Orientalism reanimated: colonial thinking in Western analysts’ comments on Ukraine



2014/10/27 • Featured, Politics

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  • Paul Pourdieu


  • xanderdeafman

    Brilliant analysis, sir! (thumbs up) 😀

    Slava Ukraine!
    Слава Украине!!
    Слава Україні!

    Fortress, Glory, Freedom, Independence, Love, Courage, Victory for Ukraine!
    Фортеця, слава, свободи, незалежності, любов, мужність, перемога України!
    Крепость, слава, свобода, независимость, любовь, мужество, победа для Украины!

    • Murf


  • jmundstuk

    Very good and important. Suggest changing link to Ron Paul to someone like Richard Cohen or others at the Nation for experts who are Russian apologists. Ron Paul is a bit of an outlayer, to understate.

  • sandy miller

    Thank you for explaining this prejudice to me. I’ve been wondering why Russia is believed in this war against Ukraine and Ukraine isn’t? I’ve been wondering how these people could be apologists for Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Putin’s Russia is a criminal no better than ISIS and yet the the news articles don’t treat them as such. It’s always Ukraine having to prove and re-prove russia’s actions in Ukraine. This idea that Russia is a great nation is a farce. It may be a big country but it certainly isn’t a great one. It’s a country that’s enslaved it’s people and countries around it for centuries. It’s a backward, savage country that’s stolen other countries histories and cultures. They only people that admire this country are communists!!!

  • Paul P. Valtos

    Well it seems that the Czarist attitude which influenced the revolution in 1919 has not changed Russian attitudes. Peter the Great left Russia dna travelled and worked in Wester Europe and realized how backward Russia was but his successors reverted to the old idea that Russia had no need for Western culture or innovations as it had survived so long without them. In turn it turned inward and then Lenin decided that he needed another philosophy to keep Russia way from societies that were far more advanced. He thought that by force and dictat he could start a society which would be far superior to the west.
    by 1990, Gorbachev realized that the economy was stagnant and the state was bankrupt. Stalin modernized Russia at what cost but any further advancement required the removal of the central control of the economy. I the only product being consumed and produced by the state was war, there was no return. There is no going back as they say. Once you take the boy out of the farm he’s not going back. No one in Russia believes that they have it better than the West.

  • Murf

    I think what we are seeing death throes of the last vestige of European imperialism.
    Unlike the other European empires. The Russian Empire rebranded it’s self as the USSR and so survived the collapse of the imperial age. Putin’s justifications for his actions are right out of the 19th century. Substitute the title “Russian Federation” with “Russian Empire” the rhetoric wouldn’t change by so much as a coma.
    People call it “a new Cold War”, including myself, but really it is playing out like Kipling’s “Great Game”
    That Putin is resorting this kind of imperial revivalism is not surprising. That many western commentators (including some Americans)are buying into, it is disappointing.

  • Connors

    Very good piece. Thank you.

  • Jim Monaghan

    Those interested in the history and politics of Ukraine should look here Ukraine has a history and a left tradition which was buried by Stalin. http://ukrainesolidaritycampaign.org/links/

  • RHg

    He forgot to mention the German “Russlandversteher”, people like former Chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Schmidt, who in their arrogance remind me of Ribbentrop — another German ready to hand over smaller nations to the Russians.

  • Plumbum

    Very good article! This kind of approach to the subject should have been in place since the collapse of the Soviet Union or earlier just to enlighten Western politicians and general public.

  • Helene Ryding

    Excellent article, Fabio. All these nested orientalisms in Eastern Europe are also a problem, as is Russian leaders’ own attitude to its people, shown by Alexander Etkind’s book, Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience.

  • Willem

    Hmmm, I think the reasoning is nice and all, and I for sure think that Utopia should
    be something to strive for. Yet the author seems to make the same error most
    make now a days, he ignores the division of power.

    Even if it is true that no nation, race, people or tribe should look down on others
    as theirs to do with as they please, reality is that this will always be the
    case. The fact that we have a relative peace in the Northern hemisphere doesn’t
    take away from the fact that this is not an ever lasting one. Russia, America
    and to some, unproven extent, the EU are powerful blocks and if they please
    others can only deny catering for a set period of time before they will come

    So the opinion of Ukraine and the history of things is relaxant as long as it does not
    mingle with the narrative more powerful put in place.

  • aftabkazi

    A well written article that has referred to European geopitics but ignored the address geopolitical background competition going on since the dismantling of USSR, hence the evutionary processes of the post-Soviet evolving new EurasiN order. All arguments have been summed up in the context of Orientalism. What pro-Russians have been accused for, Western Europe has also been involved relatively similar stereotypes of Eastern Europe. Aren’t some EU members eyeing on E. Europe as sphere of influence (read colony). The point is that Russia has been defending herself from the negative impacts of EU geopolitics, due to border dynamics Ukraine has to suffer. It is a me state and has not yet consolidated herself as a new nation-State identity. Who will deny that USA and EU did not interfere in Maidan and pre-maidan politics in Ukrain? Future of Ukraine is unpredictable at this moment, while Russia is now transiting towards broader Eurasian partnerships.

  • aftabkazi

    Some how manat part of my commend has disappeared while clicking g to post. Sorry.

  • Evgeny_K

    Come on! You blame Russia for being selfish and imperialistic, and you’re closing eyes on what was going on on Middle East, where dozen of regimes were downed by the people, clearly supported by Europe and USA. Let’s not forget the American invasion in Afganistan and Iraq and the chaos which is left after that. Let’s not forget Syria and attempts to drop the legitimate president of the sovereign state by supporting terrorists. Let’s not forget the bombings of Serbia – the bombing (with cluster bombs!) of civilians, not some military objects. The operation was not authorised by the United Nations and was the first time that NATO used military force without the approval of the UN Security Council and against a sovereign nation that did not pose a threat to members of the alliance. Let’s not forget Kosovo – which in the logic of the author should be forgot as Serbian, which it was for hundreds of years…

    The point is – who are those “We (Western and Eastern Europeans alike)” to judge Russia, behaving the same or even worse than that?

    • მჟავა

      Thank you for exemplifying the author’s point!
      The truth of the matter is: Russia is a warmongering, arrogant nation that has no respect for anything but power. They claim that the shortcomings in their own country is somehow caused by the West and Western influence, and they’ve been claiming it for decades. The problem, however, lies with themselves and themselves alone.
      Let us not forget Abkhazia and South Osetia, dear friend. You seem to have a peculiar selective memory when it comes to illegitimate invasions on territories of sovereign countries.

      • Evgeny_K

        No, you’ve got it wrong. The fact is that Russia does not do anything that America and NATO has already done in past 20 years. Just look back in history. These are double standarts and nothing else.

    • Karl Worthington

      According to your logic, since there have been many infamous cases of police corruption, if the police catches a murderer red-handed, the murderer shouldn’t be punished because “the police behaved the same way or even worse than that”.

      The many mistakes and abuses of the American foreign policy do not justify the Russian actions against Ukraine sovereignty.

      Your Kosovo example is incredibly flawed because Serbian authorities were enacting genocidal measures against the Albanian-speaking population of Kosovo. The intervention was focus on averting a genocide. The Kosovo Albanians later decided to leave Serbia because of the very legitimate suspicion that the Serbian authorities might start slaughtering them again.

      Ukrainian authorities did no such thing against the Russian-speaking minorities. Putin sometimes claims that they wanted to but has no evidence to support what he said other than “I’m right because I say so”.

      The Ukrainian people decided to join the European Union and NATO mostly to protect themselves from the overbearing Russian influence. People in the Baltic states did the same thing years ago and very few people in the West argued for a Russian invasion of, say, Lithuania (which hosts a significant Russian-speaking minority).

      And yet many prominent American and Western European intellectuals and journalists justify Putin’s aggressive policies against Ukraine because they dismiss the will of Ukrainian people as “Western manipulation” and believe that Putin’s Russia should have the right to own lands in which Russian speaking minorities live.

      Many European nations host significant linguistic minorities. South Tyrol is populated by German speakers and yet it’s a part of Italy, for example. No sane person would argue that Austria should invade it and annex it, because the European policy these days is to respect the borders of established states who do not violate human rights.

      The German minority in Italy is protected, among other things, by EU laws. It enjoys linguistic freedom, high standards of living and representatives in the Italian parliament that protect and carry on its interests.

      If someone is seriously concerned about the Russian minority in Ukraine they should welcome the idea of Ukraine joining the European Union. EU oversight would make life better, not worse for the Russian speakers living in Ukraine.

  • Shin Onni

    Ukrainian authorities did no such thing against the Russian-speaking minorities?? Do you actually so blind to see “they did” and still keep doing or you just don’t want to recognize the obvious facts?

  • LES1

    Brilliant article.

  • Alina Chorna

    Greatly appreciate such detailed analysis of what’s really going on in the mind of some “experts” on Eastern Europe. Usually I would think that some of those “experts” just have no clue of what they are talking about or just work for Moscow. Now I do understand from where they are coming from. Rather disturbing to realize that such opinions still dominate in so-called expertise about Eastern Europe.

    • Jim Kovpak

      A lot of those insta-experts didn’t spend any significant time learning about Ukraine until Maidan started in 2013, or worse- 2014. What is more, a lot of people assumed that because they lived in Russia and know Russia (and perhaps maybe visited Ukraine a few times), they knew Ukrainian politics. Sadly I had made that mistake myself and so in 2014 I had to catch up quickly.

      Luckily in my case I had some background to base my research on, but for a lot of these pundits they must have some people who they consider to be “go-to” experts. The problem with this, of course, is that if they are in Moscow they’ll get Moscow’s POV, and in some cases in Ukraine they get the narrative of people like Volodymyr V’iatrovych. Then of course each of these pundits now believes that they are well-informed.

  • Jim Kovpak

    Very good article. Two minor nitpicks though- whataboutism is actually the “tu quoque” fallacy, not ad hominem. Also, I would say that this line of argument does need to be addressed, but obviously you didn’t need to here. Pro-Kremlin types always try to make it a part of any discussion.