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Europe’s eastern borders: historical and comparative reflections

by Johann P. Arnason

Even for outsiders to Ukrainian studies (including the present writer), the re-emergence of Ukraine on the map of Europe is a major event, significant enough to prompt rethinking of some broader issues concerning Europe, its internal divisions and its boundaries. More specifically, the following reflections will focus on the question of Europe’s eastern borders. No discussion of that issue can bypass the Ukrainian experience, and there is a direct connection to the self-understanding of those concerned: it would seem that definitions of Ukrainian identity are, in one way or another, linked to identifications with Europe, or with particular European regions, which at the same time serve to underline the distance from Russia. The main part of this paper will engage with key texts by two Ukrainian scholars, one writing on the eve of the first Russian revolution and the other on the eve of the Soviet collapse, and draw on their arguments to explore the historical context of European region formation and continental demarcation in the east.

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