Answer to the Heinrich Böll Foundation statement from February 28, 2012.
On behalf of the Center for Polish and European Studies we would like to clarify some points mentioned in the statement of the Heinrich Böll Foundation from February 28, 2012. First, we would like to refute your claims concerning the pressure from “Svoboda” party influencing our decision to refuse having the lecture by Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe. It was our own independent decision about which we have informed you on February 8, 2012.
Second, concerning us being afraid of the “conflicting potential of the topic”. This accusation is irrelevant, because since 2007 we have organized a number of public lectures about the World War II history in general, and OUN-UPA in particular. Among other lectures, there were several organized in cooperation with DAAD, Böll Foundation and German Embassy (the project called Nation State Building in 20th-century Ukraine): Per Rudling Theory and Practice: Nationalistic Historical Representations of OUN-UPA (October 2010), Frank Golczewski The Meaning of Ukraine for Germany in the first half of the 20th Century (December 2010). Apart from that, we have invited such specialists in this field as Timothy Snyder (January 2010), Grzegorz Motyka (several times in 2007-2011), John-Paul Himka (July 2011 as part of the ReSET session about totalitarianism), Karel Berkhoff (February 2012). We hope that this range of names and topics organized by our Center is enough to demonstrate that we are open to discussion (when it is prepared on a proper level).
Third, it was claimed that our refusal had an “abstract, non-detailed” nature. Here are the arguments. We started our common project Nation State Building in 20th-century Ukraine in 2010. But since that time there were already several events, the academic level of which was unsatisfactory. To start with, we did not have any influence on the choice of lecturers invited, and thus we had to trust our partners (DAAD, Böll Foundation and German Embassy). However, since October 2011 it became clear that quality of lectures did not meet our expectations. Lectures were elaborated for the German, but not for the Ukrainian academic audience (repeating obvious facts and being non-problematic in general). Some of the lectures turned to be mere approbation of research projects (which is good for the format of PhD research seminar, but not enough for a public lecture). As a result, these events attracted very few people. After such an experience we decided to be more scrupulous concerning the lecturers suggested by our partners.
In late December 2011, we were suggested to host a lecture by mgr Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe, who was presented as a PhD student of professors Golczewski and Himka. We preliminary agreed, but this time we wanted to be sure about a proper academic level of a lecture. The first doubts appeared when we received the title of the lecture (“Ukrainian Fascism, German National Socialism, Soviet Communism, and the Question of Ethnic and Political Violence in Western Ukraine”), which was too broad and demonstrated non-professionalism of the lecturer (for example, the use of anachronistic terms such as ‘fascism’, historically appropriate only to the particular ideology of Italian Fascism. This demonstrates that such an approach is tendentious). Then the topic was adjusted and reformulated as “OUN-UPA and Ethnic and Political Violence in Western Ukraine, 1939-1950”, which was more precise, but still arose questions (for example, which territories are meant under Western Ukraine in 1939-1950). When we received the abstract, even more questions appeared. According to the abstract, the lecturer was going to talk about ethnic cleansings by OUN-UPA somewhere in “Western Ukraine”, while from the list of his publications it follows that he is specializing in historiography, historical discourse and memory studies on Stepan Bandera. His project does not involve archival research necessary to discuss the scale of ethnic cleansings, which is highly controversial topic to be handled so carelessly. If he wanted to talk about historiography it should have been mentioned in the title of the lecture. On the other hand, we already had Rudling’s lecture precisely about this topic.
Additionally, our final decision was supported by feedbacks received from Western colleagues, who work on modern Ukrainian history: even if they knew the name of Rossolinski-Liebe, they knew him not for his academic achievements, but for his extremist statements made on historical forums and conferences (for example, in Memory at War forum).
Finally, it seems like our partners (DAAD, Böll Foundation and German Embassy) from the very beginning were aware of the conflicting potential of this lecture. Even before the title was announced, it was clear that the lecture is planned as a scandalous event: we were asked to take care of security matter and to provide bodyguards for the lecturer, which in our opinion is inappropriate for the public lecture, organized by the academic institution (it looked like we were expecting Salman Rushdie to be our guest).
In your statement you have mentioned that ‘well-reasoned professional criticism’ based on discussion is the only way to prove somebody’s point of view. In this situation we see several solutions to this: you may either organize the conference or support publications of monographs and collections of articles by German scholars. In case you would like to promote young German researchers in Ukraine you may ask us to organize their presentations within the format of PhD research seminars, which are regularly hold as part of the NaUKMA PhD program.
With best regards,
Olena Betlii, Candidate of science, Director of the Center for Polish and European Studies at NaUKMA
Kateryna Dysa, PhD, Vice-Director of the Center for Polish and European Studies at NaUKMA