Sunday, January 17, 2016

Serhii Plokhy's "The Gates of Europe"

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. A three-time recipient of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies prize and author of Yalta: The Price of Peace and The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Plokhy lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Plokhy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, and reported the following:
I was curious to apply the “Page 99 Test” to The Gates of Europe, but what I found there came as a shock. The subject of the whole page is the massacre of the Jewish population of Ukraine perpetrated during the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648. Here is a taste of what I found:
The first letters that Bohdan Khmelnytsky sent to the Polish authorities as the revolt began already mentioned the Jewish leaseholders. The Cossack hetman complained of the ‘intolerable injustices’ that the Cossacks were suffering at the hands of the royal officials, the colonels—Polish commanders of the registered Cossacks—and “even” the Jews. Khmelnytsky mentioned the Jews in passing, placing them in the third or even fourth echelon of Cossack enemies, but the rebels in Right-Bank Ukraine, where Jews began to be attacked en masse in June 1648, had their own priorities. Jews were assaulted and often killed (especially men), leading to the destruction of entire communities, which were all but wiped off the map in the course of three summer months of 1648.
It was not the description itself that took me aback—after all, I researched and wrote that chapter—but its deviation from the central theme of the book. Although The Gates of Europe deals with wars, conflicts, and atrocities, it is essentially concerned with the ways in which Ukrainians of various ethnic and religious backgrounds learned to overcome their differences. It traces the formation of a modern multiethnic political nation that includes Ukrainians along with Jews, Russians, and representatives of other nationalities who consider Ukraine their homeland and are prepared to defend it, often at the cost of their lives, against the aggression of a much more powerful and ruthless neighbor. It shows how conflicts and traumas like the one described on page 99 were overcome. In the final analysis, perhaps the book did not fail the test after all.
Learn more about The Gates of Europe at the Basic Books website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue