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ePoshta | 03Sep2011 | Myron Kuropas

Is HURI still out there?

Dr. Myron Kuropas

Ukrainian Americans have accomplishments in which they take great pride. They raised millions of dollars for the erection of a statue of Taras Shevchenko in Washington DC, as well as the initial defence of John Demjanjuk, and the creation of three chairs of Ukrainian studies at Harvard University -- language, literature, and history -- under the aegis of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI).

Things have changed.  The Shevchenko monument still stands but is in need of repairs.  Fund-raising has hardly begun.

John Demjanjuk was recently convicted of being a war criminal during the Holocaust by a German court in the very country that conceived and implemented the Holocaust.  Our community seems to have barely noticed.

Harvard is still out there but, in the words of one respected Ukrainian journalist, “HURI is not on my radar screen”.   

How did this happen?  Before I address that question, permit me a brief history of HURI for those Ukrainian Canadians who may not be familiar with this institution.

The idea of Ukrainian studies at Harvard began as a project initiated by the Federation of Ukrainian University Students of America (SUSTA) in 1957.  The prime mover behind this laudable effort was the late Stephen Chemych who soon became chairman of the Harvard Studies Chair Fund.  Like many Ukrainians, I was excited about the project and spent time as a fund-raiser. And, like many Ukrainians, I was soon disillusioned.  By 1982, for example, Dr. Bohdan Vitvitsky (a.k.a Wytwycky) took exception to the late Harvard History Professor Ihor Ševčenko’s contention that material support of scholarship at Harvard by the Ukrainian community was valuable because “pure scholarship is our best political weapon.”  Dr. Vitvitsky argued that there was “no such thing as ‘pure scholarship’” and that much scholarship, especially in history, is essentially political.  He pointed to a book about just and unjust wars by Harvard scholar Michael Walzer, a Jew, who argued that Israel’s wars were morally just. Was that too political? asked Vitvitsky.  No one, he concluded, seemed to think so.

Rumblings about Harvard’s direction began to pile up and, in 1998, I dropped my own two cents on the pile. In a Ukrainian Weekly column titled “The ‘Grunts’ Carry Us”, I divided visible Ukrainian Americans into three groups: the academics, the business and professional people, and those who work in the trenches - the “grunts.”  I further divided academics into two groups: the community- subsidized scholars who labour at or are associated with Ukrainian studies at Harvard, and “the free-lance academics, those who are professors at various universities but do not rely on Ukrainian donations for their livelihood. Assured sinecures by the generosity of our community,” I continued, “the Harvard academics live in their own little world, blissfully oblivious to the rest of us.  Almost all of what they publish is for the benefit of a handful of other academics who can comprehend esoteric language known but to a select few.”  

A case in point was Volume XIX of Harvard Ukrainian Studies, a 783 page tome devoted to “Rhetoric of the Medieval Slavic World.” Three of the articles were written in Russian. Of the 36 articles in the volume, 25 were devoted to Muscovy.   Michael Flier, who held the Ukrainian language chair, penned an article titled “Filling in the Blanks: The Church of the Intercession and the Architonics of Medieval Muscovite Ritual.”

The highly respected historian Professor Roman Szporluk, and the witty James Ivan Clem wrote a gracious and lengthy response. Without dwelling on detail, suffice it to say that they were not amused.  

Has anything changed at HURI?  Yes, Professor Flier is now HURI director.  Dr. Flier is Jewish.  How many Ukrainians are there who direct Jewish Studies Centers in the United States?  In Ukraine?  In the World?

Unthinkable, right?

Have HURI publications changed?  Judge for yourself.  Volume 28 (2006) included 25 articles in the linguistics and philology section. Of these, only four can be even remotely related to the Ukrainian language.  Topics included were “Serbo-Croatian Dialoctology Revisted” and “Determination and Doubling in the Balkan Borderlands.”  There were 24articles in the history and culture section of which two were in the Russian language, none in Ukrainian. Thirteen of the articles dealt with Russian topics. Articles included “Did Russians Ever Hope for Non-Autocratic Rule? and “How Ivan Became ‘Terrible’”.   Is this what we mean by “pure scholarship”?

 The 28th volume was published in honour of Michael S. Flier on his 65th Birthday.  Is it significant that Dr. Bohdan Vitvitsky was included among the Tabula Congratulata?

Is HURI still out there? Of course. But it is not the HURI the “grunts” who raised the money thought it would be.

Is HURI all bad?  People tell me that the Harvard Summer Courses are still pretty good.

[W.Z. Has the same thing happened in Canada? Perhaps Dr. Kuropas could do an analysis on the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS). Certainly, Petro Jacyk, who spent considerable time, energy and money on the defense of John Demjanjuk during the infamous Jerusalem Show Trial in 1986-1987 and thereafter until Mr. Demjanjuk's exoneration by the Israeli Supreme Court and release in the summer of 1993, must be turning in his grave at the latest Demjanjuk developments. And what about Eugene Harasymiw (14Feb1941 - 02Oct2004), who was at the forefront in the battle against the denaturalization and deportation (d&d) policy targetting Ukrainian refugees from WWII as "alleged Nazi war criminals" and who wrote a still unpublished book on the subject? Is his soul resting in peace?]