Sunday, February 2, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian Activism Highlights Russian Submissiveness and thus Infuriates Russians, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 2 – “Nothing so infuriates a Russian as does indisputable evidence of his own slavish submissiveness both in the east of Ukraine and in the post-Soviet state as a whole,” according to one ethnic Russian commentator, and thus Ukrainian activism has challenged the self-assessments of Russians and driven them out of their “comfort zone.”

            What the Maidan has done, Viktor Yadukha says, is divide people not between supporters and opponents of the Ukrainian protest but between “those who believe in the possibility and necessity of ‘achieving liberation by their own hand’ and those who don’t believe in that” (

            The latter, he continues, generally “believe in conspiracies,” a belief that allows them to feel about not taking action on their own behalf. “The more global this secret behind the scenes action is assumed to be ... the greater justification there is [in their minds] for sitting on the couch” rather than going into the streets.

            This is an attitude and approach that underlies all assessments of what is going on.  “Sooner or later, we Russians,” he says, “will have to become involved with the arrangement of life in our own country,” especially given its problems. “But how will we be able to do this if the archetype of national behavior is [someone] ‘who very much loves to talk back to the TV.’”

            It is important to note that ethnic Russians in south-eastern Ukraine haven’t pushed their own agenda or organized their own groups to push either changes within Ukraine or their own social issues.  Instead, they have “preferred to wait” for the bosses, any bosses to decide. “For these people as for the overwhelming majority of citizens of the Russian Federation, everything is decided in the capital.”

            On the basis of his experience in his native Sevastopol, Yadukha says, he is confident that “if Yanukovich falls, then the authorities and militia of south-eastern Ukraine will raise the black-red flags of the OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists]” and then be ready to move against those who had supported Yanukovich and been part of the anti-Maidan.

            Ethnic Russians wherever they may be are ready to follow orders, he continues, recalling the half-joking comment of dissident writer Aleksandr Zinovyev to a group of Sovietologists 40 years ago that the best way to defeat the Soviet Union was not to organize the populationbut rather to put their own person in as general secretary of the CPSU.

            “I don’t know why we [ethnic] Russians are this way,” he says, and whether the Mongol yoke, serfdom, 1917, 1938 or 1991 are to blame. “But it is obvious that the ‘Russian vertical’ presupposes the submissive subordination to any change of course,” however radical, for the boss is seen expressing “the will of God” and any opposition is “from the anti-Christ.”

            Among Ukrainians in the western part of the country, on the other hand, Yadukha says, people will immediately distance themselves from the capital if the capital does something they don’t like.  That means that “society here is more important than the corporations,” much like what one sees in the Caucasus but something one doesn’t see among Russians.

            That difference is “one of the fundamental distinctions between residents of the south-east and the west.” From this flow two conclusions: first, if Yanukovich leaves power, the country won’t divide because “the west and center will simply impose their will on the east; and second, and the different between residents of the southeast and the population of the Russian Federation is very small.  

            Yadukha’s argument is all the more persuasive because he says that he has no intention of “singing panegyrics” to the Maidan, although he is sympathetic to many of the things people taking part are protesting. His reason for holding back is simple: In his view, “for historical Russia, the victory of the Maidan would be the catalyst for its further disintegration.”

            But at the same time, he continues, he cannot make his peace “with the preservation of the extreme social injustice in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation” and he admires the fact that the Ukrainians are willing to protest when something bad happens, unlike ethnic Russians in Ukraine and Russia itself.

            “The authorities must fear the people, otherwise the people will be afraid of the authorities,” he says.  Ukrainians engage in activism so that their government will be afraid of them and take their views into account. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine and in Russia don’t and so remain in fear of those in power.

            “The active part of the residents of Ukraine do what they can and what they consider necessary,” but ethnic Russians “do nothing and cannot even imagine” themselves doing something on their own, unless their own bosses whoever they happen to be at any one time order it.

            And Yadukha concludes that as a result, no ethnic Russian in Ukraine or in Russia itself should be “surprised if after the victory of one of the sides of the conflict between ‘bandits and nationalists,’ the victor will not take their interests” as opposed to those who have been active “into account.”

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