Yale University Press,
New Haven and London
ISBN: 0-300-08355-6 (cloth)
What is expected? Why is Ukraine so important? These questions and subjects including history, art, culture, economics and politics are addressed in Andrew Wilson’s new book The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation.  
      Mr. Wilson begins in the twelfth century, when the Rus possessed a common culture and a sense of territorial unity. Then, there were no well-developed differences between the northern (future Russians) and southern (future Ukrainians) Rus. Having presented the theories of what came before Rus and having studied the roots of Ukrainian nationalism with all its historical embellishments, he predicates, “a nation with a partially mythologized past is no less a nation.”  
      He depicts how the nation formed while flanked by the significant powers of Russia and Poland during the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, and how the tradition of statehood developed at the borders of the West and the East. The division of Ukrainian territories between Romanov Russia and Habsburg Austria—two issues that dominated the politics of the nineteenth century—gave the two Ukraines different models of national identity, not to mention a number of local national groups and the Ukrainian Diaspora. As of 1990, around seven hundred thousand persons of Ukrainian origin lived in the USA, one million in Canada.  
      Using a counterfactual approach, Mr. Wilson discusses the balance of power in Eastern Europe in the twentieth century that offered Ukraine a possible future; he acquaints the reader with reflections on the changing nature of the Ukrainian identity in literature and art, music and architecture, and shows how it was influenced by the Soviet era through the loss of Ukrainian intelligentsia to Stalin’s Purges and “the continual hemorrhage of its best to Moscow and Leningrad.”  
      Ukrainians and Russians were fated to live together as a “two-in-one Rus nation,” albeit culturally distinct. A great deal of the book is devoted to ties, differences, and relations between Ukraine and Russia, whose shared history, lack of geographical borders, and self-interested struggles were destined to divide as well as unite. The imperial attitude of Russia toward “Little Russia” was opposed by Ukraine’s radical nationalism, nascent in the second half of the nineteenth century. From his impartial position on a demarcation line between Ukraine and Russia, Mr. Wilson gives just consideration to both sides and to every aspect of their long rivals/friends relationship.  
      Ukraine is a state of many faiths, a fact which reflects the historical differences between regions rather than ethnical or linguistic division. However, significant obstacles to the adoption of a national religion exist. More likely, Mr. Wilson opines, the religious sphere will be a test as to what extent Ukrainian society is capable of integration.  
      He draws historic parallels with a number of other countries—Fifth Republic France, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic—whose experiences could be of help to contemporary Ukrainian policy-makers. However, he stresses that the blind copying of the past could hamper existing political development or even create new problems.  
      After peacefully winning its independence in 1991, the newborn Ukraine’s political development has been complicated by differences in the ethno-linguistic, regional, and economic interests, and by an almost total absence of a consolidated political center; the nationalistic right sees the main threat to Ukraine’s independence coming from Russia; the communistic left sees it from Western, usually American, capitalism.  
      The economy is Ukraine’s Achilles heel. When unprecedented inflation (5,000 to 10,000% in 1993) brought the country to the brink of catastrophe, the necessary economic reforms were avoided and corruption peaked. This was not aided by barter relations between enterprises, record unemployment in 1998, and an astonishing decline in population. Having lost more than half of its official GPD, it is not obvious that the country is capable of sustaining what remains. Mr. Wilson presents a number of causes of economic collapse, as well as key counterfactuals that were ignored. Ironically, he surmises, the IMF is seemingly the only “party of reform” in Ukraine, although it seldom defers to reality. Even the IMF’s conditional funding has not had the desired effect. A new package of economic and political reforms which should go hand in hand is yet to diminish the power of Ukrainian oligarch and corruption.  
      As Mr. Wilson conjectures, Ukraine occupyies a crucial space in Europe; it will have to ensure the balance of power in the whole Eurasian region. In redefining Ukraine’s place in Europe, the author concludes that Ukraine’s key partner in Europe is America; in 1996 Ukraine was the third-largest recipient of US foreign aid. According to Mr. Wilson, Ukraine should seek to extend its influence in Eurasia and begin to create its own sphere of interests between Europe and Russia.  
      This work is not a purely political or historical treatise; the author presents a strikingly detailed account of Ukrainian art and literature. He also shows how the artist’s view of the world revives and readapts existing myth of a given time. Mr. Wilson delicately treats the transcription of place and ethnic names and terms, many of which reflect existing peculiarities and cultural distinctions.  
      As a source of encyclopedic information on almost all imaginable aspects of Ukrainian past and present, the text unfortunately bears geographical and factual inaccuracies that distract the reader. These mistakes were statistically inevitable when considering the formidable amount of gathered data and the considerable job of interpreting foreign language terms to the English-speaking reader.  
      The Ukrainians is an unprecedented attempt to look at the Ukrainian nation in the light of the relationship between its dramatic history and complex present, between omitted and attainable possibilities. As Mr. Wilson succinctly puts it, “a new nation is consolidating before our eyes, but its future shape is still uncertain.”