“The greatness of the country is measured not by the volume of goods produced, but by the quality of citizens it raises”. I took this wisdom onboard so long ago (back in the day when posters about tons of pig iron, kilos of grain and meters of cloth to solemnly mark another Congress of the Soviet Communist Party were seen at every street corner) that I forgot the name of its author. But it was this dictum that made me finally see the evil empire that I lived in for what it really was, and I hated what I saw. One could believe or not believe in the communist utopia, approve or disapprove of the Soviet expansion on the world stage, take or not take pride in the economic achievements (which were make-believe), but it was utterly impossible not to see the main product of the system - the homo sovieticus, which was everywhere you looked.
Contrary to abstract ideals, an actual soviet citizen was a bearer of many rather unattractive traits such as aggressiveness, discourtesy, intolerance, rigidity and that very complex blend of trust, fearfulness, dependence and at the same time disrespect towards superiors that can be all condensed into one word "paternalism". Of course, people are different but this common "habitus" could more or less be seen in every mug you meet, mine included.
Homo sovieticus spent his life pushing and shoving in queues, quarrelling in buses, sitting in Party meetings, believing what it read in the Pravda, snitching on neighbors, approving military invasion of Czechoslovakia, exceeding the production plan for parts for intercontinental ballistic missiles and telling jokes about Brezhnev. Feeling that you belong to such a community was rather uncomfortable, but at least I understood that none of it was accidental, but rather a result of relatively long process of adaptation and evolution.
Much water has flown under the bridge, we have pretty much seen a generation change, yet a couple of years ago I began to feel that we, despite the changing scenery returned to the "good old days": poor manners in traffic, in the police, in courts, on TV. And I was not the only one who in moments of despair began feeling that this relic Soviet type, or rather a hungrier and more defiant version of it, is now the prevalent kind of Ukrainian. And therefore the entire Ukrainian project, responsible for bringing about the dominance of this type is doomed.
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Then the Euromaidan happened, and then the war began and I suddenly no longer recognize my compatriots. Or perhaps it is me who changed, but one way or another, the tint of one’s personal glasses can only do so much. From God knows where intelligent, well-mannered faces appeared. There are more smiling, friendly, polite people in the streets. Perhaps I’m spoiled and too sensitive, but for me little things like these make a big of difference. In fact, I am convinced that there is direct connection between your everyday habits and social behavior. All the way until the end of February I never bumped into a single unpleasant face at Maidan. All those who stood on the barricades, cooked the food, brought car tires, collected drugs all over the city, went to rally near the president’s private “palace” at Mezhyhirya or simply stood by the stage being those tiny little pixels (someone else’s beautiful metaphor), all of them, all these men and women had eyes you would want to gaze into again and again. I was under the impression that their anthropological type has changed.
I am not the one to believe in wonders and I do realize that human nature has its faults. The entire nation cannot be made up of handsome saints. I do realize that the ill-mannered ones did not just evaporate overnight. They have either retreated and are waiting to pounce or... Every person has more than one face. Depending on the mood, life circumstances, the level of personal development, health etc., the very same individual can act as a vicious monster, or as an exemplary altruist (I speak from personal experience).
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So my guess is that Ukraine is currently a place that evidently helps to demonstrate your best traits, regardless if this comes as a result of conscious self-improvement or the influence of the general atmosphere. Otherwise how would you explain all those volunteers, all those donations, all the sympathy and mutual respect, all this readiness to work together in the conditions that are far from perfect, to put it mildly? Perhaps Ukraine is coming to its senses after the countless years of gloom, or maybe it is the opposite, perhaps we are witnessing the birth of the new Ukraine.
Either way, there is no pathos about it, just like there is no hint of pomp in the words of the captured AN-26 pilot, who, while being interrogated by Russian “journalists” that accompany Russian diversionists, said: “I made an oath and I act in a way that will be at peace with my consciousness for the rest of my life”. Just get a grasp of those words. This is a hero, whose name to me remains unknown, unfortunately. The Ukrainian Air Force pilot Nadiya Savchenko is another heroic prisoner of war who made the world take notice. And there are many more heroes: soldiers, volunteers, activists, reporters and simply dignified and courageous people... They are the product of today’s Ukraine. The kind of Ukraine I love.
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