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Munk Centre

Lidia Stefanowska
(Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland)

"The Citizens of Non-Existing Country: the Issue of Identity and Nostalgia in the Recent Galician Culture"

Lidia Stefanowska (Polish Academy of Sciences), who visited CREES as a Visiting Scholar with the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine, gave an inspiring lecture on November 11 on "The Citizens of Non-Existing Country: The Issue of Identity and Nostalgia in the Recent Galician Culture." Dr. Stefanowska noted that since Ukraine's independence in 1991, the country has witnessed an emergence of debate over cultural and political identity. The political, economic, and intellectual discourses have been focusing on the re-evaluation of Ukraine in historical and social terms, as well as responding to political, economic, and social challenges to the newly independent state. The question of Ukrainian identity starts from the name of the state itself: Ukraine means "borderland" or "buffer zone" and, as such, its history has been shaped by outside influences. Proximity to Russia has been another issue in the identity discourse: Ukraine has the largest Russian diaspora (11 million out of a population of 49 million) and half of Ukrainians have been russified and denationalized.

The debate on Ukrainian identity takes many shapes, from being European or East European to a special identity of West Ukrainians and their claims for autonomy. The move to go beyond elite symbols and the sense of belonging to a small motherland are found in many post-communist states. There is a clear difference of perception between Eastern and Western Ukrainians: while the former have chosen to look toward communism and Moscow for ideological support, the latter are more liberal, pro-West, and pro-NATO.

The identity issue has been reflected through literary schools by the growing social discourse of nostalgia for the golden age of Galicia (West Ukraine) after the disillusionment following Ukraine's independence in 1991. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and fantasy, a yearning for times long gone, a euphoria about the past. Nostalgia in West Ukraine has been linked to Galician autonomy based on the historical claim of Galicia's links to Central Europe and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This nostalgia is depicted in art, books, and other media. Galicia is identified with the centre of Ukrainian nationalism, yet this may be detrimental to the overall Ukrainian nationalist movement.

Dr. Stefanowska concluded her portrayal of Galician identity by underlining that this new sentiment of nostalgia is a project for the future, and that globalization fuels the need for nostalgia and the yearning for a close-knit community. However, there is a darker side to nostalgia as it creates a crisis of universality; by confusing the actual territory with the fantasy homeland, there is the danger of people becoming violent and fighting for that nostalgic cause. The extent to which Galician nostalgia will play a role in Ukrainian consolidation or provide a substitute for Sovietization remains to be answered.

Alina Darie, CREES

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