Probing borders and national sovereignty in Ukraine and around the world

Timely conference aims to bring informed perspectives to an issue relevant not only to Ukraine, but to all nations.


(Edmonton) Scholars in the U of A’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies could not have known just how timely their conference would turn out to be when they began organizing it a year ago.

As they gear up this week for “Negotiating Borders: Comparing the Experience of Canada, Europe, and Ukraine,” instability along the Ukraine/Russia border is back in the news, with casualties threatening an already tenuous ceasefire and the U.S. ambassador calling for better monitoring.

"We thought in general it was an important question because of the fragility of Ukrainian sovereignty. But subsequent events have shown that the question of borders is relevant not just for Ukraine, but for everyone else,” says Bohdan Harasymiw, acting co-ordinator of the institute’s Centre for Political and Regional Studies.

“The violation of international norms, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine, puts the whole body of international law with regard to borders, sovereignty and sanctity of territory of nation-states seriously in question. It's suddenly become a question of principle for the whole world, and maybe this event in Ukraine is just a harbinger for more to come."

To explore the problem of borders in some depth over two days this week, Harasymiw and his colleagues have invited some of the world’s top authorities on the topic. Eleven scholars will present papers on some of the most pressing challenges surrounding the complex and volatile nature of national sovereignty in the 21st century.

Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly of the University of Victoria, for example, is considered a leading authority on borders around the world, and will cast the Ukrainian case in a global light. Volodymyr Kulikov of Karazin Kharkiv National University in Ukraine will provide an historical view of his country’s borders in a talk entitled, “Borders within borders: Foreign industrialists and the transformation of the landscape in the Donbass (late 19th–early 20th century)." And Stanley Fedun of the University of Toronto will pose the question, “Does a divide exist? Putin’s fabrication of an alternative regional reality as justification for neo-Soviet expansionism.”

Public education is a top priority for the institute, and Harasymiw says everyone is welcome to attend the conference. In fact, the institute’s gatherings tend to attract more people from the local Ukrainian community than U of A faculty.

“We aim in part for public education with expertise and depth the public doesn't necessarily get from mass media,” said Harasymiw. “It's too often simplified down to black-and-white terms." The institute also encourages government attendance, “so Canadian policy with respect to Ukraine and Russia can be a bit more informed."

The Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies is a prominent centre of Ukrainian studies outside Ukraine and housed in the U of A’s Faculty of Arts. Activities range from research to publishing; developing materials for Ukrainian-language education; organizing conferences, lectures and seminar series; and awarding graduate and undergraduate scholarships and research grants.

The institute also contributes to the Canadian government’s co-operation with Ukraine and to the cultural and educational development of community groups in Canada by providing specialists and resources.

Just last year, the institute also opened its Centre for Political and Regional Studies to encourage research on contemporary Ukraine from the perspective of the social sciences as well as the humanities, its traditional focus since 1976.

“Negotiating Borders” will take place in the Wild Rose Room (Lister Conference Centre) at the U of A’s North Campus Oct. 16 and 17. All are welcome and admission is free. To register in advance, email cius@ualberta.ca or call 780-492-2972.