Master Narratives of Ukrainian Political Culture

National Identity in UkraineIntroduction. Ukraine holds a high significance at this time, especially for the United States, given the recent tension between NATO and Russia. Ukraine stands at the center of recent events in the heart of Europe, such as 27 Euromaidan, the ouster of its president, the annexation of Crimea, the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, and a passenger airliner being shot down. It is crucial to have more Americans with expertise on Ukraine.

My project is to investigate the master narratives that are drivers of Ukraine’s identity. Ukrainian political history encompasses the leaders and rebels that made a lasting impact on Ukraine’s identity. Definition of Narratives. In order to understand narrative’s and master narratives it is necessary to analyze the definitions of them, beginning with narrative. To narrate is to tell a story. Story and plot is sometimes used interchangeably. Yet, there is a distinct difference.

According to Aristotle, of the six elements of tragedy (plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle and song), plot is most important. It must have a beginning, middle and end, and the events of the plot should have causality, meaning something happens, which naturally causes something else happening – cause and effect. Aristotle placed plot above character, “Now character determines men’s qualities, but it is by their actions that they are happy or the reverse” [Aristotle. Aristotle’s Poetics. (S. Butcher, Ed.) London: Macmillan and Co., Limited. 1922., VI. 9-14, 1922].

The purpose of a story is to teach and it is their actions, or reaction to actions that define character. As there are repeated story forms that we are all familiar with such as the love story or the story of a hero overcoming evil and saving his people, there are also repeated characters that we call archetypes. Archetypes according to Carl Yung are standard characters that all people seem to recognize and are loaded with emotion. As if the archetypes are part of a ‘collective unconscious’ that we are born with [Yung, 1988: 78].

“Archetypes create myths, religions, and philosophies that influence and characterize whole nations and epochs of history” [Yung, 1988: 79]. In the Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell wrote about the prevailing Hero’s Journey, teaching the different stages of a hero’s journey. These stories contain the major archetypes and can be seen in movies such as Star Wars. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is the Hero archetype, Darth Vader the Shadow or Villain archetype, Yoda the Wise Old Man, Obi-Wan Kenobi the father figure, and so on.

Moreover, portions of the hero’s journey can be found in master narratives such as the ‘freedom and liberty’ master narrative of America, as told through the life, i.e. ‘Hero’s Journey’, of such people as Davey Crockett, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Next, I will define narrative and then master narrative. H. Porter Abbott gives the following explanation, “narrative is the representation of events, consisting of story and narrative discourse, story is an event or sequence of events (the action), and narrative discourse is those events as represented” [Abbott, H. Porter. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Р. 16]

That is to say, events happen which make a story and how those events are retold is a narrative. Which brings us to master narratives (also called masterplots). The main difference between a narrative and master narrative is that the master narrative is transhistorical. Halverson explains that master narratives are 28 narratives which are deeply fixed in a particular culture which can take decades or longer to develop. “A narrative is a coherent system of stories that share a common rhetorical desire to resolve a conflict by establishing audience expectations according to the known trajectories of its literary and rhetorical form.

A master narrative is a transhistorical narrative that is deeply embedded in a particular culture” [Halverson, Jeffry., Goodall Jr., Harold., & Corman, Steven. Master Narrative of Islamist Extremism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2011. РР. 23-24].

Abbott argues that master narratives, which he calls masterplots, are constantly repeated as they use the conflicts that seem to be “a permanent part of our circumstances as human beings” [Abbott, H. Porter. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 158]. In order to gain a deeper understanding of how narratives are created and affect people, I’ve found Abbott and Halverson to be the most helpful and applicable for my analysis of the master narratives of Ukraine.

However, I lean more toward Halverson’s viewpoint. Therefore, I define narrative and master narrative using Halverson’s construct: a story is a particular sequence of related events that are situated in the past and recounted for rhetorical/ideological purposes. A narrative is an organized system of stories with a common rhetorical desire to resolve a conflict by establishing audience expectations.

For example, the anti-pollution narrative, which is a system of stories that show effects and disasters caused by climate change through news reports, documentaries, and film. A Master Narrative is a transhistorical narrative that is deeply embedded in a particular culture, provides a pattern for social structure, and creates a framework for communication about what people are expected to do in certain situations.

For instance, a willingness to fight for and achieve ‘Freedom & Liberty.’ The “Freedom & Liberty” master narrative is supported by stories from the Revolutionary War, such as The Boston Massacre or The Battle of Bunker Hill; stories from the Mexican American War, such as The Battle of the Alamo; and stories from the Second World War, such as Pearl Harbor, Battle of Midway, and so on.

Methodology. Historiography is concerned with the methods historians use to research and write about history. However, the aim of this paper is not to prove whether the master narratives actually happened as they are represented, but rather to analyze what the primary Ukrainian master narratives are, and to compare the similarities and differences among Russian and Ukrainian historians. Thus, the following will serve as my criteria for how I will analyze the source materials. The authors will be identified as to what point of view they wrote from, e.g., Intentionalist, Functionalist, Marxist, etc.

However, the main focus will be on what are the master narratives, how are they told, what is the call to action, what is the aim, and how the narrative may or may not differ in Ukrainian and Russian and Soviet discourse.

My system will consist of the following stages when reading sources: 1) What was the authors point of view at the time. For example, was he writing from a Marxist, political history, or other methodology? 2) What are the similarities or differences in how the stories are narrated? For example, narratives on the Ukrainian Famine (1932-1933) differ among Ukrainian and Russian historians. 3) Is there a reason why the narratives are similar or differ? The way I have defined story, plot, narrative and master narrative form the basis of my methodology in analyzing the master narratives of Ukraine. As described earlier, Halverson’s definition and methodology most closely fits how I understand, and will investigate the master narratives of Ukraine, (and how they may differ in Russia), I will use his criteria for my analysis.

They are as follows: • What are the stories and how are they systematically related? • What stories make up the narrative? • How do they relate to one another to create coherence? • What are the archetypes, and how do they relate to one another? • What is the trajectory of the story form? • To what desire(s) of the audience does the narrative appeal? • What is the end state conveyed by the narrative for satisfaction of the desire? • What is the narrative path that leads from desire to satisfaction? • How are the narratives used by speakers to create ideological preferences for courses of action and expectations for what is to be done? • What evidence is there that the narrative is deeply embedded within a culture? [Halverson, Jeffry., Goodall Jr., Harold., & Corman, Steven. Master Narrative of Islamist Extremism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2011. Р. 26]

Conclusion. Thus, the aforementioned comprise my methodology and will be used to study the master narratives of Ukraine from its establishment as Kievan Rus in the 9th century, to its various struggles for more autonomy or independence, and finally achieving lasting independence in 1991.

Author C. McGrath, PhD

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