2024 John and Margaret Friesen Lectures - Revisiting the Mennonite Experience in Ukraine (2 videos)

with Dr. Nataliya Venger, Professor of History and Chair of the World History Department at Dnipropetrovsk National University, Ukraine

The 2024 Friesen Lectures are unified by a geographical context and dedicated to understanding the history of Mennonite communities in Ukraine. Addressing diverse themes from distant historical periods, Ukrainian professor Dr. Nataliya Venger provides listeners with the opportunity to immerse themselves once again in the unique world of Mennonite history in both a remote and more immediate historical perspective.

Lecture 1 | Mennonites and the Romanov Dynasty: Loyalty and...Impasse

The engagement with monarchy played a crucial role in the shaping of the political culture of Mennonites across different periods of their history. As their historical experience showed, the patronage of the monarch and the accompanying privileges served as sufficient conditions for the successful development of communities in a multi-confessional environment. In 19th century Russia, which was undergoing a period marked by both modernization and the nation-building processes, Mennonites faced a new challenge, namely Russian society, a political entity that acted unpredictably and often independently from the traditional institution of monarchy. This required Mennonites to compromise and partly led to a shift in their patriotic focus.

Lecture 2 | The Mennonites 'Return' to Ukraine: Dialogue with Lost and Regained Motherland

The Mennonites, who lost their Ukrainian homeland due to political and religious repression during the 1920s–1940s, preserved memories of their past for several decades. Their "return" to Ukraine became possible only in the new political realities when the country gained independence. While the initial visits were merely expressions of nostalgic tourism, that return quickly evolved into a socially active phenomenon involving elements of public diplomacy and philanthropy, fostering cooperation and mutual enrichment of cultures. It was crucial for the Mennonites to reintegrate into the public and historical context of Ukraine. They initiated significant commemorative projects, driven by a sense of duty to their ancestors and their former homeland. This "return" to historical memory helped the ethno-confessional group address its longstanding social trauma resulting from the loss of their homeland and the unjust policies imposed by the Communist regime.

Dr. Venger is Professor of History and Chair of the World History Department at Dnipropetrovsk National University, Ukraine, and a visiting professor at Canadian Mennonite University and the University of Winnipeg, and sessional instructor at the University of Manitoba.

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