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On the crossroads of history

Politics of history in Ukraine and questions of identity in Post-Cold War Europe (1991 – 2019)
PhD ceremony:dr. N.A. (Nicolaas) Kraft van Ermel
When:June 22, 2020
Supervisors:prof. dr. J.S.A.M. (Hans) van Koningsbrugge, prof. dr. W. Coudenys
Where:Academy building RUG
On the crossroads of history

Since the inauspicious events of 2013-2014, Ukraine is in domestic and international turmoil. The Russian annexation of the Crimea was the first major act of its kind since the Second World War. Likewise, the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 shocked the world. The political consequences remain to this day.In all convolutions, domestic and foreign politicians often appealed to history. Conflicting perceptions of history are an essential element of the so-called ‘Ukraine Crisis’. This study demonstrates that political usage of history did not appear out of thin air. Ever since Ukraine became independent in 1991 politicians and historians sought to reinterpret the country’s complicated past. Inspired by nationalist ideology they tried to give Ukraine a national ‘European history’. To this, adherents of the old Soviet-style of Ukrainian history responded with vigour. Creating a tense political atmosphere wherein both sides polarized Ukrainian society around two extremes.Ukraine is not unique: since 1991, historians and politicians in Europe and Russia have also sought to redefine interpretations of history. While post-Communist Europe wanted to revaluate the meaning of communist and Nazi totalitarian rule, Western Europe sought to protect a narrative that sees Nazi crimes as the blackest page of history. On the other hand, Russia increasingly depends on presenting the Second World War as a great triumph. By contrasting the developments in Ukraine with other European and Russian experiences this study asks difficult but much-needed questions about what history means in our present.