Michael Flier and Andrea Graziosi, eds.
The Battle for Ukrainian
A Comparative Perspective
Harvard University Press/Ukrainian Research Institute 2017
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LanguageNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network November 11, 2017 Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
Language is one of the complex systems facilitating communication; language is a system producing the inside and the outside of the individual’s awareness of self and other. However, language is also a tool for and of ideological battles, shaping states and nations. A multifaceted nature of language is emphasized and explored in an interdisciplinary collection of articles The Battle for Ukrainian: A Comparative Perspective (Harvard University Press/Ukrainian Research Institute, 2017), edited by Michael S. Flier and Andrea Graziosi. This collection developed with the crucial contribution of Lubomyr Hajda, who highlighted the importance of the comparative aspect that goes beyond specific historical contexts.
As the editors mention in their introduction, The Battle for Ukrainian presents the proceedings of the conference States, Peoples, Languages: A Comparative Political History of Ukrainian, 1863-2013. One of the starting points for the scholarly discussion was the history of the Ukrainian language, which happened to undergo a dramatic battle for its existence. Structured around the Valuev Circular (1863), which was followed by the Ems Decree (1876), the conference and the subsequent collection aimed to conceptualize the influences that the official documents would exercise on the formation and on the development of Ukrainian. Known for their oppressive and discriminatory effects, the two documents, as the current publication demonstrates, not only shaped the perception of Ukrainian but also produced a political and sociocultural framework for the languages functioning. The Battle for Ukrainian offers an insightful overview of the path that Ukrainian was, in fact, forced into: a persistent struggle against suppression and annihilation. Taking into consideration the influences exercised by the documents that restricted the usage of Ukrainian, the contributors investigate how Ukrainian was presented in the Russian Empire and under the Soviet Union. This conversation is put into a larger context, involving the issues of nation and identity formation. Additionally, the discussion creates a bridge between the past and the present: twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine seems to be still facing challenges that were first initiated by the language policies devised by Imperial Russia. Moreover, these challenges, as the recent events in the Donbas and Crimea, as well as new developments of language policies, demonstrate, are escalating. By analyzing the circumstances under which the Ukrainian language has been functioning, the contributors attempt to address the most urgent concerns, providing insights for the understanding of the past and the present.
While emphasizing the language challenges, which Ukraine has been dealing with, The Battle for Ukrainian also draws comparative parallels that allow to search for frameworks and patterns that would emphasize the celebration of the existence of language. A language is a system that facilitates communication, but it is also an entity, fluid and changeable, that includes collaboration with other similar systems, entities. For this collection, the Ukrainian case provides material and territory for investigating linguistic areas, which include but are not limited to Ireland, Canada, Central Europe, India. On a larger scale, language is presented as a system that to some extent structures and regulates the functioning of a state and the vitality of a nation.
The Battle for Ukrainian is an impressive collection of articles, narrating a story and a history of the language that inscribes and delivers the nation’s inexhaustible resistance against suppression and annihilation, fight for survival, and striving for self-identification.
Michael S. Flier, Oleksandr Potebnja Professor of Ukrainian Philology, Harvard University. His research interests include historical Slavic linguistics (including the history of the Ukrainian language) and medieval East Slavic history and culture.
Andrea Graziosi, Professor of economics and modern European history, University of Naples, Federico II. Graziosi’s area of expertise includes political history of languages and their relations with nations, nationalisms, and peoples from the Reformation through decolonization.
Lubomyr Hajda, Senior Advisor, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University. His special interests include early-modern Ukrainian history and culture, and contemporary Ukrainian history and politics.