Tragic Past, Agreeable Heritage: Post-Soviet Intellectual Discussions on the Polish Legacy in Western Ukraine

Eleonora Narvselius


The study examines intellectual arguments detectable in the public debate on the thorny history of the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands. It focuses primarily on discourses generated by the Ukrainian (first and foremost, West Ukrainian) party of the dispute. As subordinated to the nation-centric historical accounts, but increasingly important theme opened for multiple uses, the historical diversity of the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands became an object of intellectual re-interpretation in Western Ukraine since the 2000s. Framing this intellectual asset in terms of multicultural heritage (bahatokul’turna spadshchyna) has signaled the effort of the Ukrainian intellectuals to inscribe the local—and, at the same time, transnational—past to a coherent national narrative. On the way, however, it proved to be that the multicultural “universes”—in particular, the Polish one—resist the seamless inclusion into the fabrics of Ukrainian-centric historical accounts due to unresolved memory conflicts rooted in the events of WWII and the post-war period. One of them is the resonant Polish-Ukrainian controversy over interpretation of the anti-Polish action of 1943—44 in Volhynia and Galicia whose ups and downs demonstrate, among other things, that a lack of mutually compatible intellectual conceptualizations of the shared past may undermine trustworthiness of gestures of political reconciliation. Nevertheless, taking the lid off the topic of Polish-Ukrainian violence that was hushed up during the Soviet period allowed Western Ukrainian memory actors to start talking about the multicultural heritage as a public good that deserves public attention. Nevertheless, in the author's opinion, it is still unclear whether in the nearest future the narratives on the dismembered Galician polyethnicity will appeal to cultural imagination of wider audiences or will instead remain an exclusive asset of elitist custodians.

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