Reading Ukrainian authors, thinking about Russia

Since the war began, and it’s been a month already, it became my main concern. I’m listening to the news more than it’s healthy, probably, but I also decided to go beyond the breaking news, and I reached for some recent Ukrainian literature. I have to admit I have not been keeping up, I’ve read some during my university days, but nothing recently. And a lot is going there, apparently, with much getting translated into Polish. Not as much into English, I’m afraid, but I found something that made huge impression on me that is available, so after a few more paragraphs of introduction I’ll review Serhiy Zhadan’s The Orphanage: A Novel. I wanted to write a quick review, but it turned out into quite a long text about history and politics…

What makes writing this post difficult is that I’m back to Polish sources, not so much when I’m looking for the news, here I have some excellent outlets and pages in English in my mix, but for the more in-depth cultural analysis. And this is a very interesting front. Ukraine is not only defending itself on the frontlines of this vicious war, but also re-defining its national identity, a process that started… well, back in the XIX century 😉 but in its current phase – after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. There was a referendum then, with over 90% of the voters supporting Ukraine’s independence, but in the 90ties it was independence of a weak state that tried to be equally close to Russia and to the West. Large part of its population considered Russian to be their native language, especially people in the East, but initially also in the central part that includes the capital, Kyiv. For many, a difference between being Ukrainian and Russian wasn’t clear. Whole regions were largely pro-Russian, and supported staying away from such institutions of Western imperialism as EU or NATO. Fierce nationalism dominated the West of the country, cities like Lviv. But it was a smaller, neglected part of the state.

Ukraine was a poor and corrupted country of great people that largely lost hope for things to get better – that is my own observation from the times when I used to visit more often. Then something changed, and it was a change many people missed, initially. A political one. Elections are not always fair in this part of the world, and often the population is powerless to do anything about that. Or doesn’t even care, convinced that all politicians are the same. Ukrainians refused to accept rigged elections, and more than once. They showed a love of liberty and democracy that was never really present in Russia, and that fact proved to be important. Russia, unable to manipulate Ukraine from the shadows, moved in forcefully, conquering Crimea and then parts of two of Ukraine’s easternmost regions – the former was incorporated into Russia after a referendum, the latter left as pseudo-states, ruled by Russian agents and constantly attacking Ukrainian army. After 8 years of a low-intensity (but quite bloody) conflict, Putin told his horde to attack with full force on multiple fronts and the results we see on the news since February 24.

Continue reading “Reading Ukrainian authors, thinking about Russia”

Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Feb 2014 – ?

Russian aggression started in February 2014 on Crimea and the conflict never ceased, only its intensity varied. Now, there is a full scale invasion of the Russians against Ukraine, and we decided to post another of our rare political posts. Somehow, it’s always about something bad happening…

Ukraine is a country in Europe, a democracy, a country poor and corrupted – but one that made tremendous progress in the last decades. It’s people are brave and independent, and for Putin it’s a threat – he’s afraid Russians might follow their example. They won’t, they had theirs spines broken by Lenin and Stalin and never regained them. There are some brave people in Russia protesting against the war, today, but they are mostly already arrested. And there’s not enough of them to save the honour of this wretched nation.

Ukrainians have honour, but will they get enough support to survive?

We need sanctions as strong as never before, we need to cut Russia off all the institutions of the civilized world. From banking systems, and sport events. Confiscate property of Putin’s oligarchs, and expel their kids from expensive Western universities. And send all the arms Ukrainians need. If Russia occupies the country, never recognize whatever puppet regime they might install, and support the refugees, and the resistance.

This is a war in Europe like we did not have since the Second World War. It might define the future of this continent. We need to support decent people fighting for their lives and freedoms.

Please follow the news, do not listen to Russian trolls and their state media, support a legitimate charity that will help those in need, and there will be many. We know already about multiple civilian victims.

I’m Polish and my country had been invaded by Russia multiple times. Last time in 1945, when the liberation from Germany looked nothing like what you see in movies about American G.I. liberating France. Red Army raped and robbed their way through Poland then, like their ancestors did several times in the XIX century, and like they did multiple times since then, in many corners of the world.

Russia must be stopped.

21st Century Authoritarianism in Poland

It’s a NSFW revolution…. “wypierdalać” means “get the fuck out”

Ola: As much as we’d love to keep to the books and movies, the Polish ugly reality won’t allow us this luxury. After the brazen dismantling and subjugation of the judicial system, effective reintroduction of censorship in media, transforming the Roman Catholic Church into a political force, and crawling incapacitation of the military and foreign policy, the ruling authoritarian party ironically called Law and Justice decided to take posession of the citizens’ hearts and minds – by force. Starting with the persecution of the minorities: from LGBTQ to foreigners, Polish government has ended on a very Atwoodian note – by overturning (arguably illegally) the already very restrictive abortion laws, in effect banning nearly all forms of abortion, even in cases of severe foetal damage or abnormality, which often results in the death of the embryo.

Let’s put this in context: 98% of the 1,100 terminations permitted last year in Poland (a country with a population of nearly 38 million) were in the category of severe fetal abnormality. The current government had sought to overturn this law before, and not because of some high abstract values but mostly for a very concrete political gain – the removal of women’s rights comes as a gift from the Law and Justice politicians for the ultra-conservative Polish Catholic Church; it serves a very significant symbol of goodwill and a tangible guarantee of continuing support of the dominant religious institutions for the authoritarian regime.

Let’s be clear here: while the abortion theme might be the most apparent, controversial, and commanding attention, it is not the main issue here. The crux of the problem is that an increasingly authoritarian ruling party decided to overturn a long-standing and widely accepted axio-normative compromise rooted in law in the middle of a growing deadly pandemic, hoping that the battered an divided Polish society won’t notice this (yet another in a long line of progressively punitive) encroachment on civil freedoms. And now, when Poles are protesting on the streets, the leader of the Law and Justice party officially calls for the extreme right-wing organizations to defend traditional values “at all cost,” exhorting them to “win this war” – basically, and in not so many words, inciting social unrest and violence. The Guardian called it simply a betrayal of democracy, and is right.

Piotrek: It’s increasingly controversial to call what we had a compromise. If it ever was one, it was between conservative politicians and the Church, and resulted in some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe. The Church seemed to be doing well despite a growing wave of scandals, but this time they might have gone too far and the bishops are seen as just as valid a target of public anger as politicians.

There is something going on in Poland. And we’re not talking about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases – although this is very worrying, as we had twice as much cases in October than during the entire pandemic before the current month.

There is also a rise in people marching against the regime. They march, they drive very slowly on busy streets, they sit and block crucial crossroads in city centres. The rural areas I blasted in our previous political post are on the move as well, bless them. What has changed? It’s too early for a final verdict, but one thing is clearly visible – young people are mobilized like never before. It’s probably the biggest political mobilization of Polish teenagers ever. I was among the oldest on the first demonstration last week. Veterans of the resistance are a bit bitter, perhaps if we had more support five years ago we could prevent a lot of evil – but that doesn’t matter now, and clearly people younger than me needed to find their very own reasons to join the good fight. Now they see they have a very personal stake in how the society is organized and they are doing something about it. I salute them!

I’ve never seen so much energy, joy, optimism. It’s a street revolution, it’s a meme war, there’s music. Politically we might achieve nothing, again – although I might be surprised again. But this week revealed a huge social change that never before translated into the world of politics – the catho-nationalistic ideology the regime tried to feed to the young generation didn’t take.

My city, my people. Photo by filmowanielotnicze.pl

There is hope; please, even now, when the most important thing going is is undoubtedly happening in America, pay some attention to our sad little country.