). Finally, it is deterritorialized, whereas—in spite of the misuse of language categories in the political debate—Russian in Ukraine is becoming an ex-territorial language, which is not necessarily linked to a particular territory or entity and a particular ethnicity.
To my knowledge, this is the first book to investigate contemporary Ukrainian cultural developments through the lens of Russian-language literary production and the Russian-language intellectual community’s position. While Russian and Ukrainian cultural developments have been framed as the outcome of the Soviet collapse and the embrace of globalization (Chernetsky 2007), recent studies tend to privilege only one of the two aspects of the issue, which is here analysed in light of a constant ←36 | 37→dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian Studies. Furthermore, while in the volume authored by Maria G. Rewakowicz (2018) the focus seems to rely mostly on pre-Maidan developments, here I draw an analysis of the long-term outcomes of the debate on cultural hybridity, considering both “the phase of distinctly post-Soviet and transitional dynamics of the first two decades of independence” (Rewakowicz 2018: viii) and the subsequent crystallization of these dynamics in post-Maidan realities. Whereas Chernetsky (2019: 58) identifies the Orange Revolution of 2004 as the true starting point for “the process of rethinking and reclaiming identities by Ukraine’s Russian-language writers in the newly independent Ukraine,” in my opinion it is worth analyzing the phenomenon in a broader perspective, going from the early years of Ukrainian independence to the outcomes of the Euromaidan in 2013–2014 that “kicked into higher gear” (Chernetsky 2019: 59) the dynamics of the previous revolutionary cycle.
Here the prehistory of the phenomenon, which was the subject of my previous study (Puleri 2016), has been deliberately assigned to a marginal role, in order to privilege a focus on the present situation and to prevent any attempts at formulating historical and ideological projections. This book is not a history of Ukrainian Russian-language literature, nor does it include all its contemporary variants and actors: rather, the premise of this study is that, while looking at these plural literary phenomena, it is worth focusing on the profoundly diverse and heterogeneous range of positions, identities and forms emerging from their provisional status, and on the need to analyse them through the lens of the global tendency towards the transnationalization of cultural practices. This helps us describe Ukrainian hybridity as a “time-bounded” condition that, on the one hand, is deeply rooted in the Ukrainian social and political experience in post-Soviet times and, on the other hand, still answers to and follows global cultural dynamics and trends.
In this study I hence propose the use of new analytical tools for translating the recent social developments in Ukraine through the lens of literature.30 On the one hand, it is postcolonial multilingualism, symbolic ←37 | 38→“interstitiality” and pluricentric counternarratives to established social conceptions of identity, nation and culture that prominently emerge in the Russophone literary production. On the other, the “minor paradigm” elaborated by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1975) works as a useful methodological approach to interpret the “collective enunciation” conveyed by these cultural actors working in an intermediate space between the Ukrainian and Russian “great (or established)” literatures and narratives. As for the selection of the literary texts under scrutiny, I have opted for prose works by Andrei Kurkov, Aleksei Nikitin and Vladimir Rafeenko. The reasons behind this privileged focus are twofold: on the one hand, prose works by the mentioned authors are revealing for the heterogeneous evolutionary, regional, sociopolitical and market dynamics affecting the creation of full-fledged cultural discourses and narratives in post-Soviet Ukraine; on the other, the peculiar focus of Russophone prose on “the crowding out and displacement of experiences that are painful to protagonists and narrators alike and that compromise the integrity of their sense of self” (Kukulin 2018: 60) still represents an overlooked field of analysis in literary criticism.31
Finally, this is the framework for developing the two intertwining sections of the book, focusing respectively on the pre- and post-Maidan periods. In the opening chapter, after providing a brief overview of the historical background of the postcolonial situation in present-day Ukraine, I focus on the complex positioning of the Russophone literary phenomenon in the Ukrainian post-Soviet national canon. Analysing the conceptualization of the hybrid cultural elements in the post-Soviet area, it is possible to observe the rise of a contrast between the cultural “exclusivist” and “inclusivist” attitudes in the Ukrainian intellectual debate. It is the product of the renewed social and political clash between the Ukrainian and Russian ←38 | 39→“national systems” at the dawn of the Soviet collapse. The ideologization of the ethnolinguistic factor in the post-Soviet area gives birth to competing ideologies, which draw new “imagined borders” in the Ukrainian literary space, as being the result of the polarization of the Russian and Ukrainian respective national historical narratives.
The second chapter provides readers with a challenging reconstruction of the most widespread attitudes concerning the role of language for the definition of the boundaries of national culture among the foremost Russian-language writers and critics in contemporary Ukraine and Russia. The last part of the chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the role of anthologies, publishing houses and literary prizes in the process of cultural negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian culture and Russian culture. At the crossroads between these seemingly binary juxtapositions, new cultural phenomena emerge under the sign of hybridity.
In the third chapter I propose a new understanding of the heterogeneous framework of enunciations conveyed by contemporary Ukrainian Russian-language writers. By reading and interpreting Andrei Kurkov’s (Death and the Penguin, 1996; The Good Angel of Death, 1998), Aleksei Nikitin’s (Istemi, 2011; Mahjong, 2012) and Vladimir Rafeenko’s works (The Moscow Divertissement, 2011), we may see a new artistic attempt to recompose the fragments of the existential mosaics left unbound in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse.
In the fourth chapter, which opens the second section of the book, I move to the recent cultural developments in the aftermath of the so-called “Ukraine Crisis” (2013–2014). The chapter approaches literary processes in Ukraine as emblematic for the general epistemological (and hence political) crisis in the country, and as an important litmus test allowing a diagnosis of the crisis. Deconstructing “Russianness” and “Ukrainianness,” I highlight the emerging positioning of Russophone authors in the aftermath of the Euromaidan “revolution of hybridity.”
The aim of the fifth chapter is to rethink the different approaches to “value-based” politics—and social subgroupings’ reactions to it—in the post-Soviet area through the lens of the post-Maidan Ukrainian scene. An accurate tracking of the policies normativizing the field of culture on the one hand, and of blurred cultural boundaries on the other, helps us question ←39 | 40→the fixed constructs of national and cultural identity when looking at the ever-changing post-Soviet social milieus.
In the final chapter I explore the current reshaping of the contested language issue in the post-Maidan intellectual debate. In this section I examine the preliminary outcomes of the still ongoing war in Donbas as an influence on the concept of the Ukrainian literary and social space, by analysing the main narratives of the “crisis” played and enacted by Russian-speaking literary actors, in light of the emerging “postcolonial ethics” stemming from their role in public debates. Here the peculiar cases of Aleksei Nikitin (Victory Park, 2014; The Orderly from Institutskaia Street, 2016), Aleksandr Kabanov (In the Language of the Enemy, 2017) and Vladimir Rafeenko (The Descartes’ Demon, 2014; The Length of Days, 2016) lie at the core of my analysis.
At the end of the 1980s, all was still simple and straightforward. On political maps a huge part of the planet was uniformly painted red. This was the monolithic “evil empire,” the one and indivisible Soviet Union. But suddenly the country of victorious socialism was tearing apart in colourful scraps. Armenia! Kazakhstan! Uzbekistan! Kyrgyzstan! Tajikistan! And more! And more!… The Western world was in confusion. There used to be one country, now there were many. And each one, apparently, had its own history and culture, hopes and claims, disappointments, misfortunes and blood… How to relate to them? What to expect from them? What do they bring to the world?32 (Volos 2005: 439)
In the opening lines of the prologue to his novel Khurramabad (2000), the Russian writer Andrei Volos (b. 1955, Stalinabad—now Dushanbe) introduces us to the pressing cultural and political issues that have arisen from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In his novel Volos, the son of Russian immigrants in Soviet Tajikistan, aims to retrace the historical encounter between different languages, cultures and traditions in the former Soviet republic, in order to eventually shed light on the reasons behind the sociopolitical upheaval that shook the Central Asian state in ←43 | 44→the early 1990s.33 While posing as a cultural mediator of one of the fifteen new nation states, or “colourful scraps,” that had arisen from the ashes of the “one and indivisible” USSR, Volos highlights the urgency of engaging with the investigation of the profound cultural and political consequences of the tremendous historical rift that globally affected the region.34
It is undeniable that the dissolution of the Soviet system has brought into being a radical transformation that has deeply affected the reconfiguration of the political and cultural mapping of the post-Soviet space. Throughout the 1990s, the elaboration of new national cultural models in the former fifteen union republics took shape on the basis of the ideal “return to (post-ideological) normality”: languages, cultures, histories and traditions that had been neglected by Soviet rule could now come to life again after the unexpected explosion of the Soviet system. It is no surprise that in his last work, entitled Culture and Explosion (Kul’tura i vzryv, 1992), the prominent Soviet semiologist Iurii Lotman also devoted his attention to the complex dynamics of cultural change in the territory of the former Soviet Union. In his analysis of the explosive processes of cultural development, still in 1992, Lotman emblematically identified the dynamics taking place in the region as following the traditional concepts of binarism (2009: 171).35
Following Lotman’s reflections, we can describe the process experienced in most of the newly born post-Soviet states at the dawn of the collapse ←44 | 45→of the Union as “the moment of exhaustion of the explosion” (moment izcherpaniia vzryva), which is “not only the originating moment of future development but also the place of self-knowledge: the inclusion of those mechanisms of history which must themselves explain what has occurred”36 (Lotman 2009: 15). In such a stage of cultural development, we witness the emergence of rigid binary schemes (i.e. self vs. other; superior vs. inferior; centre vs. periphery) for describing the complexity of much more nuanced realms. Thus, a new system of signification exists to take shape from the overthrow of the old symbolic values of the previous era: such is the case of the post-Soviet region, where the flaws and faults of (Soviet) internationalism came to be contested and overruled by the new (post-Soviet) national revivals arising in the former union republics. In some cases, this gradually brought also the unreflective reactualization of the binary opposition between the (Soviet) colonizer and the (post-Soviet) colonized in national political and cultural debates.37 Nonetheless, as Lotman (2009: 65) notes in his analysis of the unpredictable outcomes produced by the collision of different systems of signification in the history of culture, more often than not “the newly formed phenomenon appropriates the name of one or other of the colliding structures, such that something which is, in principle, new lies hidden under an old façade.”38
Similarly, more than a decade later, in her study Post-Soviet Literature and the Aesthetics of Transculturation (Postsovetskaia literatura i estetika transkul’turatsii, 2004), Madina Tlostanova shed light on the ambivalence of the colonial model in the Soviet era and on its outcomes for the post-Soviet epistemological process. She argues that, while the whole system of signification—including language, customs and festivities of the ←45 | 46→empire—was forged by the Soviet “colonizer,” in the USSR, the colonial model “was made complex by the Soviet ideology, which in its discourse and external semiotic manifestations disguised itself as a supranational discourse, becoming a hybrid form of imperial configuration”39 (Tlostanova 2004: 194). This explains the complex dynamics of the post-Soviet cultural field, where today we deal with “categorical assumptions” that make “the national language and literary canon” an integral “part of state ideology”40 (Tlostanova 2004: 385) in the new nation states that have arisen since the explosion of the USSR.
Most fundamentally, the study of post-Soviet cultures reveals a controversial reception of transcultural subjectivities and phenomena: throughout the recent history of the region the cultural processes of appropriation, which hybrid subjectivities have been subjected to, trace back every attempt at methodological categorization to imperial/colonial binarism. Hybridity thus came to be blurred within the complex framework of ethnic groups, religions and languages. Following these lines, Tlostanova (2004: 192) in her study symbolically describes hybrid subjectivities as a “missing actor” (otsutstvuiushchii akter) in Imperial and Soviet hegemonic narratives.41←46 | 47→
Despite these controversial dynamics, if “on the one hand, the official Russian epistemology does not include in the field of its attention and reflection the category of hybridity due to negative attitudes towards mediality and cultural mixing,” on the other “the very history of the Russian and Soviet empires with their huge number of examples of mixed marriages, ethnic groups, religions and languages, offers a large number of subjectivities that match the hybrid model”42 (Tlostanova 2004: 192–193). Thus, even today the creation of new interpretive paradigms for the study of transcultural—and transnational—traditions still relies on the deconstruction of the organic bonds of nations with language, territory and literature in the post-Soviet space. I believe that the reflective adoption of postcolonial analytical tools for the study of post-Soviet societies can play a valuable role in achieving a better understanding of the reasons behind the current polarization of cultural practices and political orientations in the region—and namely in this work, in investigating the debate around the position of the “(post-)imperial” Russian language and culture in nowadays Ukraine. It is no surprise that, among the post-Soviet countries, it is especially Ukraine, with its “high degree of cultural, social and political diversity,” that arises as “a prime laboratory for the study of modern politics and culture” (Kasianov, Ther 2009: 2).←47 | 48→
In his article provocatively entitled “Does Ukraine Have a History?” (1995), Mark Von Hagen, in the early 1990s, described how the “experienced past” of the post-Soviet country was still in search of legitimacy. Retracing the critical historical junctures affecting the configuration of the territory of modern Ukraine, Von Hagen clarified that the question “must be seen as a part of a greater dilemma of eastern and central Europe” (1995: 659): a region that was long subject first to the rule of great dynastic monarchies, that is, to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Tsarist empire and the Habsburg monarchy, and then, after the First World War, to either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. By virtue of its position on the map of Europe, Ukraine played the crucial role of a borderland “not only of different state formations” but also “of different civilizational and cultural zones” (Plokhy 2007: 37): on the one hand, this deprived it of “full historiographical legitimacy” (Von Hagen 1995: 660) in light of the statehood it had acquired only recently, while on the other it “contributed to the fuzziness and fragmentation of Ukrainian identity” (Plokhy 2007: 38).
Still nowadays, the heterogeneous historical experiences that took shape in the regions making up contemporary Ukraine hinder the actualization of a shared narrative of the past, which could function to legitimize the new state. In the 1990s, the canonization of the great national history, which was developed in opposition to the hegemonic discourses of the Polish and Russian “neighbours” during the second half of the nineteenth century and revamped in the aftermath of independence, saw the rise of a strongly contested reception.43
Mykhailo Hrushevs’kyi (1866–1934) and the so-called populist school of Ukrainian historiography elaborated a national history of the Ukrainian people: its founding ideals were embodied by the myth of Cossack origins and its ideals of freedom and equality. As Andreas Kappeler notes ←48 | 49→(2009: 57): “This national myth was diametrically opposed to the ‘aristocratic’ values of the Polish nation and ‘despotic’ nature of Russia.” The appropriate metaphor proposed by Mykola Riabchuk in his essay “The Ukrainian Friday and Its Two Robinsons” (Ukraïns’kyi Piatnytsia i ioho dva Robinzony, 2013) embodies the complex directions drawn by the Polish and Russian hegemonic discourses throughout the course of modern history to essentialize the Ukrainian alternative as a choice of civilization between the “West” and the “East,” that is, between a “European-oriented” system of values and an Eastern Orthodox Slavic one. Eventually, as Yaroslav Hrytsak (2004: 232–233) notes, the post-Soviet Ukrainian historiography adopted the interpretation of Ukraine as a “civilizational borderland,” promoting it as “[t];he only major addendum to ‘Hrushevs’kyi’s scheme’.”
Still in the post-Soviet era the “teleological” character (Plokhy 2007: 30) of the Ukrainian national narrative seemed to take shape from the need to “reclaim” one’s own past, (re)creating a new (old?) system of signification based on a binary opposition to the experience of imperial oppression. However, while in the early twentieth century the national narrative was there to challenge the “All-Russian” imperial narrative and the hegemonic ambitions of a much more “westernized” Poland (Plokhy 2005), it was in the aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR that the definitive canonization of this “old” paradigm in the “new” state led to the crystallization of the exclusive character of contemporary Ukrainian history.44
Despite these controversial dynamics, as Kappeler (2009: 63) notes, “[m];any personalities of Ukrainian history cannot adequately be described as Ukrainians, Russians, Poles or Jews, but their lives and historical roles have to be told as multiethnic or transethnic.” Similarly, and even more decisively, in his reconstruction of the Ukrainian cultural experience throughout the centuries, Vitaly Chernetsky (2019: 51) argues that “[i]f there is a recurring theme that can be traced through the history of Ukrainian culture, is ←49 | 50→that of hybridity and overlapping/contested identifications.” In his analysis of premodern and modern developments, Chernetsky highlights the constant interconnection between the definition of political and cultural identities in Ukrainian imperial, Soviet and post-Soviet history. In particular, the “intertwined yet distinct political and cultural realities” of Ukrainian and Russian communities, territories and languages “produced continual shifts and contestation of cultural identities” (Chernetsky 2019: 51). It is also in light of these dynamics that until “recently, the dilemmas of hybrid and split identification faced by cultural producers with ties to Ukraine more often than not remained unsolved” (Chernetsky 2019: 50).
In contextualizing the Ukrainian cultural legacy, it is worth wondering about the specific cultural positioning of authors such as Nikolai Gogol’, Taras Shevchenko, Hryhorii Skovoroda and others who worked between languages, traditions, and cultures.45 As Oleh S. Ilnytzkyj (2003: 322) stressed, “these individuals were products of a cross-cultural experience generally unfamiliar to ethnic Russians, but typical for members of Ukrainian society.” This experience was “essentially liminal” and “dualistic in terms of language and institutions” (Ilnytzkyj 2003: 322). Whereas still at the end of the sixteenth century “Ukrainian literary texts were composed in at least three languages (Ruthenian, Polish, and Latin)” (Chernetsky 2019: 53), throughout the nineteenth century, especially, the Imperial cultural system was reconceptualized into distinct national models based on romantic vernaculars as part of an ongoing and ever-changing process, establishing new ideological frontiers between the emerging literary phenomena. The rise of the Ukrainian literary system within the “All-Russian” cultural context was thus “filtered” by the use of the Imperial lingua franca. This phenomenon gave birth to a large body of literature in Russian written by Ukrainian authors, which emerged in a composite self-positioning pattern:
Some writers, like Vasilii Kapnist, Somov, Narezhnyi and Gogol, maintained their regional Ukrainian identities while embracing Russian national identities; ←50 | 51→some, like Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko, Mykola Markevych, and Mykhail Drahomanov, existed as “all-Russian”; and others, like Taras Shevchenko, Panteleimon Kulish, Marko Vovchok and Mykola Kostomarov, enjoyed a more or less separate Ukrainian identity. (Ilchuk 2009: 21)
This artistic phenomenon arose from the contact between the different cultural and identity affiliations held by Ukrainian in-between literary actors. As George G. Grabowicz (1992: 232) observed, this literary production “should indeed be considered part of Ukrainian literature,” even if “there was an inescapable sense for virtually all these writers that Ukrainian literature was a subset of Imperial, All Russian literature.” Nonetheless, the Ukrainian writers who gained success at the “centre” of the empire played the important role of cultural mediators between the Russian and Ukrainian societies. In their literary depictions, the Ukrainian “periphery” was transformed and adapted to make it accessible to Russian readership: “Implicitly if not explicitly, their work tended to minimize or aestheticize the differences between Russia and Ukraine, thus discounting the inherent autonomy or ‘otherness’ of the Ukrainian historical and cultural experience” (Andriewsky 2003: 184).
The case of Nikolai Gogol’/Mykola Hohol’ (1809–1852) definitely embodies the fluid cultural dynamics of his epoch. The definition of his national identity has been at the core of intellectual and political debates in Russia and Ukraine, where his literary experience has been included in both the Russian canon (as Nikolai Gogol’) and in the Ukrainian one (as Mykola Hohol’). Reading his works, critics have mainly categorized it according to two different periods: the Ukrainian period (1829–1836), including the works devoted to “national” themes, and the Imperial period (1836–1852). Nevertheless, throughout the last decades a huge body of literature on Gogol’ has appeared, focusing especially on the hybrid aspects of this literary figure (e.g. see Grabowicz 1994; Luckyj 1998; Ilnytzkyj 2002; Bojanowska 2007). Edyta M. Bojanowska (2007: 6), in her study entitled Nikolai Gogol. Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism, stresses how the author’s national identity “cannot be framed as an either/or question […] Whether Gogol was a Russian or a Ukrainian is thus the wrong question to ask.” The periodization of Gogol’’s literary production into two distinct artistic phases seems to address the complex duality of the author’s experience by means of abstract ideological terms, ignoring the extraordinary ←51 | 52→patchwork of language, cultural and political elements involved in the formation of his identity. Gogol’’s in-between positioning underlies the ambivalence of the literary space imagined by the author. As Myroslav Shkandrij (2001: 115) stressed, “Gogol brought a Ukrainian consciousness to St. Petersburg, that is, structures of thought and feeling that were deeply critical of Russian society, which he drew upon throughout his creative life.” Ilnytzkyj (2002), moreover, has tried to define the artistic experience of Gogol’/Hohol’ as the outcome of the intersection between three cultural paradigms: the Ukrainian tradition, the Russian model and the Imperial paradigm. This entails a positioning “between cultures” that, as observed by Yuliya Ilchuk (2009), implies an artistic experience moving in an intermediate space “between languages.” It is the presence of Ukrainian and hybrid Russo–Ukrainian forms that confers a “defamiliarizing effect” onto Gogol’’s literary language: “Positioned on the ‘interstices’ of two cultures, Gogol existed in the in-between space of cultural ambivalence that diluted the imaginary essence of the Russian nation through a ‘distorted’ Russian language” (Ilchuk 2009: 19). Thus, Gogol’ gives birth to a transcultural identity model, which lies outside the rigid parameters of national canonization:
[…] I only know that I would grant primacy neither to a Little Russian over a Russian nor to a Russian over a Little Russian. Both natures are generously endowed by god, and as if on purpose, each of them in its own way includes in itself that which the other lacks—a clear sign that they are meant to complement each other.46 (Gogol’ 1952: 418)
Gogol’’s/Hohol’’s “two-souledness” (dvoedushie) reflects the duality of the Ukrainian cultural experience: in the author’s epoch, as stated by Grabowicz (1992: 224), “the very idea of what is to be a Ukrainian writer (and indeed a ‘Ukrainian’) was in a state of becoming.” Nonetheless, in those same years the publication of Taras Shevchenko’s The Bard (Kobzar, 1940) would offer to Ukrainian intelligentsia “the articulation of an entire cultural language—a language grounded in the Cossack past, its heroic ←52 | 53→epics (dumy) and folklore, as well as a profound sense of loss and victimization” (Andriewsky 2003: 192). The new discourse was then capable of deconstructing and demystifying the entire theoretical framework elaborated by the centre of the Empire. Following these lines, it was the ideologization of literary frontiers between the All-Russian and Ukrainian cultural systems that gradually led to the harsh contestation of dual and hybrid cultural experiences:
By the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, however, those who still tried to maintain a dual Ukrainian-Russian identity were, increasingly, struggling with the issue of a divided loyalty. George Luckyj has described the choice for Ukrainians as the thorns of a dilemma: Gogol or Shevchenko? Empire or Ukraine? (Shkandrij 2001: 31)
The categorization of Nikolai Gogol’’s and Taras Shevchenko’s artistic experiences in alternative “literary spaces” makes clear their respective roles in the Ukrainian cultural paradigm through the lens of ideology.47 As Shkandrij (2001: 108–109) emphasized: “[a];t the same time as Shevchenko was indicating the irreconcilability of Ukrainian and Russian interests, Gogol was attempting to resolve the conflict between his ‘two souls’.”
Following these lines of thought, it is no surprise “that during the Soviet period practically no efforts were made by Soviet scholars to look at Russian-language literary texts written in Ukraine as a distinct coherent corpus” (Chernetsky 2019: 57). Actually, even in post-Soviet times, the ideological legacy of the Imperial and Soviet experience has led to a failure to assimilate the notable duality of the national culture. This has happened precisely because the prehistory of “hybrid subjectivities” still “underwrites the complex processes of transformation currently underway”:
[…] precisely because Russian political and cultural imperialism has for centuries compelled Ukrainian authors to write in Russian, contemporary Ukrainian society possesses a well-developed capacity to accept Russophone linguistic and literary realities as parts of a larger Ukrainian continuum. If Nikolai Gogol’s writings are claimed as Ukrainian even if composed in Russian, it follows that ←53 | 54→exclusionary attitudes toward linguistic practices in contemporary Ukrainian literature are illogical. (Chernetsky 2019: 51)
Paradoxically, in the contemporary context, “[e];ven though it is clear to all that there is a vast difference between a forced or imposed hybridity and a freely-assumed one, the imperial-Soviet experience has made this issue a painful one for Ukrainian intellectuals” (Shkandrij 2009). Nonetheless, today it is just this kind of duality that could open the way to a new epistemological and cultural understanding of the inherent hybridity of post-Soviet realities.
As the British historian Andrew Wilson (2000) retraces in his analysis of contemporary Ukrainian politics, in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse the ground was finally ready for the emergence of a full-fledged independent state and “unexpected nation.”48 While adopting this definition, Wilson, in the preface to his work The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation (2000), symbolically addressed the surprise of the international community at witnessing the rise of a “new nation” in Europe with such “pronounced patterns of ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional diversity” (Wilson 2000: xi). Still, in 2016 Volodymyr Kulyk’s reflections seemed to confirm the peculiar persistence of this complex background, by which the Ukrainian scholar could ascertain how throughout the history of independent Ukraine “profound disagreements on the content of national identity stemmed from dissimilar ethnolinguistic profiles and historical trajectories of different regions” (2016: 593). Nevertheless, despite the stiff competition emerging in intellectual and political debates, during the last decades, the social dynamics describing the “content of national identity” were not static but rather constantly fluid and unpredictably shifting.←54 | 55→
According to the last national census conducted in 2001,49 more than 130 ethnic groups live in the territory of Ukraine: among them, Ukrainians (77.8 per cent) and Russians (17.3 per cent) are the largest ones, while other major national groups are Belarusians (0.6 per cent), Moldovans (0.5 per cent), Crimean Tatars (0.5 per cent), Bulgarians (0.4 per cent), Hungarians (0.3 per cent) and Romanians (0.3 per cent). The official state language is Ukrainian (67.5 per cent of citizens indicated it as their mother tongue), but Russian (29.6 per cent) is still spoken by a large portion of the population.
Interestingly enough, “despite a decline in the population as a whole” and the insignificant migration rate of ethnic Russians to the Russian Federation, in 2001 “the number of people who declared their nationality as Ukrainian actually increased since the last Soviet census” (Stebelsky 2009: 77).50 This was first explained as the result of an “ethnic shift” in the self-identification of Russians, who now came to reidentify themselves as Ukrainians (Kuzio 2003). However, in his comparative analysis of the data reported in the last Soviet census in 1989 and the national one in 2001, Ihor Stebelsky (2009) reflected further on the reasons behind the controversial shift in self-identification among the population of Ukraine. He contested the categories used in the first Ukrainian national census, addressing the subtle nuances around the determination of ethnic and language-based identities in post-Soviet times. Stebelsky argued that in 2001, while many people re-identified as Ukrainians, most of them still declared Russian as their native language. He explained this discrepancy as the result of the Soviet nationalities policies, in which “the Soviet Union allowed for Ukrainian as a separate ethnicity, ←55 | 56→but continued to confer a much higher status on the Russian language and culture” (Stebelsky 2009: 78–79). This background led then to a situation where “many Ukrainians have adopted Russian as their preferred language, developed ‘multiple’ or ‘hybrid’ identities, and some (notably in Crimea) have become Russian in terms of their ethnic self-identification” (Stebelsky 2009: 79). Following these lines, Stebelsky (2009: 98) significantly emphasized that it was mainly “[s];ociopolitical perceptions of identity” that “probably played a significant role in the way people responded in 2001.” Most fundamentally, in post-Soviet Ukraine ethnic identity is no longer a legal category in Ukrainians’ internal passports: this suggests that, at the dawn of the 2000s, “the identification of non-Ukrainians as citizens of Ukraine” would emblematically imply a passage “to state or civic identity” (Stebelsky 2009: 80) rather than an ethnic one.
Accordingly, we can also grasp the complexity of the Russian–Ukrainian nexus through combining the ethnic criterion with the linguistic one: looking at contemporary Ukraine through these lenses, we can see three major groups in the country, that is, Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians, and Russian-speaking Russians (Arel, Khmel’ko 1996). Among these, throughout the last decades sociological research has emblematically reported that the last two groups do not represent a cohesive “community,” and that their identity/ies are much more fragmented than would be expected.51
As outlined in a study conducted by researchers at the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), the definition of the ethnolinguistic structure of Ukraine can be fully comprehended only “when considering the phenomenon of individual bi-ethnicity” (Khmel’ko 2004: 15).52 According ←56 | 57→to surveys conducted throughout 1991–2003, Valerii Khmel’ko identified Ukrainian–Russian bi-ethnors as “the second largest ethnic group in Ukraine” (Khmel’ko 2004: 17). KIIS sociologists thus developed a “scale of bi-ethnicity,” which they projected over the territory of Ukraine:
The farther westward, the more monoethnic Ukrainians and the fewer Ukrainian-Russian bi-ethnors and monoethnic Russians we have. Conversely, the farther East and South, the fewer monoethnic Ukrainians, and the more Ukrainian-Russian bi-ethnors and monoethnic Russians […] among monoethnic Ukrainians the share of Ukrainophones is more than twice the share of Russophones, while among Ukrainian-Russian bi-ethnors, by contrast, the share of Ukrainophones is more than four time less than the share of Russophones.53 (Khmel’ko 2004: 18)
These results were corroborated by other studies undertaken throughout the first decades of the twenty-first century. According to comparative research on the citizenship identities of young people in the L’viv and Donbas regions conducted by Antonina Tereshchenko in 2005–2006, it appears that “only the Donbas region in the East shared the characteristics of the traditional borderland […] in particular, with respect to cultural hybridity and undecidability as regards people’s identification” (Tereshchenko 2010: 152). Moreover, the results of a 2016 survey, Changes in the Identity of Russians and Russophones in Ukraine (Zminy identychnosti Rosiian ta Rosiis’komovnykh v Ukraïni), further revealed the dynamic evolution of the idea of nation throughout the 2000s (see UCIPR 2016). As analyst Iulia ←57 | 58→Kazdobina concludes, “a number of Russian speakers started developing their Ukrainian civic identity long before the start of the current Russian aggression [that is, the war in East Ukraine starting in 2014],” and today, “it seems that for Russian speakers, bilingualism is a way to preserve their identity while at the same time integrating into the Ukrainian political nation, where Ukrainian is gradually replacing Russian as the lingua franca” (Business Ukraine 2017).54
The cases reported above suggest that throughout the last decades there has not been a real and static dividing line, based on the ethnolinguistic traits of the population, between the generally assumed social collectivities of “Ukrainians” and “Russians,” and “Russian speakers” and “Ukrainian speakers” in Ukraine. Indeed, this dividing line was fluid and subject to hybridizing trajectories and intersections with other identity markers. In an attempt to grasp the fluid character of post-Soviet identity affiliations, Peter W. Rodgers in 2008 recognized the regional category, rather than the ethnolinguistic one, as a suitable parameter for describing contemporary Ukraine. In his study Nation, Region and History in Post-Communist Transitions: Identity Politics in Ukraine, 1991–2006, Rodgers provided a tentative model for describing the regional composition of contemporary Ukraine: it was conventionally articulated in ten regions, according to the combination of linguistic, cultural and historical affiliations. He distinguished the Crimean Peninsula from other regions, as being “the only area of Ukraine, with an ethnic Russian majority”—according to the 2001 national census (58.5 per cent)—and the “least supportive of Ukraine’s state independence” (Rodgers 2008: 56), possessing a unique degree of political autonomy in the country until the contested annexation to the Russian Federation in March 2014. Then, he identified a southern region, including the areas of Kherson, Odesa and Mykolaïv. These territories, which were absorbed as new industrial centres into the Russian Empire in the late eighteenth century with the status of the province of “New Russia” ←58 | 59→(Novorossiiskaia guberniia), are characterized by a greater diffusion of the Russian language and culture, but “the region today is less urban, and ethnically Russian than other parts of Ukraine to the east” (Rodgers 2008: 57).55 Rodgers further identifies the north-central region (Poltava, Kirovohrad, Cherkasy, Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy), acknowledging its historical specificity: this was part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth until the mid-seventeenth century, and includes the historical lands that were inhabited by Cossacks. It passed then under Russian control with the Treaty of Andrusovo (1667), which ended the Russian–Polish war. As Rodgers (2008: 57) notes in his classification: “Although these areas were under Moscow’s control for a similar period of time as lands to the east and in the south, they have always retained a more ‘Ukrainian’ political outlook.” Significantly, even if in the late Imperial and Soviet eras the main urban centres were predominantly Russified, nowadays the population is mostly made up of Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians. Rodgers distinguishes then the western region (L’viv, Ternopil’ and Ivano-Frankivs’k) from the west-central one (Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Khmel’nyts’kyi, Rivne and Volyn’): while both are inhabited mostly by Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians, the first is usually described as the historical region of Galicia (Halychyna), where under Habsburg rule the national movement emerged.56 In the south-west region (Chernivtsi, Zakarpat’ska oblast’), Rodgers further identifies two distinct regions, Bukovyna and Zakarpattia: both were under Habsburg rule up to 1918 and have a large number of national minorities in their territories, but developed divergent historical experiences, bordering respectively modern Romania and Hungary. Finally, according to Rodger’s scheme, we have the east-central region (Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovs’k, Kharkiv) and the eastern one (Donets’k, Luhans’k). Historically, both are industrialized and ←59 | 60→Russified areas, but while the first one shows a distinct attitude towards the convergence of Ukrainian and Russian cultural legacies, the second was instead a true “showcase of socialism” (Rodgers 2008: 63), and today has turned out to be tied to a Soviet regional identity, with a predominantly Russian-speaking population.57
Indeed, in his study, Rodgers (2008: 55) significantly identifies the potential flaws in his classification and admits that “drawing regional boundaries in Ukraine is fraught with difficulties,” especially because “such boundaries are often more fluid than rigid.” Together with Lowell W. Barrington and Erik S. Herron (2004), who previously presented a framework made up of eight distinct regions, Rodgers states that the urgency behind a more nuanced regional classification of Ukraine lies in the need to overcome the essentialization of the “divisions of Ukraine into macroregions such as ‘Eastern Ukraine’ and ‘Western Ukraine’,” which “fail to illuminate inherent differentiation among areas with contrasting historical, economic and demographic profiles” (2008: 55).58 This kind of essentializing approach emerged consistently after the 1994 presidential elections in Ukraine, which saw the victory of Leonid Kuchma, who supported the “upgrade” of the status of the Russian language in the country and a ←60 | 61→political rapprochement with Russia, over the incumbent Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of Ukraine (1991–1994), who promoted Ukrainian as the sole state language and the country’s distancing from Russia. In public debates the voting patterns were first explained by “a neat dividing line between Ukrainian speakers to the West and Russian speakers to the East” (Rodgers 2008: 50). The essentialization of internal divisions into a binary scheme expanded then its scope from political to polemical debates in the mainstream media: the so-called two Ukraines discourse portrayed a nation split into a European-oriented, nationalist and Ukrainian-speaking West and a Russian-oriented, Soviet nostalgic and Russian-speaking East.59 In her commentary entitled The Myth of Two Ukraines, Tatiana Zhurzhenko (2002a), at the dawn of the 2000s, observed how this controversial debate was sharpened by the so-called “ ‘Huntingtonization’ of the Ukrainian political discourse,” that is, the projection of regional differences into a clash between “two civilizations.” Paradoxically, “the most important factor of this ‘Hungtingtonization’ ” of internal divisions was an “external one”:
After the end of the Cold War and the initial euphoria caused by the fall of the Berlin Wall Ukraine found itself “in between” the new emerging geopolitical realities: between an enlarging EU and NATO on the one side, and a rather shaky re-integration of the former Soviet republics, dominated by Russia, on the other […] This uncertainty has been interpreted ideologically as a conflict of two cultural orientations and two mutually exclusive identities: European culture embodied by Western Ukraine and pan-Slavic or Eurasian culture embodied by Eastern Ukraine. (Zhurzhenko 2002a)
Whereas in the course of Ukrainian history the essentialization of the exclusive character of the national narrative took shape along an oppositional relation to external imperial hegemonic discourses, today the internal regional divisions—be they language, ethnic or historically based—re-actualize when the borders imagined by competing binary discourses ←61 | 62→harden.60 Apparently, it is especially in the field of “literary politics” (Rewakowicz 2018: 2) where the room for “rethinking” the Ukrainian literary canon in light of contemporary sociocultural dynamics has been also hindered by such an epistemological approach.
In the history of Ukraine, as emphasized by Marko Pavlyshyn (2016a: 78), it is especially literature that has played an important role “vis-à-vis the Ukrainian nation,” and even today “the participation of a national literature in nation-building” is taken “as axiomatic” (2016: 79). In the aftermath of the post-Soviet historical rift, the debate was not around “the possibility of a national literature,” but on “the shape that it, and its history, should take” (Pavlyshyn 2016a: 79–80). While reframing the new national literary canon, it is no surprise that the question of literary bilingualism was emblematically ignored. This approach follows the dynamics of Ukrainian history, in which “[i];n the absence of a Ukrainian state, and with Ukrainian literary activity taking place in a geographical space shared by representatives of other cultures […] Ukrainian literary history writing from its inception had little cause or opportunity to do otherwise than focus on phenomena marked by their language as Ukrainian” (Pavlyshyn 2016a: 81). As highlighted by George G. Grabowicz (1992: 221), at the dawn of Ukrainian independence:
[…] the Russian-language writings of Ukrainian writers are most often treated as something of an embarrassment, like a skeleton in the closet; for some they are a hedging on the writer’s national commitment. For many others, including most Western critics, this is largely a terra incognita. For virtually all, however, language is seen as determining literature: what is written in Russian belongs in the category of Russian literature.
Nonetheless, the ethnic–linguistic criterion is misleading in determining the demarcation of the Ukrainian canon from the Russian one, especially since the hybrid cultural forms have always been of particular interest for ←62 | 63→Russian and Ukrainian literatures.61 As Grabowicz argues, “language, thematic focus, ethnic origin and even territorial ties—may play a greater or less role, the issue of whether a given writer is […] a Russian or a Ukrainian writer must be resolved with finer tools.” Whereas we consider literature as the reflection of the composite sociocultural prism of an era, “if that society is, among other things, bilingual, so too will be its literature” (Grabowicz 1992: 222).
In post-Soviet Ukraine, the presence of a multicultural society characterized by an intense dialogue and contact between its heterogeneous cultural agents generates the need to create new interpretive models aimed at “rethinking” the Ukrainian canon in light of contemporary dynamics. This is especially true as we consider that “at no time in modern history prior to Ukraine’s regaining independence in 1991 had there been an opportunity or need to conceptualize, let alone construct, an overarching civic national identity that would encompass the many ethno-cultural groups inhabiting Ukraine” (Pavlyshyn 2016a: 76–77). Thus, today it is also scholars in Ukrainian Studies who face the difficult task of creating new tools that can reflect the novelty of contemporary social and political developments:
A major task facing Ukrainian Studies, both in and outside Ukraine, is that of rethinking and recasting the canon of national culture […] An essential component will be the orientation of ukraïnistyka towards other cultural or minority segments in Ukraine—the Russians, Poles, Jews and so on. This is now a juridical fact and the form of the political system: Ukraine has defined itself as a multiethnic society and its new passports no longer have the Soviet-era rubric of “nationality.” But the central paradigm of ukraïnistyka as a whole […] is implicitly still ethnically Ukrainian […] A reorientation in a genuinely pluralistic direction […] would go far toward revitalizing the discipline. (Grabowicz 1995: 686–687)←63 | 64→
Despite the vitality of Ukrainian Studies throughout recent decades, the issues raised by Grabowicz still remain unaddressed. Even today, alternative outlooks on the configuration of the “Ukrainian nation” lie in the different historical narratives of the area, leading to the institutionalization of cultural standards:
The case of Ukraine after the fall of Soviet power […] presents a vivid example of a system in which both linguistic and social values have been shifting. The Ukrainian language, which had been marginalized and denigrated relative to Russian, has become increasingly used in public urban contexts and by political and cultural leaders, some of whom had themselves been marginalized in the Soviet system […] In choices of language use and in debates about language, the previously dominant discourses clash with new discourses and practices elevating Ukrainian. (Bilaniuk 2014: 337)
Along these lines, the language issue still represents a contested benchmark even in defining what belongs—and what does not—to the national literary canon. As Grabowicz asserts, “[i];n the case of Ukrainian literature […] this confusion, which is essentially based on a dissociation of literature from its social context, has led to radical misconstructions of historical reality” (Grabowicz 1992: 221). Today, we witness the need to move further away from “the Romantic and quasi-metaphysical notion of literature as the emanation (the ‘spirit’) of a ‘nation’ ” and towards “a more rational, and certainly more empirical definition of literature as a reflection, product and function of a society” (Grabowicz 1992: 221).
Whereas “[d];espite their nationalised, politicised images, both Gogol’ and Shevchenko span the Russian-Ukrainian linguistic and cultural divide,” as argued by Uilleam Blacker (2014), in the aftermath of the post-Soviet historical rift “across contemporary Ukraine, there are dozens of writers, from sci-fi novelists to prize-winning poets, who operate across the two languages.” Among them, we deal here with those authors who belong to “the millions of people” who live outside of the political borders of the Russian Federation and “who consider Russian to be their mother tongue”62 ←64 | 65→(Chuprinin 2008: 6). In his study Russian Literature Today: Abroad (Russkaia literatura segodnia: zarubezh’e, 2008), Sergei Chuprinin presents a real dictionary of this literary production, which was divided by countries and cultural initiatives and realized through the support of local experts. As Chuprinin states, such a venture “is not free from inaccuracies” (ne svobodna ot nedostatkov; Chuprinin 2008: 6), especially since an in-depth analysis of Russophone literary phenomena emerging in different geographical areas of the world has not been carried out yet.63 The artistic and epistemological position of these cultural actors is emblematically described by Tlostanova as a condition of vnepolozhennost’ (2004: 105): this is a “positioning outside of” the national literary and cultural canons of modernity.
Along these lines, it is no surprise that today the issue of Russian-language literature in Ukraine is still the true bone of contention in the contemporary intellectual debate. In order to understand the peculiar characteristics of this artistic milieu, in the next section we will first analyse the dynamics of the contemporary debate on hybridity, highlighting the influence and impact of the new cultural standards, which were promoted by the controversial nation-building policies in post-Soviet Ukraine, on the making of an “external canon” of today’s Russophone literature.
In the post-Soviet intellectual debate, as argued by Tamara Hundorova (2001: 250) in her study The Canon Reversed, “the concept of a ‘complete’ literature and its role in the cultural sphere were the focus of intense interest in the early 1990’s” (2001: 252), whereas this answered “the vision of an ←65 | 66→innovative, highly-developed Ukrainian culture that was to arise under the new conditions of national independence and freedom.” This was followed soon by “the appeal to a European-type modern Ukrainian literature,” which could legitimate “the repossession of the literary canon” (Hundorova 2001: 253) after the collapse of the Soviet regime.
Within this frame of reference, throughout the late 1990s it was especially the great success of Russian-language mass literature that brought again to centre stage the debate on the issue of literary bilingualism in independent Ukraine:
The reverse canon of the 1990s embraced not only Ukrainian-language but also Russian-language mass literature. The preceding literary canon was monocultural and excluded works by Ukrainian authors written in Russian. In the 1990s Russian mass literature swamped the Ukrainian book market […] Some Russian-language authors, such as Andrei Kurkov and Marina and Sergei Diachenko, live and work in Ukraine and call themselves Ukrainian writers. (Hundorova 2001: 269)
In light of the rise of this highly successful literary phenomenon in post-Soviet Ukraine, the debate came to be around the definition of the role and position of Russian-language literature within the new national cultural model. In an article provocatively entitled “The Smell of Dead Words: Russophone Literature in Ukraine” (“Zapakh mertvogo slova. Russkoiazychnaia literatura na Ukraine,” 1998), the Russian philosopher and politologist Andrei Okara first addressed the issue in the broader public debate. His article was first published in Nezavisimaia Gazeta in Russia on February 25, 1998, and then reissued in Ukraїns’ka Pravda in Ukraine ten years later, thus offering a wider perspective on the peculiar reception of the question in both the countries. Okara analyses the “peripheral” position of this literary phenomenon, emphasizing its distance from both the Russian literary system and the Ukrainian one. According to the author, it is the same Russophone writers who do not know how to describe their own positioning in the contemporary cultural context:
It is still not clear how to relate to what is written in Russian in Ukraine: should we consider this literature as a Ukrainian national literature in Russian [ukrainskaia natsional’naia literatura na russkom iazyke]? Or as a separate branch of the All-Ukrainian cultural process, i.e. the literature of a national minority? Or maybe as a part of Russian [rossiiskaia] culture, i.e Russian [russkaia] literature in the New ←66 | 67→Abroad? Probably, the writers themselves are tormented in search of identification for their own literary production.64 (Okara 2008)
According to Okara, the birth of a real literary movement is not possible due to the different tendencies and heterogeneous forms of Russohone literature. He identifies two paths for the potential development of Russophone literature in Ukraine: a high literature and a mass literature. The first is considered of little interest, as it has an absence of real masters. The second is labelled as a mere commercial brand without any aesthetic value.
According to Okara, this bleak outlook relies on the status of the Russian language in Ukraine: a dead language, uprooted from the metropolis and from its natural place of development and characterization. To give life to a “high” literature in Russian, it is necessary to live in the “homeland of the Russian language.”65 Okara thus argues that the “peripheral” role of Russophone literature in the Ukrainian cultural context depends on the same function performed by the Russian language in Ukraine: the cultural “diglossia” of contemporary Ukraine, where “an elite culture” (elitarnaia kul’tura) is created in one language and the other language is used only in “everyday life” (v bytu), determines respectively the different paths and destinies of Ukrainophone and Russophone literary productions. Eventually, following Okara’s reflections, only a “high” literature in Ukrainian can prospectively take shape in post-Soviet Ukraine.←67 | 68→
Okara’s article was soon followed by Mikhail Nazarenko’s response in his “About the Dead and Living Words” (“O mertvom i zhivom slove,” 1998), which originally appeared online in early September of the same year.66 Nazarenko, a Ukrainian Russian-language writer and professor of history of Russian literature at the Institute of Philology of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, dismantled Okara’s stance on the grounds of the vitality of Russian language and culture in post-Soviet Ukraine:
The reality is that for a rather large percentage of Ukrainian citizens the Ukrainian language is the second native language after Russian […] Clearly, their culture is and will always be on the border between the Russian culture and the Ukrainian one. And here the question is not about the existence of this culture—which is quite evident—but first of all on the self-determination, the self-awareness of this ←68 | 69→culture. Until recently it was part of the Russian/Soviet culture, thus no need for self-determination arose.67 (Nazarenko 1998)
According to Nazarenko, it is precisely the liminal position of Russian-language literature, at the crossroads between two linguistic and cultural systems, that provides the Ukrainian Russophone writer with a peculiar role with respect to the Russian and Ukrainian traditions. In his view, the birth of a “marginal” cultural phenomenon involves a slow process of self-definition within the new literary space:
So, if before 1991 (the date is, of course, conditional) the Russophone writer of Ukraine [russkoiazychnyi pisatel’ Ukrainy] thought to be part of a well-defined system, then now, in order to preserve his own identity, he has to realise his own particular position in relation to the literary processes in Russia and Ukraine […] Everything new in art is created as usually in marginal areas, “on the margins” of the ossified official culture. There is no other way. Otherwise, the only alternative can be assimilation, or “internal emigration.” The Ukrainian school of Russian literature (or the Russian school of Ukrainian literature?) has not taken shape yet, and, probably, will not take shape soon, but, nevertheless, it will arise.68 (Nazarenko 1998)
Okara’s and Nazarenko’s positions reflect the two main directions of the cultural debate in the 1990s.69 Language as an instrument of artistic ←69 | 70→expression and its social role in the new post-Soviet nation are the main issues around which the alternative interpretations of the position of the Russophone phenomenon within the frame of the Ukrainian national canon took shape. There is no doubt that the debate intensified especially in light of the unprecedented freedom and opportunities enjoyed by cultural actors in the national literary arena in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. As retraced by Ihor Kruchyk in his 2014 article “Children of a Soviet Widow” (“Dity radians’koї vdovy”), “under the new circumstances some writers founded their own publishing houses or journals,”70 and much more often than in Soviet times we witnessed the publication of Russian-language anthologies and the birth of literary prizes and festivals. Broadly speaking, on the one hand in Ukraine, together with “the possibility of publishing,” “the construction of de-ideologised hierarchies” in the literary field became conceivable; on the other in Russia, “magazines and publishing houses began to print ‘new Russians’ from Ukraine much more intensely than it was in Soviet times” (Kruchyk 2014).71
It was throughout the 2000s, then, that the highly controversial internal political debate in Ukraine, together with the deterioration of social and political relations with the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin, further polarized the intellectual community around the language issue. Whereas at the dawn of the new millennium Taras Kuzio could observe how the Ukrainian “post-Soviet nation- and state-building project” was “therefore bound up with a debate over how this identity will be constituted and in what manner its neighbours will be ‘Others’ ” (2001: 358), it was still language that represented “an important aspect of creating difference for the ‘Self’ in the relation to the ‘Other’ ” (2001: 348). Within this frame, in the national intellectual and political context we gradually witnessed the formation of “language ideologies” (Kulyk 2007), marking conventional boundaries between the Ukrainophone and the Russophone discourses:←70 | 71→
I distinguish these discourses on the basis of respective language ideologies, which represent the language processes of Ukraine as a relationship of interaction/struggle between the two main languages and their language groups (or rather ethnical-language, following the traditional tie between language and ethnicity, and the absence of a clear distinction between ethnic and language identities in Ukrainian society), and I define them as Ukrainophone [ukrainofonnyi] and Russophone [rusofonnyi] […] The characterising trait of the Russophone and Ukrainophone discourses is their orientation in defense of the interests of their “own” group at the expense of the “other’s” interests.72 (Kulyk 2007: 300)
Thus, the language debate came to be not only “about ‘form’, but also about ‘content’ ” (Zhurzhenko 2002b: 17). As Zhurzhenko emphasized (2002b: 17), the language debate involved broader cultural perspectives on the content of the national identity, especially whereby gradually “[i];n independent Ukraine a hierarchy of cultures (and languages) has emerged and Ukrainian has turned out not to be dominant.” The contested ideologization of culture in the internal political debate led historical memory and language categories to acquire a conventional social relevance, reflecting the interests of competitor groups on a regional and a national scale (Zhurzhenko 2002b; Bilaniuk 2005; Moser 2013). Thus, even if the country’s cultural policies were generally “flexible and gradualist” and “the identities and cultural practices associated with them” have been “very fluid” (Giuliano 2019), it was paradoxically after the so-called “revolutionary cycles” in 2004–2005 (“Orange Revolution”)—and then in 2013–2014 (“Euromaidan Revolution”), as emphasized by Minakov (2018: 61), that “the Ukrainian political space converted itself into a ‘conservative situation’ ”. In this ideological field “created by binary oppositions,” it is the state that offers “value orientations for sociopolitical interaction” (Minakov 2018: 58). Deprived of space for ideological opponents, “ongoing political antagonism in Ukraine has come to characterize relations […] between ←71 | 72→ethno-linguo-cultural groups” (Minakov 2018: 62) supporting two different types of conservatism: “one calling for the preservation of ‘national statehood’, and another one characterized by a desire to protect Soviet ‘achievements’ and to overcome ethnicity” (Minakov 2018: 62). The ideological field has thus been alternatively appropriated and used by regional financial–political groups (see Minakov 2019) while promoting their political campaigns, creating the ground for polarization and contestation over opposite identity projects in the Ukrainian public debate. Thus, the Orange Revolution—a series of civil protests taking place primarily in Kyiv from November 2004 to January 2005, which brought about the decision to annul the victory of Viktor Ianukovych in the run-off vote of the 2004 presidential elections following allegations of electoral fraud—first “opened the Pandora’s box of identity politics and deepened regional cleavages in Ukraine” (Zhurzhenko 2014a: 255). On the one hand, Viktor Iushchenko’s Our Ukraine appropriated and rehabilitated Ukrainian nationalism in the “essentialized” version of Galicia in the West, and on the other Viktor Ianukovych’s Party of Regions in the “electoral fortresses of Donetsk and Luhansk drew on neo-Soviet symbols and narratives” (Zhurzhenko 2014a: 255). Until 2014, as Gorbach (2019) emphasized, “this kind of polarization was a game for two players,” which “used this tool to easily harvest votes in their respective, more or less equally sized, regions.”
It was not by chance that in 2011 Abel Polese, in his study on language and identity in Ukraine, could still wonder: ‘Was it really nation-building?’ (Polese 2011).73 State interference in cultural processes made harsher the struggle in the domestic sphere, which came to have a rather contradictory ←72 | 73→pattern in terms of state-led policies on the eve of Euromaidan. Thus, if under Leonid Kuchma, the second president of Ukraine (1994–2005), we witnessed an ambivalent course of national cultural policies,74 it was in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution that under Iushchenko (2005–2010) the new political elite “sought to build an inclusive civic identity but put it on a strong Ukrainian ethnocultural basis” (Kulyk 2016: 593). The tension then reached its zenith during Viktor Ianukovych’s presidency (2010–2014), when in July 2012 the new law On the Fundamentals of the State Language Policy (Pro zasady derzhavnoï movnoï polityky)—n. 5029-VI, submitted by deputies Serhii Kivalov and Vadym Kolesnichenko, was passed. Eventually, this new bill on the protection of minority languages secured the official use of Russian in many regions “not alongside but instead of Ukrainian” (Riabchuk 2015: 147).75 Riabchuk’s commentary on the passing of the law clearly reveals the impact of the controversial cultural policies adopted under Ianukovych’s presidency on the intellectual debate:
The bright idea of European bilingualism has been rejected by Ukrainophones because they do not believe it is viable in a lawless post-Soviet country, quite reasonably suspecting that any bilingualism here would be Soviet, rather than European. And Russophones are not interested in European bilingualism because they still enjoy the Soviet-style bilingualism that suits their needs much better. All they need is merely to legitimize their right to ignore Ukrainian and to preclude any possibility of changes. The Kivalov-Kolesnichenko bill is just one of many attempts to ensure the dominance of one group over another. (Riabchuk 2012)←73 | 74→
The proliferation of commentaries and interviews in which contemporary writers and literary critics debated the language issue, in the period shortly preceding the outbreak of the Euromaidan protests in November 2013, highlights the high level at which the political discourse interfered in the cultural one. Between February and March 2013, for instance, Iryna Troskot, lead editor of the web portal LitAktsent,76 gathered together in a debate with some of the main representatives of Ukrainian literature. In her introduction entitled On the Language and the Debate (Pro movu i dyskusiiu), Troskot describes this venture as an attempt to understand “the importance of the language criterion for defining the author’s belonging to the national culture”77 (Troskot 2013) in light of the urgency of the matter. All the writers taking part in the discussion “write, speak and think in Ukrainian” (Troskot 2013).78 If on the one hand the poet and prose writer Marianna Kiianovs’ka (b. 1973, Nesterov—today Zhovkva) argues that the language is only “one of the instruments of spiritual transformation”79 (LitAktsent 2013a)—mentioning many artistic personalities who have worked between different languages and cultures throughout history, on the other Taras Prokhas’ko (b. 1968, Ivano-Frankivs’k) considers it as the product of environmental factors that determine a specific type of mentality. For Prokhas’ko, “literature embodies the life of the language” and its possible articulations: it follows that “for one literature” we will have only “one language”80 (LitAktsent 2013a). Along the same lines, Liudmyla Taran (b. 1954, Kyiv) attributes to the language a “symbolic power”81 (LitAktsent 2013b).←74 | 75→
In contrast, the reflections offered by Volodymyr Dibrova (b. 1951, Donets’k), a Ukrainian prose writer who moved to the United States in the 1990s, reveal a more complex picture. Dibrova identifies three different approaches to the issue. First, for the literary critic it is a question of a theoretical nature: “the writers who write in a language, but consider themselves, or are considered, belonging to another literary system are today a rare case”82 (LitAktsent 2013b). Second, for the writer the definition of his identity affiliation is not “a central or significant issue for the purposes of his artistic production”83 (LitAktsent 2013b). The language is an artistic “instrument,” which the writer uses in order to distance himself from his political, ideological and religious convictions (LitAktsent 2013b). Finally, Dibrova argues that it is the perspective of the Ukrainian reader that highlights “the contradiction in terms of the contemporary cultural situation”84 (LitAktsent 2013b). This is rooted in the belief that todays’ factor of consolidation in Ukrainian society is not the State, nor the territory or ethnic origins, but the language itself. Following these lines, Tetiana Maliarchuk (b. 1983, Ivano Frankivs’k), Ukrainian-language and—since 2014—German-language prose writer, underlines how the language question gradually made the same actors of the contemporary cultural scene “soldiers” (soldaty) in a “war of words.” According to Maliarchuk the question becomes quite complex when the state identifies itself in “language and culture”:
Today’s Ukraine is not monocultural. But none of the parties wants to accept it. Among these, the Russian and the Ukrainian sides are the strongest ones […] These two forces can be defined in terms of relationships that I conventionally divide into assimilation, opposition and collaboration. I hope I will never experience the first of these. The last one would be ideal, but for some reason no one supported the example of Switzerland with its four official languages and dozens of dialects.85 (LitAktsent 2013c)←75 | 76→
Serhii Zhadan (b. 1974, Starobil’s’k) then highlights the contradictions of the language criterion for the definition of the national literary canon, “especially in a country like ours where literature is created in two languages”86 (LitAktsent 2013c). Zhadan addresses the emblematic case of “the literature written in Russian,” pointing out that it “is automatically recognized as part of the cultural heritage of Russian literature, while the same possibility that this body of texts could belong to the Ukrainian culture is ignored in most of the cases”87 (LitAktsent 2013c). The reasons behind this exclusion can be recognized in the identification of the Russophone literary phenomenon with the remains of the imperial legacy, as argued by Petro Tarashchuk (b. 1956, Vinnytsia). According to the Ukrainian translator and journalist, “the insidious discourses on Ukrainian literary bilingualism are an attack on the Ukrainian language”88 (LitAktsent 2013d), a new stage of the “linguicide” (lingvotsyd) orchestrated over the centuries by Russia. Along these lines, according to Prokhas’ko, the same concept of “Russophone literature of Ukraine [rosiis’komovna literatura Ukraїny]” is “nonsense”89 (nonsens; LitAktsent 2013a). The “pro-Ukrainian beliefs” (proukraїns’ki perekonannia) of a Russophone writer are not enough to make him an integral part of national literature:
We can talk about a writer who lives in France and writes in German, but we will not consider him part of French literature. In the same way, we will consider as a Ukrainian writer who writes in that language. For this reason, I cannot consider ←76 | 77→the works […] written in Russian as part of Ukrainian literature, although they may reveal another kind of mentality than that typical of the north of Russia, or express pro-Ukrainian or even nationalistic beliefs. It will not be Ukrainian literature.90 (LitAktsent 2013a)
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Book)
- Publication date
- 2020 (April)
- Russian Language Identity Politics Slavic Studies Post-Soviet Studies Postcolonial Studies
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 294 pp.