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Russia’s war against Ukraine and culture: Porechenkov’s lesson

Russia’s war against Ukraine and culture: Porechenkov’s lesson
Article by: Petro Kraliuk
Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina

On the eve of Halloween famous Russian actor Mikhail Porechenkov decided to surprise his followers: together with members of the ‘DNR,’ in a helmet that said ‘press,’ he shot a large-caliber machine gun at the Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk airport. This evoked a massive reaction. There is commotion in mass media, on social networks. The question is only: for how long? And will there be any result?

In reality, Porechenkov’s situation is not extraordinary. Similar things have happened. And not just once. On May 9 of this year another Russian star, Nikita Dzhigurda (our compatriot, by the way), came to Donetsk to support a pro-Russian meeting. Another compatriot, Josif Kobzon, also recently came to ‘Novorossiya’ to entertain the separatists.

It is not really important whether these visits are made of the goodness of their hearts or for the sake of primitive PR or whether it is one of the manifestations of Russia’s ‘cultural policies.’ In the end result, such actions play in favor of Russian propaganda.

The aforementioned visits show that popular Russian cultural activists support Putin’s policies and ‘Novorosiya’ itself. It is important not only for the Russian political elite which started war with Ukraine and which is interested in zombifying its population, but for the ‘Novorossiya citizens’ as well, of which there are enough both in Donbas and other corners of Ukraine. In the end, such actions on part of Russian cultural activists demoralize the part of the Ukrainian population which does not sympathize with the separatists. As many Ukrainians have a positive regard for Kobzon and Porechenkov. And if these ‘idols’ are on the side of the enemies of Ukraine, possibly it is best to ponder over whether Ukraine is doing the right thing in fighting ‘Novorossiya.’

However, Porechenkov’s shooting in Donetsk Airport turned out to be too symbolic. Neither Kobzon nor extravagant Dzhigurda took up arms. Porechenkov did. And this evoked a lot of resonance.

Dependence on Russian culture

This shooting once more raised the issue that goes largely ignored in Ukraine: the dependence of our cultural, especially our informational, space on the Russian one. This dependence regards not only popular forms of culture, but ‘high’ culture as well. Not just the hegemony of Russian and pro-Russian media, various Russian cultural products (music, cinema, literature, art) but also the fact that our science remains in the shadow of Russian science. Take a look at how many Russian scientific publications there are in Ukraine. Our scientists often look at various problems from the Russian perspective. Especially when it comes to humanities. For example, our history is being presented in a pro-Russian spirit. The same with philosophy, theory of literature, cultural studies. Even our terms are tied to Russian culture. This is especially noticeable now. There are some people who are ready to go ‘under Russia.’ Which, essentially, serves as the basis for pro-Russian separatism in Ukraine.

Many of our scientists, cultural activists are somewhat reminiscent of Ukrainian soldiers and law enforcement servicemen. The latter until recently were unable to imagine that Ukraine’s main enemy is Russia and that they would have to fight Russia. The same way our scientists and artists fail to understand that they have to distance themselves from Russian culture.

Our dependence on Russian culture is determined not by the fact that Russian culture is ‘better.’ This culture until recently was imperial culture that reigned on our soil. Enormous resources were invested in it. This is where its ‘power’ comes from.

I understand it is hard to part with imperial culture. Its ‘charms’ are manifested throughout time. This, by the way, is what imperial politicians took advantage of. The current situation in Ukraine is a good example. As we can see that the Russian military expansion was preceded by the Russian cultural expansion with the usage of imperial cultural achievements.

Did the Ukrainian elite, in particular, the intellectual part of it, comprehend this threat? It looks like the answer is no rather than yes.

Mistakes we pay for dearly

First lets look at our intellectuals. Did they offer, say, a non-Russian view on Ukrainian history? Our history textbooks continue to glorify Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who let Ukraine to the ‘reunification’ with Russia. We mostly avoid using terms like Soviet of Russian occupation, and the events of World War II on Ukrainian territory are called the Great Patriotic War. The same regards other humanity spheres. Even under the current conditions, when Russia is being openly aggressive against Ukraine, we are trying not to call things by their proper names: aggression is aggression, war is war, occupation is occupation. This is where our helplessness in the face of the enemy comes from.

Though it would be erroneous to place all the blame on the intellectuals. Yes, they (in general, not individual people) were unable to foresee the threats, and accordingly, they were unable to warn the Ukrainian public of them. However, the bigger fault lies on the political elite, which is mostly the economical elite at the same time. Essentially, they are ‘masters of life,’ in whose hands there are enormous material resources. Were these resources used to create the Ukrainian information and cultural space? I will not be categorical: some things were done. But some things were really small. Were serious funds invested in Ukrainian cinema, music, literature, art? Unfortunately, Ukrainian culture mostly remained a thing for enthusiasts who are trying to survive by themselves. However, a lot of money was invested by the Ukrainian political and business elites to develop mass media which advertised and broadcast Russian cultural products, to promote and stage concerts for Russian pop starts in Ukraine, to ensure the needs of the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate etc. This wastage of our elite on Russian culture and the development of the ‘Russia world’ surpassed what it spent on the development of the Ukrainian culture several times. And is it not one of the reasons why we have occupied Crimea now, part of Donbas as well, where real war is underway and our soldiers die every day? And some Russian star is having fun by shooting a machine gun at our boys in Donetsk Airport.

And to conclude. One of my good friends once said: “If we don’t spend money on culture, we will have to spend it on bulletproof vests.” There is some truth to this.

Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
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