Tokarsky, Bohdan

The Un/Executed Renaissance: Ukrainian Soviet Modernism and its Legacies

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Bohdan Tokarsky’s “The Un/Executed Renaissance” is Essay No. 8 in our open access Essay series “Essays of the Forum Transregionale Studien”.

The Ukrainian culture of the 1920s proved to be not only the most effervescent and seminal creative period in Ukraine’s twentieth-century history, but also a distinct phenomenon in the landscapes of both modernism and Soviet culture. Ukrainian Soviet modernism enjoyed the intertwining of various aesthetic sensibilities, combining the exploration of selfhood and engagement with mass audiences, the making of urban literature and drawing upon rural culture, and the radical break with artistic conventions and continuity with (national) cultural traditions.  

At the same time, the Ukrainian culture of this period fermented at the intersection of several aspirations, primarily between the assertion of national culture long suppressed in the Russian Empire, participation in the shaping of the nascent Soviet project, and a more intensive dialogue with Western European cultures. This crisscross brought about a sui generis multifaceted culture. In the climate of increasing political pressure in the Soviet Union, this rich hybridity went hand in hand with a multi-layered yet fragmented self, which was caught between different projects of identity-in-the-making: communist/socialist, Soviet, Ukrainian, and European. This essay provides an innovative reading of the Ukrainian Soviet culture of the 1920s and its legacies in contemporary Ukrainian culture and politics.

Bohdan Tokarsky works at the Institute for Slavic Studies at the University of Potsdam as part of the research project “Europäische Zeiten / European Times – A Transregional Approach to the Societies of Central and Eastern Europe” (EUTIM). He has been a 2020/2021 Prisma Ukraїna Fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien. Dr. Tokarsky completed his doctoral work as a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge, where he also taught as Affiliated Lecturer in Ukrainian Studies. In his doctoral thesis, he explored the works of the Soviet Ukrainian dissident poet Vasyl Stus. He was also awarded the fellowship of the Ukrainian Research in Switzerland initiative at the University of Basel, where he taught and pursued further research on Vasyl Stus and Soviet (Ukrainian) modernism. In addition to his academic work, Bohdan Tokarsky has also been part of various translation, theatre and poetry projects. He co-authored the verbatim play “The Summer Before Everything” on revolution and war in Ukraine that was staged in Cambridge and Oxford in 2016. He has been engaged in literary translation, in particular working on the translation of the poetry of Vasyl Stus. He has also (co)organised a number of impactful cultural events, with the most recent being the Kharkiv International Theatre Festival 1919-2019: Kulish. Kurbas. Shakespeare, which showcased some of the prominent works of Ukrainian modernist drama.            

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