- Borderlands into Bordered Lands. Geopolitics of Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine by Tatiana Zhurzhenko
Ukrainian Studies en route to where?
“Tatiana Zhurzhenko has written a book about her krai” – this is how Marco Bojcun opens his rather positive review of Tatiana Zhurzhenko’s Borderlands into Bordered Lands.1 This statement captures the intentions of the book, but only in part, because “Tatiana Zhurzhenko’s krai” comes into the eclectic narrative only on page 155. Prior to that the reader is introduced to a myriad of conceptualizations, actors, events, discourses, some of which are not without repetition, and are in one way or another related to the construction of the Ukrainian state borders with neighboring Russia and Belarus. These border construction processes are traced at different levels of conceptualization: in people’s minds, national media, academic literature, transborder cooperation agreements, and the actual experiences of border-crossing.
Borderlands into Bordered Lands is organized in three chapters. The first chapter, “Remapping the Post-Soviet Space,” is divided into two sections (a) “‘Eurasia’ and Its Uses in the Ukrainian Geopolitical Imagination”; and (b) “Slavic Sisters into European Neighbours: Ukrainian–Belarusian Relations after 1991.” The second chapter, “Bordering Nations, Transcending Boundaries,” has three sections: (a) “Under Construction: The Ukrainian–Russian Border from the Soviet Collapse to EU Enlargement”; (b) “Boundary in Mind: Discourses and Narratives of the Ukrainian–Russian Border”; and (c) “‘Slobozhanshschyna’: Re-inventing a Region in the Ukrainian–Russian Borderlands.” The third chapter, “Living (with the) Border,” is organized in two sections: (a) “Making Sense of a New Border: Social Transformations and Shifting Identities in Five New-Border Villages”; and (b) “Becoming Ukrainian in the ‘Russian’ Village: Local Identity, Language and National Belonging.”
The first chapter, which I consider the strongest one in the book, provides an in-depth literature review on the topic of borderlands. In this chapter, the author introduces a helpful distinction between “frontiers,” “borderline,” “borderlands,” “nomadic borders,” and other related [End Page 490] concepts. The book also presents an overview of the intellectual traditions in Ukraine and beyond its borders that gave rise to its conflicting identities. Among those traditions are Eurasianism, alongside its anti- and neo- versions, Ukraine’s “third way” theory, and some others. In advancing her argument the author goes back to the times of the Ukrainian Cossacks and attempts to forecast the future development of the border regions. With great attention to detail, the author traces multiple cross-border cooperation initiatives between Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus and in providing the political commentary on these initiatives refers to Nezavisimaia gazeta, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, Ukrainska Pravda, and other Russian and Ukrainian media.
Tatiana Zhurzhenko’s efforts to bring together her eight years of research on the topic (the study was originally conducted in 2002–4 with follow-up interviews taking place in 2005) were recognized by two distinguished academic associations, both primarily U.S.-based. In 2012 the book received the Bronze Award from the Association for Borderlands Studies,1 and in 2010 – the Prize for the Best Book in Ukrainian Studies from the American Association for Ukrainian Studies.2 However, for me as a reviewer, this level of recognition for the book poses some serious dilemmas. On the one hand, it was impressive to see a large number of organizations and academic networks that supported the author in her research endeavor. On the other hand, it was disappointing to see how somewhat superficially and rather one-sidedly the author proceeds with the analysis, especially in chapter three.
The first serious problem is already evident in the subtitle of the book: Geopolitics of Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In its current wording the subtitle asserts that the findings of one case study can be unproblematically translated to the national or cross-regional levels of analysis. At times, where such scaling up of the concept is possible, the author unfortunately does not provide a sufficient argument for proceeding with such analysis. The second problem with the book lies in its kaleidoscopic focus, which often stands in the readers...