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Ukrainian Revolution and the Long 1920s: The Making and Unmaking of Modern Ukraine, 1917-1930

A conference arranged by the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University.

The purpose of the conference is to discuss the formation of Ukrainian statehood in 1917-1918 and to problematise the legacy of the Ukrainian People's Republic (1917-1921) in the Soviet Ukraine and its influence on formation of Ukraine as a modern nation state, with a particular focus on the cultural policy. 2017-2018 have highlighted a centenary of Russian Revolution, with a number of events and publications (particularly at CBEES), which was an appropriate way to commemorate it with critical engagement with its legacy. However, neither is the revolutionary period limited to 1917-1918, nor is it possible to appreciate the plurality of voices and actors in the revolution in Ukraine without focusing on it in great detail.

The relevance of the topic is motivated by Ukraine's very peculiar situation: the presence of national movement, division of ethnographic Ukrainian community between two different empires, the conflation of the national and the social in the agenda of all the actors enmeshed in the Revolution and Civil War. Even though undoubtedly part of the larger processes of collapse of the Romanov and Habsburg empires, this unique local “flavor” distinguishes the revolution in Ukraine from the rest of the Russian empire, as well as makes Soviet Ukraine stand out among the other Soviet republics (of which it was the largest and arguably most important after Russia itself). This is easily overlooked in large synthetic projects on Russian Revolution, already very diverse and multifaceted. Rather than being explored as a part of incredibly diverse landscape from Warsaw to Vladivostok, the Ukrainian example deserves to be explored critically in greater detail in a separate workshop/one-day conference.

1919 has marked a landslide change in the Ukrainian situation: following the ousting of liberal-conservative Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, the losses of Ukrainian socialist Directoria to the Bolsheviks and the White Army, the defeat (after initial success) of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic, the rise of anarchist movement, the defeat of the Allied intervention in the South, all leading to uneasy alliances (for Directoria, with Poland, or with the White Movement for the Ukrainian Galician Army). It was the year when Bolshevik government for the first time became seriously ingrained. In essence, it was in many ways the decisive year that paved way for the defeat of both Ukrainian and White movements as well as for the success of the Bolsheviks.

This is why 2019 is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the transformations and transfusions of the revolutionary experiences into the Soviet Ukraine. The 1920s, with its politics of indigenization and concessions to market economy coupled with the unleashed creativity of intelligentsia, artists and ordinary people, created an era characterized with its unique spirit of optimism, blending of social and national liberation, and remarkable achievements in education, culture and the arts. How was the 1917 moment continued into the 1920s? What are the implications of treating the making of modern Ukraine since 1917 until the Stalinist backlash as a single period of “long 1920s”? And how much of this legacy still survives, given that the 1920s are considered as formative for the post-Soviet nations such as Ukraine or Belarus? These are some of the questions that, if asked in a conference setting, may finetune and expand the current paradigm of thinking the Soviet Union as “the affirmative action empire” (Martin 2001).

Apart from that, an even more tangible outcome of this discussion would be a rethinking of the politics of memory and commemoration practices in the present-day Ukraine, calling for greater emphasis on the 1917-1921 revolution, and the 1921-1930 Soviet experience instead of glorification of the Interbellum nationalist movement.

Taken together, this proposal has a significant relevance for the Baltic Sea and Eastern Europe region thanks to its critical potential in the politics of memory – the region’s problematic spot – as well as a potential to adjust and advance the historical understanding of Ukraine’s revolutionary experiences and its very own “roaring twenties”.

The event is funded by the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES) at Södertörn University.

09:00 Olena Podolian, Södertörn University: “Transformations of Ukrainian statehood in 1917-1923

10:00 Serhiy Hirik, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukrainian Assosiation for Jewish Studies: “Politics of Ukrainian Communists, 1917-1925

11:00 Matthew Pauly, Michigan State University: “Smithies of the Word: Teachers, Education, and Ukrainian Statehood, 1917–1930

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Roman Horbyk, Södertörn University/Umeå University: “Did Ukrainisation Really Happen? Reassessing the Scope of ‘Affirmative Action’”

14:00 Yana Prymachenko, National Academy of Sciences in Ukraine, “In Search of Own ‘Self’: Anticolonial Discourse of Soviet Ukrainian Cinema in the 1920s

15:00 Mayhill Fowler, Stetson University, “Geographies, Infrastructures, Networks: The Theater of Les Kurbas and Making Soviet Ukrainian Culture

16:00 Natalia Shlikhta, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy: “Ukrainian Autocephalist Movement with the Policies of State Authorities: From the Central Rada to Stalin (1917-1930)

Time and place

24 September 09:00-17:00


Room MA 796 (CBEES), Södertörn University,Campus Flemingsberg, find us


Arranged by

The Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University


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