Westsplaining Ukraine

Ukrainians from the village of Peredivannia, Horodenkovskyi Raion, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, 1947 

Op-ed

Article by: Hanna Hrytsenko

A “westsplaining” term was coined yesterday in the Ukrainian segment of Twitter.

This refers to a discussion of a thread written yesterday by a head of a Kyiv office of one of the foreign foundations, who compared the position of the Ukrainians under Russian Empire and the Soviet Union with the position of blacks in America, a man of Russian cultural background who shared the same anti-Ukrainian stereotypes in his childhood and youth. (Of course, the very comparison and the argumentation could be more nuanced, since history never provides us two 100% equal situations, but it was a Twitter thread, not a Ph.D. thesis).

The thread appeared in the context of an ongoing language scandal, provided by a pro-Russian blogger and a minor politician, who spreads fake news and hate speech and targets his work onto a poorly educated aggressive male audience.

The takes about the possible comparison of Ukrainians and blacks were rejected by a number of western high-status men, mostly journalists (social bubbles enjoy their place in Twitter, as well).

They stated that some of the Soviet high-ranking persons were of Ukrainian origin, even including there Leon Trotsky – the same argument as when one says that Obama is black and Condoleezza Rice is black too, so there is no structural racism in the USA.

They stated that Ukrainians are actually white – though only white-passing sometimes until the accent is heard and until dressing and manners are seen.

Never has it been that white western guys used to tell eastern uncivilized guys what to do, what to feel, and what really happened, never has it been and ah here again.

Moreover, the word “Khokhol” was called as less offensive than the N-word – and please have an eye on the logics here – because it is written out completely more often. When politely explained why the comparison could be seen as valid, the answers were “oh god” and “come on.”

The day before an American journalist working with Ukrainian topics tweeted that “language politics in Ukraine is a toxic swamp.” The actual language scandal has already provided us a video of ф group attack of pro-Russian guys towards one person on a subway station (where the attacked could easily fall on the rails). The audience is already heated up.

OK, under Russian empire and Soviet government Ukrainians “enjoyed” slavery (without having their own aristocracy as Russians did), language-prohibition laws, self-government attempts put down (including either left-liberal state-building attempts or anarchist projects), a genocide, an executed cultural Renaissance, a sandwich between two totalitarian regimes in WW2, and so on and so on, but here, guys, don’t you have a Ukrainian-born Jew assassinated in Mexico for his deviation from the party line, so please be kind to disregard all of the above.

Never has it been that white western guys used to tell eastern uncivilized guys what to do, what to feel, and what really happened, never has it been and ah here again.

First-world heterosexual educated men who never had any experience of feeling themselves an inferior Untermensch suggest it is possible to take away the identity, dignity, and voice from members of less privileged communities, and they are very sincere when they do not understand what is wrong with it.

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Maybe we should rethink the very ideas of civilization, progress and so on, if unprivileged eastern Barbarians, in fact, appear to be more sensitive, ethically sophisticated and able to use nuanced approach than all these western VIPs with verified accounts – and even appear to know about Plessy v. Ferguson case better than them!

As a non-heterosexual Ukrainian woman, I really wonder why it’s completely OK for me to have a female and not agender identity, why it’s completely OK for me to have a bisexual and not it-doesn’t-matter-sexual identity, but from my national identity I am constantly stripped of regardless of what I really think about it. How does it work? Where is this fundamental difference?

“Westsplaining” term is rather OK, I think, better than “orientalism” in this case. I will use it when necessary. And as an expert, I’m not going to have any professional contacts with westplainers anymore, either on person-to-person or on an organizational level. It’s the twenty-first century, time for dignity, guys.

Hanna Hrytsenko is an independent researcher of far-right issues and gender issues, living in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is an author of a chapter in the book Gender, Religion and Nationalism in Ukraine, published by Heinrich Böll Foundation in 2012. She is also a co-author of two studies: ‘Invisible Battalion’: Women’s Participation in Military Operations in the ATO, conducted and published in 2015; and ‘Invisible Battalion 2.0’ on the reintegration of veteran women. See her articles in the ReftLight project launched under the auspices of Euromaidan Press.

 

 

 

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