Karl Schlögel, a prominent German historian who recently published a book entitled “The Ukrainian Challenge”, sat down with Hromadske to discuss the findings of his research, and how German public perception of Ukraine has changed. “The main event transforming the perception and the view of most Germans towards Ukraine is the Euromaidan and the occupation of Crimea,” explains the author.
Before the Ukrainian revolution in 2013 and subsequent occupation and war in 2014, Schlögel says Germans were under the impression that Ukraine was just a province of the former Soviet Union. “And this has changed. And Ukraine is put on the map of most people.”
While Schlögel encourages people to read books about Ukraine to gain a better understanding of the country, he says that visiting is even more effective: “The most important advice I can give is to go. To go, to see, and to get an impression.”
How would you describe the changes in German public opinion in regards to Ukraine and Russia in the past several years?
The main event transforming the perception and the view of most Germans towards Ukraine is the Euromaidan and the occupation of Crimea. With the struggles and conflict everyday in the news, people realized that something is going on, that was beyond the borders of their perception—the mental cartography in most of the German audience, I would say in most of Western Europe. They got an idea that there’s a big country, the biggest country in terms of territory, with 40 million people, you have a country bigger than France, with a great history and very impressive culture and cities, and people knew that there’s Odesa and Kyiv. But in their pre-Maidan perception, Ukraine was always a part of the Soviet Union, and perceived Ukraine as a province or the backyard of the big metropolis Moscow. And this has changed. And Ukraine is put on the map of most people. But it’s not for sure and it’s not taken for granted. There are so many crises in Europe or coming over to Europe—the migration crisis, the Greek crisis, Brexit etc.—so some people are inclined to say what should be bothersome and should have to do with the problems of Ukraine.
You are a person who wrote books about Ukraine. What would you advise to American or European journalists, historians, experts when they touch upon the Ukrainian topic?
The most important advice I can give is to go. To go, to see, to get an impression and of course to study. To read books, of course we have wonderful books about Ukraine by Orest Subtelny, Mark von Hagen and Andreas Kappeler, my colleague. But I would say the most convincing thing is to go. And most people cannot believe Ukraine today and Kyiv… Yesterday, on the Maidan a festival of colors and fountains, and relaxed people moving back and forth on Khreshchatyk Street. People cannot imagine that this takes place in a country which is at war. And it is at war. Everyday people soldiers killed and wounded. And I say you should go not only just read the books and newspapers, you should have a look on your own.
Hromadske’s Volodymyr Yermolenko spoke to Karl Schlögel, Prominent German Historian, author in May 2017 in Kyiv.
/by Tanya Bednarczyk