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23 October, 2011

On Paranoiacs and Pragmatists

A bona fide Ukrainian association has been closed in Russia, while numerous Russian organizations in Ukraine are blossoming despite their highly questionable practices

In fact, I was not going to write about it, all the more so that the news was to be expected: the Association of Ukrainians in Russia was banned. The Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow passed a decision to this effect in response to a petition from the Russian Ministry of Justice. When the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia was closed down the same way, it was clear that this latest step would merely be a question of time.

The accusations were predictable to the point of being dull: propaganda of “nationalistic values” punishable under the current Russian law “On Counteracting Extremist Activity.” We understand that when it comes to fighting extremism, any explanation seems superfluous. Last year, they at least had more of an attention-getting excuse: an activist of some fund (Fatherland) complained that organized Ukrainians were carrying out political activity and “poured only dirt on Russia.” But please don’t search for any common sense here. Ministry of Justice officials are people just like any others. They saw which way the wind was blowing and decided to curry favor with their higher-ups. And the climate in their Zamoskvoretsky District Court is hardly much different from that in our Pechersky District Court. They will do what they are told.

Now let me confess to a sin, even though I risk offending many nice, likable and self-sacrificing people: I don’t feel a personal loss over two Ukrainian organizations in Russia ceasing to exist. The reason is not that I was suddenly converted to the “Russian world.” Getting together for vechornytsi and songfests is not something that effectively helps preserve identity in a foreign linguistic and cultural landscape. I am exaggerating a bit, of course, but not too much. I think that there are much more efficient ways: good marketing of Vasyl Shkliar’s last novel or, better still, Serhiy Zhadan’s collection. A concert by VV would be simply wild. Here is a headline on a leading Russian news site that is not even close to being pro-Ukrainian: “What has the rock band VV prepared for its 25th anniversary?” Do you understand? They are simply interested. People can sense when they are being offered a contemporary, competitive and highly cultural product. When this happens, even the Yakuts and the Bashkirs become a little Ukrainian, while Ukrainians themselves remember that they need to take pride in their roots.

Conversely, there is no better way to wean former Ukrainians – and now, inevitably, Russians with a smack of ethnic sentiments – from their motherland’s traditions than to feed them with pseudo-folk singing and dancing and poorly memorized textbook poems. But this is what Ukrainian associations are doing, with very few exceptions, both in the West and in the East. Thus, Ukrainophobes in Moscow would have done something much worse if they had banned Oleh Skrypka and Sviatoslav Vakarchuk.

But then there is another question: Why are relevant Ukrainian authorities reacting so mildly to this Russian paranoia? I would not say that they are absolutely stupid. Remember the lightning-quick move to expel a Czech diplomat after Bohdan Danylyshyn was granted political asylum in Prague? They can react when they want to. So why are they turning a blind eye to the activities of numerous (over 300) organizations of Russians in Ukraine, allegedly created for purely cultural purposes? I will not even squeal on them – let officials themselves search the official sites of all these Russian Communities and Russian People’s Associations. Let them count the number of direct calls to overthrow the constitutional order in Ukraine and annex the country to Russia, to say nothing of direct, undisguised offenses against the indigenous ethnos and the state language. There are more serious things, too. Moreover, they have examples in our government that they can emulate. Do you know what their main complaint against the Ukrainian government is? It turns out they lack support from the state! What a farce!

But then they do have a source of support. I do not and never will have credible data on how much financing the Russian Federation furnishes to help its “compatriots.” Moreover, some of this money is bound to get lost on the way, as befits Russian traditions. But whatever reached Ukraine is far more than the miserable budgets of the Ministry of Culture or Ukraine’s State Committee for Radio and Television Broadcasting. There are quite respectable events, such as concerts of chamber music and lectures of noted scientists, that the Russian organizations hold in Ukraine. Then there are more dubious ones, such as when the only Kyiv-based radio station with an informal, conversational format turned into a branch of the official Voice of Russia. And there are clearly outrageous ones, for example, when journalists in Kyiv are offered good money to write questionable articles allegedly on behalf of frenzied Ukrainian nationalists.

This is something I have wanted to ask competent authorities for a long time but had no good occasion until now.

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