Monday, September 1, 2008

The Ukrainian Ingrates or Victims of Russian Imperialism

My friend Owen, at, had lived for 3 years in Russia, and while there had noticed something interesting about how Russians view Ukrainians, along with other post-Soviet Republics.

There is an idea in Russia that other nations are ingrates to whom Russia gave "everything". It is a recurring theme of Russian propaganda. Or even deeper. A foundational Russian myth - that Russia is a generous nation, always giving to others, always protecting others, and so many nations and peoples simply do not appreciate Russia's great kindness.

The latest example of this came out in the speech of the Russian defense minister a couple days ago, who said that Poland, by pursuing its own national interest in allying with US, is being deeply ungrateful to Russia for freeing it from the German fascists. Never mind the fact that Russia and Poland have been bitter enemies throughout their common history, and that only half of the Soviet army was actually of Russian ethnicity. It's a powerful myth and I keep hearing it again and again in reference to all kinds of nations.

For example, this latest war was heavily portrayed in Russia as benevolent and noble Russians coming to the aid of a small and weak nation, which requested the Russian aid in defending it from an evil, imperialist, and atrocious regime of Georgia. If the Russians succeed in absorbing South Ossetia into their empire, but in the future the Ossetians decide they want an independent nation (which is quite likely - in the 1990 North Ossetia went as far as declaring independence from Russia), you will see all kinds of commentary in Russia how the Ossetians are deeply ungrateful for the great sacrifices in blood and treasure that the great brotherly Russian people made for them.

There are also similar commentaries in the Russian press and TV about Georgia today. They are claiming that Georgians are ungrateful for the Russian protection of Georgians against the Turks over two centuries ago. Never mind that the ancient Christian nation of Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire against their will. Actually, in the same way as Ukraine was absorbed. First comes a military alliance, and then through all kinds of means, the nation allied with Moscow finds that it has gradually lost all independence and has been completely absorbed into the Russian empire. The history of the Russian Empire is a fascinating subject.

And of course, Russia is never seen as ungrateful and greedy, regardless of what Russia has actually done in regards to all these nations. In most cases, Russia took more than it gave. It consumed the natural and human resources of the nations is controlled to build its empire. When Muscovy took over Ukraine, Ukraine actually had greater population than Muscovy's territory. So, the Ukrainian conscripts actually bore the brunt of all the wars of expansion of the Russian Empire in the last 300 years. Even as late as the war with Japan, much of the force that was used in the fighting was from Ukraine. God only knowns how much bigger the population of Ukraine would be if it wasn't for its "brotherly relationship" with Russia. How many died in Russia's wars, how many died from Stalin's famine (actually a third of Ukraine's population at the time).

Another obvious process is the brain drain that occurs whenever Russia takes over any nation. The best and the brightest leave for Moscow or St. Petersburg and the nation becomes a culturally and intellectually mediocre place as a result, or a complete back-water if this goes on long enough. (Frequently, talented local intelligencia were also purged, even prior to Soviet times, compounding the process.) A modern example is that a number of Russian politicians were actually born and raised in Ukraine and went to Moscow during Soviet times. For example, Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, a long-time Soviet and Russian politician and the leader of Russia's democratic opposition, was actually born and raised in Lviv, Ukraine, and had living parents there as late as the 1990s. People like him could have contributed significant political talent to Ukraine, but by virtue of their assimilation and careers in Russia during Soviet times, they have stayed in Russia and are contributing to its development.

The final point about "ingraditude" is that most of the nations controlled by Russia could have been far more advanced in all respects if they hadn't been controlled by the Russian empire. For example, in the early 1940s, the standard of living in Estonia was higher than in Finland! But by having been absorbed into the Russian empire, they were set back by several decades in development. In essence, they contributed way more to the Soviet Union than they ever received from it.

Here's to hoping that Ukraine will find the strength to resist renewed Russian Imperialism and that the rest of the world, and especially the rest of Europe, will not simply ignore the plight of the Ukrainian people and come to their aid in an hour of need.

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