Borsch & Bulgakov ours, Brezhnev & Bolsheviks theirs: American propaganda is driving Ukraine’s ridiculous cultural battle with Russia


Ukraine has gone from making an attempt to scale back utilization of Russian, and banning or curbing media and artwork utilizing the tongue, to now accusing Moscow of monopolising and culturally appropriating every little thing from Borsch to the author Gogol.

You would possibly snort at nonsense debates like ‘Kyiv or Kiev?’ or whether or not Mikhail Bulgakov was Russian or Ukrainian, however, like most tradition wars, what appears to be simply minor and foolish fixations masks bigger existential questions on the way forward for the nation.

Thus, now we have an odd scenario the place Ukrainian info warriors are waging a marketing campaign to have the borsch beetroot soup labelled underneath their flag, however haven’t campaigned for Leonid Brezhnev, arguably probably the most highly effective Ukrainian who ever lived, given he ran the Soviet Union at its peak. Meanwhile, the reminiscence of Nikolay Gogol (or Hohol, as they’re making an attempt to rebrand him) is coveted by many in Kiev, however there isn’t a name to establish with or to honour Ukrainians reminiscent of Bolshevik firebrand Leon Trotsky or ex-KGB chief Vladimir Semichastny.

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Another curious omission is Nikita Khrushchev, who grew up in Eastern Ukraine and started his political profession within the nation. This is even though this well-known son of the Donbass gifted Crimea to Kiev.

There can be an exterior ingredient. The US, as an illustration, has recognised that the political battle in Ukraine is basically a battle between conflicting cultural identities and nationwide identities. Instead of specializing in the commonality between rival cultural identities to achieve stability, the US has grow to be an lively contributor in a proxy tradition battle to comprise and confront Russia.

Ukrainian nation-building 

After greater than a thousand years of shared Russian-Ukrainian historical past, it’s no small problem to organise relations between two distinctive and sovereign states. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: “It is useless to tell Ukrainians that we all descended, by birth and spiritually, from Kiev, and it is just as useless to expect Russians to recognise the fact that people beyond the Dnieper River are different.”

The shut historic relationship between Russians and Ukrainians represents a double-edged sword for Ukraine because it lays the inspiration for a fraternal bond, but the historic closeness may also undermine Ukrainian sovereignty. If there aren’t any variations between Russians and Ukrainians, then what makes Ukraine an unbiased state? Case in level, when Crimea reunified with Russia, Ukraine misplaced about 75 p.c of its naval personnel that voluntarily defected to Russia or give up. It ought to subsequently not be a shock that the cultural identities of Ukrainians vary from visceral hostility in direction of Russia to those that query the necessity for 2 separate states.

The battle for the way forward for Ukraine is basically a battle to regulate the historic narrative, tradition and nationwide identification. Historical narratives and identities are largely primarily based on the story of the unique individuals and the shared struggling and victories. The Eastern Slavic identification views Ukraine as a bi-ethnic, bi-cultural and bi-lingual state, and the best home risk is ethno-cultural nationalists. The ethno-cultural Ukrainian identification presents Ukraine as a single and distinct ethnicity, tradition and language, and the best home risk derives from the Eastern Slavic Ukrainians who protect the russification of Ukraine as an imperial legacy. How can a typical nationwide narrative and identification be reached?

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Ukrainian nation-building entails discovering widespread floor and avoiding being outlined by excessively divisive questions:

Is Kievan Rus the widespread civilizational cradle of Russia and Ukraine, or does Ukraine monopolise on the historical past?

Was the Pereyaslav Agreement in 1654 a reunification of Russians and Ukraine that led to greater than three centuries of widespread statehood, or a Russian annexation of Ukraine?

Was the Holodomor famine the results of failed insurance policies by a Georgian dictator or a deliberate “genocide” by Russians?

Were Stepan Bandera and the OUN fascists and Nazi collaborators or “freedom fighters”?

Should the widespread Soviet historical past be celebrated or condemned? Is Russia a brotherly nation or an imperialist neighbour?

Nation-building requires discovering a center floor and avoiding winner-takes-all positions the place 51 p.c of the nation will pursue nation-building insurance policies which can be perceived by the opposite 49 p.c as dismantling the nation. The widespread place and supply of unity has been the popularity of sovereignty. Ukraine should assert itself as a particular political entity that’s completely different from Russia, but not outlined as anti-Russian.

A divided Ukraine in a divided Europe

Nation-building is innately linked to region-building. How can Ukraine escape the double-edged sword of being traditionally near Russia with out imperiling its sovereignty? The apparent resolution is to diversify Ukraine’s relations. By solely cooperating and integrating with Russia, Ukraine would danger resentment and instability in its western areas. Similarly, solely cooperating and integrating with European and American powers will likely be insupportable to Ukraine’s jap areas. Furthermore, Russia is compelled to behave if Ukraine positions itself as an American/NATO frontline towards Russia.

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Ukraine initially adopted a impartial path by sustaining shut hyperlinks to Russia, but avoiding extreme reliance on it by additionally connecting with the opposite centres of energy. In the times of President Leonid Kuchma, this ambition was outlined as searching for a “return to Europe with Russia.” On the eighth anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, Kuchma argued that Ukraine’s “European choice” couldn’t entail that Ukraine “turn our back on our neighbours, on our own past, which connects us to them.” Simply put, Ukrainian nation-building was reliant on avoiding zero-sum decisions between East and West.

Unfortunately for Ukraine, European integration has been superior in a zero-sum format. The West rejected the idea of a Greater Europe in cooperation with Russia, and as a substitute pursued a Western-dominated Europe to be organised underneath an expansionist NATO and EU. For Ukraine, this translated right into a zero-sum civilizational selection between the West and Russia. In late November 2013, the EU rejected Kiev’s proposal for a trilateral EU-Ukraine-Russia settlement that aimed to protect Ukraine’s inside cohesion and forestall it from turning into a geopolitical battleground. A divided Ukraine had to decide on sides in a divided Europe and the predictable penalties ensued.

Proxy tradition battle

The political-media institution within the West superior the narrative of a Ukraine standing united in its Euro-Atlantic ambitions, which is crushed by an evil and imperialist Russia. The instant downside with this Manichean story is that it deprives many Ukrainians of company by demoting them to devices of an alleged Russian “hybrid war.” A key initiative has subsequently been to make use of the enduring battle to strengthen the ethno-cultural identification vis-à-vis the jap Slavic identification.

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The Atlantic Council, a mouthpiece for NATO, aptly notes that the tradition battle is an area for political competitors. Welcoming the identification politics of Ukraine, the Atlantic Council argues that Ukraine’s cultural revival since 2014 has counteracted Russian “hybrid warfare.” The Atlantic Council recognises the worth of contesting the historic narrative of Russia being a successor of Kievan Rus, and even encouraging overseas media to vary the English spelling of Kiev to Kyiv in solidarity with the ethno-cultural nationalists. The US Senate handed a decision that outlined the Holodomor famine as a “genocide” towards Ukrainians, whereas the fascist hyperlinks of varied influential Ukrainian teams are downplayed. Yet, the Atlantic Council believes that the best nation-building achievement has been the decoupling of the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Church.

In probably the most Orwellian method, the US helps the purging of opposition events and media underneath the auspices of preventing Russian “hybrid warfare.” Never thoughts that these are long-standing Ukrainian opposition events and Ukrainian-based/Ukrainian-owned media channels. By denying company to Russian-speaking Ukrainians, the banning of the Russian language in books, films and different works can be in step with the US approach to Ukrainian nation-building. The daring ambition to sever a millennium of Russian-Ukrainian cultural connection to create a brand new geopolitical actuality has made the US an keen participant in a proxy tradition battle.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed on this column are solely these of the creator and don’t essentially symbolize these of RT.