Four principles characterize the life of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States: Ukrainian patriotism, American loyalty, liberal democracy and religion. While all four can be reconciled, there are tensions among them that, if pushed to their limits, produce contradictions. They comprise six opposing pairs: if you arrange them as the points of a square, you will be able to draw six lines among them. The first opposing pair of principles is obvious. Is Ukrainian patriotism consistent with our duty of loyalty as American citizens?
A current exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is titled “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.” I would urge everyone who has the opportunity to see it. What is collaboration? In the context of the Holocaust, and from a moral standpoint, it can be seen as a form of “cooperation with evil.” More on that later. But it can also be defined as cooperation with an occupying enemy of one’s country, to the latter’s detriment. In that sense, it is a form of treason.
“You wanna be monk?” That, at least, is how one of my high-school friends related the words of a brother he had met while visiting an Italian monastery with his parents one summer vacation. To us 1960s middle-class Baby Boomers, the idea was preposterously funny. Monks were comical little men in robes and sandals, with weird haircuts. What could be more unpalatable to an American teenager than a life of poverty, chastity and obedience? Inculcated with the Freudian theory of a “sex drive” that it was unhealthy to repress and nearly impossible to sublimate, we could not imagine giving up – at least – marriage.
What do you do when you’re lost? Psychologists tell us that men and women react differently. Loathe to confess error or even admit to being lost, men typically forge ahead, hoping to eventually stumble upon the right path. Women retrace their steps to the wrong turn and set forth anew. While this seems more prudent, it requires you to identify the wrong turn.
Are we headed for a new Dark Ages? For different reasons, and from different perspectives, many people think we are. But few have any idea of what to do about it. In the wake of the recent US presidential election, many – both liberals and conservatives, as well as the Left – fear the consequences of the roll-back not only of the welfare state, but of the regulatory and even the constitutional state. Reactions vary from appealing to our system of checks and balances, or our federal structure, to blocking executive appointments regardless of merit, calling for impeachment, or just throwing rocks.
“Ukrainian Catholics in America: A History,” by Bohdan P. Procko, edited by Ivan Kaszczak. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2016, second revised edition. Xvi, 287 pages. $25. It is startling to consider that in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th, Greco-Catholics in the United States were divided into five groups.
Some words are a key to the spirit of our time. This is particularly true of trendy words. It was remarked long ago that “whatever” summarizes an attitude bereft of solid truths or principles, and that the ubiquitous “like” is emblematic of a culture of imitation, artificial and inauthentic. The widely used “random” suggests a universe where everything happens by chance and nothing has purpose or meaning. The pervasive “grab,” one could theorize, reveals the acquisitive mindset of an aggressively materialist culture.
Family friends once told us how, fleeing the Red Army towards the end of World War II, they were taken in by a Hungarian family just before Christmas. Overhearing them discussing the preparation of “kutya” (also transliterated as “kutia”) for Christmas eve supper, the Hungarians were alarmed by this strange Ukrainian custom: kutya is Hungarian for “dog.”
This anecdote highlights some aspects of immigration. Many immigrants are refugees – they are not merely “seeking a better life,” but fleeing for their lives. Christians are morally bound to offer shelter to the homeless stranger, and not only at Christmas. But sometimes, cultural misunderstandings complicate charitable action.
Most readers of The Weekly, one would imagine, have at some point in their lives made a monetary contribution to “Ukrainian studies.” It may have been a hard-earned $5 bill tendered cautiously to an importunate gentleman in a shabby suit carrying a battered briefcase on the steps of your parish church, or it may have been a $50,000 check signed with a flourish in a flush of well-lubricated patriotism at a fancy hotel banquet. It may have gone to fund a chair or an institute in Canada or the United States, or a university in Ukraine. In any case, you may have occasionally wondered whether your contribution has produced tangible results. A few days at the recent ASEEES convention in Washington would have answered your question. Founded in 1948, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (formerly known by the no less cumbersome name of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies or “Triple A Double S”) publishes the respected academic journal Slavic Review and hosts annual conventions encompassing history, literary studies, linguistics, political science, the arts, and other fields pertaining to the cultural and geographic area indicated by its name.
Most of us still look at the world through 20th century eyes. But it is already clear that the 21st century is very different from its predecessor. We must begin to look differently at the world; we must view Ukraine differently too. Since 1991, the United States has been the world’s only superpower. But its hegemony is being challenged.