The Vibrant Ukrainicum

Culture & Science
31 July 2012, 14:46

Professor Alexander Wöll discovered Ukraine as a subject for research in 2005 at a seminar entitled Halychyna. Literary Landscape. In 2006 after the seminar, he organized a scientific and educational excursion together with professor Walter Koschmal of Regensburg University, which they called Jewish Odessa. In 2009, Professor Wöll was appointed head of Greifswald University Sub-Department of East and West Slavic Language and Literature Studies. This sub-department conducts the annual summer school-academy Ukrainicum, which has caught the interest of The Ukrainian Week.

U.W.: What was the reason for your sub-department becoming the basis for a summer school?

Greifswald Ukrainian studies have a long tradition; as of now, it is the only sub-department in Germany allowing one to take his or her Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Ukrainian language and literature studies. Professor Valeriy Mokiyenko headed it from 1994-2005, and devoted much energy to popularizing the discipline in our country. After his resignation, the sub-department was restructured and Ukrainian studies were relegated to the background. Now these studies are a part of the Sub-Department of East and West Slavic Language and Literature Studies. I have been heading it since 2009 when I was lucky to organize a rather dynamic and young team to help me change a lot of things within a short period of time.

U.W.: What are the main areas of your scientific work and why do students choose this sub-department?

We have quite varied and “international” research interests which gives us an opportunity to represent our profession in many areas. We are focused on gender studies in Ukrainian diaspora literature (I should mention here the very successful doctoral thesis by Veronika Sukhatska who studied identity construction in Ukrainian-Canadian literature), on Jewish-Ukrainian mutual cultural influences and of course comparative literary studies (Ukrainian-Slavic ties). We are interested in the criticism of totalitarian discourses, memory and identity, postcolonial methods in the context of Ukraine including modernism and postmodernism.

The researchers of our sub-department Vira Makovska and Roman Dubasevich are graduates of the Lviv National Ivan Franko State University, while Doctor Cornelia Mannewitz and I represent the “German” school. We have a scholarship holder on our interdisciplinary doctoral project Baltic Borderlands, his name is Pavlo Shved. This is a young researcher from Ukraine currently working on his study about Ivan Kotliarevskiy’s Eneida. Our sub-department also takes part in the international project of the Swiss St. Gallen University called Region, Nation and Beyond. An Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Reconceptualization of Ukraine.

U.W.: Where else in Germany do they conduct Ukrainian studies?

Many German Universities offer Ukrainian literature studies or language courses, including in Munich, Göttingen, Leipzig, Bochum, Oldenburg, Münster and so on. These studies may be conducted within the framework of a one-time project or in some other educational programme. There are plenty of universities of this sort in Europe, namely in Cambridge, Milan, Vienna, Kraków, Wroclaw, Poznań, Brno, Zagreb, Szczecin, etc.

U.W.: Do you collaborate with other educational and scientific institutions?

Our Ukrainian springboard is supported by historians, lawyers and geographers who have a research interest in Ukraine. Currently we are profiting from research by the talented Swiss historian Per Rudling within our institution. Numerous contacts with other institutes of higher educational obviously have no geographical limits, as we collaborate much with Lviv National Ivan Franko University and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Wroclaw, Jagiellonian and Szczecin Universities are our partners, while Canadian, Swiss and Viennese experts in Ukrainian studies also value our work and have contact with us. We always keep in touch with the German Ukrainian world. Our research interests are not at all limited by any institutions, we work with interesting researchers irrespective of the body they represent.

U.W.:  How can Ukrainian studies be made a more prestigious and popular research area in the world?

A certain discipline becomes attractive when it opens new prospects and career opportunities. We have managed to gain approval of the new university programme which allows the opportunity to take a supplementary specialization in Ukrainian studies. It is called University Ukrainicum. It has sparked the interest of many students with other majors who have decided to acquire a supplementary qualification.

In spite of Ukraine’s indifference to Ukrainian studies abroad and the relevant inertia of local authorities, there is still an interest in your country. Greifswald is a university where Ukrainian projects are successfully implemented, one of them being our Ucrainicum summer school-academy. For 16 years already it has been gathering Ukrainian studies experts from all over the world to participate in scientific discussions and exchange. Ukrainicum isa joint project of Alfred Krupp College and Greifswald University, it is now the calling card of not only Greifswald, but of the whole region. Can you imagine, the city is full of people speaking Ukrainian and Ukrainian music heard at the concerts and disco clubs during the summer school. It must be one of the best ways to popularize your culture.

By the way, I was really surprised by the information on “closure” of our summer school, published by The Ukrainian Week in the interview with Giovanna Brogi Bercoff. I’d like to assure all of our Ukrainian colleagues and friends that Ucrainicum is successfully developing, while Alfred Krupp College and Greifswald Slavic Studies Institute are working on expansion of the summer academy program. We are involving prominent experts in Ukrainian studies for collaboration. Last year we invited Kyiv-Mohyla Academy philosopher and Professor Mykhailo Minakov and the Academy’s Political Sciences Sub-Department Professor Serhiy Kudelia. Our Literary Criticism Seminar was conducted by translator and essayist Yurko Prokhasko, while the audience was entertained by the Perkalaba band. Ucrainicum has had famous guests and participants, including Andriy Kurkov, Sergiy Zhadan, Oksana Zabuzhko, Taras Chubay and Yuriy Andrukhovych.

Ukrainian issues are often part of our discussions at the Polish culture festival PolenmARkT that has had Ukrainian artists and researchers as guests.

We expect to implement one of our most important ideas this year — a doctoral project involving Greifswald University, Poznań Adam Mickiewicz University, Brno Tomáš Masaryk University and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy which envisages the establishment of doctoral candidacy institution for Ukrainian researchers in Greifswald under the title Freedom and Limits: Dynamics and Dialectics of Promise, Trust and Responsibility in Postcommunist States of Central and Eastern Europe. We have been working on its concept for two years already and if we manage to convince all the structures which are to decide the fate of this doctoral programme, I will be the happiest sub-department head around!

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