Elen Budinova: Europe’s Contested Peripheries: Zooming into the Donbas’ post-Soviet sociohistorical downward spiral into a lived dystopia of protracted war for territory and memory

Historically nested within Europe’s open steppe’s Eastern frontier amidst multi-vectored cultural transfers, but also numerous fault lines of nomadic invasions and competing hegemonic interests, Donbas encompasses a Russo-Ukrainian borderland, located mostly in Ukraine as well as heavily industrialized and urbanized, starting with the endeavors of settlers of international origin during late Russian imperial rule. Seven years ago, its entangled history turned a new dark page with the regional metamorphosis into a stage of structural violence, war and displacement. Constituting one-third of the Donets’k and Luhans’k areas, and tearing local social fabrics apart, two Kremlin-backed separatist entities emerged as atavist remains from the abortive militarized export of the irredentist myth behind the elusive revisionist imperial concept of “united Novorossiya” in opposition to the notion of “united Europe.” This project offers a socio-historical post-Soviet Donbas’ portrayal, enabling the reader to immerse into the local context of regional borderland self-identification patterns, escaping any generic social divisions across ethnic lines, and mythologized labor culture overshadowed by thwarted transition and vulnerable institutional architecture due to systematic power abuses by opportunistic political clans predominantly leaning on superior Russian patronage. Tracing the local resonance of the chronically inadequate alternative leverage of the EU and NATO, and differing Ukrainian nation-building platforms, which actually have been, and continue to be, informed by overall socially inclusive civic frames, the project will debunk their discursive demonization in separatist narratives. Scrutinizing multilevel dynamics behind the region’s descent into protracted war, the interdisciplinary focus falls on the crystallization of dystopic local lived realities in light of the polarization force of violence, hardened phantom borders along revitalized East/West dichotomies, multidirectional Othering processes and a time collapse in the cacophony of separatist propaganda shaping distorted versions of the past. This research will critically discuss this constant oscillation between reimagined historical myths in the realms of chosen traumas and chosen glories sublimed into instrumentalized Soviet nostalgia and weaponized Russian imperial legacy. In a comparative outlook, especially with regard to Transnistria, Elen Budinova will further elaborate on the prospects for the breakaway areas to succumb to the no-war-no-peace limbo of other delusionary “frozen” conflicts in Europe’s Eastern periphery, or to become post-Soviet outliers reintegrated into a truly democratic, resilient Ukraine, marked by social cohesion and sustainable peace.

Elen Budinova is a first-semester PhD student at the International PhD Study Programme in Social and Cultural Sciences at European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder). In her role as an academic assistant at the research project “European Times – A Transregional Approach to the Societies of Central and Eastern Europe” (EUTIM), Elen is a member of the subproject “Cultural Studies and History”, currently focusing on the comparative history of science, especially spatiotemporal as well as mental challenges regarding the pole East/West. Elen holds a BA in Political Science from Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science, Freie Universität Berlin, joined with a research year in Moscow, and an MA in International Relations – specialization profile: Global Challenges (Berlin/Potsdam) – both received with highest honors. Her MA thesis “Trajectories of Crimean Separatism – From Prevented Post-Soviet Conflict to Irredentist Overtake” was awarded the Humboldt-Price 2019. Elen’s analytical passion and personal convictions have been also fused into various social commitments, mainly in support and empowerment of refugees, and work-related experiences at “Prisma Ukraïna – Research Network Eastern Europe” (Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin), the Chair “Entangled History of Ukraine” (European University Viadrina), the German Corporation for International Cooperation – Portfolio Management: Belarus and Ukraine (Kyiv), and at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Bulgaria (Sofia).

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