Why Ukrainian Revolution Matters for Historians of Russian Revolutions

June 6, 2017 • Articles • Views: 423

Text by Julia Yevstigneyeva, Ukrainian Events in London

Edited by Darya Malyutina

Photos by Zoryana Climenco

Event organised by Ukrainian Institute in London and the Ukrainian Society at London School of Economics

On May 30 I had the honour to attend an extremely interesting and informative lecture by Mark von Hagen: “Why Ukrainian Revolution Matters for Historians of Russian Revolutions”. Von Hagen is a leading US historian and academic, and an author of a number of books on Soviet and Slavic history. He taught at Columbia University and at Yale and is now a professor of history and global studies in the Arizona State University School of International Letters and Cultures. He was a President of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and has served on numerous professional association boards. He is on the editorial board of peer-reviewed journals Slavic Review, Ab Imperio and Kritika.

Professor Von Hagen’s lecture has been the first in the series of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Ukrainian revolution. The next event will be the screening of a Ukrainian film Navesni [In Spring] on June 7.

The event was organized by the Ukrainian Institute in London and the Ukrainian Society at London School of Economics. The talk aimed to shed light on the short period of Ukraine’s independence and statehood between 1917 and 1921 as well as to point out parallels between Ukraine’s history and its current affairs.

The event was opened by a keynote speech by Ursula Woolley from the Ukrainian Institute in London and was moderated by Natalia Kibita, a Teaching Fellow at the Department of International History at LSE.

Von Hagen started out by sharing his personal relationship with Ukrainian history. Mark is half Austrian and has also done research on the history of Austria. He discovered disturbing parallels between Austria and Ukraine, for example, “the Anschluss complex”, which Austrians had with Germany and Ukrainians, until recently, had with Russia, questioning the viability of the state and the nation.

Von Hagen began his career by studying the history of Russia and its revolutions. Later on he went through a process of “internal decolonization”, his transition as a historian from a Russian-centric perspective of interpreting history to the one including the Ukrainian narrative. Mark also emphasized how important it is to study the Ukrainian revolution in the light of the current events in Ukraine as they have again posed an existential threat to the Ukrainian national identity. He believes the mission of his lecture to be showing the people what they need to know about the Ukrainian revolution in order to understand the Russian one.

In his research professor Von Hagen strives to question the standard version of the history of the Russian revolution where the Ukrainian voice is missing. He brings up a number of “inconvenient facts” about the revolution. For example, the researcher says that Germans pointed out in 1918 that Ukraine at the time represented relative order while Russia was anarchy and chaos. That hardly fits into the traditional historical narrative.

Von Hagen believes that Russian historians are blind to the fact that the revolution was to a large extent about national identity and national self-determination both for Ukrainians and other non-Russians in the Russian empire. The Ukrainian national movement was the largest national liberation movement at the territory of the former empire. However, many historians still do not see much of the Revolution happening outside of Petrohrad. In this respect, Ukrainians can help bring the national question into the research and decolonize the Russian-centric narrative of the Revolution. Mark von Hagen encourages us all to get into Ukrainian perspectives to understand the revolution better and stop being “unconscious imperialists”.

Von Hagen stresses the similarities between the events in Ukraine in 1917-1918 and 2014 and calls both revolutions of dignity. While in 2014 the social movement was against corruption and oligarchs, in the 1920s it was to the largest degree about land and peace. According to the scholar, what Ukraine needs now is to deconstruct Putin’s weaponised narrative rather than create a counter-narrative, as many Ukrainian patriots are attempting to do.

Professor von Hagen’s talk was followed by a screening of an avant-garde Ukrainian film from 1929, Shkurnik [A Profiteer] satirizing Soviet propaganda. It was banned by the Soviet authorities and has not been too well-known to the Western audiences until recently.

The day after his talk at LSE, Mark Von Hagen headed to Kyiv to present his research at an academic conference.

Professor von Hagen’s lecture was recorded and the podcast is available on Ukrainian
Institute YouTube

More photos from the event can be found at the website of the Ukrainian Institute in London.

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