- The Near Abroad: Socialist Eastern Europe and Soviet Patriotism in Ukraine, 1956–1985 by Zbigniew Wojnowski
This ambitious book examines the connection between Soviet–East European relations and the phenomenon of Soviet patriotism in Ukraine. Proceeding chronologically over three post-Stalin decades, Zbigniew Wojnowski structures his narrative largely around three major crises in interactions between the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. The year 1956, with the twentieth Congress of the Communist Party and the resulting political turbulences in Poland and Hungary, serves as the point of departure, the Prague Spring of 1968 forms the next substantial topic, while the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s brings the story to its conclusion. At each stage in the narrative, the author focuses on reactions to those upheavals and their aftermath among the population of Soviet Ukraine.
The book's argument rests on two premises. First, relations between the Soviet Union and its East European counterparts remained tense throughout the post-Stalin decades, with the tensions intensifying over time. Second, at least in the Ukrainian case, an important factor in those tensions was the pervasiveness of Soviet patriotism or, more precisely, what Wojnowski (at the end of his book) calls "staging patriotism." The book describes how, in various public settings, Ukrainians commonly displayed loyalty to the Soviet order as well as hostility and distrust towards its various East European challengers: Poles and Hungarians in 1956, Czechs and Slovaks in 1968, and Poles again in 1980–81. "Staging patriotism" consisted in precisely those displays of loyalty, which usually happened via speaking and writing in such public contexts as a political rally at a factory, a party meeting, a letter addressed to a Soviet institution, or sometimes on less formal occasions. By displaying patriotism, speakers and writers could earn various benefits of institutional trust and social status. Even Western Ukraine, despite its recent incorporation into the Soviet Union, demonstrated impressive levels of this rhetorical Sovietization.
Wojnowski distinguishes among three principal attitudes Ukrainians displayed towards the East European crises. One is what he calls "conservative patriotism" – a range of pronouncements dominated by the idea of the Soviet Union's centrality in the socialist camp. While occasionally critical of the Soviet authorities, "conservative patriots" showed unflinching allegiance to the Soviet government's policies vis-à-vis the rebellious Poles, Czechs, or [End Page 171] Hungarians. The second attitude was what the author terms "reformist patriotism" – a more flexible and accommodating position characterized by a desire to learn from the East European examples and to advance reforms within the Soviet Union. Still, despite frequently criticizing Soviet policies towards Eastern Europe, "reformist patriots" are called patriots in the book because their rhetoric remained profoundly Soviet. The third major disposition Wojnowski finds in Soviet Ukraine is one of radical dissent, which over time assumed increasingly nationalistic overtones. The nationalists, he suggests, were often hostile to Eastern Europe and to the Soviet authorities, perceiving both as being alien to the interests of Ukraine.
The book is clearly structured, has an internal logic, and is based on extensive research from Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish archives. Wojnowski advances several valuable ideas. Thus, his work serves as a reminder of how deeply entrenched the Soviet political language was in Ukraine during the post-Stalin decades. The epilogue proposes that much of this Soviet language, and maybe the ideas too, persisted in Ukraine well beyond the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 – way into the twenty-first century. Another provocative idea is that the tensions between the Soviet Union and its East European satellites penetrated deeply into the fibre of Soviet (Ukrainian) society. What I find particularly interesting is the author's suggestion that the Solidarity crisis of the early 1980s was taken seriously by the Soviet leaders, inspiring reforms and serving as a prelude to the perestroika, which came just a few years later.
The strengths of the book notwithstanding, I would have preferred a more finely grained analysis of the notion of patriotism and a more discerning approach to...