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ZKF Public Talk – Odesa City Mythology in the Time of the Russo-Ukrainian War

8. Februar 2023, 17:0018:30


Odesa is a Black sea port city which was re-founded at the end of 18th century at the place of the old Lithuanian-Turkish city Khadjibey. Greek colonies developed here from the 5th century BC onwards, later the region was a place of interest for Italian, Moldavian, Lithuanian merchants. The ways of Ukrainian chumaks (salt merchants) as well as Armenian and Jewish entrepreneurs crossed here for centuries. The modern image of Odesa was created in the 19th century – it was built at the place of the destroyed Turkish fortress as a port city planned according to the ideal urban concept of Late Renaissance. As it was noted in the nomination for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List, “the historic center of the port city of Odesa represents the last, both geographically and chronologically, founded European city”. Till the end of the WWII Odesa was a multicultural city with several active languages and cultural layers. The Soviet political repressions and Holocaust transformed Odesa into a Russian-speaking soviet city.

The development of Odesa as a city in independent Ukraine raises several questions in the context of working through the imperial (Russian and Soviet) past of the city. The regional identity of Odesa is an important part of Ukrainian collective memory. Russian aggression against Ukraine from 2014 onwards and especially after February 24, 2022 made the question of Russian narratives about Odesa quite traumatic. Two ways to solve the problem were proposed by the different actors in the field of collective memory: to clean the public space from Russian traces and to reboot the city’s mythology in a European and multicultural framework. The image of an anti-imperial city inside of the Russian empire appears as very productive.

I stayed in Odesa since the beginning of the Russian wide-scale invasion and interviewed Odesans on the topic of their perception of the city’s past. I compared the optics of those who stayed in Odesa, those who were evacuated and those who returned after a few months of evacuation. The analysis of the content of public discussions on the topic of the presence of signs of Russian empire inside the city (for example, the empress Kateryna II) reveals crucial points of transformation in Odesa’s collective memory. The new historical narrative, as it is proposed for the nomination for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List, seems to be based on the image of an European multicultural city and on anti-imperial values.

Meeting-ID: 915 3170 7702


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