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  • Congo on the DniproThird Worldism and the Nationalization of Soviet Internationalism in Ukraine
  • Thom Loyd (bio)

In early 1967, the Ukrainian security services were surveilling a citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, François Mutshipayi. A student at Kyiv State University, Mutshipayi had recently returned from a trip to West Germany where, a KGB report later alleged, he had been in contact with representatives of Western intelligence agencies. According to the report, Mutshipayi's behavior had changed following his return to Kyiv. "Referring to West Germany as one of the 'free' countries of the world, he stated that foreign students there live better than they do in the Soviet Union, that they have their own cars, their own separate apartments with amenities, and so on," the head of the Ukrainian KGB, V. F. Nikitchenko, reported to his superiors in Moscow. Nikitchenko also alleged that Mutshipayi had said to an acquaintance in Kyiv that "Ukraine is economically in the same position to Russia as the Congo is to Belgium."1 This was a damning indictment of Soviet nationalities policy, which since the 1920s had been marked by conscious attempts to sublimate Russian imperialist impulses toward the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet empire.2

Although he was unusual in framing the relationship between a non-Russian western Soviet republic and the Global South so directly, Mutshipayi [End Page 787] was not alone in making such a comparison. By the 1960s, the extra-European world had become a rich source of metaphors and analogies for East European citizens seeking alternatives to the realities of developed socialism.3 This turn toward the Global South grew in part out of parallels that had been encouraged by the Soviet government in Moscow.4 In this article, I analyze the heterodox ways in which the idea of the "Third World" was adopted and refashioned in Soviet Ukraine.5

The article's focus on Ukraine is deliberate. As Sean Guillory and Tobias Rupprecht have shown, interactions with the Global South in Moscow served to reinforce a sense of moral and cultural leadership among Soviet citizens.6 However, located historically and spatially between "East" and "West," and, in this analysis, between "East" and "South," Soviet Ukraine illuminates aspects of the Soviet–Third World relationship obscured by a focus on the Russian and all-union center.7 As Bogdan Iacob has pointed out in reference to Southeastern Europe, a "common experience of being on the periphery of postwar political, economic, and cultural hierarchies," as well as the perception of a "homogenous condition of dependency" brought Southeastern Europe and the Global South into dialogue.8 In Ukraine, experience on an [End Page 788] imperial periphery and a similar perception of dependency contributed to an analogous dialogue between East and South.

I call this discursive world "Ukrainian Third Worldism." Though never the dominant discourse for criticizing the realities of developed socialism, a surprisingly diverse group of individuals nonetheless expressed themselves using the frame of Third Worldism. These individuals included intellectuals, university and high school students, and workers. By approaching the topic of Soviet imperialism through the prism of Third Worldism, I seek to shed light on the commonalities and specificities of the Ukrainian experience of the "Global 1960s." As elsewhere in Europe and North America, fascination with the Third World was not a matter of simply transposing the image and promise of the Third World across borders. As others have pointed out, Third Worldism involved the domestication of these ideas. In this way, Third Worldism could be "used as a source of knowledge or practice for revolutionary techniques, or employed as an ideological template through which domestic political failings could be understood and contested."9 The uneasy accommodation between the national and the international that marked the 1960s as a cultural moment elsewhere was also present in Ukraine.10 Foregrounding this interplay between the national and the international in the Ukrainian context reveals more about the nature of Soviet internationalism itself, its unexpected consequences, and the ways in which Soviet citizens refashioned it for their own purposes.

The majority of the documents used here consists of letters sent regularly by the head of the Ukrainian KGB to the...