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16 March, 2011  ▪  Dmytro Vovnianko

Standing up to be Ukrainian

Out-and-out Ukrainophobia is being promoted in Ukraine under the guise of fighting xenophobia
 If xenophobia does not exist, it would have to be invented. A graphic example of this kind of provocation is the scandal that erupted over  HYPERLINK "" Vasyl Shkliar’s historical novel Chornyi voron (Black Raven).
On 24 February, Oleksandr Krasovytsky, CEO of the Folio Publishers, spoke at a meeting organized by Sobor Hromadskoi Zhody and presided over by Dmytro Tabachnyk and said he was outraged that Mr. Shkliar was going to get the Shevchenko Prize. His novel about the last days of the struggle waged by insurgents in Kholodny Yar was labeled xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and pornographic. The author was accused of using such words as moskal and zhyd (derogatory names for Russians and Jews, respectively. — Transl.) and “relishing cruel scenes.” Folio is a publishing house which publishes books by Mr. Tabachnyk and with which Yurii Andrukhovych refused to cooperate. Its CEO was gladly joined by professional “fighters against xenophobia” from the Party of Regions — MPs Vadym Kolesnichenko and Olena Bondarenko.
Presumably, if Mr. Shkliar had avoided “political incorrectness,” he would still be blamed for depicting a war between Ukrainians and Russians or something like lines of wrong length or poor punctuation. Many critics of the novel are not interested in its literary value — they only want to present an historical Ukrainian novel about resistance as HYPERLINK "" xenophobic. There is no point in arguing with them. The need propaganda, not discussions.
A priori guilty
The “fight against xenophobia” has continued for a number of years in Ukraine. In 2005, accordion-player Ian Tabachnyk interpreted the words of the then Vice Prime Minister for Humanitarian Issues Mykola Tomenko about “alleged Ukrainian artists Tabachnyk and Kobzon” as a hint at his Jewish background and claimed that intolerance toward one nationality had been revived at an official level.
The country “does not have any objective reasons for HYPERLINK "" anti-Semitism or any other 'anti' attitudes,” said Vadym Rabynovych, a noted businessman and the head of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, at the time. But later he got involved in and fanned the scandal when Uzhgorod Mayor Serhii Ratushniak exploded with a series of patently anti-Semitic speeches in the press. As a result, the Jewish Sochnut immigration agency emphasized mounting xenophobic attitudes in Ukraine in 2009. Needless to say, this PR campaign did much damage to the country's image worldwide.
This story would be incomplete without one more fact: those who shout the loudest about some 'anti' attitudes on the part of Ukrainians are often guilty of statements and actions that can also be described as “anti” — anti-Ukrainian. Now this is instigating interethnic hostility.
There is no shortage of examples: the hysteria surrounding Roman Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera both of whom were awarded the Hero of Ukraine title posthumously; the SBU's interference with the Prison on Lontsky Museum in Lviv; MP Kolesnikov's statement that the organizers of the UPA memorial march should be persecuted by the criminal police; the dispersal of the music events Techno Against Drugs and Spirit Tradition Festival: Rus' involving the Berkut special-task force; attempts to ban the Haidamaka.UA fest and an attack carried out by unidentified thugs against its participants. Add to this the closure of Ukrainian-language schools in the Donbas despite parents' protests; the distribution of Ukrainophobic literature accompanied by the silence of those who champion "respect for other nationalities." The position of the Minister of Education, Science, Youth, and Sports (all together) is occupied by a person who is known for statements like the following: "In the course of many years when Western Ukraine was under absolutely foreign ... countries, a totally different psychological type of person took shape their. People of this kind are willing to openly agree with their master ... and then at night cut his throat with the same calmness and thoroughness."
All these facts of anti-Ukrainian attitudes of various kinds on the part of professional fighters against xenophobia are of little interest. Instead, one gets the impression that they are purposefully searching out the smallest action or phrase that could be perceived (and if necessary, imagined) to contain the slightest shadow of xenophobia. Thus, they repeatedly create an uproar in front of the world community by saying that "Ukrainian" is synonymous with "Fascist" and hence it is in the interests of the entire world to put our country under constant monitoring by our northern neighbor so that this neighboring country can teach Ukraine about internationalism and tolerance.
The need for dignity
A desire to look cultured and tolerant is viciously working against Ukrainians. Facing manifestations of imperial haughtiness which some of our citizens inherited from Soviet times, they consciously refuse to use their native language in conversation in favor of Russian. A person who persists in using Ukrainian in public places often earns the label "nationalist." Demands of Ukrainian-speaking citizens that their national-cultural needs, such as cinema, books, and the Ukrainian-language press, be satisfied are reframed as "curtailing the rights of others" and "xenophobia."
Here is a typical everyday situation. A Ukrainian-speaking person is talking to a Russian-speaking Ukrainian and suddenly the latter cuts him short: "Enough talking that language. Speak a normal one." What does the former usually do in this case? Right, he switches to Russian. In most cases, he doesn't get up the courage to say that the language he is speaking is "normal" and a division of languages into normal and abnormal ones is disrespectful of others.
Here is another example. In a foreign-language classroom where the majority of students are Ukrainian-speaking, there is one person who raises hell that he does not understand Ukrainian and hence Russian should be used instead. This person is steaming with righteous anger: Are you all nationalists here, including the teacher? In order to settle the conflict, the entire group obediently switches to Russian.
Now consider the opposite situation: one Ukrainian speaker in a group of Russian-speaking students. Guess whether the whole group will switch to Ukrainian? They won't even think about it. Do our self-styled anti-xenophobia fighters recognize these facts? Not really. The zealous activists of their ilk in Ukraine are interested in one kind of intolerance only — when Ukrainian speakers "curtail" the rights of all others.
No one but Ukrainians can do anything about it. It is high time to grasp that when our national self-esteem rises, this scares way too many politicians and other figures in and outside Ukraine, for political or historical reasons. So don't be surprised to see accusations of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and neglect of other people's rights accompany Ukraine's development. We need to be prepared for this and learn to fight back effectively.
Blame is most often pinned on those who cannot respond adequately or rush to justify themselves, abandoning their views. This is precisely the type of behavior that incites the attackers of Ukraine to further action: aha, they can't fight back and are ashamed of themselves, so they're easy prey.
Of course, the system of education and popularization of history and knowledge among citizens play a significant part in educating them in the way of resisting slanderers. It was for a reason that HYPERLINK "" Mr. Tabachnyk was appointed to direct these activities — those who lobbied for his appointment are well aware what long-term influence on society means. However, no government program will replace people's own dignity and ability to defend one's position in repulsing slanderers and offenders.
It is counterproductive to bring accusations against those who are confidently doing their job — they will simply pay no attention. So if Ukrainians want to stop getting labels slapped on them, they should become stronger and more assertive. It is a simple thing to do, in fact. Just start doing it.

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