Review of two founding years
The Viadrina is a special university. On the one hand, it is one of the youngest universities in Germany - on the other, it has a rich, if interrupted, academic tradition. The university in Frankfurt an der Oder first existed from 1506 to 1811. Geographical proximity to Berlin, where a university of its own was founded at the beginning of the 19th century, led to the closure of the institution and the relocation of its library to Wroclaw. In 1991, in the wake of reunification and the relations with its eastern neighbor Poland that were to be redefined as a result, the Viadrina reappeared on the map.
"Viadrina" is Latin and means "that on the Oder River." Frankfurt, located on the west side of the Oder River, is connected to Słubice, located on the east side, by a bridge. The new university on both sides of the river also has a deeper cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań through the Collegium Polonicum.
Even before the establishment of the Chair of Entangled History of Ukraine, there was a pronounced interest in Ukraine through the then President Alexander Wöll. The Viadrinicum summer school, as well as the Ukraine Calling project aimed at exchanges between German and Ukrainian civil society, took place in Frankfurt. In October 2017, a lectorate for Ukrainian language was also established, which was also dedicated to various activities and thematic exhibitions.
At that very time, the author of these lines was a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (who, by the way, studied at the then Viadrina) and initiated the Berlin-Brandenburg Ukraine Initiative (BBUI), which in 2017 became the Research Network Eastern Europe PRISMA UKRAЇNA. It started in January 2015 when, with the help of the Max Weber Foundation, leading Eastern European researchers such as Rory Finnin, Karl Schlögel, Wolf Lepenies, Serhii Plokhy, Lilia Shevtsova, Ulrich Schmid and others came together to support the initiative. It united Berlin and Brandenburg institutions with an interest in Ukraine. Despite modest funds, it managed to hold a whole series of scientific events, including academies for young scientists* in Berlin (2015), Bucharest (2018) and Dnipro (2019). Thus, PRISMA UKRAЇNA became the most important partner of the new Entangled History of Ukraine Chair, the only one on the history of Ukraine in Germany. The fact that this concept is not geographically exhausted by the limitation to the territory of the country alone is shown by such offered courses as "Belarus and Ukraine: Historical Trajectories and Post-Soviet Transformations", "Donbas: Historical Region in Transregional Context", "Introduction into Jewish History of Russia, Poland, and Ukraine", "The Second World War in Eastern European Film".
In the last two years since the creation of the chair and my appointment, other joint seminars, photo exhibitions, a student excursion to places of Jewish history in Ukraine were also organized. A number of Ukrainian scholars have also been invited to give guest lectures. Thanks to an Erasmus+ grant, Ljiudmyla Pidkujmucha from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was able to spend time as a guest lecturer.
The largest and most highly regarded event of this period was the conference entitled "Rethinking Ukrainian Studies: Locally, Regionally, Transnationally," which took place in Frankfurt and Słubice on May 16-17, 2019. Among the participants were: Olena Haleta and Viktoriia Sereda (Lviv), Andrew Wilson (London), Rory Finnin (Cambridge), Barbara Törnquist-Plewa (Lund), Tatiana Zhurzhenko (Vienna), Susi K. Frank and Alexander Kratochvil (Berlin), and many others. The conference opened with a talk by Serhii Yekelchyk from the University of Victoria. This great meeting was organized together with the PRISMA UKRAЇNA network and was made possible by the energetic assistance of staff and students Bozhena Kozakevych, Veronika Dyminska, Viktoria Savchenko and Roman Boichuk.
Within the framework of the project "Eastern European Studies in Brandenburg" between the University of Potsdam and the Viadrina, funded by the German Rectors' Conference, the Chair organized the presentation of the English-language book "Ukraine in Histories and Stories" with the guests Volodymyr Jermolenko, Vakhtang Kebuladze and Julia Skubitska (moderated by Annette Werberger). In addition, an exhibition on the Holodomor 1932/33 by the Donetsk/PoznaD artist couple Andrii and Lia Dostliev was shown as part of the project.
An important strategic partnership was established with the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. In February of last year, a network meeting took place with the current Viadrina President Julia von Blumenthal. In this way, student and academic exchange is to be expanded and joint study programs developed in the future.
The chair conducts its public relations work, among other things, with a channel on YouTube, where numerous videos of various conferences and lectures can be viewed.
Paradoxically, one of the main problems in developing and publicizing Ukrainian Studies in Germany is the burden of prejudices and half-knowledge about Ukraine in large parts of the local society. On the one hand, Ukraine is not infrequently associated with nationalism and anti-Semitism. On the other hand, for many it still exists as part of Russia. The contradiction of these two assumptions too rarely leads to their critical analysis. Instead, one can discover their effects in many ways. Thus, the first assumption leads to a reduction of Ukrainian history to the problems of integral nationalism, anti-Semitic pogroms, and collaboration with the Nazis. The second can be described in Andreas Kappeler's words from his great book "Unequal Brothers": "Ukraine [in the Western perception] is still in the shadow of Russia, which for more than two centuries has had the interpretative sovereignty over the history of Eastern Europe" .
So what is to be done in this situation? First, it is necessary to speak openly and honestly about the most difficult and painful issues of Ukrainian history. Concealment with the idea that "there was none of this" will only confirm the above-mentioned prejudice. Secondly, it is important to emphasize the versatility of Ukrainian history(s) and culture(s). This is one of the reasons why the names of Olha Kobyljanska and Lesja Ukrajinka, Joseph Roth and Bruno Schulz, Sergei Prokofiev and Karol Szymanowski, Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Archipenko are on the chair's home page. This list can be continued....
Another important strategy is to show the prospects of joint cooperation between Ukrainian and Polish, -Judaic and -Ottoman studies and the advantages of a new (Ukrainian) angle in the study of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. This would significantly increase the demand for Ukrainian studies and widen the circle of scholars interested in Ukrainian studies.
A guarantee for success is the constant development of international contacts and exchanges. In the case of the chair described above, this is already happening with Cambridge Ukrainian Studies and the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, as well as a number of other universities and research institutions.
I would like to emphasize separately the support of this Chair by the Embassy of Ukraine and its Ambassador Mr. Andrij Melnyk.
One of our priorities is and remains the development of contacts with Ukraine and universities, scientists and cultural institutions there.