A Brief History of Ukraine, by Massimo Vassallo | Culture, ATLAS

In his famous (for some, especially beyond Vistula / Wisła, infamous) The big chessboard, Zbigniew Brzeziński argued that without Ukraine, Russia is not and can not be an empire. In the light of the events of recent months – which, however, only surprise those of those places who do not know enough history, not only the most recent – it seems that the invaluable American security adviser has understood a fundamental aspect of the vision of the world, if not of feeling, of a certain Russian ruling class (of which Putin is only the most visible, but certainly not the only, exponent). What people think in the context of a hard-tried economy and above all about an almost total absence of real alternatives is another matter.

Not a secondary aspect, Brzeziński’s observation does not it is limited to Russia alone. Ukraine’s history, at least since the 14th century, is there to demonstrate how much this country, in its amazing cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious complexity, has played and in many ways continues to play an absolutely leading role in the perception of itself and of one’s respective place in the world, of a wide range of other state entities: If Belarus and Poland present themselves as overt suspects, what about Lithuania, Romania and Moldova?

Although troublesome, the story of the relationship between the two so-called favorite daughters of Saint Vladimir is only a chapter in the history of modern Ukraine, even much more recent, and ignoring it would mean not only offering the site to the most vulgar. Russian nationalist propaganda, but also, perhaps even more seriously, to rule out the possibility of imagining new solutions to what threatens, at least so far, as by far the most serious crisis in post-war Europe. A precondition for all this, it must be honestly admitted, is to have a clear idea of ​​the whole horizon of the possibilities previously offered to the ruling classes involved in the cause of these countries, of the decisions that could – perhaps – be been taken (not only in Moscow, not only in Kiev) and it yes he decided to discard; it is because, often, but not always, the answer to today’s dilemmas is already there. Studying history at the end of the fair basically serves this purpose.

However, an operation of this kind requires adequate tools, the lack of which, especially for an audience of non-specialists (the famous public opinion, which should also have a say as long as a sufficiently informed voice) is felt in all its significance, especially in these months . There A brief history of Ukraine. From 1914 to Putin’s invasion by Massimo Vassallo, PhD in International Relations and former author (2020) of a ponderosa History of Ukraine if reading is to be considered preparatory to the volume in question, represents precisely one of the tools with which one should equip oneself; first to turn on the television or to read a leader, not least to have some resources to be able to verify the validity of the opinions one is exposed to.

IN Kievan Rus “ (nomen omen) of bygone times, a literary genre called letopis “a term that can be roughly translated as “annals” (from let“Year”, and pisat ““Writing”), which experienced new glories in the time of the Soviet Union in the form of a regesto, in fact ad year, about the life of some of the greatest figures in national literature. Vassallo’s essay, divided into ten chapters (plus one conclusion) divided in turn into two sections, respectively dedicated to Ukraine from 1914 to 1991 (pp. 29-240) and to Ukraine from 1991 to today (pp. 241-348), it can rightly be classified as one letopis ” of modern Ukraine.

Therefore not one History in the traditional sense of the term, as the narrative component is rather reduced (just to give two macroscopic examples, a study of cultural life, late sense, in Soviet Ukraine is almost completely absent), but a chronicle at the same time essentially in form, but very rich in statistics, names and concepts, about the geopolitical development of an area, it should be noted, much higher than the current Ukrainian Republic, but actually stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea .. Extensive in its relatively easy handling (not even 400 pages), Vassallos essay offers the reader, after a dizzying summary of the previous episodes (as an introduction), pp. 9-28, which summarizes the more than 600 pages of the volume, published two years ago with an admirable synthesis gift), an overview of the fundamental events that have both shaped the Ukrainian national consciousness and shaped some of the Gordian knots of the current context: net, we believe, for much deeper reasons that can be traced – at least – in the history of Imperial Russia, where Ukraine, likes it or not, despite its undeniable (and enriching) for skel, has always been a part of centuries.

Thus, in the first part, we resume the years – crazy, and whose influence from one end to the other we too often tend to forget the now zarat – the civil war (pp. 29-96), the first steps in the newborn Soviet republic (up to the Terror, pp. 97-122), the crucial story of the then non-Sovietized territories (especially Galicia, pp. 123-130), in the absence of which nothing is understood by the fault lines running through the independent state of today, and which a stubborn nationalist mission has surprisingly, at least partially healed, to continue thereafter over the years with World War II (pp. 131-204, a particularly sore point in the reports is between Russia and Ukraine is between the country’s east and west, that is, between the regions with the longest Soviet tradition and those actually conquered by Stalin – again he, always him – in the early 1940s) up to Gorbachev and the autonomous movement celebrating his triumphs in August 1991.

In the second section of the volume, ample space is dedicated to the complex post-Soviet transition phase (under “National Communist” Viktor Kravčuk, pp. 241-265), to the troubled years of the Kučma presidency (pp. 265-286, in the author’s opinion a lost decade, which, if managed better, could have neutralized many of the tensions, starting from Crimea, which would have exploded in a decade, up to today’s invasion), to end with a discussion of the period leading up to the first Orange Revolution ( 2004) to the Euromaidan in 2013, to the escape of Yanukovych, to the annexation of Crimea, to culminate in the referendum in favor of Zelensky (pp. 287-348), which allows the author to take stock of the first thirty years in chiaroscuro of independent Ukraine.

In the current framework is Concluding remarks (349-360) because they serve to shed light on an infinitely more complex context than it usually represents. Therefore, the author should be credited with the courage to argue without pretext that Russia’s systematic policy of humiliation in the 1990s and the arbitrary expansion of NATO – pursued by Clinton in particular – during the same period were not only short-term but de facto themselves. -hurting, even going so far as to suggest (rare newspaper these days), who would have been much wiser melt the organization when the Warsaw Pact was abolished. The case of Transnistria first, and first and foremost Georgia at the time, in 2008, also allows Vassallo to recall that the degeneration of the situation in the Donbass was made possible by precedents, such as Ukraine, but above all the United States and the European Union. , has not been able, but perhaps above all wanted, to meet in time and in this way convince the most chauvinistic wing of comitatus Putinian that it was possible to act with impunity when the need arose.

That said, perhaps the most interesting consideration is what the author considers the cause last of the current conflict, or the unavailability of present Russian ruling class to accept the borders of the post-Soviet federation (apart from the Baltic Sea, currently probably lost) and more specifically the existence of Ukraine – and the all too often neglected Belarus – as a country so similar but so also deeply different.

As depressing as it may seem, this observation also leaves the way open for an alternative future, and a better one for all, when there is a generational change in Russia, which is already taking place in abundant quantities in the country, and which sooner or later will inevitably also now Kremlin. That then becomes the task allnot only, though at first, by Russians And Ukrainians, relating tostart a process of bourgeois and democratic development that, who knows, could serve as a model to emulate, mutatis mutandisin other contexts (from Iran to India), where the development – in both a chronological and ethical sense – of the global geopolitical framework depends to a considerable extent.

Massimo Vassallo, A brief history of Ukraine. From 1914 to Putin’s invasionMilano-Udine, Mimesis, 2022, pp. 377


Image: From the left the colors of the Ukrainian and Russian flags. Credits: tunasalmon / Shutterstock.com

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