Fragmentary thoughts on Ukraine from a year ago

I’m about to revive and reconceive this blog, but before I do, I thought I might post this fragment, originally composed one year ago.

Since last posting I’ve spent some time in Crimea, Transnistria, and Tallinn. Each place has it’s own form of post-soviet psychosis. Sevastopol in Crimea has long been the home of the Russian/Soviet Black Sea Fleet. As such, through a number of events and their surrounding legends, the city looms fairly large in the Russian psyche. Tolstoy fought there during the Crimean war. From there Nakhimov destroyed the Turkish fleet, defended the city and was killed in the process. That’s to say nothing of the Great Patriotic War, as I’m becoming accustomed to thinking of it. Moreover, the citizens of Sevastopol broadly consider it a Russian city. Apparently, if Crimea were given a referendum, the population would overwhelmingly opt to return to Russia, of which, the RSFSR, they were a part until the 1960s.

Ukraine in general is riven by the insanity of identity politics. It is one of the world’s major crossroads, playing host to major migrations and empires of all types throughout history. It has never been and hopefully never will be purely ‘Ukrainian’ whatever that means. During the 19th century some of my German ancestors lived on the western edge, an area now in the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic. They settled in Grigoriopol, but due to tensions with the local Armenians, a village was cleared of its Romanian population to make way for them. There they met with occassional Nogai Tatar raids. Russian teachers were sent to instruct them in the tongue of the realm. After my ancestors left at the beginning of the 20th century the remaining villagers were subject to the Russian revolution and the competing White, Red, Black and Green armies. They were ravaged as kulaks by Nestor Makhno’s largely Jewish Black Army in particular, likely with recruits from the large jewish population in nearby cosmopolitan Odessa. The corner of the country around where the Ukrainian, Belorussian and Polish borders meet is the closest thing to a real Ukrainian ethnic heimat.

That’s a slightly troubled portrait of Ukrainian ethnic diversity drawn just from research into my own insular ancestors. Yet if you speak with many if not most “ethnic” Ukrainians, you’ll here no concession to the country’s enduring diversity. Instead you’ll hear about how their accidental nation-state-hood and its attendant language and fantasies must be enforced on all within its borders. This is reminiscent of how the Han Chinese inherited an empire conquered by the Manchus and proceeded to enforce their culture or, post GPCR, lack thereof on the dozens of other ethnicities within their borders. In both cases, as in many others, this purist nation-state model harkens back to the product of the first great bourgeois revolution, the pre-abolition USA with it’s herrenvolk model. Try reminding an ethno-nationalistic Ukrainian that Canada, balls deep as it is in the sycophantry of all non-western aspirant middle-classes, carries on for the better with two official languages and watch as their face spasms with cognitive dissonance.

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