War re Ukraine: Thread
grarpamp at gmail.com
Tue May 3 23:44:03 PDT 2022
On 5/3/22, professor rat <pro2rat at yahoo.com.au> failed to post in
already existing thread:
> Yesterday's " Rich Kulak " is todays " White Helmet "
> We should steal from Nancy's purse and fight KGB Russia to the last Ukrainian.
The War in Ukraine Is a Colonial War
For centuries, the country has lived in the shadow of empire.
But its past also provides the key to its present.
By Timothy Snyder April 28, 2022
Illustration of a seed transforming into a bomb and a sunflower
When Vladimir Putin denies the reality of the Ukrainian
state, he is speaking the familiar language of empire. For five
hundred years, European conquerors called the societies that
they encountered “tribes,” treating them as incapable of
governing themselves. As we see in the ruins of Ukrainian
cities, and in the Russian practice of mass killing, rape, and
deportation, the claim that a nation does not exist is the
rhetorical preparation for destroying it.
Empire’s story divides subjects from objects. As the
philosopher Frantz Fanon argued, colonizers see themselves as
actors with purpose, and the colonized as instruments to realize
the imperial vision. Putin took a pronounced colonial turn when
returning to the Presidency a decade ago. In 2012, he described
Russia as a “state-civilization,” which by its nature
absorbed smaller cultures such as Ukraine’s. The next year, he
claimed that Russians and Ukrainians were joined in “spiritual
unity.” In a long essay on “historical unity,”
published last July, he argued that Ukraine and Russia were a
single country, bound by a shared origin. His vision is of a
broken world that must be restored through violence. Russia
becomes itself only by annihilating Ukraine.
As the objects of this rhetoric, and of the war of destruction
that it sanctions, Ukrainians grasp all of this. Ukraine does
have a history, of course, and Ukrainians do constitute a
nation. But empire enforces objectification on the periphery and
amnesia at the center. Thus modern Russian imperialism includes
memory laws that forbid serious discussion of the Soviet
past. It is illegal for Russians to apply the word “war” to
the invasion of Ukraine. It is also illegal to say that
Stalin began the Second World War as Hitler’s ally, and
used much the same justification to attack Poland as Putin is
using to attack Ukraine. When the invasion began, in February,
Russian publishers were ordered to purge mentions of Ukraine
Faced with the Kremlin’s official mixture of fantasy and
taboo, the temptation is to prove the opposite: that it is
Ukraine rather than Russia that is eternal, that it is
Ukrainians, not Russians, who are always right, and so on. Yet
Ukrainian history gives us something more interesting than a
mere counter-narrative to empire. We can find Ukrainian national
feeling at a very early date. In contemporary Ukraine, though,
the nation is not so much anti-colonial, a rejection of a
particular imperial power, as post-colonial, the creation of
Southern Ukraine, where Russian troops are now besieging cities
and bombing hospitals, was well known to the ancients. In
the founding myth of Athens, the goddess Athena gives the city
the gift of the olive tree. In fact, the city could grow olives
only because it imported grain from ports on the Black Sea
coast. The Greeks knew the coast, but not the hinterland, where
they imagined mythical creatures guarding fields of gold and
ambrosia. Here already was a colonial view of Ukraine: a land of
fantasy, where those who take have the right to dream.
The city of Kyiv did not exist in ancient times, but it is very
old—about half a millennium older than Moscow. It was probably
founded in the sixth or seventh century, north of any territory
seen by Greeks or controlled by Romans. Islam was advancing, and
Christianity was becoming European. The Western Roman Empire had
fallen, leaving a form of Christianity subordinate to a pope.
The Eastern (Byzantine) Empire remained, directing what we now
call the Orthodox Church. As Rome and Constantinople competed
for converts, peoples east of Kyiv converted to Islam. Kyivans
spoke a Slavic language that had no writing system, and
practiced a paganism without idols or temples.
Putin’s vision of “unity” relates to a baptism that took
place in this setting. In the ninth century, a group of Vikings
known as the Rus arrived in Kyiv. Seeking a southbound route for
their slave trade, they found the Dnipro River, which runs
through the city. Their chieftains then fought over a patchwork
of territories in what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and the
northeast of Russia—with Kyiv always as the prize. In the late
tenth century, a Viking named Valdemar took the city, with the
help of a Scandinavian army. He initially governed as a pagan.
But, around 987, when the Byzantines faced an internal revolt,
he sensed an opportunity. He came to the emperor’s aid, and
received his sister’s hand in marriage. In the process,
Valdemar converted to Christianity.
Putin claims that this messy sequence of events reveals the will
of God to bind Russia and Ukraine forever. The will of God is
easy to misunderstand; in any case, modern nations did not exist
at the time, and the words “Russia” and “Ukraine” had no
meaning. Valdemar was typical of the pagan Eastern European
rulers of his day, considering multiple monotheistic options
before choosing the one that made the most strategic sense. The
word “Rus” no longer meant Viking slavers but a Christian
polity. Its ruling family now intermarried with others, and the
local people were treated as subjects to be taxed rather than as
bodies to be sold.
Yet no rule defined who would take power after a Kyivan
ruler’s death. Valdemar took a Byzantine princess as his wife,
but he had a half a dozen others, not to mention a harem of
hundreds of women. When he died in 1015, he had imprisoned one
of his sons, Sviatopolk, and was making war upon another,
Yaroslav. Sviatopolk was freed after his father’s death, and
killed three of his brothers, but he was defeated on the
battlefield by Yaroslav. Other sons entered the fray, and
Yaroslav didn’t rule alone until 1036. The succession had
taken twenty-one years. At least ten other sons of Valdemar had
died in the meantime.
These events do not reveal a timeless empire, as Putin claims.
But they do suggest the importance of a succession principle, a
theme very important in Ukrainian-Russian relations today. The
Ukrainian transliteration of “Valdemar” is “Volodymyr,”
the name of Ukraine’s President. In Ukraine, power is
transferred through democratic elections: when Volodymyr
Zelensky won the 2019 Presidential election, the sitting
President accepted defeat. The Russian transliteration of the
same name is “Vladimir.” Russia is brittle: it has no
succession principle, and it’s unclear what will happen when
Vladimir Putin dies or is forced from power. The pressure of
mortality confirms the imperial thinking. An aging tyrant,
obsessed by his legacy, seizes upon a lofty illusion that seems
to confer immortality: the “unity” of Russia and Ukraine.
In the Icelandic sagas, Yaroslav is remembered as the Lame; in
Eastern Europe, he is the Wise, the giver of laws. Yet he did
not solve the problem of succession. Following his reign, the
lands around Kyiv fragmented again and again. In 1240, the city
fell to the Mongols; later, most of old Rus was claimed by the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania, then the largest state in Europe.
Lithuania borrowed from Kyiv a grammar of politics, as well as a
good deal of law. For a couple of centuries, its grand dukes
also ruled Poland. But, in 1569, after the Lithuanian dynasty
died out, a Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was formalized, and
the territories of Ukraine were placed under Polish
This was a crucial change. After 1569, Kyiv was no longer a
source of law but an object of it—the archetypal colonial
situation. It was colonization that set off Ukraine from the
former territories of Rus, and its manner generated qualities
still visible today: suspicion of the central state,
organization in crisis, and the notion of freedom as
self-expression, despite a powerful neighbor.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, all the forces
of Europe’s globalization seemed to bear down on Ukraine.
Polish colonization resembled and in some measure enabled the
European colonization of the wider world. Polish nobles
introduced land-management practices—along with land managers,
most of whom were Jewish—that allowed the establishment of
profitable plantations. Local Ukrainian warlords rushed to
imitate the system, and adopted elements of Polish culture,
including Western Christianity and the Polish language. In an
age of discovery, enserfed peasants labored for a world market.
Ukraine’s colonization coincided with the Renaissance, and
with a spectacular flowering of Polish culture. Like other
Renaissance thinkers, Polish scholars in Ukraine resuscitated
ancient knowledge, and sometimes overturned it. It was a Pole,
Copernicus, who undid the legacy of Ptolemy’s
“Almagest” and confirmed that the Earth orbits the sun.
It was another Pole, Maciej of Miechów, who corrected
Ptolemy’s “Geography,” clearing Ukrainian maps of gold
and ambrosia. As in ancient times, however, the tilling of the
black earth enabled tremendous wealth, raising the question of
why those who labored and those who profited experienced such
The Renaissance considered questions of identity through
language. Across Europe, there was a debate as to whether Latin,
now revived, was sufficient for the culture, or whether
vernacular spoken languages should be elevated for the task. In
the early fourteenth century, Dante answered this question
in favor of Italian; English, French, Spanish, and Polish
writers created other literary languages by codifying local
vernaculars. In Ukraine, literary Polish emerged victorious over
the Ukrainian vernacular, becoming the language of the
commercial and intellectual élite. In a way, this was typical:
Polish was a modern language, like English or Italian. But it
was not the local language in Ukraine. Ukraine’s answer to the
language question was deeply colonial, whereas in the rest of
Europe it could be seen as broadly democratic.
The Reformation brought a similar result: local élites
converted to Protestantism and then to Roman Catholicism,
alienating them further from an Orthodox population. The
convergence of colonization, the Renaissance, and the
Reformation was specific to Ukraine. By the sixteen-forties, the
few large landholders generally spoke Polish and were Catholic,
and those who worked for them spoke Ukrainian and were Orthodox.
Globalization had generated differences and inequalities that
pushed the people to rebellion.
Ukrainians on the battlefield today rely on no fantasy of the
past to counter Putin’s. If there is a precursor that matters
to them, it is the Cossacks, a group of free people who lived on
the far reaches of the Ukrainian steppe, making their fortress
on an island in the middle of the Dnipro. Having escaped the
Polish system of landowners and peasants, they could choose to
be “registered Cossacks,” paid for their service in the
Polish Army. Still, they were not citizens, and more of them
wished to be registered than the Polish-Lithuanian parliament
The rebellion began in 1648, when an influential Cossack, Bohdan
Khmelnytsky, saw his lands seized and his son attacked by a
Polish noble. Finding himself beyond the protection of the law,
Khmelnytsky turned his fellow-Cossacks toward revolt against the
Polish-speaking, Roman Catholic magnates who dominated Ukraine.
The accumulated cultural, religious, and economic grievances of
the people quickly transformed the revolt into something very
much like an anti-colonial uprising, with violence directed not
only against the private armies of the magnates but against
Poles and Jews generally. The magnates carried out reprisals
against peasants and Cossacks, impaling them on stakes. The
Polish-Lithuanian cavalry fought what had been their own Cossack
infantry. Each side knew the other very well.
In 1651, the Cossacks, realizing that they needed help, turned
to an Eastern power, Muscovy, about which they knew little. When
Kyivan Rus had collapsed, most of its lands had been absorbed by
Lithuania, but some of its northeastern territories remained
under the dominion of a Mongol successor state. There, in a new
city called Moscow, leaders known as tsars had begun an
extraordinary period of territorial expansion, extending their
realm into northern Asia. In 1648, the year that the Cossack
uprising began, a Muscovite explorer reached the Pacific
The war in Ukraine allowed Muscovy to turn its attention to
Europe. In 1654, the Cossacks signed an agreement with
representatives of the tsar. The Muscovite armies invaded
Poland-Lithuania from the east; soon after, Sweden invaded from
the north, setting off the crisis that Polish history remembers
as “the Deluge.” Peace was eventually made between
Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy, in 1667, and Ukraine was divided
more or less down the middle, along the Dnipro. After a thousand
years of existence, Kyiv was politically connected to Moscow for
the first time.
The Cossacks were something like an early national movement. The
problem was that their struggle against one colonial power
enabled another. In 1721, Muscovy was renamed the Russian
Empire, in reference to old Rus. Poland-Lithuania never really
recovered from the Deluge, and was partitioned out of existence
between 1772 and 1795. Russia thereby claimed the rest of
Ukraine—everything but a western district known as Galicia,
which went to the Habsburgs. Around the same time, in 1775, the
Cossacks lost their status. They did not gain the political
rights they had wanted, nor did the peasants who supported them
gain control of the black earth. Polish landowners remained in
Ukraine, even as state power became Russian.
Whereas Putin’s story of Ukraine is about destiny, the
Ukrainian recollection of the Cossacks is about unfulfilled
aspirations. The country’s national anthem, written in 1862,
speaks of a young people upon whom fate has yet to smile, but
who will one day prove worthy of the “Cossack nation.”
The nineteenth century was the age of national revivals. When
the Ukrainian movement began in imperial Russian Kharkov—today
Kharkiv, and largely in ruins—the focus was on the Cossack
legacy. The next move was to locate history in the people, as an
account of continuous culture. At first, such efforts did not
seem threatening to imperial rule. But, after the Russian defeat
in the Crimean War, in 1856, and the insult of the Polish
uprising of 1863 and 1864, Ukrainian culture was declared not to
exist. It was often deemed an invention of Polish élites—an
idea that Putin endorsed in his essay on “historical unity.”
Leading Ukrainian thinkers emigrated to Galicia, where they
could speak freely.
The First World War brought the principle of self-determination,
which promised a release from imperial rule. In practice, it was
often used to rescue old empires, or to build new ones. A
Ukrainian National Republic was established in 1917, as the
Russian Empire collapsed into revolution. In 1918, in return for
a promise of foodstuffs, the country was recognized by
Austria and Germany. Woodrow Wilson championed
self-determination, but his victorious entente ignored Ukraine,
recognizing Polish claims instead. Vladimir Lenin invoked the
principle as well, though he meant only that the exploitation of
national questions could advance class revolution. Ukraine soon
found itself at the center of the Russian civil war, in which
the Red Army, led by the Bolsheviks, and the White Army,
fighting for the defunct empire, both denied Ukraine’s right
to sovereignty. In this dreadful conflict, which followed four
years of war, millions of people died, among them tens of
thousands of Jews.
Though the Red Army ultimately prevailed, Bolshevik leaders knew
that the Ukrainian question had to be addressed. Putin claims
that the Bolsheviks created Ukraine, but the truth is close to
the opposite. The Bolsheviks destroyed the Ukrainian National
Republic. Aware that Ukrainian identity was real and widespread,
they designed their new state to account for it. It was largely
thanks to Ukraine that the Soviet Union took the form it did, as
a federation of units with national names.
The failure of self-determination in Ukraine was hardly unique.
Almost all of the new states created after the First World War
were destroyed, within about two decades, by Nazi Germany, the
Soviet Union, or both. In the political imaginations of both
regimes, Ukraine was the territory whose possession would allow
them to break the postwar order, and to transform the world in
their own image. As in the sixteenth century, it was as if all
the forces of world history were concentrated on a single
Stalin spoke of an internal colonization, in which peasants
would be exploited so that the Soviet economy could
imitate—and then overtake—capitalism. His policy of
collective agriculture, in which land was seized from farmers,
was particularly unwelcome in Ukraine, where the revolution had
finally got rid of the (still largely Polish) landholders. Yet
the black earth of Ukraine was central to Stalin’s plans, and
he moved to subdue it. In 1932 and 1933, he enforced a series of
policies that led to around four million people dying of hunger
or related disease. Soviet propaganda blamed the Ukrainians,
claiming that they were killing themselves to discredit Soviet
rule—a tactic echoed, today, by Putin. Europeans who tried to
organize famine relief were dismissed as Nazis.
The actual Nazis saw Stalin’s famine as a sign that Ukrainian
agriculture could be exploited for another imperial project:
their own. Hitler wanted Soviet power overthrown, Soviet cities
depopulated, and the whole western part of the country
colonized. His vision of Ukrainians was intensely colonial:
he imagined that he could deport and starve them by the
millions, and exploit the labor of whoever remained. It was
Hitler’s desire for Ukrainian land that brought millions of
Jews under German control. In this sense, colonial logic about
Ukraine was a necessary condition for the Holocaust.
Between 1933 and 1945, Soviet and Nazi colonialism made Ukraine
the most dangerous place in the world. More civilians were
killed in Ukraine, in acts of atrocity, than anywhere else. That
reckoning doesn’t even include soldiers: more Ukrainians died
fighting the Germans, in the Second World War, than French,
American, and British troops combined.
The major conflict of the war in Europe was the German-Soviet
struggle for Ukraine, which took place between 1941 and 1945.
But, when the war began, in 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany
were de-facto allies, and jointly invaded Poland. At the time,
what is now western Ukraine was southeastern Poland. A small
group of Ukrainian nationalists there joined the Germans,
understanding that they would seek to destroy the U.S.S.R. When
it became clear that the Germans would fail, the nationalists
left their service, ethnically cleansed Poles in 1943 and 1944,
and then resisted the Soviets. In Putin’s texts, they figure
as timeless villains, responsible for Ukrainian difference
generally. The irony, of course, is that they emerged thanks to
Stalin’s much grander collaboration with Hitler. They were
crushed by Soviet power, in a brutal counter-insurgency, and
today Ukraine’s far right polls at one to two per cent.
Meanwhile, the Poles, whose ancestors were the chief victims of
Ukrainian nationalism, have admitted nearly three million
Ukrainian refugees, reminding us that there are other ways
to handle history than stories of eternal victimhood.
After the war, western Ukraine was added to Soviet Ukraine, and
the republic was placed under suspicion precisely because it had
been under German occupation. New restrictions on Ukrainian
culture were justified by a manufactured allocation of guilt.
This circular logic—we punish you, therefore you must be
guilty—informs Kremlin propaganda today. Russia’s
foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has argued that Russia had to
invade Ukraine because Ukraine might have started a war. Putin,
who has said the same, is clearly drawing on Stalin’s
rhetoric. We are to understand that the Soviet victory in the
Second World War left Russians forever pure and Ukrainians
eternally guilty. At the funerals of Russian soldiers, grieving
parents are told that their sons were fighting Nazis.
The history of the colonization of Ukraine, like the history of
troubling and divisive subjects in general, can help us get free
of myths. The past delivers to Putin several strands of colonial
rhetoric, which he has combined and intensified. It also leaves
us vulnerable to a language of exploitation: whenever we speak
of “the Ukraine” instead of “Ukraine,” or pronounce
the capital city in the Russian style, or act as if Americans
can tell Ukrainians when and how to make peace, we are
continuing imperial rhetoric by partaking in it.
Ukrainian national rhetoric is less coherent than Putin’s
imperialism, and, therefore, more credible, and more human.
Independence arrived in 1991, when the U.S.S.R was dissolved.
Since then, the country’s politics have been marked by
corruption and inequality, but also by a democratic spirit that
has grown in tandem with national self-awareness. In 2004, an
attempt to rig an election was defeated by a mass movement. In
2014, millions of Ukrainians protested a President who retreated
from the E.U. The protesters were massacred, the President fled,
and Russia invaded Ukraine for the first time. Again and again,
Ukrainians have elected Presidents who seek reconciliation with
Russia; again and again, this has failed. Zelensky is an extreme
case: he ran on a platform of peace, only to be greeted with an
Ukraine is a post-colonial country, one that does not define
itself against exploitation so much as accept, and sometimes
even celebrate, the complications of emerging from it. Its
people are bilingual, and its soldiers speak the language of the
invader as well as their own. The war is fought in a
decentralized way, dependent on the solidarity of local
communities. These communities are diverse, but together they
defend the notion of Ukraine as a political nation. There is
something heartening in this. The model of the nation as a
mini-empire, replicating inequalities on a smaller scale, and
aiming for a homogeneity that is confused with identity, has
worn itself out. If we are going to have democratic states in
the twenty-first century, they will have to accept some of the
complexity that is taken for granted in Ukraine.
The contrast between an aging empire and a new kind of nation is
captured by Zelensky, whose simple presence makes Kremlin
ideology seem senseless. Born in 1978, he is a child of the
U.S.S.R., and speaks Russian with his family. A Jew, he reminds
us that democracy can be multicultural. He does not so much
answer Russian imperialism as exist alongside it, as though
hailing from some wiser dimension. He does not need to mirror
Putin; he just needs to show up. Every day, he affirms his
nation by what he says and what he does.
Ukrainians assert their nation’s existence through simple acts
of solidarity. They are not resisting Russia because of some
absence or some difference, because they are not Russians or
opposed to Russians. What is to be resisted is elemental: the
threat of national extinction represented by Russian
colonialism, a war of destruction expressly designed to resolve
“the Ukrainian question.” Ukrainians know that there is not
a question to be answered, only a life to be lived and, if need
be, to be risked. They resist because they know who they are. In
one of his very first videos after the invasion, when Russian
propaganda claimed that he had fled Kyiv, Zelensky pointed the
camera at himself and said, “The President is here.” That is
it. Ukraine is here.
More on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
* Is the Russian military a paper tiger?
* The long holy war behind Putin’s political war.
* For more than a month, the Russian military turned a
locked-in city into an urban death trap.
* The case for placing an immediate energy embargo on
* Why a forty-year-old father of three joined other civilians
to help thwart Russia’s attempt to seize Kyiv.
* Why do so many Russians say they support the war?
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from The New Yorker.
Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale. He is the
author of “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and
Stalin,” and recently released an expanded audiobook edition
of “On Tyranny.”
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