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What kind of Russia do I love?

07 апреля, 00:00

What we need is a scholarly substantiated and ethically valid reconstruction of dramatic events, conflicts, and losses sustained by Ukrainians and Russians.Is this really possible in today’s Russia where history is being once again [re-] written in the Kremlin?

I love the European kind of Russia, where people can ask [all kinds of] questions and expect answers, where there is the universally accepted sort of conscience rather than some “special,” mythical one. I love the kind of Russia where all ethnic groups are duly respected, where people are convinced that truth is above Russia — to quote from Bunin — but not the other way around.

I remember Russia at the turn of the 1980s, when I studied there because, by will of Russia [i.e., the Kremlin rulers] a daughter from a dissident family was barred access to Ukrainian higher schools. I remember Russia’s opposition, all those writers and men of the arts. My most favored Moscow University lecturers were in opposition, to some or other degree. We would often communicate with them using glances rather than words. Those people knew and respected Ukraine — not as a “younger brother,” but as one of the victims of the totalitarian regime. Simply put, those people were part of the intelligentsia annihilated in the 1930s and in subsequent periods, people who had miraculously survived, unlike the victims who had been killed for the sole reason of being cultured individuals forced to live in a country where intellectuals were officially encouraged to be hated and persecuted by the plebs. Not so long ago, I heard from one of them, a lady who had decades ago taught me history and Italian. She asked if I would permit her to include my Russian translations from Proven al troubadours in her Proven al language textbook. It was just a game for me at the time, a student experiment dealing with medieval verification. What actually touched me was not the actualization of the experiment but her respectful attitude to me (now that we were colleagues on the same academic level), asking me about my Ukrainian translations, my work in Ukraine and Italy. To her I was not a khokhol [a derogatory appellation of a Ukrainian], just as she was not a katsap [ditto regarding a Russian] to me. We were identical, in that we were cultured individuals, so understanding each other was easy and natural. Or take another lady who taught me history and Italian literature. She remained a mystery to me, in a way, what with her poker-face silence. I met with her many years later, during a conference in Jerusalem. It was then I realized that this woman had to keep her Jewish parentage secret for years on end. There is her book about Moscow, in which she makes is horrifyingly clear that she will never turn to look back at Moscow because she doesn’t want to be turned into a pillar of salt, as in the biblical story of Lot.

Vis-`a-vis this crystal-clear gorgeous sense of understanding was another attitude which I would describe as ambivalent, mildly speaking. The young literati of Russia at the time were beginning to feel the dangerous burden of problem that were piling up in the relations between Russia and Ukraine. “We found ourselves in an embrace that was tight enough to make us hate each other,” one of them told me. There was that nice atmosphere with Russians singing their melancholic bard songs, reciting poems for hours; there was the euphoria of estrangement overcome. But then I told them that the difference between us and them was a gaping abyss. A Russian, one of your uncles who fought in the Carpathians [on the Soviet side] asked an old Carpathian: “Hey, old man, isn’t it good that we are here?” To which the old man replied: “Son, you and the likes of you are worse than Germans.” The brother of another Russian Liberal was then serving in the Soviet Navy. It was during the Solidarity period in Poland and the warship, where he was a member of the glorious Soviet crew, had its guns and missiles trained on Szczecin, a Polish city where my relatives live. Here is an abyss between [the two] peoples that cannot be bridged by skilled verbiage or good intentions. What we need is a scholarly substantiated and ethically valid reconstruction of dramatic events, conflicts, and losses sustained by Ukrainians and Russians.

Is this really possible in today’s Russia where history is being once again [re-] written in the Kremlin? And so there will be no dialog, understanding, or mutual forgiveness.

In the spring of 2007, the opposition newspaper Novaia Gazeta (The New Gazette) carried the latest work by the noted Russian historian Yuri Afanasiev, entitled “The Tragedy of the Triumphant Majority. Reflections on Domestic History and its Interpretations.” The author wrote about “the past, the live and mutilated one,” also about the myths and eulogies of Russia’s history on the part of its government as a means of making it legitimate. This legitimization was done not by election, well-being or social myth about a [prospering] society, but by rhetorical formulas [boiling down to] abstract grandeur, mystified acritical history. Reading these concepts pains one’s heart, for they [seem] so natural in the European context, packed with critical thinking, yet so unacceptable to Russia where Stalin appears to have been an “effective manager,” without paying any notice to the tens of millions of human lives he ordered cut short, people who vanished into thin air. It is true that Uncle Joe was an effective manager who ran a giant death factory. Afanasiev writes: “…a society denied historical memory is a society which is unable to fit into a certain tradition; consequently, it is unable to perceive itself in an adequate manner. In other words, this is a society that has to take shape as one, which is denied identity and which remains a settlement for the time being.”1 In other words, [what we have is] imperial, great-power Russia with its pompous Kremlin stage settings — or Russia with its xenophobia, racism, and all that Russian march music. This is Russia the way it actually is, without identity and consequently without a future. It was this kind of Russia that disowned its European nature but which never became Asiatic. What has actually changed over the past two centuries? Pyotr Chaadaev in his Philosophical Letters and The Vindication of a Madman pondered the sorry lot of “this impoverished Russia that has found itself lost somewhere on this earth.” He saw his Fatherland as “a hole in the clothes worn by mankind,” as a lasting “incompetent student of history.”

Chaadaev, Ryleev, Herzen, followed by Sakharov, Afanasiev, then [latter-day] various figures and stands, among them Politkovskaia, Novodvorskaia, Latynina, Kovaliov, Illarionov, Piontkovsky, Yevgenii Kyseliov. How about the Russians who collaborated with Jerzy Giedroyc and his Culture in Paris? Or take Natalia Gorbanevskaia and her friends who became known as the Big-Little Eight, and who held a rally on Red Square in Moscow, on Aug. 25, 1968, to protest the deployment of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia? Such people have always existed and will continue to exist.

Chaadaev was the first prisoner [of conscience] placed in a mental hospital because Russia’s system of coordinate did not provide for an individual of sound mind who disagreed with the existing political system, or who was not absolutely sure about Russia’s a priori grandeur. Gorbanevskaia was also a mental hospital’s inmate. Today we know about Vadim Charushev, St. Petersburg’s opposition Internet activist who generated the popular web group “Galina Starovoitova, your ideas are alive!” Among other things he disagreed with [Russia’s] official interpretation of what we know as the Holodomor. He was punished by being confined to Psychiatric Clinic No.6.2 That was not Chekhov’s Ward No. 6, but an entire clinic. One is reminded of these lines in Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman: “Now, city of Peter, stand thou fast,/ Foursquare, like Russia; vaunt thy splendor!”

There are many people behind many well-known names, some of them being little-known or remaining unknown, who are silently and persistently struggling for the European kind of Russia. Among them are members of the Project Memorial (http://www.memo.ru), people scattered all over Russia who are fighting violations of human rights, working hard to collect evidence concerning millions of Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Jews, Poles, and members of other ethnic groups who fell prey to the regime and its repressions (people who are exposed to official violence, as was the case in December 2008 when sturdy men wearing ski masks forced their way into St. Petersburg’s branch of the Memorial to sequester hard disks with archives). Another example is the Data Analysis Center Sova (http://www.sova-center.ru) that conducts consistent, systemic studies of nationalist and xenophobic trends in Russia. There are dozens of other data analysis centers that are actually Russia’s conscience/decency monitoring workstations. These few resistance environments communicate, flashing candles the way monks in Old Rus’ did who bent over parchments in time of plague and war. They are surrounded by the Iron Circle of Patriotic Resources (e.g., http://www.rossija.info) and faced with countless nationalistic organizations and their websites that propagate hatred of all that which is not Russian. To them, Russian spells imperial xenophobic, racist concepts packed with double eagles, even swastikas that are being practiced on an increasing scale in Russia.

I am aggrieved to ponder the solitude of these people who are faced with the fragile yet aggressive heads of the undying authoritarian Hydra. The West has helped Poland, its Solidarity, against governments, presidents, including the Pope, all the way down to the smallest [Catholic] parishes. At the time Europe was aiding Poland in every possible way because Poland was regarded as an inherently European country. Today’s opposition in Russia appears to have been thrown to the wolves. Opposition members in Russia are either assassinated or forced to flee to the West. They publish lampoons about Politkovskaia (God rest her soul), portraying her as a crook who won her Gamnius [a coinage based on govno Russian equivalent of shit] awards in the West. Even though the prominent French philosopher Andre Glucksmann wrote that Anna was morally rescuing the Russian idea in his foreword for the book Tchetchenie, le deshonneur russe (Chechnya: Russia’s Shame) that was published in France and Italy, but not in Russia.3 Everyone in Russia can learn anything about any pop/movie star and his/her daily — especially night — activities. Journalists from the West showed Politkovskaia photos to passers-by in Russia and they simply shrugged their shoulders, saying they didn’t know the woman. The names of opposition activists are on the lists of “enemies of the Russian people” — as was the case at the period of the Black Hundreds. These Russians have been abandoned by their Slavic brothers who ran away to Europe en masse and who want rid themselves of any belonging with the “Russian world” as soon as is absolutely possible. Poland is an exception from the rule, as usual, because Poles haven’t forgotten them. We have also abandoned them because we have our problems to cope with. The West has abandoned them because deep inside the West is convinced that Russia is not part of its cultural space. Therefore, it is best to have continuous Russian gas supplies than invest time and money in Russia’s democracy which is supposed to be evolving, albeit with such calamitous failures.

Yes, I love this kind of irrationally honest Russia. It is close to me with its open European way of thinking, intrepid attitude, bitter irony, reckless intellectuals who keep up their struggle even though doomed as they are in the coming kingdom of Ham [son of Noah] — to quote from Merezhkovsky. That kingdom came in 1917, largely as a result of antagonism between Europe and the Russian empire, and of the destruction of culture(s) for the sake of the state. It was this kingdom of Ham unleashed that burned down Pushkin’s mansion in Mikhailovskoie and that of Blok in Shakhmatovoie. Another poet, namely Mayakovsky, laughed at the dying Blok, writing that “Blok’s Russia was drowning all around him…” He went on to paint a disgusting portrait of Russia’s greatest lyric poet: “He would instantly change his visage / As he became more of a niggard, /He looked like Death at a wedding party. /They wrote from the village / That his library had died in a fire.” Poor Blok, he had invoked all those barbarians when he wrote: “Yes, we are Scythians, /Yes, we are Asiatic, /With slanted greedy eyes!” He had even prophesized the way these Scythians would act in regard to Europe: “We will step aside and vanish / In the forests and ravines / When faced with tidy Europe, / But then we will return / And show our snarling Asiatic face!”

Mayakovsky’s poem was entitled “Fine”! Too few Russian authors wrote poems and novels entitled “Bad!” Small wonder that Mayakovsky’s message — “Today you have/ To crash the world’s skull /With brass knuckles — ends with a call for killing whole peoples “in toilets.” Dictum fatum.

And so the kind of Russia I love is an alternative to this barbarous destruction of culture. Ukraine would have no problems with this kind of Russia (or if there were problems, they would be kept on a minimum scope). Ukraine would be able to get prepared for European integration unimpeded and Russia would renovate its state after two fiascos in the same century and would become an ally of the Western community of nations in meeting challenges of the modern world. Regrettably, there is no conditional mood in history.

There is another aspect. At times “politically correct” Ukrainian intellectuals say with a sigh of relief that they do not like Russian politics but that they like “Pushkin’s Russia.” Or take the “politically correct” Ukrainian (and not only Ukrainian) historians who tend to say that Stalin was a monster in human form, of course, but that the Russian people must not be blamed for his crimes.

In reality, everything is much more complicated. The drama of relations between Russia and Ukraine (also, Poland, Georgia, the Baltic States, all of Europe) has not started today. Europe was once a ruthless colonialist yet it always had its intellectuals who condemned their governments because of their colonialism. Among them were such giants as Montaigne, Montesquieu, Jane Austen, Yates, and Sartre. In Russia the situation was different. Pushkin was a brilliant poet but this did not prevent him from praising the vicious General Yermolov who killed so many people in the “brotherly” Caucasus. Pushkin wrote in the 19th century: “Resign yourself, the Caucasus, Yermolov’s coming!” Today he would have written, “Resign yourself, the Caucasus, Medvedev’s coming!” In his Prisoner of the Caucasus the poet eulogized a tsarist general who came “like black plague, /Humbling and destroying tribes…” It was nothing to be ashamed of, but a glorious period: “I’ll sing glory to that time /When, sensing bloody battle, /Our double eagle rose /To fight the rebellious Caucasus…” Pushkin was captivated by that general’s valor, so much so he asked for the honor of serving as his secretary. Lermontov, too, knew the Caucasus quite well because he served in the army there. He ruthlessly described the attitude to the Russians in the Chechen villages: “Their mothers’ lullabies / Scare their children with Russian names.” However, the poet thought it normal that “Like a savage beast the victor with his bayonets /Bursts in a peaceful home.” (From his poem Izmail Bey.)

The question is, Who is the victor and who the vanquished? Hundreds of years have passed and the conflict is still there. In contrast, the slave-holding America and colonial Europe have embarked on the great Integration Project, but only because within this civilization there was a different concept, one of respect for other peoples, their cultures, and peaceful coexistence, that kept growing stronger and maturing. They have had to pay a dear price for this evolution and its results have not always been gratifying, yet results they have. May this is the reason behind Russia’s aggressive attitude toward the West, which at time verges on paranoia? Official Moscow is hardly likely to expect NATO to attack Russia; at the same time it cannot help realizing that the Russian version of the integration project has suffered its final fiasco. So perhaps it is time they [in the Kremlin] stopped pretending and set about getting prepared for a “small-scale victorious war” for the benefit of the “population” — people for whom the victory of the Russian army is more important than their children’s future — and who will know for sure that they have no adequate health care, schools, and living standard because of some mythical “traitors” with which this worlds appears to be packed, and not because of inept governance. Somehow [Russia] has few “true friends” left that can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Today’s [Russian army] generals, descendants of characters like Yermolov and Paskevich (who crushed the Warsaw uprising in 1830) apparently haven’t read the Russian literary giant Count Leo Tolstoy. If they read his Hadji Murad they would remember these lines: “The mosque was polluted in the same way, and the Mullah and his assistants were cleaning it out. No one spoke of hatred of the Russians. the feeling experienced by all the Chechens, from the youngest to the oldest, was stronger than hate. It was not hatred, for they did not regard those Russian dogs as human beings, but it was such repulsion, disgust, and perplexity at the senseless cruelty of these creatures, that the desire to exterminate them — like the desire to exterminate rats, poisonous spiders, or wolves — was as natural an instinct as that of self-preservation.” This is horrifying evidence providing by a Russian writer (which, incidentally, did not prevent him from propagating entirely Messianic ideas in regard to Russia): unwillingness to treat other peoples as equals finally made those other people regard the Russians as not fellow humans, but “creatures.”

Russian bayonets forced Poland to make a “lasting friendship” treaty with the empire. Vassiliy Zhukovsky, who played such an important role in Taras Shevchenko’s life, wrote in a poem under the innocent title An Old Song Written in a New Manner: “What do we care for your palisades? / We will need no ladders, / We will pierce them with our bayonets / And will climb using our bayonets.” Of course, Tiutchev’s solemn iambic verse was indispensable. He wrote in his poem In Memory of Warsaw Conquest:

“Just as Agamemnon brought this daughter /As an offering to the gods, / Asking the indignant heavens/ For the breath of fair winds,/ So we, over woeful Warsaw, /Have struck a fateful blow, / And at this bloody price we’ll buy/ Russia’s integrity and peace.” It’s OK, says the poet in these reconciliatory lines from the same poem: “Believe the word of the Russian people: / Your ashes will be preserved by us in sanctity…” In other words, Poland had no choice but say thanks for such “brotherly concern” — after all, Russia would preserve Poland’s ashes “in sanctity.” We know about such brothers from the Scriptures, their names are Cain and Abel. Tiutchev’s lines “And at this bloody price we’ll buy/ Russia’s integrity and peace” might well have been motto of Russia’s last (or maybe the latest) campaigns in Chechnya and Georgia.

Certainly not all shared such views even then. Aleksandr Turgenev was critical about such patriotic rhetoric, ditto Ryleev with his Ballads and Voinarovsky, ditto Petr Viazemsky who commented on Pushkin’s Prisoner of the Caucasus to the effect that a poet must never become an accomplice to a hangman. Even Aleksei Khomiakov, one of the founders of Slavophilism, was disgusted by what he described in his ode In Memory of the Polish Revolt as “This senseless shame of enmity/ Upheld by generations…” However, he also wrote these lines: “A poet’s inspired vision /Already shows an age of miracles… /He sees Slavic eagles /Fly proudly and daringly /To the blue skies /And above the Universe, / But they all bow their proud heads /Before the senior Northern eagle…” Either way, Russia’s double eagle is portrayed as superior. This bird of prey can act as it pleases.

Shevchenko knew that the Caucasus (Colchis) was that Prometheus whose flesh was ravaged by a double eagle. Mickiewicz in his Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) wrote that St. Petersburg was built on the blood and tears of Ukrainians and other peoples because the Russian empire regarded those peoples as “tribes,” “aborigines” or at best as worthless “infidels.” Meanwhile, poets in Russia’s province saw rebellious peoples emerge on its boundless horizons; they saw them as the future of the nation — precisely because such backwater provinces of the empire were European historical realities. Tiutchev wrote in his poem The Mind’s Unable to Fathom Russia...: “Russia is a thing of which / The intellect cannot conceive. /Hers is no common yardstick. /You measure her uniquely: /In Russia you believe!” Chaadaev specified: “Looking at us, one may assume that the law binding on the human race has been canceled in regard to us.”4

It suffices to only a couple of these quotes to realize that one should not have any illusions. The old adage about a people that has the sort of government it deserves holds true. Ukraine is no exception. Therefore, it is hard to split a national reality into a “guilty” regime and an “innocent” people. Any people is guilty simply because it produces and then puts up with a sort of government which is its political portrait. In the case of Ukraine, the road to Europe is made harder because Ukraine’s European identity remains to become mature. Yet this is our road. Russia’s antagonistic attitude to the West is explained by the fact that the critical mass of European culture in Russia is still too small to radically alter the course of events.

The website of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Italy in Ukraine5 reads “Blank page” in the column “European Part of Russia.”

Nevertheless, now that the European code of Russian culture has been subject to purposeful destruction for so many years, we have to demonstrate endurance and continue to love the European kind of Russia. This love must not be in words but in deeds; we must treat Russia with care, consideration, and solidarity. Russia is now worse off than Ukraine. In Ukraine, divided by the European and Soviet Russian codes [of culture], the former will be consolidated, its scope expanded, and the latter will slowly but surely become extinct because of its hopelessly archaic nature and lack of intellectual concepts. Russia is divided as so many unstable and incompatible identities that also exist in different cultural-temporal dimensions. There are “The Children of Genghis Khan” in the “Third Rome’s” Byzantine gas prospects, along with racists hunting down the churka “wogs” — members of Russia’s darker-skinned ethnic groups of the Caucasus and Central Asia — in an empire that was created by conquering non-Russian peoples over the centuries. This is a show for an audience with strong nerves. Sooner or later, it ends with a tragic musical entitled Nord-Ost. One can only hope that the modern European code will become future Russia’s consolidating basis. This is the only option for carrying out the integration project — not as one of subjugation using force or assimilation, but as one of willful coexistence of free peoples.

Let’s face it: there are few hopes for this option. Russia is still under the illusion — the way it was three hundred years ago — that external factors will help it solve its domestic problems. Norman Davies wrote that Russia has consumed territories, afflicted by its political bulimia, and does not know how to dispose of them now. Russian passports have stopped being issued in South Ossetia — as was the case with Transnistria. It is now another “independent country” that has been recognized by Nicaragua, Hamas, Hezbollah, and which is going to be recognized the pirates in Somalia. People have been used, then tossed down a political, economic, and legal abyss. Then what? The Crimea? Books appeared in print in Russia, in the early months of 2009. They describe hostilities in Ukraine and their titles speak for themselves: 2010 War: The Ukrainian Front; Wars between Russia and Ukraine; Independent Ukraine: Project Failed; This is Our Final and Decisive Battle. All this is from a resume of Georgii Savitsky’s book Battlefield Ukraine: Broken Trident. OK, suppose Russia occupies Ukraine (although its military experts say their most forbidding missile Bulava fails in seven out of eight launches). Will this help Russia stop its economic decline, now that the indices are being compared to those back in 1941? Will it help pay the debts to the banks in the West that amounts to half a trillion dollars?6 Will it help fill Russia’s drugstores with enough medications (considering that three-quarters are imported drugs)? Will it help stop the catastrophic demographic crisis, what with experts saying that by 2080 Russia’s population will have dropped t0 38 million? However, the worse the situation gets, the more guilty parties are found, all of them outside Russia for some reason.

Now this is Russia’s actual tragedy. Previously its intellectual forces — even if imperial-minded —could work on the “Russian idea.” There were people like Bezborod’ko (although from Obukhiv but spelled the Russian way, of course), Uvarov (with his “autocracy, Orthodox spirit, and popular roots”). They spoke French at home, in the royal court; they also read books. Now we have latter-day “defenders” of Russia falling from trees like rape apples or pears during a storm. We have enough of them, and to spare, also [some] regions of Ukraine. At best, this “Russian idea” has been given to people to use it who know next to nothing about the problems of modern civilization.

This situation is mirrored in Ukraine. Honestly speaking, it is hard to like the kind of Russia that prides itself on its cartoon-like representations in Ukraine. We have pensioners hurling eggs at the Mazepa statue in the Crimea, anathemizing him; we have all those “sons of the people” who keep shouting about giving Russian the official language status while quietly robbing their country clean because they do not love it, among other things, using the loot to build villas in the hateful West. We also have agents provocateurs with their writings about federalism and Ukraine’s “lasting rift,” which is the brotherly Kremlin’s cherished dream (when the “brother’s fund come to an end, the same happens to these writings). We have extremists vandalizing Holodomor monuments or the National Emblem of Ukraine on top of Mt. Hoverla. We have “academicians” who are former KGB colonels and generals who write books about the NATO aggressor, the enemies in the accursed West, and about “Orange traitors,” filling in the conceptual gaps with impotent venomous verbiage. All these are markedly inept managers of the Russian idea. People who, among other things, are unable to understand that such rudely forceful way to instill love of Russia produces exactly the opposite result. And so there is an increasing number of people in what can be described as Ukraine’s expressly pro-Russia’s region who are outraged by such actions on the part of Russia. People who drag themselves out of the haze of narcotic drugs, who start traveling and reading books, begin wondering about Russia’s brotherly love: why its leadership is acting in such a condescending manner in regard to the neighboring countries; why Ukraine should listen to them say whether or not it should head for Europe; what Russia can offer Ukraine in return, barring gas blackmail and the consequences of Soviet misery.

In a word, various forms of anti-Ukrainian politics are poisonous discharges from post-totalitarian catacombs that are no good for Russia as the mastermind or Ukraine that appears to consume these discharges. Where can you hear statements as offending to one’s language, culture, and nationality as in Russia that addresses them to Ukraine, Poland, and Georgia? Where else can you hear hysterical accusations of hatred of Russia in response to an analysis of [the existing] problems? Critical analysis does not spell hatred, it is an inalienable right vested in every human being. Not coincidentally, Ukrainian language periodicals are often barred entry to Donetsk and Kharkiv oblast, as well as the Crimea. Any kind of censorship, restriction is a sure sign of elementary fear. Such responses do not signify Russia’s strength (and its fifth or even tenth column in Ukraine). They are proof of its weakness, political, intellectual, and ethic inability to offer essential answers to questions concerning the critical aspects to its relations with the neighboring countries.

There is the altogether different matter of Russian-speaking Ukrainians — or ethnic Russians — who live in Ukraine and are aware of themselves as its full-fledged nationals, as part of Ukraine’s civilization space. Here we will spend years building a culture of communication. Of course, there are such things as pluralism and tolerance. They are part of science which far more complicated than the techniques of Golden-Horde-like raids on neighboring tribes. However, people [who have this knowledge] can be identified. To quote from an excellent Kyiv journalist, they have “the same blood group” as we do, because the demarcation line is still there: ability or inability to thing along the European lines, concerning ethos or coexistence ruled by the law of mutual respect.

One more, sad, aspect. All these political priorities are consuming our time and occupying our space, in terms of simple human aesthetic emotions. One can love Chaliapin singing from Massenet or recitals of from Akhmatova and Mandelstam, scenes from Stravinsky with Diaghilev, Russia’s drama school, The Master and Margarita, the Russian language (naturally without its latter-day slang). However, the bulldozer of Russian culture keeps attacking the Ukrainian turf with such aggressiveness, with so much noise that these voices are no longer heard. All we hear is an adequate music accompaniment to this roaring bulldozer: vulgar pop art and ex-convict’s chanson.

Russia’s totalitarian system kept destroying not only ethnic cultures, but culture as such, in all its authentic forms and dimensions. Russian culture was no exception. The result is Russia’s current ethic and intellectual catastrophe. God willing, Russia will overcome it, and this will benefit the neighboring countries, as well.

What is there a rank-and-file intellectual can offer to resist all this, considering that he was offered a “room” in a Solovki prison camp yesterday and today he is offered a table in a corner of one of Genghis Khan’s political stables? History shows, however, that it is European history with its ideas of European revolutions, ideas of freedom, equality, and fraternity (real, not imaginary). These ideas will eventually reign supreme — as do books and the sense of solidarity and dignity.

Bulat Okudzhava sang about the solitude and solidarity of intellectuals under the totalitarian regime: “He who raises his sword against our union / Will get the worst punishment, / I wouldn’t wager a broken guitar/ For his life. / Our age is all out / To find a missing link /In our chain, / Friends, let us hold hands, /Lest some of us get lost and die alone…”

Every time I visit Poland I love the moment the conference ends and the Poles gather and start singing. They sing Ukrainian, English, Polish, Italian, Belarusian, and Czech songs. They also sing Russian songs — ones by Okudzhava or Vysotsky. They do because Poles — whom Tiutchev branded as a “false civilization,” one that would inevitably perish — rose from the ashes that Russia promised to preserve “in sanctity” (courtesy of Tiutchev) and then dealt with that double eagle in a way he would remember long afterward. They had been part of Europe and then returned to Europe. I believe that all peoples that broke free from that double eagle’s claws will love the kind of Russia without “Russian march songs,” but with a younger generation that will eventually grow instinctively fond of singing Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, and Georgian songs. This won’t be a hired accompaniment to a [New Russian’s] banquet but something people will do because they will feel like it, being part of Europe where various people are held in equal esteem.

Today it is hard to believe that this will ever happen. Chaadaev offered his final conclusion: “Everything in Russia — moods, manners, education, even freedom (assuming that it can actually exist in such an environment — is branded by slavery.”7

There is another quote, this one from Natalia Gorbanevskaia, that offers us a ray of hope: “… there was a period when it seemed that a thousand-year Bolshevist Reich had been established in Russia. We know, however, the thousand-year German Reich collapsed after 12 years. The Bolshevist one, regrettably, outlived it and poisoned more people. We have to live and force this venom out of our system. Be that as it may, I believe that man has it in himself to struggle for freedom and not succumb to slavery.”8

End of quote. Alas, not the end of the problem.

1 http://www.yuri-afanasiev.ru/tragedy.html.

2 http://www.rferl.org/Content/Russian_CyberOppositionist_Forced_Into_Psychiatric_Clinic/1511080.html.

3 Cf. A. Politkovskaja. Tchetchenie, le deshonneur russe (pref. A. Glucksmann). — Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 2003 (Italian version.: Cecenia. Il disonore russo. — Roma: Fandango Libri, 2003).

4 P. Ya. Chaadaev. “Articles and Letters” — M., 1989, p. 47 (in Russian)

5 http://www.ccipu.org/russian/news-russia-occidentale/index.php.

6 http://www.inosmi.ru/translation/247911.html.

7 Chaadaev. Ibid. P. 203

8 http://www.novayagazeta.ru/st/online/259740/

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