Removal of the „Russian order” from Ukraine

Rev.: Лариса Якубова, «Рускиц мир» в УкраЇні: на краю пріри, Київ 2018

The influence of the war declared against Ukraine by Moscow obviously triggers deep awareness processes in both societies, the attacked one’s as well as an aggressor’s. According to the Ukrainian sociologist Larysa Yakubova, Russian aggression is the result of very deep identity problems that Russia is experiencing after the fall of the Soviet empire. Aggression at the same time accelerated the identity processes in Ukraine in a fundamental way.

The Soviet period deeply devastated the social fabric in both Russia and Ukraine, which is why identity issues after the collapse of the Soviet Union created huge problems for both societies and in mutual connection.

The Ukrainian sociologist refuses to explain these complicated processes by referring to some distant past only. It differs from many researchers (including Polish) who use „historicism” treating it as a sufficient method (recalling the myths of „Third Rome”, Panslavic ideas, Eurasianism, etc.) to explain today’s Russia. Yakubova stands consistently on the ground of sociology and seeks explanations in the present. He also sees great historical narratives as a product of the present, and not as a production of an uninterrupted tradition.

What happens after 1991 in her interpretation, above all, is a reaction to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Communism left behind itself a chaos and a destruction. The societies that gained independence, faced not only the issue of economic and system reforms, but also the questions of cultural and mental identities. The answers given to these problems by Russia and Ukraine were completely different. The Russian answer was related to the recall of antiquarian imperial patterns.

For the failure of reforms towards modernization in the nineties (carried out superficially and without conviction), Russia rebounded with the concepts of „Russkiy mir” (this should be translated as „Russian order”, which I will continue to do) and the almost messianic theory of Russian civilization and Eurasianism. Yakubova notes that the sources of such theories do not lie in some deeper past, but their authorship is relatively new from the historical point of view. They appeared in the works of Russian authors, supporters of the fallen tsar, after the First World War. Elevated mysticism was a response to the complete disintegration of traditional Russia. These theories for a long time were for obvious reasons rejected by the Bolsheviks, and it was only with time, through the use of authors such as Lev Gumilov, that they began to penetrate to Russia, in which the approaching fall of communism widened the identity void.

In Ukraine, the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union launched different processes. At the moment of gaining independence, the question about the shape of the Ukrainian identity was very open to all. The nation-building process was restarted. After the defeat of the „Ukrainian revolution” in 1917-1920 in the times of the Soviet Union, it was in some way interrupted. This „break”, it should be noted, was not complete. It is worth recalling Ihor Yekelschyk’s „Soviet memory”, where he indicates that the Russian-Soviet manipulations on Ukrainian consciousness were often counterproductive from Moscow’s point of view, and the process of creating Ukrainian consciousness was progressing in spite of everything.

It is obvious, however, that a very long period of domination (also related to russification) should leave deeper traces. In the period 1991-2014, the political authorities were unable (or unwilling) to undertake hard and flammable identity issues in an intense way and they were left largely by running things. This favoured the build-up of internal tensions. A good example of this is to leave open the issue of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, which tried to appropriate Moscow for itself. It was only the year 1995 and the events at the Sofia Square connected with one of the funerals, that revealed to the authorities the existence of a problem which, however, after its superficial averting, was not taken seriously. The Ukrainian Orthodox issues came back with increased intensity more than twenty years later.

Shortages of state policy were also created by nationalistic temptations and related simplified answers to questions not taken by the authorities. The author claims that the basic dilemma was the choice between a state and ethnic identity concept and clearly inclines to the statement that the state concept of collective identity is a more appropriate solution in a country as diverse as Ukraine. Yakubova notes that the majority of societies were characterized primarily by passivity, which was briefly interrupted May 2005 and for good by Maidan and Revolution of Dignity 2014. These events radicalized and provoked identity issues and to some extent were not a reaction. Russian intervention and aggression only accelerated awareness processes, giving them a strong intensity.

Ukrainian sociologist discusses the often-quoted hypothesis of „two Ukraines”, which symbolized the opposition of Lviv-Donetsk. In Poland, it is often invoked thanks to Mykola Ryabchuk’s brilliant essays. Lviv and Donetsk symbolized two different centres of crystallization of Ukrainian consciousness. As part of the opposition, the Lviv centre is based on historical and traditionally national patterns, while, according to the stereotype, the Donetsk consciousness was to be a weak feeling of “Ukrainianness” and be closer to the Russian consciousness. Hence, in the image of Moscow, the Donetsk pole of Ukraine was to be a natural part of the „Russian world”.

The author seems to deny this view of the matter. She believes that in both cases there is a Ukrainian national-raising process, however, going different ways. In particular, it draws attention to the effort, less well-known and appreciated, Donetsk intellectuals and the academic centre.

The concept of the „Russian world” assumes the existence of local ethnic identities (with their folkloric culture deprived of a political component), which, however, are subordinated to leading Russian imperial culture and Russian language. It is supposed to be slow, but finally full assimilation to the „Russian order” (during the Stalinist period they were not so much assimilation attempts as genocide acts carried out above all on cultural elites). The society of the current Russian Federation has, to some degree, retained this structure. The domination of ethnic Russians and the atomization of other groups allowed for a slow but continuous and continuous expansion of the „Russian order”.

Also, at the moment of regaining independence, Ukraine was a largely atomised society, where local identities had an advantage in many regions over national or nationwide identity. It was a remnant of a long-term presence within the empire. This allowed Moscow to presume that from such a fragmented society it would be possible to tear off significant parts of it and regions, and this „second”, „Donetsk” Ukraine seemed ready to embrace the „Russian world” and „Russian order”.

Yakubova shows how wrong was the assessment of the situation on the part of Moscow. The Russian intervention, stylized as a bottom-up social movement, was to prove a close regional link and local awareness with the „Russian world” and thus demonstrate the viability of this myth. He was to allow joining Russia deprived of the supposedly stronger identity of the regions (this was the meaning of the general project of Novorossiya). Meanwhile, the Russian intervention changed into aggression caused an opposite reaction to the expected one. It became a strong social mobilization with a national awakening advocating Ukrainian identity and against the „Russian order.”

The language issue has been the centre of Ukrainian-Russian relations for a long time. The Russian-speaking were opposed (and thus taken or suspected of porosity) to Ukrainian-speaking (ukrainskomovnyye) people. Ukrainian identity was allegedly shaped almost exclusively in the Ukrainian-speaking environment. Yakubova provides many proofs of how far such a stereotype does not correspond to reality. She shows how great was the effort of the intellectual elite Donetsk and Luhansk to form their version of Ukrainian consciousness, different from that of Lviv, but not conflicting with it. The Donetsk and Russian-language literary school played an important role in this process. Yakubova indicates, among other examples, a book of manifesto of Donetsk writer Olena Stepova „Все будет Украииа!” (Russian title of the original) published in the prestigious Kiev publishing house „Duch i litera”. She recalls important names of Donetsk literature as Volodymyr Rafeyenko (who is both Russian and Ukrainian-speaking writer), Olga Strashkina, Luhansk journalist Valentin Torba, or such grass-roots projects of social activities as „Boyevyy Surzhyk” or studying Ukrainian variation of the Russian language. The academic work of such sociologists as the Donetsk sociologist and researcher Ilya Konenko also deserves to be mentioned.

All this has become the reason for the total failure of the „Russian world” in eastern Ukraine. Where it was supposed to be hybridically installed, the social reaction rejected him as in Kharkiv or Odessa, and only the use of brute force allowed for it’s expansion as in Donetsk or Luhansk. It is symbolic but also significant that there are no meetings at the Shevchenko monument in the occupied territories, considering that the Soviet Union was trying, and even quite effectively, to „assimilate” the Ukrainian bard, making him the founder of Ukrainian folklore.

However, the defeat of the „Russian order” in eastern Ukraine is more than a regional defeat in the Ukrainian identity. It reveals the more serious difficulties of the concept of the „Russian world”. The Russian Federation wants to be entirely „Russian world” and according to known, own definition „a nation of many nations” (national minorities account for over 20% of the population of the Russian Federation, with a much higher than average demographic growth). Since „Donetsk” has mentally escaped from the embrace of the „Russian world”, the natural question is whether similar processes do not take place in other parts and regions of pseudo-federation. The „Russian world” has no special charm, and the western world, and perhaps the Chinese (for the Far East in the FR), may seem incomparably more attractive. Yakubova do not develop these thoughts, but her work suggests them.

The „Russian world” must continue to violate itself, but it may turn out that the “nations of one nation” will begin to regain their own identities. There are not just few potential participants of such an identity renaissance, regardless of how much it seems unlikely today (the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union seemed no more probable in the mid-nineties). However, it is worth mentioning Yakutia, Buryatia, the Idel-Urals region, the North Caucasus or Manchuria, and indeed the whole of Siberia, to realize how difficult it will be to head Moscow to maintain a colonial empire tailored to the nineteenth century.

It should be added that the failure of the „Russian world” described by Yakubova occurred in the „Russian-speaking” area (it is undoubtedly that a large part of eastern Ukraine is Russian-speaking on a daily basis, despite the progress of a mild „Ukrainisation”). This makes Moscow’s Moscow defeat the more serious and indicative that although it has spectacular successes in the disinformation war, it may lose the war of consciousness and the identity war (which is signaled by the „war on Orthodoxy”). The Russian-speaking Ukraine knows Russia much better (culturally and intuitively) than the vast majority of Western kremlinologists or Central-European experts on Russia (often so much hating Russia that it is proclaiming its omnipotence). Traditional Russian studies also inherit the majority of disadvantages of old Sovietology (or worse kremlinology), which is related to excessive concentration on the Kremlin, as the centre of power, insufficient analysis of social relations, nationality issues and situations in individual regions, vagueness of analysis of economic issues (no interest for matters of stratification social), lack of attention for deeper intellectual currents and less visible tendencies of changes in mental and artistic life or, finally, lack of diverse scenarios of the future of the Russian Federation (present only as a dispute between optimists and pessimists).

Although Ukraine cannot afford to finance such large think tanks dealing with Russia, which are possessed by richer Western countries, Ukraine is capable of no less deep and often more sober analysis of the situation in Russia. This is determined by special knowledge and experience with Russia gained in times of domination, natural Russian-language and, above all, current political need.

For the observer, reader of the Ukrainian discourse, the book „Removing the Russian order from Ukraine” makes Larisa Yakubova one of the most interesting personalities in the row of such interesting analysts as Ilya Kononenko, Oleksandr Hrytsenko, Ihor Todorov or Ihor Rushchenko. It proves the revival of Ukrainian sociology and should be translated into Polish as well as into English as soon as possible.

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