Staunton, July 21 – “Many ethnic Russians both in Ukraine and in Russia itself are ready to declare themselves Ukrainians” or indeed anything else “if only to break out of ‘the Russian world’ and ‘cursed Sovietism’ and gain access to Western civilization and the benefits they believe it offers, according to a Russian Marxist.
In an essay posted yesterday, Aleksey Shmagirev argues that the destruction of “the national consciousness of our citizens” is “the result of the restoration of capitalism,” but his words underscore the weakness of ethnic Russian identity in Ukraine and elsewhere and the readiness of Russians to re-identify ethnically.
Shmagirev’s concession on this point is all the more impressive not only because he is an opponent of this shift but also because he takes seriously the variations among Ukrainians and among Russians that he suggests have allowed the new rulers of Ukraine to promote and then exploit this change.
According to the Marxist analyst, most commentators have assumed that Western Ukrainians have simply spread their ideology over the rest of the country during the last 20 years, but in fact, he argues, “the role of Western Ukraine [in this process] is seriously exaggerated.”
He points out that the leaders of the Maidan and the current regime are people who come from the predominantly ethnic Russian southeastern portion of Ukraine and who “have had specially to study the Ukrainian language when they began to position themselves as nationally-concerned politicians.”
Moreover, even among those who have attacked ethnic Russians in that region in recent weeks have been other ethnic Russians from Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkiv and other predominantly Russian cities. This doesn’t mean that “everything is fine in Western Ukraine, but it shows that “the main forces” of Ukrainian nationalism are not ‘the westerners’” as some imagine.
Instead, Shmagirev continues, “a very large if not the leading role” in this situation is being played “not even by the Ukrainians from Central Ukraine, a large portion of whom are also Russian speaking, but ethnic Russians from regions like Dneprpetrovsk.”
“In fact,” he says, what is happening in Ukraine now is “a war between ethnic Russians even if one of the sides is fighting under the flag of Ukrainian nationalism. And if the infection of Ukrainians with Ukrainian nationalism under conditions of capitalism looks completely natural, then for ethnic Russian residents of Ukraine, it looks somewhat strange.”
Shmagirev argues that it should not have come as a surprise to anyone who recognized that those who came to power in Kyiv after the collapse of the Soviet Union – something true of those in the capitals of other former Soviet republics as well – were interested not only in an anti-communist agenda but also in an anti-Moscow one, a course supported by the Western powers.
What these Kyiv elites did was to make use of “the ideology of the Western Ukrainian nationalists” to unify the country “even though the role of the Western Ukrainians in this process has been minimal.” And they were supported in this process by the new capitalists across the country who concluded they would do better as part of Ukraine than part of Russia.
“This was just as if Siberia became independent,” the Marxist analyst says. “Immediately all our capitalists and bourgeois politicians…would be converted into committed Siberian nationalists, would begin to insist that Siberians are a separate people which has always been oppressed by Muscovites, and force everyone to study the Altay language.”
Of course, he concedes, “in contrast to the Siberians, the Ukrainians are all the same a separate nation and one cannot say that Ukrainians and Russians are in general one and the same thing as cry certain Russian nationalists who declare that Ukrainians are something thought up by ‘the cursed Bolsheviks.’”
Moreover, Shmagirev insists, “one must understand that contemporary Ukrainian nationalism is in the first instance a pro-imperialist ideology at the service of colonizers from the United States and Western Europe” and for “’the nationally oriented’ citizens of Ukraine … it is already not so important whether you are a Ukrainian or a Russian.”
“If you dream of entering ‘Europe’ at any price…then you fit in with the Ukrainian nationalists.” Within Russia, there are many who are making the same calculation, but there, the Marxist critic continues, they also have linked up with liberals. In the non-Russian republics, “the liberals and the nationalists were one group from the very beginning.”
That same trend is growing in Russia, Shmagirev argues, because the Russian Federation, as “the largest and strongest of all the former republics,” is “capable of conducting its own imperialist policy.” And in both the one and the other, “the restoration of capitalism” has “destroyed the national consciousness of many of our citizens.”