Sunday, March 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian ‘Younger Brothers’ Proving More Mature than Russian ‘Elders,’ Shishkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 16 – Russians who have been accustomed since Soviet times to referring dismissively to Ukrainians as their “young brothers” must now face up to the reality that the Ukrainians are proving far more grown up and mature than themselves, according to Mikhail Shishkin, a prominent Russian writer whose mother is a Ukrainian and whose father is Russian.

            In an article in the Swiss newspaper, “Le Temps,” Shishkin argues that Russians and Ukrainians are truly “fraternal peoples” who share not only much in common culturally and historically but who are in many cases the product of ethnically mixed marriages like himself (

            Despite that, “Russia has for a long time treated Ukrainians and the Ukrainian language condescendingly,” he continues. On the one hand, Russians are in some ways delighted with Ukrainians for their vitality and other qualities. But on the other, they assume that Ukrainians “must listen to the elder, learn from him, and try to be like him.”

            But “over the last few months, which have changed the course of history, Russians have seen that Ukrainians are not like that at all. The ‘younger brother’ has turned out to be more mature than the elder. Ukrainians have been able to say to a government of thieves, ‘get out!’ but we haven’t been able to.” As a result, Russians are envious.

            “The democratic revolution in Ukraine began with a war against symbols: on the squares of the cities of the country fell the monuments to Lenin. Butwith us in Russia and in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, [these] Lenins remained on the squares and in [our] heads,” despite more than 20 years after the fall of communism.

             “Each people is a hostage of its symbols,” Shishkin continues.  “In Russia, St. Petersburg still is situated in Leningrad oblast, and [the country’s] super-modern train carries you to the city of Derzhinsk, which bears the name of the chief hangman of the country.  The life of people is defined by the symbols surrounding them.”

            Moreover, “whatever the ruling dictatorship has been – Orthodox, Communist and now again Orthodox – the [Russian] regime has always used patriotism for the manipulation of people,” the Russian writer says.  That hasn’t changed. Indeed, in the television propaganda of recent weeks, it has become if anything even worse.

            For the regime, war, “hot” or “cold,” Shishkin argues, is a means of keeping itself in power, and “for any dictatorship, enemies are manna from heaven” which allows the empire to continue to survive, although defeats like the one in Afghanistan “accelerated the death of the USSR.”

            One of his childhood friends died in Afghanistan, the writer says. People said that he had died “defending the Motherland.”  That is what we told his mother, but we had no answer to her tearful question: “What motherland? What motherland?”

            Moscow and many Russians do not appear to have learned the lesson of that war, Shishkin suggests, and “today we are confronted with a repetition of the same suicidal scenario.” Apparently, it is a law of life that “a dictatorship lives by a lie” about “invented enemies” and “dies when it begins to believe in its own lie.”

            It is painful to watch those who are waving the Russian tri-color and shouting “’Russia!’ with tears in their eyes,” he says.  As so often in history, they are being “used and betrayed.” Indeed, the path that Russia is following just now “will lead them to a police state” and further disaster.

            “The undeclared war with Ukraine,” Shishkin says, “is a good pretext [for the regime] in Russia to finally suppress an independent civil society and set up a harsh police regime.  Militarism, a hunt for internal enemies, a struggle with ‘traitors,’ and mass patriotic propaganda have already become our reality,” he adds.

            And he concludes by referring to Aleksandr Galich’s observation after the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.  At that time, the poet said: “Citizens. The Fatherland is in Danger! [Precisely because] our tanks are on foreign land.”  Tragically, Shishkin suggests, Moscow is making the same mistake again.

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