Last year I decided not to read Russian authors. I had good reasons, and not just anti-Russian ones, the biggest was to concentrate on Ukrainian perspective, not only on the present conflict, but on history and culture as well. It went beyond that. I also read up on Ukrainian perspective on Polish history, although admittedly I was moving in that direction for years. I’m just not a Polish nationalist I was in my early teens. Then I deepened my perspective in another direction as well, and thanks to Twitter! Mixed within discussions there, discussions on Russian colonialism and Russian attempts to subjugate Ukraine not only on political level, but to negate the existence of Ukrainians as a nation with distinct culture, are voices of other victims or Russian imperialism. The ones that caught my attention the most are from Caucasus, and increasingly from Central Asia, from all the “-stans” I’m ashamed to admit I know very little about. Big slaughters of indigenous peoples that somehow are rarely mentioned by vocal anti-imperialists around the world, cultural genocides, brutal policy of destroying all things local and enforcing those coming from the Moscovite centre. There was a genocide of Qazaqs that killed even bigger part of that nation that Holodomor killed of Ukrainians, and it happened a few years earlier. And many genocides before, in Tsarist times. The current war gives strength to many people all around to remember that, and to move away from russkiy mir. One of the great symbols might be Yurts of Invincibility funded by Qazaqs in Ukraine, and the fact that Qazaqstan moves away from the Cyrillic alphabet and is going to start to use the Latin one. It took decades after the fall of the Soviet Empire, and favourable geopolitical situation, to move beyond simply drawing the borders, now the post-Soviet world wants to de-russify. That’s hugely important and must be supported.
Not an easy thing to do when most of the Western people that know anything about these parts of the world learn about them through Russian perspective. Russian books, visits to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg… and even if they see the brutality and injustice, they are often unable to see that it’s not something internal to an essentially Russian world (with some regional differences), but a colonial, imperial endeavour of the biggest old-style empire left. One great, self-aware text about that from an American specializing in Russian lit I found recently in The New Yorker, by Elif Batuman.
In short, if you’re capable of understanding that Ireland, and even Scotland – aren’t England, please understand that Russia is not as big as its borders might suggest, and definitely have no justification for further expansion.
But that’s too long and I haven’t even started my introduction to the book of the day. I give you:
Author: Vasily Grossman
Title: Life and Fate