War of the Worlds. Language is important.
All these horrors: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and human rights abuses, that the Russian Federation is committing right now in Ukraine, after unleashing a barbaric war, are only the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s try to look deeper and see the actual obstacle “the ship of the civilized world” has encountered on the Ukrainian front.
If you think that all the evil is concentrated in supposedly crazy Putin, you are wrong. It is vital to understand what lies at the core of this war.
You may have heard the expression “great Russian culture” many times, but did you ever have the question of why it is “great”? Why Ukrainian, French, Japanese, or English cultures are not, but Russian is?
Don’t you think that there are tones of narcissism and Nazism in this very saying, “great culture?” In other words, it means an act of making one culture seem more significant than others. Russian artists are great and therefore are more talented, more important, they can’t be equated with others.
Can you think of any Buryat, Chechen, Belarusian writer, or poet who is perceived as an outstanding author in Russian Federation and thus — in Russian culture? Someone who would be placed alongside Dostoevsky, who would be known by every Russian citizen? Could it be that the whole nation didn’t have a single talented or even genius poet? Throughout their whole history?
Let’s take, for example, the well-known Mykola Gogol. There is still an ongoing debate over whether he is a Ukrainian or Russian writer. But isn’t the mere existence of this argument evidence that there can’t be a great non-Russian writer in the Russian Federation (empire, union, czardom)? It seems to be an axiom: great equals Russian. If it’s something non-Russian — Ukrainian, Belarusian, Daghestanian, Georgian — then it’s not so great, it’s just of local significance.
One of the standard arguments for belonging to Russian culture is the Russian language. Russian-speaking is equal to Russian heritage. In that case, you may think that sounds fair, but let’s think about why Russian language started to hold such a place of value.
Let’s start from the very beginning. “Great and powerful Russian language” is the definition that we hear since elementary school across the post-Soviet space. What do you think about this? Isn’t Chinese a great language? Or English and German? Maybe Ukrainian? No. None of the republics of the Soviet Union had such a definition of its national language. There was never any such thing as a “great Belarusian language” or “great Ukrainian language.” Only Russian is great and powerful. Doesn’t this continue the programming of Nazi supremacist narratives in culture?
Today the Russian Federation starts wars under the slogan of liberating Russian-speaking people who are actually citizens of other countries. You can be a resident of Ukraine, yet it means nothing in terms of how Russia understands international law if you speak Russian. In that case, language becomes a kind of alternative citizenship. It’s strange, isn’t it? But if there are so many people that refuse to speak their native language in favor of Russian, maybe it is indeed unique and more powerful than others?
Allow me to disappoint you. It is not true. Not at all. Russian is an ordinary language, no worse or better than Belarusian or Polish. But for you to understand why there are so many Russian-speaking non-Russians I will provide some history:
Nowadays, in 2022, as soon as Russia took control over the occupied Ukrainian territories, it banned the teaching of the Ukrainian language, literature and history there.
Also, in occupied regions Russians started to take out editions of Ukrainian literature and history books from libraries and destroy them.
This deep-rooted barbarity is known to be typical of Russian cultural politics:
1693 — Letter of the Moscow Patriarch to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra on the prohibition of any books in Ukrainian.
This shows that before the year 1693, the independent Ukrainian language prevailed on Ukrainian lands, so the Russian Empire had to officially ban it.
This additionally indicates that the Russian church took part in political processes and actively suppressed the culture of the Ukrainian people in the 17th century already.
1709 — Decree ordering censorship of Ukrainian books in Moscow.
1720 — Decree of Peter I banning the printing of books in Ukrainian.
Also, it is worth paying attention to the fact that in the 18th century books in Ukrainian were still extensively published. This demonstrates a high level of Ukrainian society’s culture of that time and its detachment from the Russian cultural process. Consequently, the Tsar of Russia tried to destroy and transform the identity of Ukrainian intellectual circles by force.
1729 — Order of Peter II on rewriting all state decrees and orders in Russian that were written in Ukrainian.
As we can see, in 18th century documentation in the national language, that was distinctive from Russian, was widely used in Ukrainian territories and was an important part of being aware of its own autonomy. The existence of paperwork in Ukrainian shows a similar perception of language by the vast majority of ordinary people and also by the nobles of that time.
Therefore, the issuance of these orders only emphasizes the non-perception of Russian by Ukrainians: it is a foreign language to them.
1763 — Decree of Catherine II forbidding Ukrainian as the language of teaching at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
That means that in another century, under the leadership of a completely different monarch, Russia also damaged the Ukrainian identity. It viciously interfered with the educational process of one of the most ancient and prestigious Eastern European universities of that time — the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. The thing is that all the elites of the Cossack state studied at the Academy, namely Ukrainian hetmans, representatives of the Cossack elders, and the most influential representatives of the Orthodox clergy. The Ukrainian language at such an establishment formed the national consciousness and unity of Ukrainians. Moreover, in Kyiv-Mohyla Academy the Ukrainian language was taught next to Latin and Greek; this gave it an important status and affirmed it, both in the minds and everyday life of Ukrainian public figures and magnates.
1769 — Resolution of the Russian Orthodox Church on the confiscation of Ukrainian alphabet books and church books.
1775 — Destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich and closure of Ukrainian schools.
The Russian Empire not only destroys the military and political center of the Ukrainian Cossack state– the Zaporizhian Sich– the Empire also tries to completely eradicate the existence of the Ukrainian language by force, prohibiting the teaching of children in the Ukrainian language. That is, it is trying to deprive entire generations of Ukrainians of the right to know their native language. It is also important to understand the connection between the destruction of the Sich and schools. Cossacks, in contradiction to Russian propaganda, were not only a military force, but also the foundation of the educational and cultural process on our lands. It was the Cossacks who actively supported the establishment and function of schools and universities, acting as patrons and guarantors. While in most of the lands of the Russian Empire the vast majority of the population was illiterate, including Russians themselves, Ukrainians massively received primary education in schools established under churches or Cossack units.
1804 — Order banning all Ukrainian-language schools in the Russian Empire.
1847 — Increased persecution of the Ukrainian language, the prohibition of the works and editions of works of Ukrainian writers, including Shevchenko, Kulish, Kostomarov.
By the 19th century, the general policy of Russians toward the Ukrainian language, literature, and culture had not changed. Lacking the power to gain dominance through fair competition, the Russian authorities once again resorted to the method of prohibitions and repression by force. They actually completely blocked the possibility for Ukrainian writers to realize themselves by writing works in their native language. However, the presence of a whole group of Ukrainian-speaking writers, who have been brutally oppressed, demonstrates the extraordinary strength and resilience of the unique Ukrainian culture.
1862 — Closing of Ukrainian Sunday schools for adults in the Russian Empire.
1863 — Valuev Circular, prohibiting censors from giving permission to the publication of Ukrainian spiritual and popular educational literature. According to them, the Ukrainian language is called the “Malorussian dialect”, which has never been a self-sufficient language and should not be perceived as such.
Now the policy of outright perversion of Ukrainian history, groundless depreciation, and denial of the existence of Ukrainians as a separate people with authentic culture acquires a fixed and total structure. Russia is trying to propagate an artificial image of Ukrainians — provincials and savages, who cannot even have their own language.
1864 — Adoption of the Charter of the primary school, in which education was to be conducted only in Russian.
1876 — Alexander II’s Ems decree, banning the printing and import from abroad of any Ukrainian literature, forbidding theatrical stage performances in Ukrainian.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Ukrainian theater gains momentum as a new, bolder, and more contemporary phenomenon in its artistic essence, in comparison with the crusty Russian theater. The fame of Ukrainian dramaturgy and performance on the territory of the Russian Empire causes anxiety among Russians, and the Russian Tsar could not handle the clear signs of the progress of Ukrainian culture with anything but a new slew of prohibitions.
1881 — Prohibition of teaching in the public schools and conducting church sermons in Ukrainian in the Russian Empire.
1884 — Prohibition by Alexander III of Ukrainian theater in all the provinces of Malorussia.
1888 — Order of Alexander III banning the use of the Ukrainian language in official institutions.
1892 — Prohibition of translating books from Russian into Ukrainian.
Such prohibitions testify to the incomprehension or rejection of the Russian language by Ukrainians; this need for translation even after two hundred years of regular prohibitions and attempts to eradicate it.
1895 — Prohibition of publishing Ukrainian-language children’s books by the Main Administration of Printing .
Language suppression also took place in the 20th century. While the Soviet Union proclaimed equality and brotherhood of republics and people, in 1984, the Ukrainian SSR began to pay 15% more salaries to teachers of Russian than to teachers of Ukrainian.
So, we see that during 300 previous years each Russian state form, purposefully, consistently, and cruelly destroyed the language of the Ukrainian people. That is, regardless of the tsar or the president, Russia has always prohibited the existence of Ukrainian culture. The ban on the publishing of books in Ukrainian effectively excluded the exercising of writing talents byf Ukrainian writers in Ukrainian, thus they were forced to write in Russian. Nikolai Gogol is a Russian writer because he wrote in Russian. But why did he write in Russian? Because it is better than Ukrainian? Because he liked it better than Ukrainian?
How about we re-read the list of official bans to write in the Ukrainian language and somehow connect one with the other?
The given list of prohibitions of the Ukrainian language and literature is not complete, only an overview. In fact, it is much broader, more than 120 official state Kremlin prohibitions were recorded at various times. The Russian authorities pursued the same policy against all conquered and occupied peoples and cultures. They promoted the Russian language by force among Belarusians, Georgians, Armenians, and other lands. In some of these countries, the national language is on the verge of disappearing.
Thus, there were writers who wrote in Ukrainian, but if you read the history of their lives, you will immediately see the scale of repression against representatives of Ukrainian culture systematically led by the Russian state for several centuries. This is evidenced by the tragic fate of the Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko. Not only did his poetry become a symbol of Ukrainian literature, but his personality became a symbol of Ukrainian culture and people, as most of his life he was under investigation and in exile.
We have already seen the mechanisms by which Russian culture rose above all others.
We already know that “the Great Russian Culture” and “the big and powerful Russian language” are the slogans of the policy of total discrimination and occupation of other peoples. And this policy is not new for Russians. Unfortunately, it did not come into being with President Putin’s rise to power. This is a policy which drives every regime that comes into power.