Current events in the Ukraine have brought new contemporary relevance to the findings of our research carried out on post-Habsburg identities in Czernovitz, chief city and capital of the Bukovina. We studied the abundant literary output of this urban community during the Interwar period, when the city remained an enclave of German-Jewish culture long after the city came under Romanian rule in 1919.
What appeared to be a single historical anachronism turned out to be a lasting major influence on the city's 20th century history. This is reflected by its renaming Czernovitz - Cernauti – Chernovtsy - Chernivtsi; indeed a city that was pushed around on the chessboard of world history. Starting with the Habsburg period, thence to the Romanian interregnum and eventually to the Soviet and post-Soviet Ukrainian periods, present-day Chernivtsi, like the entire western part of Ukraine, has accumulated a variety of historical experience that has been strongly affected by developments in Austria, besides other neighbours such as Poland and Romania. The orientation towards European values prevalent in Ukraine's western part and its dominant leaning to Russia in the eastern part have been responsible for the country's inner division and struggle for national identity since 1991. This raises significant questions about security at the European periphery and Russia's place in the world.
Old phantom borders that tend to re-emerge in times of conflict run right through Ukraine whose geopolitical position between Russia and Europe has once again become a matter of great concern. As a result, there is a burgeoning interest in the land on the margins", as the phrase "u krainy" suggests, which, however, coincides with a severe deficit in understanding the country's complex and agitated history.
The question of how to mediate the findings of our scholarly research to an interested wider public and to contribute to an awareness of the transcultural trajectories prevailing in the huge space between Russia and the West, is the topic of my proposed paper.
I will revisit the transformed neighbourhoods of Czernowitz – טשערנאֽוויץ – Czerniowce – Cernăuți – Чернівці and suggest a pathway in order to bring forward Ukraine onto the mental map. In the light of recent political developments, I will shed light on the contours of the Old Europe, explore concepts of civil society and cohabitation prevailing in the post-Habsburg regions of Ukraine, and discuss how they may have supported democratic structures since 1991, running from the anti-Kuchma-movement in the late 1990s via the Orange Revolution of 2004, to Euromaidan in 2013-14.
The explanatory models and interpretative strategies that I apply in my study will challenge the (common) reflectionalist model of the relationship between history and culture. Instead, I argue in favour of categories such as settlement and mobility, toleration and disavowal, positioning and ambiguity as three modes characteristic for cultural structures of cohabited space.