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History in The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub

July 28, 2013
Makhno photographed in exile

Makhno photographed before his death in Paris

Andriy, one of the characters in The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub, fights in the Makhnovist peasant army: a Ukrainian cavalry-based guerrilla force that in 1919 briefly controlled an area about the size of England. The history of the Makhnovists – like the biography of their leader, Nestor Makhno – is an extraordinary one, but what most interested me was the relationship between these peasant soldiers and the Mennonite colonists that then lived in South-Eastern Ukraine. While in one set of histories the Makhnovists are remembered for their daring-do and their struggle for social justice, in another set of histories they are remembered as vicious and degenerate bandits. At the time I was researching this period for Thrub, no attempts had been made to appraise or reconcile these conflicting histories, and so I tried to summarise some of what I read here. Well, I’m pleased to say that Sean Patterson’s thesis on this topic, The Makhnos of Memory: Mennonite and Makhnovist Narratives of the Civil War in Ukraine, 1917-1921, is now available to read online. It’s excellent and thorough scholarship that in its scope and rigour far eclipses the existing histories of Makhnovist-Mennonite relations. I don’t necessarily agree with all his conclusions, but I heartily recommend this thesis to anyone wanting to read more about these violent times.

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