Projects

Project: Profiles of Fortitude: An Oral History of the Clandestine Life of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, 1946-1989.

Historical Prerequisites for the Project’s Development

Among the many topics from the Soviet era arousing scholarly imagination is the history of the underground Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). From 1946 to 1989 the UGCC entered, adapted to, and ultimately lived a clandestine experience, in many respects unprecedented in religious history. Within a modern totalitarian society that made a concerted and systematic effort to control all manifestations of religious expression, the UGCC was able to preserve its structure, form two generations of ecclesiastical leaders, and maintain the implicit if not explicit allegiance of significant segments of the population.

From 1946 the UGCC was not only the most numerous banned ecclesiastical community in the world,it remained the only broadly based social institution in Ukraine to escape the control of the official Soviet establishment. In the late 1980s it emerged from the underground sufficiently vigorous to play a major role in the religious, political, and cultural arenas.

In due time the history of religion in Marxist totalitarian societies will be written in the traditional manner, using written documentation preserved in the still only partially accessible archives of the state security apparatus. However, the present moment offers the historian a unique and fleeting chance to gather oral material. Oral depositions cannot supplant documentation in answering certain questions, but they are irreplaceable in analyzing the mentality, institutional organization, and quotidian patterns of communities that diligently avoided creating and preserving potentially incriminating written records.

About the Project

Since 1992 the ICH has been developing a research and archive-creation project. The initiative focuses on systematically collecting and critically analyzing oral testimony about Ukrainian Catholic religious life in the underground. It conducts interviews with a broad range of Ukrainian Catholic clergy, religious, and laity representing three generations: the generation that reached adulthood before the end of World War II, the generation that carried unfettered childhood experiences of ecclesial life into the underground, and the generation whose encounter and association with the UGCC occurred during the clandestine period.


The Institute focuses on the biographical narratives of typical as well as outstanding members of the religious underground, the spiritual convictions that sustained them, and the means of preserving and transmitting Christian values in the family, community, and Ukrainian society in general. The Institute advances church history per se, using historical, theological, and social methods and criteria. It seeks to interpret the experience of the UGCC from an internal, ecclesial perspective, based on sources that reveal the inherent dynamics and mechanisms that over time maintained the Church’s vitality despite outside repression.

The methodological principles

The methodological principles of oral history have caused historians to turn their attention to previously neglected sources such as oral accounts, material culture, visual iconography, and numerical statistics. These sources call for appropriate hermeneutical principles.

Using the experience of oral historians and in consultation with specialists in Soviet religious policy the Institute prepared a series of comprehensive questionnaires addressing the circumstances of hierarchs, priests, religious, and laity, taking into account the diachronic change in these circumstances over the period from 1946 to 1989.

Sharing experience and Partners

To attract interest to the field and to foster the further collection of data, Institute historians have conducted academic seminars for students on the methodology of oral and church historiography at Lviv State University as well as at the LTA. At the Academy the seminar is mandatory for all fifth-year students (approximately 70 per year) who are required to conduct an interview in preparation for writing their seminar papers. In addition, the Institute holds the annual Kurylas competitions for the best interview on the UGCC in the underground which is open to all fourth-year LTA students.

To better address methodological issues, in September 1994, the ICH co-sponsored an international conference on the methods of oral history with the participation of 64 scholars from 17 countries.

Partners: The Institute for Historical Research at Lviv State University

Using modern technical achievements

Over the last two years the oral history project has attained a high degree of technological sophistication through the computerization of the entire archive. Two full-time computer programmers are designing a database that will contain the digitized sound of all the interviews, the transcriptions, and the scanned images of documents and photographs. These files will all be interconnected and will allow for instantaneous searches by researchers at the ICH and by those desiring controlled access through the Internet. It will be possible to search the archive for specific terms, dates, or names, for example, Josyf Slipyj. The program will skim the texts of all the interviews, find all references to Josyf Slipyi, and will copy the information into a file, along with the reference, a few lines of text before and after each reference. These extracts can be printed out separately or otherwise downloaded by the client. If so desiring the client will be able to click on to one of the extracts to hear the actual voice

A summary of the 10 years of activity since the project was launched

Interviews conducted 1487

Interviews were conducted on the basis of 10 different questionnaires with 150 questions each.
Every interview was placed in a separate folder, containing all the paperwork concerning the content and data processing. By 2005 the Institute of Church History is planning to increase the amount of interviews to 2000.

Interviews processed 1487

Processing includes:
– sorting the received materials into packs
– creation of the archive
– scanning and photocopying pictures, duplication of documents
– deciphering tapes submitted along with the interviews

Tapes recorded 2394

Every tape is a 60- or 90-minute cassette with a brief content description.

Tapes transcribed 2390

Transcribing involves a detailed (word for word) word-processing of the interview.

Stories edited 600

Editing is made on the basis of the accepted editing rules that provide for minimal deviation from the story, checking against the audio recording and standardization of punctuation.

Collected and arranged

photographs 5000

Every photograph submitted to the Institute of Church History is photocopied and scanned. In addition, the originals are also returned to the owner (upon request).

Documents 4000

The documents collection includes materials from the archives of the Communist Party, the KGB, Soviet committees on religion, as well as many personal documents, among which there are school diplomas, certificates of ordination, arrest warrants, prison sentences, deportation orders, search and seizure warrants, rehabilitation documents, etc.

Museum exhibits collected 200

The initial collection of museum exhibits includes:
vestments, sacerdotal robes, manuscripts, duplicated prayer books, and other religious books used in the underground.

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