The Nineteenth Annual
Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies
Northwest Conference


Panel 2B
Literature as Informer: History, Identity, and the Story of Time

1:45-3:15 PM

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Understanding Ukrainian Foreign Relations through the literary Works of Yuri Andrukhovych
Christi Anne Hofland, REECAS, UW

History as a Co-author of Literature: Sofi Oksanen's Purge
Liina-Ly Roos, UW

‘This Ugly Matter’: The Curious History of the Committee to Protect the Youth from Harmful Literature, Latvia 1926-1937
Aldis Purs, Scandinavian Studies, UW


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Understanding Ukrainian Foreign Relations through the literary Works of Yuri Andrukhovych
Christi Anne Hofland

This paper explores Ukrainian post-Soviet nation building and identity by examining Ukraine’s relations to its “others”—the new Russia and the European Union, or Russia vs. European Union. Since independence in 1991, Ukraine has struggled with great uncertainty as it has attempted to solidify a national identity and forge a path for its future. One of its greatest challenges has been defining how it relates to Russia and the European Union. The current political environment has added additional pressure to Ukraine. The Eurasian Customs Union (ECU), Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign-policy project, seeks to create a rival to the European Union made up of former soviet states. Russia is now pressuring Ukraine to take one path or another—to join the ECU or the EU. Brussels and the EU are applying the same pressure, creating an either/or option that Ukraine must address in the very near future. However, as of yet, Ukraine is simply sitting on the fence.

Which identity will Ukraine choose? Although the future path for Ukraine remains unclear, the debate is lively and heated. Among those leading the discussion are prominent Ukrainian writers who grew up under Soviet rule only to experience Ukraine’s transition to an independent state as young professionals. At the forefront of influential writers is Yuri Andrukhovych, one of Ukraine’s most widely read contemporary authors. Credited with having substantially renewed Ukrainian poetry in mid 1980's, he writes in the Ukrainian language and is known for his pro-Ukrainian and pro-European views.

Andrukhovych established his reputation as a prose writer when he published a three novels centered on Ukraine’s identity and relationships with its “others.” Recreations (1992) examines Ukraine’s internal transition to an independent state, The Moscoviad (1993) presents Ukraine’s relationship with its empirical neighbor, Russia, and Perversion (1996) investigates Ukraine/European relations. Andrukhovych writes with notorious creativity and his stories serve as popular entertainment filled with colorful characters and playful fantasy. These books offer a surprisingly realistic look at the important issues facing Ukraine. Furthermore, although Andrukhovych wrote his famous trio nearly two decades ago, shortly after Ukrainian independence, the points he raised through in his literary works remain applicable today. The discussion is especially timely due to recent pressure from both Russia and the European Union for Ukraine to take a stand on its identity. Therefore, Andrukhovych’s writing serves as both a reflection of and a contributor to the Ukrainian discourse surrounding notions of self-identity and otherness. The paper will identify themes that are central to the three books and will explain how they shed light on Ukraine’s current situation regarding the EU/ECU dilemma.

To read the full paper click here.

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History as a Co-author of Literature: Sofi Oksanen's Purge
Liina-Ly Roos

History helps to understand the society, culture and people. In order to be able to fully comprehend literature it is necessary to see the history of the writer and of the countries and societies that s/he writes about. The reception of the book also depends on the reader’s cultural background and their understanding of history. Different terms have different emotional effects. History influences and often shapes our definitions of love,violence, desire, revenge, forgiveness, betrayal, pathos, patriotism and sacrifice. Literature has often offered an opportunity to express time and history (in Estonian ajalugu ’the story of time’). History provides us with the facts and events that have happened, and literature provides us with emotions. Literature that uses accurate historical facts while adding some additional necessary fiction can have a great impact on how to comprehend history.

This study will focus on how the 20th century Estonian authors (A. Kivikas, J. Kross, A.H. Tammsaare, V.Luik, T. Õnnepalu) have used history in their fiction, how they deal with the changes of powers, wars, occupation and the human in the middle of it. It will also briefly analyze the works of foreign authors (Aino Kallas) who use Estonia in their creation, how these works have influenced the picture of Estonia for either Estonians themselves and people around them

The main focus of the study is to analyse Sofi Oksanen’s Purge and its position in the historically differently defined societies of Baltic/Post-soviet/Scandinavian countries, what do people identify themselves with and how that identification influences their reception of a book that vocalizes their painful history, speaking the language of truth and fiction. It will analyse the symbols and metaphores both in Purge and a selection of works from 20th century Estonian literature and their importance in understanding history and humans from different perspectives. The study will analyze the different forms of violence, the different relationships between the dominated and the dominators, and acts of resistance described in Purge, compared to the selected Estonian works.

The theoretical background will include thoughts of time, the narrative of time, gender and violence from literary scholars Rein Veidemann, Epp Annus, Tiit Hennoste, historian Toivo Raun,philosophers Martin Heidegger and Judith Butler, and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

This study is relevant since it addresses, through the eyes of literature, the question of the identity of an individual and a nation in a changing world, how it has been shaped by history, and how it changes the society around us. Most of the historical events, reflected in the literature happened during a certain era and in a certain area, but most of the emotions and the eternal questions about violence and its effects are familiar from all around the world and throughout history. A. H. Tammsaare wrote,“There is nothing more interesting than a human.“ All the authors that will be analyzed have written about humans, their challenges and their ways of surviving in their time. It will give a better understanding of the relations between countries, nationalities,fellow countrymen and families.

To read the full paper click here.

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‘This Ugly Matter’: The Curious History of the Committee to Protect the Youth from Harmful Literature, Latvia 1926-1937
Aldis Purs

On July 20th, 1927, the official newspaper of the government of the Republic of Latvia (Valdības vēstnesis) published the first list of “cheap and obscene literature” to forthwith be removed from circulation. There were eleven books on this first list, and over the next ten years, seventy two more lists would ban scores and scores of books. This was the result of a law intended to “protect the youth.”

The ignominious history of the Committee to Protect the Youth from Harmful Literature seems like a curious footnote in the history of Latvia, but it acts as a prism onto much more. The Committee grew out of a public backlash against perceived moral laxity brought on by years of war and revolution. Popular opinion initially targeted many aspects of modernity and youth culture, but ultimately pulp fiction fell into the crosshairs of a state institution tasked with censorship. Over the years, the committee shifted its focus from a wide range of harmful topics to mostly pursuing supposedly pornographic material. After the authoritarian coup of 1934, the Committee slowly ended its work as the new regime’s censorship and control of the press more completely managed publications.

Using the minutes of Committee meetings, and judicial proceedings (from the Latvian State Historical Archives) as well as the actual censored texts (from the Latvian Academic Library’s Misiņa Library Collection) this conference paper will explore two themes vital to Latvia’s history, but important more generally as well. The first theme will examine how a generalized campaign about moral decency focuses on a specific target, and how that target can change over time. Along the way, politicians and authors who had fought against the censorship of their own words and works in Tsarist times found themselves taking on the mantle of the censor. The second theme examines how the state appropriates power and wields it beyond public scrutiny or control. Over the course of the Committee’s existence, many authors appealed their works’ inclusion on the list, but the appeals process (something that had initially been an afterthought to a morally outraged public) overwhelmingly favored the power of the state. These failed appeals speak to the power of unelected bureaucrats, and committees. In the very few cases, where the appeal process overturned the state’s action, the state still refused to give way and trampled over due process and legality. The lone, successful appeal also highlights the massive power of the state over the individual despite an apparent legal reversal.

To read the full paper click here.

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REECAS Program
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reecas@u.washington.edu