AA: Anna Avdeeva
MS: Maryna Shevtova
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AA: Hello. Today we’re going to continue our talks on Russian invasion and Russian war in Ukraine. Today’s podcast will mostly focus on nationalism and nation building in Ukraine. So Russian invasion, as it was called by the Russian government, a special military operation, was reasoned by and aimed to denazificate Ukraine. Since 2014, a long way of preparing this operation and this framing was done, Russian mass media discussed the rise of nationalism and nationalistic movement in Ukraine and portrayed it as this threat to the Russian speaking population of Ukraine. Today, I would like to discuss and dismantle this trope of the Russian propaganda together with Ukrainian scholar Maryna Shevtsova, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, a senior FWO fellow at Leuven, Belgium. Maryna, hello.
MS: Hello, a nice thing for having me here today.
AA: Could you please provide a little bit more background on your expertise, in order to get acquainted with our listeners?
MS: Yes, of course. So, probably it would be fair to say that nationalism is not exactly my field of research. However, I do work with nationalism studies from the perspective of a feminist researcher who works on the topic of LGBTQI and feminist movements in Ukraine in Eastern Europe, particularly in Georgia and in Moldova. I’ve been working for years on the Europeanization of human rights in Ukraine and in Georgia and in Turkey also, which is not Eastern Europe of course. In the last couple of years I started working more on the resistances that emerged against certain progress that was achieved for LGBTQI community, LGBTQI rights.
Not surprisingly, those movements of course are, among others, right wing nationalist groups and parties. But also of course some religious communities. But since I’m Ukrainian and I’ve been living abroad for quite some time, of course I’ve been also asked, starting from 2014, ‘13, when Euromaidan protests were in Ukraine, I’ve been asked a lot about Ukrainian nationalism, Ukrainian fascism even by my colleagues or by people I just met. So, I couldn’t help but of course dig deeper and learn something about right wing movements in Ukraine already then to be able to give some informed answers to such things.
AA: Maryna, I would like to start with rather general questions in order to provide more information to those who are unfamiliar with the subject. Could you please tell us more about the Ukrainian nationalism, understood widely, and the specificity of national ideas and national movements in Ukraine after the collapse of the USSR and since Ukraine obtained independence finally from the Soviet Union?
MS: Uh huh. Thank you, this is a wonderful, but at the same time extremely complex question. It cannot be answered in ten minutes. But one thing I would like to stress today is that there is no such thing as homogenous Ukrainian nationalism. I think it is pretty clear to anyone with the ability to think critically, because Ukraine is a huge country, well the biggest in Europe. If you look at Ukrainian history, how Ukraine was torn up in different parts and parts of it belonged to the Russian empire, parts of it belonged to the Ottoman empire, parts of it belonged to some European empires and states, so it’s also mixed. Then during Soviet times, of course there were various processes of people migration and mixing ethnicities and so on. So we have very diverse population, and the same applies to nationalism.
Of course there is this mythical or artificial idea of this Ukrainian nationalism, which is widely used and instrumentalized in media, trying to say that there is some abstract fascist groups in Ukraine. I’m saying abstract not because there are no neo-nazis or no right wing radical groups in Ukraine, but rather how it is presented. That there is some mass that is presented as something big, something radical, and something similar to nazis or party fascists in nazi Germany. However, if we look deeper, or if we try to look a bit at the map of Ukraine and the demographics, then very broadly I would say: first of course we have, so to say, academic or scholarly or activist nationalism, which is quite moderate. It is rooted in dissident movements and movements of Ukrainian... I don’t like the word nationalism here, but probably it is the one that should be applied.
So scholars who were resisting Soviet regimes, those who were trying to preserve Ukrainian language and tried to preserve the reading of Ukrainian history the way it was written by Ukrainian scholars and those who aspired to see Ukraine as an independent state, whether they imagined it as a bigger or a smaller country. So those people of course, they are mostly active in the scholarly circles, and what they do is, they write and publish books, they go to conferences. So definitely they are not in the parliament and they are not those who Russian media portrays or imagines speaking of Ukrainian nationalism. But this is this group that exists, and this is the group that is, for example, now behind the Ukrainization and revising of Ukrainian history, Ukrainian history textbooks. The ways in which Ukrainian history is being taught abroad in Ukrainian studies departments and so on.
Then of course we have right wing groups. Those are actually not really large groups. They are very similar to the groups you can see in many other European, western countries across the world. So it is often young men who are full of energy and they are led by someone with radical ideas. Unfortunately very often they have this very vague understanding of Ukrainian history or Christian values that they also usually say that they are promoting. So they portray as their enemies usually such things as LGBTQ people, Roma people, feminists, whatever is related to gender. Those groups are easily manipulated if there is, you know, such a will. I would be happy to also discuss this deeper and how these groups are being used.
Then we have some political forces who define themselves, or groups that define themselves as nationalist parties. They don’t have much support among the population. Also I would say that those are in a way more moderated, especially recently, than these groups of hooligans on the ground. So at least by words, they do condemn violence. But their position is that Ukraine shouldn’t be neither with Russian nor with the European Union, it should be an independent state and you know, this... But it’s, I would say it’s populist nationalism or populist right wing nationalism, because they don’t have a clear program, clear agenda, it’s just like for all Ukrainian against all not-Ukrainian. So these are these large groups that existed before Euromaidan and before the invasion, the full scale invasion that is going on now. But of course, if we talk about Ukrainian nationalism in the last eight years, it became more diverse and more spread because not surprisingly, once the country faces an enemy from outside, the rise of nationalism or popular nationalism is quite a natural thing.
AA: The talk of nationalism actually is impossible without talking of the colonization in years of the post-socialist countries. Here I wonder, at what stage is the process of decolonization in Ukraine right now? Is it anti-colonial nationalism, is it hybridity? How would you characterize the current state of affairs?
MS: Uh huh. Yes, thank you again for the question. So, the first thing to mention here probably is that there is no agreement among the Ukrainian scholars themselves whether, you know, what is the approach to what is going on now, and whether to look at, in general, at Ukraine from this post-colonial perspective. The main reason for that is that when we speak of colonies and when we speak of colonization, it often implies that the bigger countries that came, or the richer countries, you know, the bigger and richer countries that came and colonized the other country or state or people, it is seen as more developed, as more advanced while on one hand of course conquering and exploiting the population. But also it often comes with more developed, I don’t know, science, literature, civilization bringing new instruments, technologies and so on. This is not exactly what happened with the situation of Ukraine and Russia. It is important for the Ukrainians also to stress the period of great civilization and the cultural and economic developed of Kievan Rus, which you know, was there much earlier than Moscow appeared.
At the same time, of course, the processes, these relations between two peoples or two states, Ukraine and Russia, they do resemble what happened in this post-colonial context. In the sense that Russian literature, Russian culture, Russian civilization for years, due to the consequences of first Russian empire owning parts of Ukrainian territories. Then afterwards Russia being this big brother next to Ukraine, being a richer country, or having these richer cities as Moscow and St. Petersburg, where many Ukrainians could go to work or to study at the universities. So there was this feeling of Russian language being the language of educated people. All the books coming from the West first would be translated to Russian language, and then all the movies were dubbed to Russian and were coming from Russia to Ukrainian cinemas. Pop culture, movies, series, so this all for years created this kind of, I would say, hybrid relationship between Ukraine and Russia and how Ukrainian people felt, most of them. This is what probably these Ukrainian scholars, nationalist scholars were trying to fight, and to prevent this condescending attitude towards Ukrainian language, Ukrainian literature.
I still remember how Ukrainian literature was taught to me at school, it was a very selective process and Ukrainian history was seen through this literature as a history of poor peasants struggling for some means of survival. Nobody told us that for example Lesya Ukrainka was feminist, about the great ideas of Olha Kobylianska, about various views of (-) [12:47] had apart from fighting only, solely like aristocracy or you know, rich people. So, this all started changing, of course with Euromaidan, even though some changes started even earlier with the Orange Revolution. But I would say Euromaidan was this pivotal moment when it was for Ukraine a civilizational choice. Ironically, it was actually pushed by Russia. Because there was this illusion that Ukrainian people who came to Euromaidan, and for those listeners who may not be that familiar with the situation, Euromaidan was a governmental protest that took place, started in late November 2013 and then continued for months. So the reason to start was that the Ukrainian then president, Viktor Yanukovych, he was basically trying to sit on the chair because Russia wanted Ukraine to join the customs union. The EU proposed an association agreement, and those two are mutually exclusive.
So, when Russia pressured the Ukrainian government into not signing the association agreement, the government withdrew their consent and they said, now we need a pause. The excuses were like, the EU is trying to make us legalize same-sex marriages in Ukraine and so on. There was this small group of people who, mostly students, who came to protest. It was a really small group. But then the Ukrainian security forces, following the orders of the government, they did these students up. And then the next day, the protests started. I was then in Germany and I remember that the reaction of Western media was that Ukrainians came to show their support for the European Union, that the Ukrainians want to join the EU. However, the sociological surveys and research that was conducted then, and there are many great pieces on Euromaidan, actually show that most of the people were there not because they wanted to join the EU. Not that they didn’t want, but it wasn’t their motivation. Their motivation was to protest against the actions of the government, that the government cannot, firstly, be violent towards peaceful protesters, but also for years the government was corrupt. The government was not transparent. And then the protest was successful in the sense that the government had to flee the country.
But that’s when the Russian, the annexation of Crimea happens and when Russia brings its troops to Eastern Ukraine to support separatists in the region of Donbas. This is when I would say the rise, this new rise of nationalism starts, because that’s when we saw clearly this enemy coming from the outside. I could say as a last illustration, to give you space for a question, is that I’m from Dnipro. Dnipro used to be a better Russian speaking city and still is a very Russian speaking city. I never heard people speaking Ukrainian in Dnipro until then. In 2013 when Russian troops were in Donbas and when Crimea was annexed, Dnipro overnight turned super patriotic. You could see Ukrainian flags everywhere. It was such a unanimity in a sense that we don’t want to be part of Russia. Our oligarchs, actually, re-channeled money to buy weapons, to buy ammunition, because Ukrainian army then was in horrible condition, and put block posts around the region not to let Russian troops enter. Ukrainian oligarchs from Dnipro were going to Kharkiv where there was another example, so to create what was created in Donetsk and Luhansk, so people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. So there was an attempt to do the same in Kharkiv, and it was thanks to efforts and the negotiations of oligarchs from Dnipro who actually talked to powerful figures in Kharkiv not to allow this to happen. So, this nationalism is still very fresh, I would say, and it’s been shaped and reshaped. Of course the situation with war doesn’t help in the sense that it’s growing, and it’s not always growing in ways that probably we would like it to grow. But (--) [17:34].
AA: It’s really interesting what you say because it brings a lot of new questions about Ukraine nowadays. First of all for me as a gender studies researcher and a sociologist who has been focused on practices and studying the practices for a long time, I wonder about identities. About citizens, how citizenship, nationality, ethnicity, language are actually entangled. Because being critical to myself, I understand that it really wonders me how it works, since I am Russian and my ethnicity is citizenship, language, like they are in line. While I see that it might be much more difficult, so I wonder how it works in Ukraine right now with all these categories and how people reassemble them for themselves. What is the result of these huge processes, and what is the impact on, like, laypeople in Ukraine right now?
MS: Oh, that’s another complex question for which we could talk for hours. I would say that... So, one important thing of course is that in Ukraine, you don’t have that many, so to say, ethnic Ukrainians because of the Soviet heritage. So of parents and grandparents, of many friends of mine, they would study in the Soviet times in the university and then there was this distribution of young professionals, right, to other cities. People would go to earn money to, let’s say, to Russia, to southern parts of Russia, or people would move from Belarus to Ukraine for some reasons. You had a lot of Poles, you had some Tatars, of course the Jewish community and all those nationalities and ethnicities were mixing. And so among my friends, of course in some regions the situation might be a little bit different, but most of us, we... When we really start discussing our ethnicity or who our parents are, we would say, oh, I don’t know, in my case I’m quarter Polish, quarter Russian, quarter Belarussian, and quarter Ukrainian. I used to hold this, you know, that this multiple nationality or multiple ethnicity is very dear to myself. I liked that, and I didn’t like to define myself earlier as Ukrainian. I was saying always that I’m Slavic, that I have all these roots in different countries.
However, with what was happening or what has been happening, for many people to say “I’m Ukrainian” became kind of a political stance, the same as speaking Ukrainian. I think it’s also now not the time for many people, it’s not the time for reflections. Unfortunately for some people it’s never time for reflections for various reasons, it’s not always their fault, right? But now, it’s like, the list of what they reflect upon. It’s rather now, so I think for many people who were in Ukraine when the war started, like the second stage, the full-scale war started, for them to say that “I’m Ukrainian” became a kind of, for some time at least, umbrella identity, you know? I don’t think that they do reflect now on this, like how much of Russian blood or Polish blood is in them. And the same with the Ukrainian language, so for example I was talking to my parents, and this is also what I hear from friends. I read it even on Facebook. People choose to switch to Ukrainian, especially in the public sphere, as a political stance. So either speak Ukrainian or English, not speaking Russian. In a sense it’s okay, well we will figure the things later, we can speak maybe Russian at home, if we’re still not completely comfortable speaking. But in the public sphere, we will manifest this identity.
This is partially also this response and reaction to accusations of nationalism, and this attempt to denazify Ukraine. As if now many people actually feel the urge to be more nationalist than they used, than they were before. And this is interesting, this also will bring us in the future many problems in the sense of, I mean, inevitably Ukraine is predominantly a white country. But it’s not of course completely white. There were always questions of how Ukrainian are people with different skin or, you know, slightly different ethnicity. They don’t disappear now. This will come back later. Also, we already have this conflict among refugees even. It is clear why, because people are stressed, because people are traumatized, so some people say, don’t speak to me in Russian, even to other Ukrainians. I don’t want to hear that you are... So, it’s taken as an insult. For other people, they maybe want to speak Ukrainian but they are so tired, their Ukrainian is not so good. Because in some places if you didn’t have Ukrainian as a first language at your school, and then you live in a Russian speaking area. It has never been a problem, that’s the thing, so you could live in Ukraine perfectly well without speaking Ukrainian. You just needed it probably to fill in some documents but for that basic knowledge would be enough.
So now, it is turning into a little bit of a problem. Because as always, when it is this martial law of course, when you have this, people who are at the age of, you know, being exhausted, there is adrenaline. Now, whatever can be the trigger, and Russian language can be the trigger. I mean, we have the same story with German. But of course in Soviet Union, people didn’t speak German mostly, but we have this very long history of then feeling... I mean, I remember I dated a German guy at the university and I remember, we were talking with a friend of mine that he’s such a nice guy, but when he speaks German it feels uncomfortable. Because in all the movies, with which we grew up, all the bad guys were speaking German. In all these Soviet time movies about the Second World War. So now I think this is what slowly is happening to Russian language.
AA: Thank you so much. Sounds like really... I’m not sure that interesting is a good word here, but it really brings and raises questions about the future and how it will be framed, and what comes next. It also makes me think about possible cracks and controversies of national building, nationalism in Ukraine. Could you comment or elaborate somehow on that issue?
MS: Yeah. Of course, now to speculate about the future is very difficult, because I mean, a month ago we thought the war would be over in ten days, in two weeks, and now it’s been more than forty days. So, now I would be really unwilling to say, you know, I think this or this will happen. But we already see that there are some obvious problems. One is this, well, language and identity issue. Two years ago, I may be mistaken, maybe... Yeah, I think it was two years ago. So, we always had this tradition, the same as Russia has, and I don’t think it will change now with the new role of the president as being commander in chief of Ukrainian army. So there is this video of the president speaking to the nation and addressing the nation before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Since our president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is a former actor, they decided to approach this more creatively. They do quite good videos. This year it was, or last year already, it was quite good. But the one two years ago, or maybe three years ago... maybe it was his first New Year’s Eve address. They made a mistake, which they didn’t expect, or they didn’t know that this would be an issue.
So, they had a nice video showing different people, and doing different jobs and different ethnicities. And the main message was “What’s the difference?” in one of the phrases there. So it was like, no matter what profession you have, no matter where you live, no matter if you are a fireman or a teacher. And there was also no matter which language you speak. It was a very big mistake, because that’s, you know, it kind of backfired. It backfired slowly, first, but then it became like this snowball. Because people started saying that it’s time to decide. So, you can’t say there is no difference, it doesn’t matter anymore, you have to choose a side. As a scholar, and also as a Ukrainian, on one hand there I think yes, it’s the same as now we speak about, like, in social sciences we have to choose a side when we choose the wordings. So we don’t want to hear the words “conflict in Ukraine or Russia”, we don’t want to hear, like, “crisis in Ukraine”. Yeah, we want to hear the words “the war”, “Russian invasion”. At the same time, when we say you have to speak Ukrainian only to be a good Ukrainian, for example, or you have to be this and that. You have to be, I don’t know, heterosexual or you have to be... yeah, Christian. Or you have to say this and this, or you have to, for example, exclusively approve the actions of the president. Or the mayor of the city. This, you know, can lead to a problem.
I think this is a very thin line between what is going on now, because now we have martial law in Ukraine, and this is when the president, the mayors, they all receive much more power than they usually have. So, martial law is not the time for democracy and for collective decision making, basically, because you have to act on a situation of extreme emergency. But it’s very important that once it is over, we remember that we don’t live under martial law anymore, and we replace it for pluralism, for freedom of speech, freedom of expression. And then again, how do you... how do you find this perfect balance between? And I think now this is a problem of all world, I mean, of all the world, that aspires to be democratic. How do you find this balance between hate speech, homophobia and the freedom of expression of those who are, you know, who are for certain religious ideas or similarly, like women’s rights and certain ideas of Judaism or Islam, or Christianity, not to forget? So, and I’m trying to be really, really careful here, because I don’t want to be too critical and maybe I am afraid to be critical in these times, because this is a time when my country needs the biggest support. But I also feel like okay, if not me or not people like me, all the time thinking okay, yeah, we cannot allow our country to turn into another authoritarian state even if it seems to be for the better.
There are some ideas sometimes, right, that the states with authoritarian leaders, they are more successful, who promote these ideas. But they are more successful economically or I don’t know, they have these cleaner, nicer cities. And there is, there was this old idea, Ukrainians used to have it too, that the country needs a czar. Yeah okay, not a czar, but a hetman. And it is a little bit... Of course, we like to say that Ukrainians are different because hetman is an elected position unlike czar. So Ukrainians choose their hetman and they also can get rid of him. This sounds nice to me, that’s a good, nice rhetoric in the sense that we choose our leaders and we ask them to leave if we don’t like how they work. But the problem is that sometimes it is limited to that. So people are so used to, you know, people are tired of protests and people are so used to the government not doing their job, that they just go and buy populist claims and they expect the government to fix it for them. So, I think important is one, not to lose this patriotic sentiment and will to volunteer, will to participate in civil society activism. On the other hand, not to give too much power to those at power, and not to let them decide and not to limit certain things. So very basic and important freedoms.
AA: In regards to these freedoms and in regards to language, I started thinking about what is called difficult knowledge. Because for instance, this language issue was brought up by Russian propaganda as the reason why Russia should, like, eight years ago it was talked about, the protection of Russian speakers. Now it’s war, and it started using this wording of denazification, which is crazy. Another moment which Russian propaganda also brings, and which is quite important for Ukrainian nationalism and national building as far as I understood from different research on the subject, especially by Ukrainian researchers first of all, is this difficult knowledge on the OUN and UPA. These movements of World War II period. What is difficult about this knowledge? What is the dominant opinion of the Ukrainian society nowadays? Could you please provide us a bit more knowledge on it?
MS: Uh huh. Yes, so starting with the language issue. I think we won’t have here any solution unfortunately, and this will be for a long time a problem for each new government, how to handle it. Because on the one hand, and I mean this is mostly, used to be mostly because of pro-Russian groups in Ukraine. Also of course the Russian media and Russian propaganda, but inside Ukraine we have these pro-Russian groups, like Ukrainian Choice, (-) [33:47], who always, like the leader of this group, Putin is the godfather of his son. So you know, the connection is quite obvious. So they were always using this language question to, like bringing it up that there is an attempt to discriminate Russian speaking population, that there is this forceful Ukrainization of Ukraine, and so on. But they’ve also followed many other lines of Kremlin’s propaganda. So you could see where all the frames are coming from.
Now of course, with nationalism on the rise, and even soft nationalism, again the question will be, like, how to handle Russian language in the sense of, do we still need classes of Russian language at schools, do we... Because of course, if you look at Ukrainian official documentation and all the ministries and everything, it has been in Ukrainian for quite some time already. So it’s more a question of having the classes at schools and this is it. In everyday communication, I think it won’t be that problematic and I think, we’ll see, I think it will be solved somehow naturally. But still, we’ll see whether there will be demand from the parents’ side. Because Ukraine, as many other countries, we do have a law protecting national minorities. There are clear instructions in which cases schools have to provide the students with the classes, the language classes and history classes, and in which cases there can be media in the minority languages, like newspaper or radio. So the same applies for Crimean Tatars, for Hungarian minorities, for Polish and so on. So the question will be just the demand of the population.
But what you’re saying about OUN and UPA, of course, the Ukrainian nationalist army acted in the times of the Second World War also... It is a very difficult knowledge indeed, in the sense that many generations of Ukrainians, for seventy years were learning Ukrainian history by Soviet history books. In which the movement for the liberation of Ukraine, or the Ukrainian independence in the Western Ukraine, was framed as a fascist movement, as a movement against the Soviets, as wild bandits who stood against Bolsheviks. And who collaborated most importantly, like what they were accused of, the collaboration with fascists. I think collaboration with fascists was one of the favorite accusations that the Soviet regime used against different minorities. That’s why Crimean Tatars were deported from Crimea. What is always, or often missing from this story, is why... And this is, and I want to be clear that indeed, there was certain collaboration between locals and between some nationalists from OUN and UPA in Western Ukraine, with nazi Germany. But not all of them collaborated. Many of them actually fought against nazi Germany, and it is useful to mention that Stepan Bandera, the so feared and often mentioned leader of Ukrainian nationalist movement, he actually was in the concentration camp in nazi Germany. So you know, it doesn’t look like he was their big ally.
But I think it is important, very important to mention that the context in which this was all happening, it wasn’t the context of how Soviet history books portrayed it, that Soviet troops came and liberated Ukrainians from Austro-Hungarian empire, from... I don’t know, from these bad western capitalists, or also from rich people in the villages. But rather, it was how it was perceived by many people living in Western Ukraine. There were some farmers and there were some peasants who had a moderately good life, they had their houses and they had their cattle, and they had their lambs. And then Soviets came, and those people who were not too poor, they were all deprived (-) [38:37] and they were all deprived of all their properties. Whole families were sent to Siberia or elsewhere to, like, further lands. Most of them or many of them died on the way, and the only remnants of those families left were often very, very small kids. So, there were kids, and many families have this, my grandfather was one of such kids from families that, like the whole family was sent to Siberia. He was the only one left.
So this was something that was of course told. Then they teach it, and that’s also, there’s some roots of Ukrainian nationalism because we all grew up with these stories which were never voiced. But you would always know stories of these families. Then of course Holodomor, the years ‘32-’33 in Ukraine, when Soviets took all of the crops from Ukrainians. Ukraine was always the agricultural land, and this wasn’t the year when there was lots of crops, and since Soviets wanted to build some friendships with other countries and turn them into communism, but also to discipline a bit Ukrainian people. It wasn’t only in Ukraine, it was also in Russia and it was also in Kazakhstan, but Ukrainians suffered the most. So they took all the crops and they left people to starve to death. According to different sources, we lost to hunger from three to nine million of population. So when in the forties, there was a choice between Germans coming, who didn’t say openly what they would do to Ukrainians, they didn’t open these plans of course, of what they want to do to the Slavic people. But they promised of course some benefit from collaboration. Or on the other hand, you have Soviet Russia, who caused millions of deaths.
Those were the people, right, in the forties, who saw it, who lived through this, so maybe they were kids during the time of Holodomor or maybe they were already adults, maybe there were some mothers or fathers who lost their children or their parents or their relatives to Holodomor. I can imagine that they had very strong hatred in their hearts for Russia, or for Soviet Russia. So in this context then thinking about collaboration with nazis doesn’t seem so bad to me, and seems to me quite understandable. But of course, this was not something taught in the books. This is not something that is now being taught about Stepan Bandera in Russia. On the other hand I want to say that heroization of Bandera, it really didn’t happen until very recently. Even now I would say, for the majority of the population, of course there are some people who do see him as an unproblematic, like very good, fearless leader, but for most of the people this is a rather symbolic figure that symbolizes for them something that Russia is afraid of. There are now so many memes dedicated to Stepan Bandera. For example, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, but allegedly (-) [41:56] said that he promises some money for the person who will catch Stepan Bandera.
AA: [laughs] -
MS: I don’t know if it’s true that he really doesn’t know that -
AA: I have heard about that, it’s really funny.
MS: So we have this, you know, screenshot of the media, but I actually guess that probably it is fake. But maybe not, I wouldn’t be surprised.
AA: Yeah, me neither.
MS: And so now we say yeah, we can organize a meeting with Stepan Bandera, who will be very happy to come, who will organize the meeting. But now, Bandera is more of a symbolic figure which is... How to say it, so people don’t really see this history behind him. It is more something that you use as a symbol to respond to these accusations of being fascist and being nazis.
AA: From what I have read, I think that this figure of Stepan Bandera could be one, it’s even not a symbol but... there is definitely a living person, like the real human who existed. And right now, it’s not a copy, but an image of this -
MS: Uh huh -
AA: -these people, and there is like... there is, how to say, a huge space between these two Stepan Banderas. I think this is interesting, and in this regard I would like to ask you to comment on what many Russians and mostly Russian media bring out as like, people identify themselves in one or another way with Stepan Bandera in Ukraine. It’s much discussed in these pro-Russian internet forums or in mass media, that people in Ukraine, they label their connection to Stepan Bandera in some way.
MS: [laughs] Yeah. This is an interesting phenomenon, because I think the words... Okay, the word Banderovich, I don’t know, so being an ally or being a disciple of Bandera and (-) [44:19], the same for women... I’m not sure even if they were used first by Russians years ago or whether they actually were coming from Ukraine itself. But in this late rhetoric and the recent discourse, of course this is first something that was used a lot by Russian views, by Russian media, by some not very... not celebrities but you know, representatives, not very choosing the wording. For many... And I think, of course it is very individual. So for some Ukrainians it’s, myself for example, it is so ridiculous and so absurd that we kind of pick it up and we use it in the... As many subcultures or some oppressed groups are using the terms that are, like for example, the word queer that used to be an insult towards the LGBTQ community. It was then appropriated by LGBTQ people and actually now we have queer studies and so on. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we will have Banderoski study or something like that.
But for some people of course, so we have to understand that there are also people who are simply now in the position, like the... and class matters, right, education matters. So there are some simple people who didn’t care much about politics and news before now, when the aggressor came through their lands and they have to, so basically they have to stand up and fight, they don’t see any other option for themselves. And they need this figure and the character to, kind of to... not to stick to, but to find certain support in your past. These good examples from the country’s history, because now I think for many people, many of us didn’t care much about the history of Ukraine at school. Now there is this growth of attention and interest about our past. Like, how our past was, were there figures we could live up to, and be like them. And of course this leads to the creation of this new, as you said, copies which sometimes are idealized. Sometimes they are inserted into popular culture and this will be another, you know, once the situation is better, this will be another field of studies. The art, the pop art produced by the war during the times of war, it’s amazing. Then you see, for example, (--) [47:04] the uniform of Ukrainian military forces, and then different dukes of Kiev Rus, and so on. So, now all these figures will be brought back and reimagined. That’s inevitable. Of course while scholars will see certain problematics in that, for some people it will be just very helpful. It’s, like... yeah. We just have to embrace this and see how it further develops.
AA: Yeah, the phenomenon is really interesting and spectacular, how all these phenomena are developing right now. And the reasons, the prerequisites and consequences of the things that are going now. In this regard, while I was preparing for this podcast and I was reading on Ukraine, which I was not... like, I was not knowledgeable a lot about Ukraine. Because as a researcher, I was mostly focused on Russia as my field, and I was dealing with history of Russia and the history of Russia within the Soviet Union and many other things. But while reading about Ukraine in the last thirty years, I suddenly realized that this intention to proceed with decommunization in Ukraine, these attempts started to be seen quite fast by the Russian government as a threat. So, this intention to proceed with decommunization in fact transformed, or like, it didn’t do it by itself, but it was transformed by the Russian government in the trope of nazification in Ukraine. I wonder how it could happen, and probably you have some opinion on this as...
MS: Yeah, that’s a good point. I didn’t actually... really reflect much on that. But you’re absolutely right. I mean it’s not that the idea of denazification or you know, Ukrainian nationalism wasn’t there. Because it definitely was there already during Euromaidan, before this decommunization process or the large wave of dismantling all the Lenin statues and changing the names of the streets and of the cities. Because already then there were accusations that Euromaidan will have all these right wing fascists and that the whole protest is staged by fascists and by America, and so on. But on the hand of Ukrainians, I would say that indeed we, or people saw this connection with keeping certain things, certain statues, certain country symbolics, like Soviet Union symbolics in some places as connection to Russia. And I think it happened, it didn’t happen... I can’t say that it was an accident, but basically the whole Euromaidan protest somehow turned out into this clash of values or clash of ideologies, West and East, even though it wasn’t meant like this. As I said, people were coming just to throw away the government.
But somehow I think... like, Yanukovych, even though he was always saying that he is for Ukrainian NATO membership and for joining the EU, Ukraine never had any president who wouldn’t be for it. So it was always this steady, foreign policy choice. But still Yanukovych was seen as a pro-Russian president clearly, and people knew that these are his preferences. But again, everybody was sure, was never... I would say the popular idea that Ukraine will ever choose just Russia, and will say no to the EU. I mean, the intentions to be with Europe were there since 1991, and they were growing. But I think then when it all coincided that he’s fleeing to Russia, Russia annexing Crimea, these accusations of nationalism coming first, then that’s for the government. Because it was coming from the government. For the government, the most logical choice was to build their campaign, like their actions around these pillars, and it was to unite the nation somehow. And the pillars were of course then army, language, and faith. And this all with the direction of moving to Europe.
And yes, then as you remember, the Ukrainian Orthodox church started asking for Tomos, for full autonomy and recognition, which meant that Ukrainian Orthodox church will separate from Moscow Orthodox Church, which is a lot of money and power. Army was building up, and language was promoted. This came together with this official throwing of the monuments that were in various Soviet times, so I think this... The defense is that those monuments were still there, somehow apparently in the eyes of Kremlin and the eyes of some citizens of Ukraine actually still united our countries. So we kind of shared this past. Getting rid of these last pieces of the shared past, even if it was a communist past and also the religion, I think it showed the Kremlin that there is this real threat of losing a piece of land. And I think it’s how they see Ukraine. I don’t think that Kremlin or Putin sees or ever saw Ukraine as a separate state, and I think they see it as a continuation, this agricultural annex to Russia. And now this annex dares to have their independent politics and wants to have army, church, and join the EU. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
AA: Thank you so much. I’m afraid we’re running out of time right now, so it’s time for the last question, or maybe the last comment. Here I would like to ask you to say something to sum up what is most important from your point of view, from your professional scholar’s position: When we are talking about national building and nationalism in Ukraine, and especially right now, what should be brought up to the international community? What should be brought up to those who are unfamiliar or poorly familiar with the situation in Ukraine previously and nowadays?
MS: You know, I think two points that I would like to make here. One, even though it’s nothing new, it’s this first point. And I don’t know how many times my colleagues and I should say it, but probably we shouldn’t get tired of this and continue, of saying that there is no such thing as the Ukrainian nationalism, as it is seen unfortunately very often also in the West. Ukraine is not more nationalist country than Germany or France or yeah, whatever European countries. And even I would say, less nationalist than some of those. Ukraine has never had any nationalist right wing party in the parliament. They’ve never managed to pass the five percent barrier. Nationalist groups have never enjoyed popular support in the country, and for me, the deconstructing and like, refuting completely this myth about some mythical, nationalist radical Ukrainian population, is very important. On the one hand.
Well, the other hand, the second point I think is we need to give more voice to Ukrainian scholars. Because I feel as an Ukrainian scholar is that the field of Eastern European studies is largely dominated by the scholars coming from Russia, which is not surprising, it is a big country with many good universities and institutions. But on the other hand, what we see is that many of those universities are ideologically biased. Many rectors, I’m not sure if all of Russian universities signed the letter approving actions of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine. And I think this shows that how Russian scholarship, Russian scholars in Russia, are. So I think it is what could be done, right, because also I often get this question of what can be done to help Ukrainian scholars. So I would say, give us space, give us the space to speak, and it should be a safe space. Because if it is a space where there will be one person from Ukraine and five from Russia telling that you are wrong and the Russian people are also suffering, which is true to a certain extent, of course. But that’s not the safe space, that’s not the space I am talking about. Yeah, so this probably would be two things that if a person had to take away from today’s conversation, I would want them to take.
AA: Thank you so much. For me, personally, it seems very important that how you stressed these two things, and especially the last one. Because here right now, I see a lot of parallels with feminist and women scholars in social sciences, when we have these manels and -
MS: Uh huh -
AA: Yeah, and then it’s a manel with one female researcher or scholar. This is quite true for Eastern European studies. I see what you mean, and it’s really important to support what you’re saying and to provide the space and voice to colleagues who are doing, to Ukrainian scholars and colleagues who are working in the field of Ukrainian studies. Maryna, I would like to thank you very much for participating in this podcast and sharing your knowledge and expertise with us.
MS: Thank you very much for having me. It was a pleasure, and I hope we will have more opportunities to talk also about other topics.
AA: Yeah, it was really inspirational. Thank you so much. I hope to see you soon. Thank you. Bye bye.
MS: Bye bye.