Andriy Portnov

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Dr ANDRIY PORTNOV, 1979, historian. Graduated from Dnipropetrovsk (M.A. in History) and Warsaw (M.A. in Cultural Studies) Universities. Since 2012 Guest Lecturer at the Humboldt University in Berlin. In the years 2006-2010 he worked as “Ukraina Moderna” journal in humanities Editor-in-chief. In 2012 co-created and since that co-edits the Ukrainian intellectual web portal In the years 2007-2011 he has lectured or conducted research at the Universities of Cambridge, Helsinki, and Vilnius as well as at the Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam and the Centre d’études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen (CERCEC) in Paris. In 2012-2014 Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, in 2014-2015 Alexander von Humboldt Fellow. In 2015 he was awarded Baron Velge Prize and conducted a series of lectures as International Chair for the History of the Second World War at the Free University of Brussels.
The majority of his publications are devoted to the intellectual history, historiography, genocide and memory studies in Eastern and Central Europe. His publications include the books: Histories for Home Use. The Polish-Russian-Ukrainian Triangle of Memory (in Ukrainian, 2013; Yuri Shevelov Prize); Historians and their Histories. The Faces and Images of Ukrainian Historiography in the 20th century (in Ukrainian, 2011); Ukrainian Exercises with History (in Russian, 2010); Between “Central Europe” and the “Russian World” (in Ukrainian, 2009); Scholarship in Exile. The Scholarly Activity of Ukrainian Emigration in inter-war Poland 1919-1939 (in Ukrainian, 2008; Jerzy Giedroyc Prize). Currently works on the biography of the city of Dnipropetrovsk.

Post-Maidan Ukraine Beyond ‘Identity’ and ‘History’. On Loznitsa’s ‘Maidan’ and others

Andriy Portnov

In the international discussion, there is much being written about whether or not history, memory, and identity are the main reasons for the Maidan, the annexation of Crimea, and the war in the Donbas. “Identity” and “historical memory” are brought up much more frequently than a desire for political freedoms, corruption, economic problems, group pressure, the behavior of local elites, or the makeup of subversive groups. This fact is succinctly mentioned by Natalia Humeniuk in her book Maidan Tahrir: “I was amazed that when Ukraine is being discussed, there is always a contrast made between the West and East, Brussels and Moscow, Russian and Ukrainian language; and in the case of the Middle East, it’s Islam and Christianity, Bin Laden and the White House, fundamentalists and liberals. Meanwhile people are taking to the streets to protest corruption, the impunity of the police, poverty, and repressions of freedom…”

Are we capable of thinking about Ukraine beyond “identity,” “history,” and the “clash of civilizations?” The Maidan, among other things, became a way for society as a whole to reject constructed “divisions,” which had been presented to us as unconquerable and primordial. It emphasized something that really wasn’t that sensational anymore: in contemporary Ukraine, the language of everyday communication doesn’t automatically equal ethnic identification and political loyalty. Nevertheless, instead of looking for adequate and dynamic methods of analyzing the realities of the Maidan and the post-Maidan era, a significant number of analysts remained loyal to the familiar, stereotypical paradigms of “two Ukraines” and “ethnic zones.” The annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas are still more frequently described using the categories of “identity” and “historical rights” than through a careful analysis of the behavior of key actors (above all, the local elites and the Russian intervention).

The persistence of the ideologically colored language of “identity” can be felt acutely in the Ukrainian, Russian, English, Polish, or German language discussions of the Maidan and its consequences. The social, economic, generational, educational, and gender-related aspects of Ukrainian society are frequently neglected, and Russian interference is explained through the “provocative,” “imprudent,” or simply “nationalist” policies of Kyiv, in keeping with “blame the victim” logic. At the same time, the Ukrainian media sphere (not without the participation of renowned writers and journalists) periodically revives the discriminatory notions of a “hopelessly Sovietized” Donbas…