Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Lands Between: Conflict in the East European Borderlands, 1870-1992 by Alexander V. Prusin

Alexander Prusin's "The Lands Between" offers an excellent synthesis on the bordering territories that have seen so much death and destruction in the twentieth century.  Similar to Kate Brown's "A Biography of No Place" and Timothy Snyder's "Bloodlands," "The Lands Between" looks at contested territories between the former Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empire that have today been Balkanized into some dozen nation-states that in some cases continue to struggle with their national identities.

Unlike the two previously mentioned volumes, which mainly concentrate on the Kresy area or some artificial time period and "bloodland," Prusin's text is more all-encompassing.  He provides greater context and a more nuanced narrative that while overlooking some aspects of the history he's covering (it would take numerous volumes to do justice to this topic) nonetheless offers readers an in-depth analysis of the socio-economic, political and national questions that newly created polities and their inhabitants struggled over in order to find their place in Eastern Europe.

The most interesting chapters deal with the First and Second World War as we see the numerous factions vying for power in what became the Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic states.  Thus, for instance, in the lead up to the Second World War Prusin offers an in-depth analysis of Polish actions when it came to handling their minorities (Jews and Ukrainians), dealing with the growing power and threat of Nazi Germany, and taking part in the transformation of Central/Eastern Europe through 1939.  The Ukrainian nationalist movement is also well covered and their evolution and transformation from their beginnings in the shadow of the Russian Revolution offer a cautionary tale of what to avoid in attempting to create a national identity.  These two groups, Poles and Ukrainians, would in the lead up and during the Second World War take the wrong lessons from the idea of self-determination and aim to alter the national character of territories they deemed rightfully theirs by waging ethnic cleansing campaigns that took the lives of tens of thousands.

For those interested in an alternative to Snyder's "Bloodlands," which is just as "bloody" but an altogether better synthesis, I would highly recommend Prusin's "The Lands Between."

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