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Culture War Roundup for the week of January 2, 2023

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A recent event that I’m sure fully counts as culture war is the official removal in Odessa of the monument to the city’s founders, mainly Catherine the Great. The justification, which is rather easy to predict, is that Catherine was a perpetrator of Moskal imperialism who repressed Ukrainian patriots (supposedly they already existed back then), committed cultural genocide and erased Ukrainian nationhood (which obviously we’re also supposed to believe existed back then). There isn’t much to comment on this, I think (though I’ll again point out that Odessa would never have existed in the first place without Catherine), but an educated redditor was eager to point out* the curious fact that the removed monument is actually a replica erected in 2007, largely as a response to the events of the so-called Orange Revolution, as the original was removed (and supposedly destroyed) by the Soviets in 1920. So yes, it was originally removed as an imperialist relic, by powers that the Ukrainian authorities claim later perpetrated genocide specifically against Ukrainians because they were Ukrainians i.e. it was an incident between opposing factions of Ukraine deniers. This is where we’re at, which actually doesn’t surprise me that much because I believe we’ve been in a clown world for a long time.


I am mildly interested in how the quest for Ukrainian nation building will develop my lifetime. Right now they manage to co-opt two very opposing sets of political and philosophical schools, largely due to wartime mobilisation censorship and patriotism. On the one hand the Ukrainian identity is being based on 19th/early 20th century style blood and soil rhetoric. The defenders of white Christian (even pagan) Europe against eastern orc hordes. Unspoiled real Slavs against the crypto-Tatar Muscovites. Real European Christians unlike those Eastern Orthodox peasants. On the other hand their only hope for national survival in this day and age is to tightly integrate with the “GAE”. So the Ukrainian army puts up EU flags in newly reconquered territories. Their parliament is busy rushing through gay agenda bills. Their politicians are making deals with Blackrock and learning the ropes of the WEF circuit.

But when the war ends these two stories cannot coexist for long. You cannot arm neo-nazi battalions while going through the EU integration process. You cannot outright ban one of the largest churches as well as the linguistic communities in your country and try to enter the Schengen area. It’s not for nothing that half the EU funded ads targeted to my demographic on social media has some visible minorities (ie blacks) posing as proud Europeans. The nationalist Ukrainian state, if it ever stops being such a poor corrupt shithole and enters the EU, will have to cope with millions of African/South Asian/Middle Eastern immigrants as well as the European Court of Human Rights rulings which will not tolerate the blood and soil rhetoric in practice. It’s ridiculous contradictions all over and makes me profoundly sad that so many young brave people are dying for a political project doomed to fail if it ever succeeds.

Something has to give in at some point. I don’t know what but I am not very hopeful about the results.

Ukrainian identity is being based on 19th/early 20th century style blood and soil rhetoric

No. Though some splinters remain (some very obvious nazi groups), the model the diaspora coalesced on by the 50s, which became state policy 8 years ago, is a multi-ethnic national state. Rudnytsky, Hrushevsky, Lypynsky etc. are taught in school... Dontsov and his ilk have no cachet today. But yeah, sure, obsess about a few hundred (surviving) neonazis in Azov.

N.b. Kiev already had quite a lot of Afghan and Iraqi refugees. Already by 2017, most drivers couldn't speak Russian, Ukrainian or English.

Though some splinters remain (some very obvious nazi groups), the model the diaspora coalesced on by the 50s, which became state policy 8 years ago, is a multi-ethnic national state. Rudnytsky, Hrushevsky, Lypynsky etc. are taught in school

Would be happy to know more about the significance of these people and the meaning of "multi-ethnic" in your usage. Which multi ethnicities are we talking about exactly?

Primarily Russians, Poles, Jews, Tatars, Greeks, Romanians, Hungarians etc.

Historically, the key event which formed Ukraine was the Polish Lithuanian commonwealth forming in 1569 (from a centuries long personal union). Poland and Lithuania continued to have different legal codes etc. but this shifted the border of Poland East, making the modern day Lithuanian-Ukrainian border to the North and the Russian-Ukrainian border to the North East. (Eventually, Ukrainians and Belarusians would have different national geneses due to different cultural contexts after this point, namely the Lithuanians not being exposed to the following.) Note, Lithuania was primarily an Eastern Slav state, using a legal code written in Church Slavonic etc. but the upperclasses started Polonizing in the 1500s.

Now become Poland, the South East of the commonwealth was flooded by rich Poles (only Lithuanians could own land in Lithuania) and Jews. They brought Polish methods of farming over, namely serfdom (a different form existed further East) to sell grain westwards. Many Eastern Slavs followed suit, adopting Renaissance learning, Catholicism and the Polish language. Many others were able to stay free, but didn't enjoy rights. Poland was rather democratic at the time, with the nobility (making up 10-20% of the population) participating in representative democracy. Outside of the nobility, even the "registered cossacks" couldn't make full use of the courts etc. To the South were the Ottomans (the Crimean Khanate (a mongol successor state) shifted in and out of their sphere) who often launched slave raids on the coasts and southern steppe. In a war in 1648, discontent at getting enserfed, at not being able to use the courts etc. boiled over and the cossacks rebelled. Somewhat losing, they then signed a treaty with Russia, which didn't go well. A lot of interesting stuff happened (Polish nobility converted to Protestantism, then back to Catholicism, part of the Orthodox church went into communion with the Catholic church, Ukrainian churchmen brought scholarship to Moscow, Lazar Baranovych came up with the 3rd Rome story etc.) Then Russians came under Catharine, who settled the steppes and coasts, which were primarily empty (fear from slave raids) or inhabited by Turks (Tatars) so Russians came. Greeks had been living on the coasts the whole time under the Turks at this point (Athens got its wheat from Southern Ukraine).

In the 19th century, looking at all of this, inspired by the German national awakening which threw off Napoleon, the Hungarians, the Croats/Serbs etc. etc. further West in Europe, many theoreticians of Ukrainianhism appear. They worked to fight Polish landlords (for reasons). Whereas other nationalists came up with historic narratives, made notes of the nobility's roots etc. to justify their people, the Ukrainians didn't have these things. Others had ruled them for many centuries etc. But there were a lot of them, speaking the same language(ish). Wasn't that enough?

Well, to answer your question, finally: Hrushevsky tried the traditional method, writing massive tomes of past history describing the existence of the Ukrainians or their lands from time immemorial (until the 1660s). He tried to provide a legitimizing context, showing the people's engagement in politics, what they were doing etc. If Hungary had a king ruling by divine right, the crown's actions described the nation. But if Ukraine doesn't, you have to describe the people's actions, customs, social history etc.

Now that's all fun and good, but how is a state supposed to form? How are the peasants supposed to conduct trade, pay taxes etc. when the cities are primarily filled with others? Should Ukraine be the countryside while the cities are not Ukraine? Lypynsky answers: Hell, even our fairy tales have Tatars, we've had these others here for ages! They belong here. Indeed, he wanted the Polish and Russian nobility to stay and guard the Ukrainian people, he was a monarchist... If Polish nobility existed in Russia under the Tsar and Austrian Kaiser, why couldn't they under a Ukrainian Hetman? Hrushevsky adopts this. Of course, his past work included many "non-Ukrainians" and besides, what is a Ukrainian? An Orthodox Eastern Slav? How's that different from the historical Lithuanians or the Russians or? It's different because we have this land touched by so many foreigners. The Russians in the East lived centuries under the mongols, they had serfdom for much longer, they didn't have nobles with rights or property, but we got Western serfdom, we had scholars of Greek, thousand year old cathedrals, elections etc.! And from those in the North, they didn't suffer under the Polish landlords.

(A lot happens. Austria-Hungary fell (where Ukrainians throve and fought Poles), independent Poland gained control over millions, removing their rights (universal male suffrage in Austria-Hungary's lost), famines, wars, mass murder, communism, fascism (everyone but the Czechs were Authoritarian to fascist in the 1930s...) The same bad things happened in most of Eastern Europe, with huge ethnic cleansings, expulsions etc. resulting in today's rather unmixed states. Anyway...)

Rudnytsky continues this further. He studies in Poland, a multiethnic state desiring a Central European union of sorts (as a bulwark against Germany and Russian imperialism, some of the minorities called this Polish imperialism), then Nazi Germany (weird, eh? Still trying to understand these points visawise), but leaves to Prague (still during the war) fearing being caught as a Jew. He eventually finds himself in the US. There, he writes many articles for a dissident Polish publication in Paris: Kultura. These Poles get read a lot by Polish dissidents - and have specific policy pieces. One of which is accepting Vilnius and Lviv as Lithuania and Ukraine (and not Poland, saying no to territorial disputes). When socialism falls, their policy suggestions are implemented immediately in Poland. As are Rudnytsky's in Ukraine. Writing to the Ukrainians diaspora, he said Ukraine shall be a virile push into the future, not dwelling in the past. Instead of Lypynsky's loyalty to the Tsar, loyalty to the Ukrainian people! And everyone who's loyal to them is Ukrainian! (Who's American? The Americans! That guy waving the flag with a slight foreign accent who came last month, what about that guy [insert politics you don't like]? Still American, technically. Embracing it makes you one, being there also does etc.

(For whatever reason, many Ukrainians ended up in the Canadian plains. They were sort of an incubation chamber for Ukrainianism, in communion with ideas from Austria-Hungary and then the 20s USSR, but not being exposed to famine, war and genocide. Many were also in the North Eastern US. They would sort of move into Ukraine in the 90s, but their influence was spotty in a way I don't fully understand. In constant contact with other diasporas, they largely maintain a bit of Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, so you don't get too many ethnopurists.)

Now, Rudnytsky's family language was Polish, their mother's family language was Yiddish, Dontsov's brother was a Russian bolshevik. Lypynsky was a Pole. (Hrushevsky seems fully Ukrainian.) They all just embraced and made Ukrainianism. This was common in Hungarian, German, Czech, Finnish and Russian nationalisms too, where e.g. a Swedish speaking Ethnic Swede would compile the great epic of Finnish literature or German factory owners (like emigrated from Germany) would research the origins of Hungarian and make their kids Hungarian politicians. (Hungary's great project was to turn everyone they could into a Hungarian through forced schooling, much like Argentina in the late 19th century did with the Italian etc. immigrants.)

Contrary to this, in the interwar Poland great resentment appeared, where in some provinces in the 20s regular assassinations of government officials took place. (This stopped in the 30s after people saw what was going on in the USSR, so less rights in Poland than in the past under the Austrians was still better than... Yeah.) In this milieu you get guys like Dontsov. He quit socialism before it won out in Russia, and thought Hitler was the bomb. Obviously independent Ukraine failed after WWI because of the minorities. When the Nazis appeared, many of this ilk in Poland joined in the killing of Jews, and Poles. Similar happened in Lithuania. Much was less than ideological and just police continuing to police under the new leadership, just with different commands. (These guys also disliked the Czechs and wanted to incorporate Rusyns, who are sort of Eastern Slavs further West than Ukraine.)

So, did they just cleanly disappear, these guys who genocided 200,000 Poles for the Nazis? Oh no, their plans succeeded. They won. The USSR pushed Ukraine West, expelling a few million Poles, beyond their greatest dreams. (Ukrainians still in Poland were either sent to Ukraine, or sent to resettle the lands taken from Germany in 1945. Socialist Poland was fixated on the Polish ethnicity, declaring the country purely Polish in the 70s. Thus the Kultura Poles, opposing socialism, also opposing such mononationalisms. Socialist Romania and Bulgaria were also extremely nationalist, deporting a few million Germans, Bulgarians etc.) Some survived the war, floated around the diasporas etc. but all the far right parties in Ukraine get less than 1% of the vote now.

This is the Ukrainian narrative, generated from talking to Ukrainian friends, living there, reading 6 books, seeing some lectures. My personal thoughts are a bit different, mostly boiling down to: All Slavs (at least Eastern Slavs) should speak one language, all Romance speakers should also etc. (more cultural connections for better literature, maybe), but many states. 1000 Slavic states! (Many courts to patronize poets...) Nationalism distracts from poetry.

Socialist Romania and Bulgaria were also extremely nationalist, deporting a few million Germans, Bulgarians etc.)

Also quite a lot of Turks (ie just Muslims). Very significant parts of Western and Central Anatolia are full of ethnically cleansed people of Bulgaria.

Thanks for the great write up. Overall the story resonates with me quite a bit. It’s easy to come up with theories of multicultural nations prospering with complicated ethnic arrangements if you are from a wealthy family and lived under the stabilising hand of great Empires. But when the push comes to shove and millions of ordinary people find themselves with the ideological framework of nationalism, means and the opportunity to settle long standing grudges.. they are not so cosmopolitan minded.

Also what I am missing in your story is the affects of Bolshevik approach to the minority groups. I understand that generally they acted to keep national consciousness of minority groups alive through education policies, political groupings and redrawing of borders because they were trying to counteract Russian national consciousness as a threat to their rule. At least this is the impression I get from Russian nationalist sources.

Also missing is the elephant in the room, the Russians and their language. How does the fact that the current Ukraine state is clearly acting to suppress the use of their language and in general their identity, reconcile with your claim that it also accepts itself as a multi ethnic country? I can think of 3 types of successful multi ethnic countries:

  1. USA, Australia, UK etc. The main ethnicity has set up such a prospering country that the others integrate by themselves because it has clear massive advantages. Maybe some nudging is used but overall not much force.

  2. Brazil and US with slaves and native peoples. Clear disregard for the minority culture and heavy oppression. Minority cultures aren’t strong enough to resist. This is what Turkey tried and failed with Kurds.

  3. India. Increasingly Western Europe. Some overarching culture is adopted as the dominant culture. Anglo culture in both cases. This smoothes the tensions between different groups.

The theoreticians you listed mostly clearly imagined something like the first model. All early nationalist theoreticians were very optimistic after all about how great their nation would turn out to be. But the resulting country is clearly rather shit and Russians aren’t integrating so voluntarily. Their framework doesn’t offer any real alternatives. Soviet Union tried to use the Russian culture as the overarching framework but that failed and now not an option. Ukrainian state has been trying the second option but it’s quite risky especially if the minority population has a gigantic mother country nearby who has geopolitical interests in invading you.

In the end maybe this war resolves the problem “organically”. People of Ukraine are being forced to choose a side and if UAF somehow doesn’t manage to re-conquer the annexed territories, it will have a much more ethnically pure albeit smaller country in the future with almost all citizens dedicated to the nationalist project.

tl;dr: Yes, Russia made everyone choose a side and the masses clearly chose Ukraine, including the vast majority of Russian(speaker)s. The war is daily souring impressions further, making people transition to Ukrainian more and more. Ethnic purity is literally irrelevant, buy in for the anti-Russia project counts. See many Russian dissidents who moved to Ukraine and became Ukrainian citizens in the past years.

Also quite a lot of Turks (ie just Muslims). Very significant parts of Western and Central Anatolia are full of ethnically cleansed people of Bulgaria.

Yes, very much so.

But the resulting country is clearly rather shit and Russians aren’t integrating so voluntarily.

Well, that's not true.

People of Ukraine are being forced to choose a side

They've clearly chosen one. The 20-30% of the Donbas still living there don't speak well for Russian rule. In the past, I was antimaidan (primarily for cultural reasons), I knew many who'd gladly have integrated into Russia in 2015 or so. [3] But time changes things.

Something like 10 million Russian speaking Ukrainians moved Westward as a result of the war, just further to the West or into the EU. I've seen a few online showing support for Russia, I know a few who used to live in Ukraine in the past or who went to the Donbas in 2014, but literally everyone else is strongly pro-Ukrainian. No one cares about "ethnically pure" because it's impossible. Everyone has Russian and Polish ancestors, generally grandparents. Many in government, in the military etc. continue to use Russian day to day (weird instances like the Mayor of Kharkov's fine aside).

I lived in Kharkov, Kiev and Odessa at different times, viewing them as nice Russian cities where I nearly never encountered Ukrainian. I was there not too long before the war too. Hell, just go to Ukrainian subreddits. Plenty of Russian is used. Plenty of Russians use it in Ukraine. Denying that's just a blatant lie [7], whether from ignorance or something else. Well, what is a "Russian"? That's the hard part... [4] You can change languages quickly. See Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (singer of a big rock band), Volodomir Rafayenko (a big novelist) or Zelensky [5] himself. They all primarily used Russian and were very popular in Russia. At different stages, they became unwelcome in Russia - not because of their Ukrainianness, but because they didn't support the Donbas or such. Volodomir for example quickly learned Ukrainian and started writing novels in it instead.

Kharkov and Odessa aren't suddenly speaking Ukrainian (although many people are changing their correspondence to Ukrainian - I've had some friends stop talking because they no longer feel comfortable speaking Russian, associating it with the people shelling them for months - and we share no other language. In the Summer this was higher [2] , but then people shifted back to Russian a bit.) This is what time changed. Russians in Ukraine saw life in the Donbas go from the wealthiest places in Ukraine to a mafiarun hellzone where bandits force people to sign property away at gunpoint, like a far worse version of the 90s. That's what "Russia" means now. Not culture, freedom of language, becoming another Chelyabinsk etc. but the destruction of everything built in the past decades. This is not Russian vs. Ukrainian but Russia vs. Ukraine, two East Slavic states speaking extremely similar languages. The difference is in government, economic outcomes.

------ random links etc -----

Note, no census since 2001. I believe Ukraine's population is quite low now, perhaps even under 30 million (the Donbas is certainly under 2 million):


[3] and

[4] censuses in the whole region are deceptive. E.g. the terms translated as "native language" don't refer to the language(s) you grow up speaking, but what you believe your ancestral language is. Many will declare their native language as something they don't speak, especially in Russia and Kazakhstan.

This may interest you:

Also n.b. I'm pro-Crimea not being in Ukraine. E.g.

If you want, pm me and we can talk on telegram. Perhaps you can speak to many Russians in Ukraine/Russian Ukrainians or however to phrase it.

Note, I say Russian and Ukrainian are nearly identical, yet it's uncomfortable for me to try to understand Ukrainian or to Ukrainianize my speech. So the differences are there in practice but they feel small. Really it's a sign of weak friendship, eh?

[5] Zelensky being pro-Russian language:

Also note Zelensky's corruption shown in the Pandora papers.

[7] but there's a lot of uncomfortable space re: language laws. But every article about "Russian being banned" exaggerate much smaller steps.

Thanks for the sources will definitely check them. I am generally very skeptical of enthusiasm for post-maidan Ukraine. Economic indicators don’t show a developing country at all, their demographics are still collapsing at East Asian levels and my only personal experience with Ukraine in the last decade has been the white woman trade in Turkey shifting from Russian to Ukrainian sourced.

I have strong suspicions most of this enthusiasm comes from a small group of well connected well educated people who suddenly received a flush of western NGO money and political power. I am very familiar with the Turkish version of this class of people and I see everyday how their views of the country influence foreigners so much. Creates a strange echo chamber where an average German is getting reflected back the views their own government is paying those locals to hold. The difference is those people are constantly limited and hindered by the Turkish government while they have free rein in Ukraine.

I have no illusions about Russia’s power of winning hearts and minds either. Their economic recovery miracle failed to take off and now indefinitely cancelled. What sensible person would want to live there instead of the “West”? Especially if they don’t even have to leave home and the west comes to their country. Turkey was supposed to be “almost” entering the EU recently as well so I get that feeling of hope for a better future very well. It’s quite likely the Kremlin boomers finally realised that they are definitely going to lose all influence in Ukraine soon and got scared of what might come if Ukraine with a fully NATO trained army and very hostile population decided to solve the Crimea problem once and for all. Then they fucked even that up…