Megan Buskey 2004-2005 Fulbright student Halfway through my Fulbright year, I became very focused on the issue of tangible achievements. It was the midst of winter, in a dark, cold, and stunningly unfriendly Lviv. The Orange Revolution had recently wrapped up in Kyiv, and the protests had changed not only this country, but also what I felt I could contribute to it. My possible contributions now seemed much less important. I had come to Ukraine with the task of recording stories: narratives culled from the stockpile of Soviet horrors. In the months prior to the revolution, I had been researching the experiences of Western Ukrainians who had been exiled to Siberia during and after the Second World War. As I discovered during my research, the exiles had been extensive, and the people they affected were only barely connected to the charges that incurred their banishment. I was looking at memoirs of people who had been thus extricated, and at current policies aimed at providing some retribution. I also prepared to interview people who had been banished and had since returned to Ukraine. Many of my subjects were members or friends of my own family: my Lviv-oblastdwelling grandmother (now retired in Cleveland, Ohio) had been exiled to the Urals when she was my age. Despite my enthusiasm for the topic, when I got in front of my interviewees, I wilted. All of my subjects were very old, and many had fuzzy memories and a tendency to ramble. They had ideological positions, or specific interpretations of historical moments, that I disagreed with but was disinclined to challenge. Back in my drafty Lviv apartment after the revolution (like many Ukrainians, I had spent a month camping out in friends’ apartments in the capital), I took stock in the work I had done so far. Where was the narrative in the scratchy recordings of octogenarians reminiscing about their longdead mothers, sisters, fathers? What was my «tangible achievement»? I did feel during my interviews that I was giving my subjects a rare chance to be heard. People became animated in unexpected ways as they scoured their memories for the birth date of their sister, or for which group of partisans enticed their niece’s son into the neighboring woods to fight. My contribution was therefore not merely an appreciation and chronicle of these tales of experience and history. Given that under the Soviets discussing topics like the Famine of 1932–1933, the Holocaust, and Ukrainian partisanship was greatly manipulated or forbidden outright, my work was also an exercise of Ukraine’s commitment to a full understanding of its turbulent and partly suppressed history. But, as part of my Fulbright project, I was also interested in chronicling my own experience «coming back» to Ukraine as a member of the diaspora. In what ways would the legacies of «immigration» (via my mother, who came to the
United States when she was 14) and «exile» prove to mirror or diverge from one another? In some ways, what I did next seems like a response to this question, and to the dilemma that I faced in Lviv. The term «exile» is terribly poignant because it calls attention to something that is missing. It is, as the scholar Edward Said wrote, «an unhealable rift between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home. Its essential sadness can never be surmounted.» «Diaspora,» on the other hand, suggests movement: searching, but not lack. In other words, I was diaspora, but not exiled: searching, and, as I realized, not stuck. After some research, I decided to move to Kyiv. There I would be able to take advantage of the plethora of resources that the capital offered, and take a refreshed and more varied look at my project using the city’s archives, libraries, and research centers. Kyiv, as I had anticipated, also turned out to be the best place to explore my burgeoning interest in contemporary Ukraine’s manifold social and political challenges. The more I had talked to people in Lviv, the more interested I had become in experiences that were the result of deliberate moral and intellectual defiance. And with the Orange Revolution unfolding before my eyes, I had become fascinated by the nature of the Ukrainian public’s dissatisfaction and its connection to the experiences that I was studying. The Revolution made me want to understand the trajectory of public movements that had ultimately led to this unprecedented upheaval. What were the origins of the Orange Revolution? Why was this dissidence movement so popular when others have for so long been weak? Could the ideals the new government purports to strive for be embodied in previous dissidence movements that Ukraine has also experienced? In Kyiv, I began tracing the history of dissidence from the 1960’s, when Ukrainians began openly agitating for an independent, democratic Ukrainian state, through the 1990’s, when dissidence became political opposition to the authoritarian regimes that governed independent Ukraine, to now, where, as Nadia Svitlychnya, a former Ukrainian prisoner-of-conscience, puts it, the spirit of 60’s era dissidence has finally been «actualized.» All the while, I studied the latest political developments in Ukraine, many of which, like lustrace and reprivatization, directly address the consequences of the triumph of dissident movements, and the complex repercussions for the strata of society which the dissidents (or, in today’s lingo, the opposition) were opposing. Some of the other topics I pursued there, like the role of WWII-era deportation policies in current ethnic conflicts, greatly expanded my understanding of the ramifications of my original subject. I organized a lecture and discussion series at the Fulbright office in Kyiv to bring what I was learning to a larger audience. «Understanding Today’s Ukraine: Accessing What’s
Published on Jun 18, 2006
The 2005 Yearbook includes a short description of projects for this year by Ukrainian and American Fulbright scholars, which will be useful...