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Munk Centre

Aleksandra Hnatiuk
(Shklar Fellow, Harvard University)

"Nativists vs. Westernizers. Problems of Culture Identity in Ukrainian Literature of the 1990s"

On January 18, Aleksandra Hnatiuk (Shklar Fellow, Harvard University) spoke in the Petro Jacyk Program on the Study of Ukraine Seminar Series (with co-sponsorship from the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Toronto Office) on Nativists vs. Westernizers: Problems of Culture Identity in Ukrainian Literature in the 1990s. Dr. Hnatiuk introduced her talk by outlining the three main cultural orientations prevalent in Ukraine today: 1) European or pro-Western; 2) nativist or "pro-nation"; 3) pro-Eastern, which most researchers and participants in the debate equate with pro-Russian. She focussed her talk on the "between-East-and-West" aspect of Ukraine's status and how this has affected the world view of writers and their notions of cultural identity. Dr. Hnatiuk concentrated on the minorum gentium--off-centre writers, literary critics--and their reception of works by better-known authors. According to Dr. Hnatiuk, the reactions of off-centre writers were closely connected with the problems of the Europeanization or Westernization of Ukrainian culture and the reconstruction of Ukraine's cultural identity.

Dr. Hnatiuk's discussion of the nativist orientation showed that its core arguments were over a hundred years old, echoing the rift that had occurred a century earlier between "narodniks" and "modernists." At that time, the issue of modernization was very strongly linked to the "Europeanization" and "Westernization" of Ukraine. She argued that it is not surprising that contemporary Ukrainian intellectual and literary elites have resumed a discussion that had been actively repressed. Their debates became particularly intense in the late 1980s and early 1990s, coinciding with attempts to reclaim and exonerate specific cultural symbols that were formerly banned by the Soviet regime. Literary life in Ukraine in the following years was injected with an extreme dynamism, and young writers, as well as those who were banned in Ukraine by censorship, were publishing their works for the first time. In the course of just a few years, several generations who had been opposed to the official Soviet socialist cultture entered the literary stage. Although it seemed improbable that the heated discussion about literature could boil down to a couple of fundamental issues from the past--namely, the juxtaposition of those in favour of modernization with those in favour of traditionalism--Dr. Hnatiuk argued that this in fact did happen. Modern Ukrainian intellectual elites returned to the issues of modernization and Europeanization.

Dr. Hnatiuk provided her audience with a detailed explanation of the development of the cultural debate in Ukraine, its major players, and the effects that this discourse has had on the development of a Ukrainian cultural identity. In her analysis, she showed that the writers who played a central role in this debate were treated by other participants in the dialogue as if they were marginal. In fact, these "marginal figures" have played a crucial role.

Natalia Nemyliwska, CREES

Content: © 2002 Petro Jacyk • Design: © 2002 dragandesign.