A Man Much Missed: Remembering Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky

November 2014
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This brings us to the third part of this memoir, which is my personal encounter with Ivan. I did not meet Ivan in person until 1977, but I was very aware of him from 1970. Two people directed me to his writings. One was the friend of my youth, also a mentor, Roman Solchanyk. He introduced me to the journal Suchasnist', which I loved to read, and pointed out to me the occasional essays that would appear there under Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky's signature. We both thought they were super, and I can recall to this day how excited I was when an entire collection of Ivan's essays was published by Suchasnist' press in 1973 (Mizh istoriieiu i politykoiu). My only disappointment was that some of the chapters were reprints of texts I had already read. I just could not get enough of Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky. My doctoral supervisor, Professor Roman Szporluk, was also a great fan of Rudnytsky. He had spent a summer with Ivan at Stanford University and frequently reminisced about how wonderful it was to converse with this man of extraordinary intellect. Professor Szporluk, referring to Ivan's predilection for the smaller genres of scholarly discourse - essays and reviews rather than book-length monographs, rightly said that Ivan Rudnytsky could say more in one book review than certain other scholars in whole books. And as Professor Szporluk guided me towards my doctoral thesis topic, which would concern the origins of the socialist movement in Galicia, it was apparent that Rudnytsky had authored the seminal works for my project, particularly his unsurpassed survey of the history of Ukrainian Galicia under Austrian rule and his exposition of Drahomanov's political thought.

I first met Ivan in the flesh in 1977, at a conference on Galicia held at Harvard, at the Ukrainian Research Institute. I was just finishing up my thesis at the time. Not long before the conference I had applied for a job at CIUS, of which Ivan was then associate director, and the job was to help Dr. Rudnytsky with teaching and historical research. So when I met Ivan for this first time, I also felt I was being informally interviewed. I was totally surprised by Ivan's appearance and manners. I had known him only through his writings. I had imagined a man of pure intellect, not of flesh, surely an ascetic. Instead, I found this somewhat portly, very friendly gentleman, who talked and moved at an unhurried pace. He was very nice to me, and I do not know how, honestly, but somehow I made a decent impression on him. In the end, in July of that year, I was hired on by the University of Alberta on a one-year contract.

From my arrival in Alberta in fall of 1977 until Ivan's death in April 1984, we were close friends. We had one stormy moment (when Ivan vetoed my proposal to teach a course on Marxism in the History Department) and I sometimes groaned under my work load, but mainly we were the best of friends. Surely in Edmonton in those years, I was Ivan's closest friend apart from his wife. He liked to talk to me. Most days we would spend an hour or so in conversation. Sometimes I tried to avoid this because I had so much work to finish.

What were our conversations like? I will mention first that we conversed exclusively in Ukrainian. Since my first language was English and I only learned Ukrainian as a teenager, and since I have always found it easy to read but hard to speak foreign languages, our regular conversations did wonders to improve my Ukrainian. The setting was his office (the very room in which I am composing these memoirs). He would sit behind his desk smoking his pipe, and I would be in the chair opposite him, across his desk. He always led the conversations. We often talked about Ukrainian history. We had some different perspectives, since he was a conservative and I was a Marxist, but we also had a lot of common ground in our assessments, values, and standards. I of course learned a great deal from his reflections. He also told me many interesting anecdotes or details about the past. Perhaps in an allusion to our own friendship in spite of political differences, he used to remark that one of his intellectual heroes, Osyp Nazaruk, who started as a radical in his youth but then converted to conservative monarchism, used to play chess regularly in a Lviv café with Liudvik ("Chornyi") Rozenberg, a culturally Ukrainianized Jew who had fought with the Ukrainian Galician Army, became an activist in the Communist Party of Western Ukraine, and later led the (minuscule) Ukrainian Trotskyist opposition in Lviv. (He was murdered by the NKVD in 1940.) Such tidbits were a regular feature of his conversations.

But we probably spent even more time on general cultural matters. Ivan would ask something like "Have you ever read Iris Murdoch?" And if I hadn't (and I usually hadn't), then he would bring me a book the next day, which I would read and we would later discuss. I had been lucky to have a very good education prior to arriving in Alberta, but Ivan was able to identify many gaps in it and to show me new and interesting things. I read much under his influence. His tastes were wide ranging. He might one day give me a novel about a detective in Tang dynasty China (Judge Dee) and another day Robert Graves' historical novel of ancient Rome, I, Claudius. He gave me I, Claudius and its sequel in connection with a BBC television series based on the novels. He also urged me to watch the television series, which I did. Ivan had a genuine interest in television. If belonging to the Skoropadsky movement was a sin of his youth, watching the TV series Dynasty with his wife was a sin of his old age. But one time when I visited him at his house, I found him sitting in his study listening intently to Bach, who moved him profoundly. (A highly cultivated gentleman, Ivan also had an earthy humor. I think his two favorite Ukrainian sayings, judging by how frequently he used them, were "х.єм маку не втреш" and "на безптиччі і срака соловій". He was certainly not a crusty, dried-up old man. He enjoyed life in its every aspect, high and low.)

In our conversations he would also outline what he was working on at the moment. This was always interesting to me, since he accompanied every project he undertook in cognizance of its wider context. He would discuss his approach to a subject, the significance of the subject, the previous discourse on the subject, and his understanding of it. I read his drafts with pleasure. He also discussed with me his administrative responsibilities and challenges. He was associate director of CIUS from 1976 to 1979. In the latter year he had a falling out with the director, Manoly Lupul. It was a very difficult time for him. The crux of the disagreement was that Ivan felt he needed more time to work on his projects and Manoly felt that he wasn't working fast and effectively enough. Each was at least partially right. But if Ivan was not working fast enough, there were good reasons. He was a careful thinker and careful writer. He mulled over his work. The result, of course, was that he produced texts that stand the test of time, that are still relevant and instructive decades later. And there is another aspect to Ivan's slow production methods that is important to underscore. If Ivan had not read as widely and voraciously as he did  in English, several Slavic languages, German, and sometimes French, he would not have had the ability that he did have to understand the moments he studied in Ukrainian history within a wider European and indeed universal human context. That breadth of vision differentiated Ivan's texts from many others produced within the context of Ukrainian studies. He was not a production-line historian - he was a serious thinker.

Ivan was warm and sociable. He and Alexandra often hosted evening parties at their home. I believe I was invited to all his social gatherings. Good food, moderate drink, intelligent and lively conversation - it was like a salon. I have many pleasant memories from these events. Ivan invited interesting people, mainly scholars and the more educated community activists. I actually first met the couple who were to become my father-in-law and mother-in-law (Michael and Alexandra Chomiak) at the Rudnytskys. I remember some heated arguments too, for example between the historians Janusz Radziejowski and Paweł Korzec. Always, however, the presiding presence was Ivan’s - gentle, convivial, cultured.

Composing these recollections has been a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, I have remembered with pleasure a good and loyal friend of days gone by. On the other hand, this remembering opens a wound, recalls a painful loss. I at least hope my efforts help to bring to life the personality of this distinguished historian of Ukraine. He taught me a great deal. I admired him very much. I loved him very much. I miss him very much.


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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka