“We Want to Remain What We Are”

Report on the discussion ‘National Identities between Empires: perspectives from Ukraine & Luxembourg’

May 14th, 2024
Sofiia Bartnovska, News from Berlin
20240514 We Want to Remain What We Are.jpg

The discussion deconstructed common clichés about Ukraine and Luxembourg, emphasizing historical facts and connections rather than juxtapositions.

On the 8th of May, the discussion and reading 'National Identities between Empires: perspectives from Ukraine & Luxembourg' took place in the Embassy of Luxembourg. The event brought together two distinguished writers: Sofiia Andrukchovych from Ukraine and Jeff Schinker from Luxembourg.  Together, they delved into their individual perspectives and explored themes such as memory, forgetting, and social tendencies, which are depicted in their literary works.

Reading the Reconstructed History

At first glance, the intertwining of Ukrainian and Luxembourgian histories might seem improbable. This juxtaposition is creatively explored in Antonio Lukich's film "Luxembourg, Luxembourg" (2022), where the two nations are metaphorically portrayed as contrasting realms—almost like heaven and hell—whose roles shift throughout the plot. The European "Eldorado" is depicted as an idyllic haven where troubles evaporate upon entry. However, the film's satirical tone undermines this idealistic portrayal, revealing common stereotypes about both countries.
The discussion on National Identities between Empires aims to deconstruct common clichés about Ukraine and Luxembourg, emphasizing historical facts and connections rather than juxtapositions. Both countries, having experienced occupation and denied national identity, share a complex linguistic diversity stemming from their perplexing histories, which serves as a source of multiculturalism as well as social issues.

Memory reconstruction

The discussion commences with Sofiia Andrukchovych reading a passage from her book “AMADOCA” , which portrays a Ukrainian soldier losing memory due to war wounds.

Sofiia Andruchovych: For me it was also a metaphor of the inability to remember some crucial things about your nation, or your country, or your community. It was the case for many ukrainians for a very long time. The paradox is that during this war in Ukraine, this Russia's war in Ukraine the processes which happen now are different. Because this war makes us want to remember who we are and to make our history our own again.

Sofiia explains that her novel comprises personal stories, which, though subjective, offer insights into broader historical processes. She sees these stories as tools to fill gaps, reconstruct lost chronicles, and unite fragments into a cohesive narrative.

On the other hand, Jeff Schinker takes a slightly different approach to exploring lost memories in his works.

Jeff Schinker: I guess making it whole is more the draw of historians. I am not a historian , I am a writer so I guess the writers can as an advantage to the historian be able to live with the holes in fragments. It's part of his job to acknowledge that there are always going to be fragments, I am writing fiction, I am writing books. It’s part of the process that deals with incompleteness.

In Jeff Schinker's literary work, the storyline draws from a deeply personal family narrative. As his grandfather delves into his past in old age, seeking the person who once saved his life, the search hits a dead end. For Jeff's family, this moment is not just an opportunity for gratitude, but also a poignant quest for truth, adding another layer to their collective story. It's a reminder that while our memories define us, some gaps remain, lingering as silent witnesses to the complexities of our past.

Both authors, despite their distinct approaches to historical voids, share a commitment to memory reconstruction. They delve into their personal motivations for this endeavor. Throughout their discussion, the coined term "Generation erlebt" emerges as a unifying theme, reflecting their shared experiences of grappling with familial silence when probing the past.

Sofiia Andrukchovych further underscores the role of "others" in the transmission of memory, particularly highlighting the contributions of women. She recounts how her grandmother was the one that was able to share a bit more about the past of their family. This underscores the significance and diversity of perspectives in the process of memory reconstruction and historical understanding.

Cultural Identity Amidst Adversity

The historical backdrop of Ukraine and Luxembourg has sculpted intricate linguistic landscapes, shaping their societal identities. Enduring periods of occupation, both nations exhibit similar social inclinations born from such adversities. It's often during times of external imposition that individuals ponder their essence and wrestle with questions of selfhood.

In 1941, amidst German occupation, Luxembourg adopted the resolute motto "We want to remain who we are." This sentiment resonated deeply within the populace, as evidenced by survey results indicating that 95% identified as Luxembourgian. Fast forward to the present, and amidst Russia's occupation, Sofiia Andrukhovych observes a burgeoning resurgence of Ukrainian identity. This awakening underscores a newfound consciousness among Ukrainians, prompting a reclamation of their cultural heritage in the face of adversity.

Sofiia Andrukhovych: There is really a hunger for Ukrainian culture in Ukraine … In such a way we got introduced to ourselves. The main thing is to know ourselves to be able to tell about our own history.

Jeff Schinker references Hubers, who posits that society assembles in the face of a common enemy, and then potentially unravel in its absence. This perspective offers insight into the contemporary European disunity crisis and the emergence of far-right political movements.

Interestingly, despite the nationalistic fervor fueling the Russian-Ukrainian war, the moderator notes a curious phenomenon: the absence of far-right parties ascending to power in Ukraine, in contrast to prevailing trends across Europe.

Sofiia Andrukhovych: Now that we are united against one enemy and we own our own history, then of course we are more eager to know more about people from different cultures and realize that their history is our own history.

Amid the backdrop of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, a diverse array of young individuals from varying social backgrounds and identities stepped forward to defend their homeland. Their significant roles brought attention to their needs, thus highlighting the immediate concerns within society. Consequently, the Ukrainian military underwent modernization efforts, introducing innovations such as vegetarian instant meals and gender-inclusive uniforms.

This societal heterogeneity finds parallel representation in Jeff Schinker's three-language play, "Sabotage" (2018), set in 2029. The play vividly portrays linguistic diversity intertwined with discriminatory stereotypes surrounding certain languages and social classes. Through his work, Schinker aimed to underscore the longstanding diversity inherent in Luxembourgian identity, yet lamented society's reluctance to embrace it fully.

Simultaneously, while Luxembourgians take pride in their cultural identity, a lingering inferiority complex persists in relation to Luxembourgian literature.

Jeff Schinker: I didn't know there were Luxembourgish writers, until I became one.

Identity is a fiction

The discussion ended by acknowledging the shared experiences of power dynamics for both countries, stemming from factors such as size, location, and historical complexity etc.

Jeff Schinker:  National identity is a fiction, it's a narrative. The question that interested me in the play is how malleable this narrative is. … Every story is not only fulfilling the gaps, but is also leaving things out, and is also omitting things. When you tell the story you have to make choices.


In this discussion, the decision was made to prioritize common ground. While the entertaining clichés portrayed in Antonio Lukich's film were set aside, this paved the way for the creation of a fresh narrative. Jeff Schinker and Sofiia Andrukhovych openly shared their perspectives and personal histories, fostering greater understanding among themselves and perhaps even within themselves.

There are a lot more decisions to be made.

In German edition the book was published in three parts: “Die Geschichte von Sofia”, “Die Geschichte von Uljana”, “Die Geschichte von Romana”.
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