Ecologies of identity  
. . . in Ukraine & East/Central Europe

Nianio at Center of Europe
Nianio at the 'Center of Europe' in Rakhiv, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dickinson.

Ukraine-EU Border Identities

Stoking the Heart of (a Certain) Europe: Crafting Hybrid Identities in Ukrainian-European Borderlands. Spaces of Identity 6: 1 (2006), 11-44.

hat does it mean for a small town in the Ukrainian Carpathians (or another in Lithuania, and another in Poland) to call itself the geographic center and heart of Europe? Or for a leading art center in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to host an exhibition of Polish art immersed in the Eastern or 'Byzantine' identities of the Ukrainian-Polish borderlands? How are the border spaces between Ukraine and the EU being refigured in national and local artistic discourses?


“Spaces at an Exhibition: Immersive Passages through Central/Eastern European Identities,” Занурення/Zanurzenie/Immersion exhibition catalogue, ed. Jerzy Onuch (Kyiv, Ukraine: Centre for Contemporary Art), pp. 11-19.

Ukrainian version reprinted in Krytyka VII (12), 2004, on-line version.

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Scenes from the Sheshory Festival of Ethnic Music and Land Art (2004) in the village of Sheshory, Carpathian mountains

Carpathians in Transition:
Culture, Identity, and Transboundary Cooperation at the EU's Eastern Border

(grant project in development, with Dr. Saleem Ali)

With the recent expansion of the European Union to encompass several former Eastern Bloc countries, Europe’s new ‘Schengen’ border now runs down the middle of the continent’s largest mountain chain, the Carpathian mountains. While the stricter new border regulations are expected to present a setback for economic development of non-EU border regions, a series of transboundary initiatives, including the Carpathian Euroregion, the Carpathian Ecoregion Initiative, and the Carpathian Convention, have begun to focus on developing a broadly ‘ecoregional’ strategy for sustainable development. In the light of these seemingly contradictory developments and of the complex ethnic fabric of the region, this research project will examine the role of cultural and regional identity in affecting the possibilities for regional transboundary cooperation in the Carpathian basin. It will trace the development of cross-border cooperation between the nations involved and the levels of local and regional participation in such cooperation, and will test the hypothesis that environmental conservation can play an instrumental role in transboundary and inter-ethnic peace-building. In the process, it will attempt to identify both obstacles and opportunities for further development of a Carpathian regional sustainable development strategy.

Romancing the Steppes
Nature, Nation, and Deep Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine

This study focuses on the uses of and contestations over prehistory, especially over archaeological materials and imagined reconstructions of the ancient cultures of Ukraine (Slavic, proto-Slavic, Scythian, Trypillian, Indo-European/Indo-Aryan), by the Native Faith movement and related traditionalist developments in literature, the arts, and the educational system. Promoting a “native” Ukrainian identity as a form of resistance to cultural globalization, Westernization, and/or Russian cultural domination, these movements can be viewed as forms of postcolonial liberation, far-right nationalism, or as parts of a broader East European and Eurasian trend toward ethnically defined “cultural ecology.” This research stems from previous work I have done on Ukrainian environmentalism and nationalism, and is part of a longer-term project on landscape and heritage in Ukraine.

kupalo fires
Jumping over the Kupalo fires, midsummer's day, 2004, Trukhaniv Island in the Dnipro river, Kyiv


Related articles: 

Nature and Ethnicity in East European Paganism: An Environmental Ethics of the Religious Right? Pomegranate 7 (2), 2005, pp. 194-225. Click for pdf.

Paganism is frequently cast by Anglo-American scholars as a form of “nature religion.” Some have also identified its political leanings as left rather than right. This article tests these preconceptions against the evidence provided by East European, especially Ukrainian, Paganism or “Native Faith.” The author examines Native Faith notions of nature as land, as “blood,” and as “tradition,” and argues that these are underpinned by a concept of “territorialized ethnicity”—the belief that ethnic communities are natural and biological entities rooted in specific geographical territories. The article traces this idea to its precursors in European and Soviet thought, and suggests that it may be more commonly found around the world than Western theorists presume. In light of such a different understanding of nature, the concept of “nature religion” may need to be rethought.

In Search of Deeper Identities: Neo-Paganism and Native Faith in Contemporary Ukraine. Nova Religio 8 (3), 2005, pp. 7-38.  (First Prize Winner of Thomas Robbins Award for Excellence in the Study of New Religions, 2005.) Click for pdf.

This article examines the growth of Neopaganism and Native Faith in post-Soviet Ukraine. It traces the historical development of Neopagan ideas and contextualizes their emergence within the cultic milieus of alternative religion and ethnic nationalism. It surveys the main contemporary Ukrainian Neopagan and Native Faith groups and movements, assessing their future growth possibilities and comparing them with more familiar forms of Western Neopaganism. The author argues that these Ukrainian movements have become caught up within a set of ideas which are ideologically right-wing and scientifically insupportable, but that this represents a phase of development comparable to an earlier phase of Anglo-American Neopaganism, at least in its reliance on "alternative" scholarship and on a strong form of "identity politics." Like those Western movements, Ukrainian Native Faith might overcome its present-day limitations, but this will be difficult as long as the country continues to face the economic and political struggles within which it has recently been mired.

"The Revival of Ukrainian Native Faith," in Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives, ed. M. F. Strmiska (ABC-Clio, 2005).

Articles in The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, ed. by J. Kaplan, B. R. Taylor (ed.-in-chief), L. Hobgood-Oster, A. Ivakhiv, and M. York (2 volumes, London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2005): "Neo-Paganism in Ukraine," "Russian Mystical Philosophy and Nature" (with M. N. Epstein), "Slavic Religion," and others.

"Scholarship on the Ancient Eastern Slavs: A Bibliographic Overview." Ethnic Forum (Journal of Ethnic Studies and Ethnic Bibliography) 15:1/2, pp. 162-175. Kent State University, Ohio.

This article summarizes and evaluates the major ethnographic, archaeological, historical and other scholarly sources on the ancient Eastern Slavs, their cosmology, mythology and religious practices. I assess some of the controversies in scholarship on the ancient Indo-Europeans and the ethnogenesis of the Slavs, Marija Gimbutas's work on the matricentric "Old European" civilization, and the problems of reconstructing an ancient worldview from its remnants preserved in the Christian-pagan "double-faith" of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

"The Cosmos of the Ancient Slavs." Gnosis 31 (Spring 1994), pp. 28-35.

A popular presentation of the archaic Slavic cosmos, its sense of space and time, and the ways it has been re-emerging, and inspiring cultural and religious movements, since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Photos from Kamiana Mohyla, rock monument with ancient petroglyphs in the area of Melitopil, southeast Ukraine

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