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Crucial Problems in Ukrainian Canadian Studies Today

Robert B.Klymasz, Ph.D.

Curator Emeritus, Canadian Museum of Civilization
(Gatineau, Quebec)
Associate, Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies
(University of Manitoba, Winnipeg)

The year 1991 was certainly a year of celebration: it marked the centenary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada and, of course, it saw the liberation of Ukraine from Soviet-Russian control. Less manifest but just as crucial was the liberation of Ukrainian studies in Canada from a messianic ideology that constantly harped on the need for diaspora Ukrainian studies to focus on topics tabooed in Soviet scholarship.

This was, of course, the ideology that fostered the founding and funding of Harvard's Ukrainian Research Institute and several other university-based Ukrainian research centers in Canada and the United States. The slogan of the day was aby svit pro nas znav (that the world know who we are). And in Canada alone, academia merged with national pride to produce not one but at least four histories of Ukraine -- all in English, of course (Doroshenko, Hrushevsky, Subtelny, and Magosci,). Because this frenzy of academic activity focused on the use of the English language as the vehicle communication, it inadvertently sabotaged efforts to raise the academic profile of the Ukrainian language-a trend that reached its climax with the Encyclopedia of Ukraine and continues via the on-going multi-volume Hrushevsky translation project (entrusted to the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies) and Harvard's recent publication of Povist' vremennykh lit (often cited in English as The Tale of Bygone Years )-a Kyivan Rus' chronicle (and one of many pawns in the perennial tug of war over its ownership between Ukrainian and Russian academic camps) that was reconstructed at Harvard's Ukrainian Research Institute over a period of two decades.

Although studies of diaspora phenomena may lack the glamour of medieval Ukraine, thereis considerable evidence that such studies are attracting more and more serious attention as scholars come to realize the need for Ukrainianists to acknowledge diversity and to examine a wide range of phenomena and expressions of "Ukrainianness" that were bypassed or poorly dealt with in the past. As far as the Ukrainian Canadian experience is concerned, this range includes events like the internment of Ukrainians during World War I, publications like C.H. Andrusyshen's monumental Ukrainian-English Dictionary (which appeared almost half a century ago in 1955), grass-roots phenomena like Ukrainian country music on the prairies, and even Savella Stechishin's best-selling compendium, Traditional Ukrainian Cookery. For Ukrainianists today, the crucial question is: how does one approach these Canadian Ukrainian phenomena? Are these simply minor diaspora adjuncts-interesting, perhaps, but only marginal insofar as the grand landscape of classical Ukrainian studies is concerned?

My purpose here is to draw attention to three models - three possibilities, three kinds of visions, mentalities or approaches that differ from one another, albeit at the same time they are related to one another in one way or another. One of these models, and only one, has validity as a just and productive charter-a perspective that advances the development of Ukrainian studies. The absence of such a model was demonstrated recently by the electronic bickering around the question of Ukrainian studies that followed the appearance of Taras Kuzio's article "Myths about Canada's Ukrainian Diaspora" -bickering that underlines the kind of dissension which has characterized Ukrainian studies here (and abroad) since 1991 and that, in my opinion, shows a general loss of direction, meaning and purpose.

The first model for Ukrainian studies that can be identified as a possibility is exclusionist in nature. The exclusive approach quite simply openly downplays and excludes variation, digression or diversion; it is an approach that advocates a single vision and ignores or outlaws all others. The best example here would be the old Soviet Ukrainian scholarship with its strict conformity to Marxist and Leninist principles. In Canada a soft version of exclusionist sentiment is found in Quebec, for example, where descendants of Quebec's original French stock form a clique and enjoy special privileges; elsewhere in Canada, those who are similarly well-connected are also members of exclusionist groups with special powers. Even talk concerning "mixed marriages" assumes underlying exclusionist attitudes. And as a Ukrainianist, my favourite example of a "mixed marriage" comes from Alberta where a Ukrainian couple reportedly found it difficult to overcome the barriers of yore: he was a Bukovinian Orthodox fellow, but she was a Catholic from Galicia. And if we push this particular notion of a mixed marriage still further, we can assume that one of the reasons secular organizations like the Ukrainian National Federation emerged in the 1930s in Canada was to offer a neutral playing field, a hang-out, if you will, for Bukovynians and Galicians, Orthodox and Catholics.

The second model or approach is, in theory at least, a complete antithesis to the exclusionist way. INclusionist in nature, this inclusive approach is seemingly more tolerant: like a mother hen, it tends to be warm, and nurturing; it gives recognition to, welcomes, embraces and dialogues with diversion-but this recognition is based on the assumption that the mother hen is in control, that there is a single commanding, authoritative centrum. Although strict conformity is not a verbalized requirement, nonetheless, outside this centrum, the world tends to be marginal, parochial, peripheral, secondary, derivative. From this perspective, inclusionism can be a subtle form of open exclusionism, a tendency reflected in paternalistic attitudes shown by government vis-à-vis Canada's aboriginal communities. "we welcome you into our fold" as long as you .The issue of a central authority, the tacit cornerstone of inclusionism, is a common topic when it comes to world religions like Christianity vis-à-vis the Vatican. And perhaps, in some regards, there's only a fine line that separates / divides / distinguishes INclusionism from Exclusionism-two sides of the same coin, so to speak. The first-inclusionism-is more covert; the other-exclusionism-is more overt. Perhaps the best example of the above would be the assumption of the State of Israel as the centrum vis-à-vis world Jewery-that is, the Jewish "diaspora." This term and concept has particular relevance here insofar as it was hijacked by Ukrainianists to fuel the formulation of a similar model to cover a so-called "Ukrainian diaspora."

The phrase "Ukrainian diaspora" has strong INclusionist overtones and assumptions. It is a notion that suggests and possibly insists that, like during the Roman Empire when all roads led to Rome, for Ukrainianists all roads must lead to Kyiv. However, for some, like the late leftist, Peter Krawchuk, the diaspora approach was distasteful since it implied that his investigations into the Ukrainian Canadian experience were somehow unimportant and second-class. Similar dissatisfaction has been voiced by Jaroslav Rozumnyj, a leading figure in the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Canada ("UVAN"):

"The term 'Diaspora' is related to the Jewish messianic dispersion and it has its own deep religious and eschatological meaning rooted in Judaism. Thus, in my opinion, the Ukrainian use of this term in relation to the Ukrainian emigration is an artificial calque."

In general, however, the diaspora approach was just fine for nationalistic Ukrainian émigrés who, after years of carrying the torch of academic freedom, so to speak, became weary and tired of guarding, agonizing, fostering and maintaining Ukrainian culture and studies outside Ukraine. For them, the "diaspora" idea coupled with a free Ukraine meant two things: it offered a much needed respite, a breather from all that frenzy (why not simply ship all those Ukrainian libraries to Ukraine where they were needed and could be used?); and at the same time, "diaspora" suggested that Ukrainians living outside the borders of Ukraine proper had a say in running the new state which, after all, was indebted to the émigré diaspora for its support and service as a "cash cow."

The third approach, the one I advocate and support is plurality - an approach that recognizes, appreciates and accepts diversity, giving autonomy, independence and equality of stature to all streams of Ukrainian studies without prejudice. These parallel streams can be likened to a musical score where different voices and different instruments unite and combine to produce a total effect. These streams have a single fountainhead or wellspring but they run parallel to one another, and each stream is just as important or noteworthy as any of the others. From this perspective, studies that focus on Ukrainian phenomena in Canada, or-if you prefer-the Ukrainian Canadian experience, are just as valid and legitimate as Ukrainian studies focusing on medieval developments in Old Ukraine. With this kind of plurality, different methods and alternative perspectives are not only tolerated but encouraged in recognition of diversity as a form of enrichment. Together these different streams constitute and produce a rich panorama - a symphony that uses one score but employs many different instruments - all committed to the same end.

In addition to these three approaches,-- EXclusive, INclusive, Pluralistic - I wish to draw attention to some other issues of crucial importance for Ukrainian studies in general and Ukrainian Canadian studies in particular. Perhaps first and foremost is the need to define "Ukrainian". In this connection, one may note the demise of certain kinds of vocabulary and the rise of others. For instance, it is no longer politically correct to talk about ethnic groups, or to use ethnicity as a concept (probably due to the widespread contempt for "ethnic cleansing", a phrase first popularized by the media some years ago). Instead of "ethnos" and its various derivatives, the current trend is to use a suffix, -ness, tacked on to ethno-cultural designations like Indian+ness in aboriginal studies and Ukrainian+ness in Ukrainian Canadian studies.

So what IS the definition of Ukrainianness today? What are its properties? Is it something geographical / territorial, linguistic? Is it something one inherits? Are there different degrees of Ukrainianness? What are the qualifications for one to be called "a Ukrainian"? If it's a commitment to an idea or ideology, what is that idea or ideology? And what relevance does that idea or ideology have today for me or for you?

Is there a test for Ukrainianness? Are there different degrees of levels of Ukrainianness-cool, warm,hot? Is it something biological-something in the blood, or like gender (male / female)? Do definitions vary over time, from place to place? And finally, how different from one another are definitions of Ukrainianness as they obtain here in Canada at the start of the 21st century from those that obtain elsewhere (like in Ukraine) or that were operational at other times -- for example, a century ago, when perhaps a Ukrainian was commonly perceived to be a Christian (preferably Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox) born in Ukraine, who spoke Ukrainian (but was possibly illiterate), vis-a-vis more current notions as expressed by Canadian census-taking practices. If all of this sounds inane, perhaps it's a sign that there's work to do in this connection.

Complicating matters even further are the varied perceptions some people in Ukraine have about "the diaspora." The seriousness with which it is regarded is reflected by efforts in the Verkhovna Rada in 2003 to establish a legal status for "foreign Ukrainians."

Besides a definition for Ukrainianness, my wish list includes other topics relating to the Ukrainian Canadian experience that need attention. (Since historians, sociologists and political scientists have their own wish lists, I will confine my list to those that relate to other fields):

1. We still need a long-term, multi- and interdisciplinary study of a single Ukrainian community in Canada using a team approach and area specialists.
2. We must document and analyze all aspects of intercultural links between Ukrainian and aboriginal Canadians on the prairies.
3. We need to establish what are the aesthetics of Ukrainian life in Canada-the passion for gardening, the demise of photographing the deceased in their coffins, the appeal of the Ukrainian folk dance staged before a live audience, the zabava craze, and so on.

Finally, I wish to end off with a straightforward, but puzzling, question: how do you sell Ukrainian studies? This is a pressing bread-and-butter issue: can one earn a living specializing in, let's say, the history of Ukrainian music? What are the job prospects?

These, I think, are some of the "crucial problems" that await our attention, individually and collectively.