Communities of Dialogue Russian and Ukrainian Émigrés in Modernist Prague

National Identity and Intercultural Dialogue: Ukrainian Prague


While less numerous and less prominent than their Russian counterparts, Ukrainian émigrés constituted a notable and distinct community in Prague. Ukrainian émigrés clearly differentiated themselves from Russians not only through the fact that they founded their own institutions (cf. Vacek & Babka 2009) and socialised in specific networks of cooperation (cf. Zavorotna 2020), but also that they found themselves in a very different relation to their home culture, which, especially after the failure of the Ukrainian liberation war, did not possess its independent state. In contrast to the project of Russia abroad, which was nostalgic and conservative in nature and oriented towards preserving a menaced politico-cultural heritage (cf. Raeff 1994; Livak 2003; Johnston 2014), the Ukrainians were in a position in many ways similar to that in which their Czechoslovak (or Polish) hosts had long been (cf. Portnov 2008), i.e. one of emancipatory struggle in which they had to lay out a prospective, forward-looking project for the independent development of their national culture (in Prague, the Museum for the Struggle for the Liberation of Ukraine is the institution that testifies most obviously to this orientation of the Ukrainian community).

The Ukrainian émigré community serves as another compelling example of the general pattern of organisation into intersecting communities characteristic of modernist Prague. On the one hand, the Ukrainian émigrés organised on clear linguistic and national lines, founding a significant number of institutions, which were all principally if not exclusively devoted either to supporting Ukrainians or to the study of Ukrainian history and culture (cf. Portnov 2011). Among the most important, one can mention the Ukrainian Free University, the Ukrainian Higher Pedagogical Institute, the Ukrainian School of Plastic Arts, as well as the Ukrainian Historical-Philological Society (cf. Hlavaček et al. 2015) . The interconnectedness of these institutions within the Ukrainian community itself was high, with significant figures, such as the art historian Dmytro Antonovyč and the sociologist Mykyta Šapoval, being involved in the foundation of several of these. The Ukrainian Historical-Philological Society, in particular, played a fundamental role in connecting almost all the notable Ukrainian intellectuals in Prague (Antonovyč, Dorošenko, Čyžev'skyj, Šapoval, Bilec'kyj, Mirčuk, etc.) not only among each other, but also with institutions in Soviet Ukraine (Ševčenko scientific society, Kharkiv Historical-Philological Society, etc.)

On the other hand, these Ukrainian-focussed institutions were not strictly inward facing or segregated in any sense: students from many different nationalities (thought notably not German or Russian) took courses at leading institutions such as the Free University; the School of Plastic Arts was especially welcoming and popular even among Czechoslovak students, to the extent that it competed with the Czech Art Academy (cf. Zavorotna 2020, 90). Additionally, one finds ventures, such as the Czech-Ukrainian Publishing House (Zavorotna 2020, 150) that were explicitly dedicated to intercultural exchanges. Further, Ukrainian scholars took part in other institutions of modernist Prague, in particular of course the Prague Linguistic Circle (Čyževs'kyj, Artomovyč, Symovič), but also as professors at Charles University (Kolessa, Dorošenko, Bilec'kyj). Finally, one cannot but mention the case of Čyževs'kyj, a truly intercultural figure who was not only involved in the Prague Linguistic Circle and in many Ukrainian institutions, but was an important interlocutor of figures such as Jakobson, Masaryk, or Patočka.

While typically involved with itself and its own objectives, the Ukrainian émigré community was a typical participant of modernist Prague, in that it probably made its most important contributions, when it actively sought dialogue with other national and scientific communities. While the contribution of the Ukrainian individuals who indeed sought out these dialogues, in particular Čyževs'kyj, has been noted (cf. Rachunková et al. 2004; Pščenychnyj & Mnych 2011), his embedding and debt to the specifically Ukrainian forums present in Prague are less known, although their potential relevance has been noted: “Čyževs'kyj did not shy away from the Ukrainian perspective and Ukrainians, though he was also at home among Russians and Czechs” (Sevelov, cited by Zavorotna, 2021, 80). Čyževs'kyj’s involvement in the Historical-Philological Society is of particular interest in this respect, along with his contacts with Leonid Bilec'kyj, as they provide crucial connections to Ukrainian formalism (cf. Babak & Dmitriev 2021). The relations of leading intellectuals, in particular those who exercised institutional functions such as Antonovyč, Šapoval or Mirčuk, with Čyževs'kyj, and the possible triangulations they involved are also instrumental in understanding the dynamics of the Ukrainian émigré community.

The concrete aims of this module, which constitute the preliminary axes of a doctoral research project and will materialise in a PhD thesis, are to:

• Explore and reconstruct the communicative networks and structures of the Ukrainian intellectual émigré community in Prague by examining the activities of crucial figures (Antonovyč, Šapoval, Mirčuk) and looking specifically for interactions with Russian, Czech or German-speaking figures and institutions.

• Analyse the ties of Čyževs'kyj with the main Ukrainian institutions and institutional figures, in particular in comparison with his involvement with non-Ukrainian institutions and figures

• Explore the historiographical conception of a national intellectual culture as it is debated within Ukrainian circles, with the intercultural approach defended by Čyževs'kyj or within forums such as the Prague Linguistic Circle.

• Explore the concepts of national identity and national intellectual culture, and their possible effect on the concept of Ukrainian science both in emigration and in Ukraine itself (e.g. did Prague contribute to an image of Ukrainian culture and intellectual history as entangled and composite)