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Ukraine Is Not Russia. She Cannot Become One, Can She?

Ukraine Is Not Russia. She Cannot Become One, Can She? © depositphotos/Tijuana2014
About the main lesson of Maidan protest movements, the war, and casualties

In 1933, Osip Mandelstam wrote 16 lines that later cost him life. This is about “We live without feeling the country beneath our feet.”

We live without feeling the country beneath our feet,

our words are inaudible from ten steps away.

Any conversation, however brief,

gravitates, gratingly, toward the Kremlin’s mountain man.

His greasy fingers are thick as worms,

his words weighty hammers slamming their target.

His cockroach moustache seems to snicker,

and the shafts of his high-topped boots gleam.

Amid a rabble of scrawny-necked chieftains,

he toys with the favors of such homunculi.

One hisses, the other mewls, one groans, the other weeps;

he prowls thunderously among them, showering them with scorn.

Forging decree after decree, like horseshoes,

he pitches one to the belly, another to the forehead,

a third to the eyebrow, a fourth in the eye.

Every execution is a carnival

that fills his broad Ossetian chest with delight.

This poem, of course, wasn’t published by the author anywhere. It was retold – and someone told on the poet, who was later accused of “counter-revolutionary activities” notwithstanding that his authorship was never proven. Still, Mandelstam was sentenced to five years of exile in Siberia. In 1938 he died in a transit camp in Vladivostok.

Something similar is happening in Russia now. Theaters close performances and erase the names of authors from posters. This happened, for example, with writer Boris Akunin and his play about Erast Fandorin. “I do not condemn those theaters that are forced to adapt to the thickening state madness. Engaging in culture in today’s Russia is arduous, like swimming in sulfuric acid,” he reacted.

Artist Sasha Skochilenko faces 10 years in prison for changing price tags in the Perekrestok store for stickers with information about the developments in Ukraine. The trial has been lasting for almost a year now, and at one of the meetings, as evidence, the prosecutor presented a protocol of inspection of her “home, computer, trousers and hat.” It is not clear what the prosecutor considered extremist in a fox muzzle hat.

And this applies not only to persons of culture. Now, in any word “no” to a person endowed with at least some authority, the ruscist (Russian fascist) authorities hear “Glory to Ukraine!”. In general, at an accelerated pace and ahead of schedule, the establishment of a Stalin-type state is going on, where repressions, snitching, loyalty and this sort of stuff are cherished. And that’s bad. But let's be honest. Who suffers from this regime? For the most part, those who lived quietly, served, and at in the best case tried to ignore Putin’s regime.

Russians’ resentment of their government after February 24 “does not count.” Their reaction, often expressed in the form of fleeing the country, is in fact a reaction to the regime now dealing with them. And before, when it was creeping to affect the few oppositionists, they simply didn’t care. One could laugh and squint with pleasure, for example, at how Putin dealt with the far from saintly Boris Berezovsky. Now, when all the oligarchs have been made show their loyalty to the regime, somehow, it doesn’t feel funny at all.

I have absolutely no moral right to say that Akunin or Skochilenko are guilty of something before the Ukrainians. Or that their sacrifice is inevitable and deserved. In no case. Personal liability is not subject to the rules of collective irresponsibility. And this does not justify Putin’s regime. This sadist, who endowed himself with a pseudo-historical mission, must be and will be punished. But it is also impossible to turn a blind eye to the fact that Putin is a product and reflection of the Russian mainstream. The majority wanted him to become like this – and he became one. He was allowed to do so. The question, of course, is who let him. Without pretending to provide a complete answer, I will admit that these were silent and indifferent Russians, as well as opportunists, imperialists and foreigners who shy away from the conflict.

There was simply an idea that he would be “great and terrible” in relation to someone else, but not to those who made Putin as a trend possible. But it turned out that the driver of the asphalt skating rink is not going to bypass anyone.The silent ones were taken into the army, being turned into “cannon fodder”; opportunists were forced to kiss the ring as a sign of fidelity, as in the mafia; the imperials went crazy in their ideological frenzy. And no one dares to think about the future. Why? Because here it is, pretty close: a legless drunk dude in camouflage, trying to take another three-step height.

We can always justify ourselves. Explain our cowardice to ourselves. And if there are many such explanators, then cowardice is no longer a vice, but a “feature”. And the Russians, I reckon, will go exactly this way. Putin will die and the regime will fall. Of course, I would like it to happen faster, but this is how it will turn out. Still, people will remain, and their memory will begin to play tricks on them. They will suddenly remember that they “survived the regime” and “persevered”. That they “overcame their ‘37 (the Great Terror in the Soviet Union).” And, perhaps, they will even slightly attribute to oppositionality of being.

Our post-war path is waiting for us. We really like to think that we have some special freedom gene that distinguishes us from the Russians. It’s not entirely wrong. Much depends on conditions and time. Replace television discord with a telethon; close parliament from the people and let it calmly adopt what no one will criticize; delegate authority to a person who is not responsible and whose position is not higher than the average clerk in terms of status. And let’s see what happens: censorship, closeness and illegitimacy of power, corruption. And it’s not that far from existence of the only correct opinion. This stage is practically next to imposing the one and only “correct” party.

Of course, our gene of freedom/spirit (you can call it whatever you like) works at some very critical moment and we do not allow an authoritarian regime. Passionaries do not allow it. Two Maidan protest movements are evidence of this. The Heavenly Hundred is a terrible testimony to this. But the inability to build a country and be included civilly between the Maidans already feels critical. If we also consider the war, then we are standing at the point of no return –we will either develop, being re-born, or collapse due to our own stupidity.

Therefore, it is also vitally important for Ukraine to notice what is happening inside the state right now, forcing the government to correct what it should correct. Including corruption, authoritarian encroachments, when all decisions, having replaced the government, are made by the president’s office, etc. If we allow another accumulation of problems, the country may simply no longer remain.

Our society in its civil development is an order of magnitude higher than the Russian one. Over the past ten years, historically, we have experienced much more. And that is why we are so strong in our external manifestation, fighting the aggressor, but still so fragile inside. One can win the war but lose the country.

Of course, we are now thinking about completely different issues. Negative theoretical scenarios for the defeat of Ukrainian democracy as one of the results of the victory over the racist autocracy look forced and far-fetched. Let it be. Still – as Nietzsche wrote: “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.”

By the way, about Mandelstam. Officially, his rehabilitation happened only in 2017. It was done based on the decision of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation. Should a couple more years pass – and there would be no rehabilitation. Retroactively, the poet would have been found guilty of committing a crime under Art. 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Public dissemination of knowingly false information about the employment of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, the exercise of their powers by state bodies of the Russian Federation.” And imprisoned for five years. Posthumously.

Read this article in russian and Ukrainian.

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