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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 4.4 (2003) 991-997

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Myroslav Shkandrij, Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001. 354 pp. ISBN 0-7735-2234-4. $75.00.
Aleksandr V. Lipatov and I. O. Shaitanov, eds. Poliaki i russkie: Vzaimoponimanie i vzaimoneponimanie [Poles and Russians: Mutual Understanding and Misunderstanding]. Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Indrik, 2000. 237 pp. ISBN 5-85759-023-1.
Johannes Remy, Higher Education and National Identity. Polish Student Activism in Russia, 1832-1863. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, Bibliotheca Historica 57, 2000. 380 pp. ISBN 951-746-185-2. $29.95.

The turbulent changes that recently swept through Central and Eastern Europe have enabled scholars to articulate the opinions of oppressed nations and explore long-ignored issues. This tendency is especially visible in historiography, where unrestricted access to archives and free circulation of ideas in the academic world have led to new, interesting discoveries. Myroslav Shkandrij, a Ukrainian historian of literature from Canada, devotes a recent work to the fascinating but neglected topic of the creation of Ukrainian national identity, in particular with reference to and in opposition to Russia. Shkandrij's task is ademanding one. He unfolds a panorama of relations between Russia and Ukraine by investigating literary sources from the age of Napoleon to the end of the 20th century. Shkandrij is an expert on literature and seldom refers to historical methodology. Nevertheless, his work represents a significant contribution to historical scholarship. This book illustrates the fact that literature is a necessary source for modern historians.

The book discusses several key issues: the emergence of Ukrainian national consciousness; the portrayal of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in Russian literature; and, last but not least, myths and stereotypes discernible in relations between these nations. The advantage of the book is that it presents these topics from the perspective of Ukraine. Hitherto Western readers have been accustomed to viewing the history of Eastern Europe from a primarily Russian point of view. This book opens for them the scintillating and mostly unknown world of Ukrainian writers and intellectual leaders. [End Page 991]

The book consists of eight large chapters. They present in chronological order the development of Russo-Ukrainian discourse. However, one chapter seems out of place in this otherwise highly readable book. Chapter 2 ("Imperial Borderlands in Russian Literature") sets down Russian writers' visions of national, anti-Russian struggles in the Caucasus in the first half of the 19th century and does not refer at all to Russo-Ukrainian relations. Rather than an integral part of this work, this chapter appears to be a separate essay on a different--though related--topic, included here by chance. Careful readers will also notice the lack of references to major works on the historiography of this region. For example, the author fails to cite the works of Daniel Beauvois, whose contribution is essential to understanding the context of social and national struggle in Ukraine in the 19th century. 1 Some other relevant references are also not included in the study, such as the book of the Polish researcher Stefan Kozak. 2

Nonetheless, the strength of the book prevails over these few weaknesses. First of all, Shkandrij seems to be an objective observer. He acknowledges that Ukrainian culture was strongly influenced by the heritage of its neighbors, Poland and Russia. He underscores the often-ignored fact that Ukrainian national identity emerged in opposition to Russian culture and language. At the same time, the author is aware that Russian domination over Ukraine created almost unbreakable cultural ties between these nations. The most interesting parts of the book present the Russian perception of Ukraine. According to Shkandrij, in the first half of the 19th century Russian writers depicted Ukraine as a strange, mythical land inhabited by Cossacks, Jews, and Poles. Their attitude changed in the later 19th century as...