Ukraine: Perestroika to Independence

By Solchanyk, Roman | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Ukraine: Perestroika to Independence


Solchanyk, Roman, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Taras Kuzio and Andrew Wilson. Ukraine: Perestroika to Independence. Foreword by Norman Stone. Edmonton and Toronto: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1994. xiv, 260 pp. Illustrations. Maps. Tables. Select Bibliography. Index. $34.95, cloth.

The events and processes that led up to the emergence of Ukraine as an independent state will quite likely occupy the interest of researchers for decades to come. This study, written by two British scholars with a keen interest in various aspects of contemporary Ukrainian affairs, is probably the first English-language monograph devoted to the topic and focuses specifically on political developments in Ukraine.

The book is organized chronologically, encompassing the period 1987-1991, with the initial three chapters serving as an introduction to the body of the study. The first chapter, "Theories of Nationalism and the Soviet Ukrainian Context," represents an attempt to provide a theoretical framework for what the authors single out as their overriding argument or interpretation-namely, that Ukraine's independence was made possible by the decisions and actions of two seemingly very different groups of sociopolitical actors: Ukraine's cultural intelligentsia and the so-called national communists within the Communist Party of Ukraine. And herein lies the problem. Although few would dispute the crucial role played by these two groups (and, one might add, the strike movement of the Donbas miners), it is more than doubtful whether Ukraine would have become an independent state had it not been for the ramifications of developments in Moscow, specifically the conflict between two competing notions: the Soviet Union and Russia. Unfortunately, this aspect of the drama-which has often been simplistically portrayed as a personal feud between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin-is absent from Kuzio's and Wilson's analysis.

Chapter 2 is also an introduction-to Ukraine. Organized under such headings as "Territory and Demography," "Regionalism," "Culture and Religion "Society," and "Economy," readers with little or no knowledge of Ukraine's geography or modem history will learn something of both, The chapter is intended to show that Ukraine's diversity in the broadest sense of the term-that is, as a product of historical development, has been a major handicap for nation and state building. The third introductory chapter is devoted to a survey of politics in Ukraine in the preGorbachev period. The authors examine at some length the Shelest and Shcherbyts'kyi periods, and are rightly critical of the mythology that has been spun around Petro Shelest as a national communist. There is also a short discussion of Soviet nationalities policy during the long tenure of Brezhnev as Soviet party leader and a survey of the emergence and development of the dissident movement in Ukraine through the early 1980s, including religious dissent and workers' groups.

The formation of various opposition groups and, later, fledgling political parties during the perestroika period and their programs and activities form a large part of the book. Kuzio and Wilson have clearly done a great deal of groundwork in gathering and synthesizing materials from oftentimes obscure publications in order to present readers with an intelligible overview of the political opposition in Ukraine at a time when such slogans as glasnost" "new thinking," and the "human factor," now all but forgotten, defined the political agenda in the Soviet Union. …

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