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Otto von Bismarck is credited with the phrase: “The enemy goes where the teacher and the priest lose.” Or in another version: “Wars are not won by generals, wars are won by school teachers and parish priests.” This echoes the words of another politician about the importance of culture. When during the war in Britain they decided to cut spending on culture, Winston Churchill seemed to deny that “we are fighting for culture.” In the end, it does not matter which of the Great Ones formulated these thoughts, what matters is the fundamental universality that turned them into maxims.
So, the Ukrainian teacher lost in Crimea. This must be recognized, and most importantly, realized. And to understand why he lost, without shifting the blame to the unexpected effective actions of an aggressive neighbor. They were effective precisely because Ukraine lost a teacher in Crimea. It is advisable to start with the analysis of this mistake when it comes to the current Russian cultural aggression. Because only a teacher can neutralize or stop it.
The most vulnerable element of society is not the government or the state, but the system of cultural values - national, historical, moral, etc. As long as the consciousness of the nation will be dominated by a certain system of meanings and values, they will be insensitive to aggression. Therefore, the destruction of value bases is the task of the aggressor country, and it is solved by such a tool as cultural aggression. With its help, society is imposed its own system of cultural values, its own historical assessments and its own worldview. In a word, our own “cultural capital”, according to the terminology of the French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu. The one who owns the “cultural capital” is the one who controls the government.
Cultural aggression is quasi-war. Its purpose is to break a person spiritually and morally, to change his values, to discredit art, literature and religion, to distort history, to mock the symbols of faith and dignity, and finally to convince (force) to build a society according to the standards of the aggressors. It is carried out through everything that affects the formation of the consciousness of society – schools, universities, cinema, music, television, books and social networks, affecting all layers of society step by step. Usually, cultural aggression precedes or accompanies military aggression, as it happened in Ukrainian realities. Already after taking possession of the territory, the aggressor begins the destruction of traditional culture, science and education. A certain “deculturation” is taking place, sadly illustrated in the annexed Crimea and in the eastern lands of Ukraine separated by Russia. After a few generations, a new and convenient civilization for the aggressor will appear there.
What is cultural aggression in the Crimean Peninsula? This is the capture of about 14,000 monuments, 54 museums (300,000 museum objects), 6 historical and cultural reserves. However, the occupying power moved much further, towards cultural genocide, carrying out: illegal archaeological excavations; destruction of artifacts and entire cultural layers in areas of construction of large infrastructure facilities; the export of objects of Ukrainian cultural heritage to the territory of Russia, which resembles elementary looting. In addition, everything that cannot be exported is deliberately stripped of its cultural value (status) and historical value,
Unfortunately, to date, the term cultural genocide has not been established either in international or domestic legal practice. There is only one thing standing in the way of this – the lack of political will, seasoned with piety to the “great, terrible and rich”. And since the content of this legal category is quite blurred, a very favorable situation arises when we, taking into account the experience of modern cultural aggression from Russia, have the right and the opportunity to fill the concept of cultural genocide with our own meanings. Filling the current situation with one’s own meaning and content may mean creating a clearly defined list of unacceptable actions of Russians on Ukrainian soil, which will be considered an act of cultural aggression and a violation of our sovereignty.
Moreover, the absence of the terms cultural genocide or cultural aggression in international treaties even obliges us to develop a legal doctrine in the direction of criminalizing the actions of the occupying power that may be covered by them. The reference point for describing the composition and elements of such “cultural” crimes can be the world experience of effective control and compliance with the duty of non-recognition of occupation, although it must be determined that the Crimean occupation situation is unprecedented.
According to Raphael Lemkin, the author of the concept of “genocide” in international law, the destruction of culture can be considered the beginning of group assimilation. Cultural genocide is first aimed at the destruction of the national identity, and then at the imposition of the national identity of the aggressor (by oppression, colonization of the territory, destruction of monuments). The Russians passed these two stages in the Crimea at the pace of a blitzkrieg, without meeting significant resistance on the battlefield, where the Ukrainian teacher should have won. Therefore, cultural genocide on the occupied Ukrainian lands can be considered an extreme expression of cultural aggression, its logical conclusion in the form of systematic eradication of culture and language, erasure of historical memory through the looting and destruction of historical monuments, and even – changes in the historical landscape.
Perhaps the term genocide is not quite adequate here, as it is more anthropocentric. But it can be used as working terminology in the public sphere.
Of course, cultural aggression, like cultural genocide, is not an instant “natural” phenomenon, it is rather the coordinated actions of many people and organizations, stretched over time. Therefore, it is important not to dehumanize aggression, not to consider it as a faceless object of study and effort. The objects, actually the aggressors, are specific people who plan, give orders and do the dirty work. These people, the maximum complete list of which should be made public, write their own fate with their actions, which will surely catch up with them.
The Empire will use these people and will never stop. The empire will escalate cultural aggression to its most ugly forms, such as ethno-genocide. Why? Because he can afford it. Because this is the meaning of its existence and development.
Another aspect of cultural aggression is the appropriation of our history and culture by Russian ideology. It takes place in the form of destruction of real history, for the sake of building the desired one. It would be too frivolous to regard this as a confrontation of stories of “grey antiquity”. As the Italian thinker Benedetto Croce aptly observed, all history is modern history.
Empires love to play with other people’s stories when not at war, shaping their mythology and setting the stage for future annexations. This is how “nations without history” appeared, which included Ukrainians. For us, this is in the past, but empires, especially such devilish ones as the Russian one, do not stop. And we have to remember that.
An example of such an effective strategy is the mythological history of the Northern Black Sea region, which was triumphantly colonized by Russia. Until now, based on such a colonialist narrative, pseudo-scientific debates continue to promote the idea of the supremacy of the “Russian world” and the positioning of Ukraine as Little Russia – an appendage of Muscovy. This lying imperial text about the lands, which seemed to be a solid wasteland – the Wild Field, has been gradually corrected for the third decade thanks to the consolidated efforts of domestic historians, archaeologists, local historians, cultural figures and active civil society.
The empire is trying to continue its colonial policy in Crimea with large-scale construction. But any infrastructural assets cannot be a counterargument to the unethical nature of the Russian Empire and its cultural aggression. Cultural genocide is not measured by the construction of the Crimean bridge, the Taurid highway, or new embankments. In the same way, the Holocaust can be justified by the beautiful German autobahns, and Soviet repression by the industrialization of the country. Moscow’s barbaric actions in Crimea remain abhorrent, so that it does not build there and how much it costs.
A metropolis always prospers at the expense of colonial resources. And it feeds its culture with exported historical artifacts. This is the essence of the colonial empires that built our world. However, this does not mean at all that we have to put up with this structure of the world and imperial encroachments. It is impossible to allow a sense of absolute impunity for the destruction of cultural monuments to be established, just as it is impossible to allow a fixation in the public consciousness of a neutral attitude towards the “traditional” colonial behavior of Russians, with which, it seems, nothing can be done. Even as possible.
No one will force us to listen to the narratives of the 19th century, about Russia being a bearer of light and goodness for colonized peoples, like the Khokhlas. Interesting, fun, but barbarians by default. Do you remember how long we were barbarians for Russian imperialism? The Russians are still working in Crimea according to two-hundred-year-old methods of colonization.
One of the basic methodological provisions of Russian imperialism is that a colonized society has no moral right to protest against the empire if the empire provides infrastructure and progress. And it doesn’t matter what our identity demands, it doesn’t matter what spiritual needs we have, it doesn’t matter how many historical and cultural monuments will be destroyed and mutilated. Destruction and looting is considered by the Moscow authorities as an adequate payment for the very fact of the empire’s presence in Crimea. Therefore, conscious Ukrainian patriotism must be nurtured and based, first of all, on consistent anti-imperialism.
It is also necessary to understand that people from “the other side” are not stupid and act based on the strength of future generations.
The Russian ideological machine has vast experience in shaping long narratives and has not often failed. Among the latest examples are the “Russkomir” dances around the “Khersones Tavriysky” National Reserve. Imperial ideologues declared Chersonesus to be the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy and began to string a new mythology on this artificial rod, in general anything suitable to help build the doctrine they needed.
Another modern Russian narrative in the field of cultural aggression is based on the claim about the specificity and separateness of Crimea, its historical, cultural and economic self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, Crimea cannot be historically separated from the Northern Black Sea. Starting from ancient times, these two regions support each other, nourish and develop in parallel and belong to the single Mediterranean world. As soon as Crimea breaks away, it begins to decline.
In reality, the Russians are creating an alternative history that should feed an alternative culture. Of course, this practice is crude, unscientific, but effective in terms of influencing a poorly educated society. We cannot and do not need to act like that. There is a need for longer, subtle popularizing, scientific and educational programs.
And now about things that are well-known and banal, which, however, require systematic work, a lot of effort and time, and therefore, are usually not to the liking of the elected authorities and politicians. Yes, I’m talking about education.
It is a very convenient moment to use the disappointing situation with Russian cultural aggression and make it work for Ukraine’s future. And not only in the legal sphere, which promises punishment for all the guilty in a rather long chronology. Effectiveness of work in the future is determined by adequate modern education. Sometimes, when the modern Ukrainian government appeals to the future, one gets the impression that it pushes big problematic “elephants” to the horizon, where they become small again. The future will not automatically solve the problem. They will be solved only by the effective “Ukrainian” future that we will create.
The historical artifacts removed from Crimea by Russian archaeologists are, of course, looting, crime and irreparable losses. But the losses will be even more significant if we do not use the example of Russian looting and cultural aggression to instill in our children intolerance of robbers. To inculcate the understanding that the Russians are not just taking away the quality of shards and stones, but are destroying our cultural environment, which will never be restored. Of course, you need to care about artifacts, but even more care should be taken about the generation of those who disagree with looting.
Unfortunately, we have a poorly educated Ukrainian society, almost similar to the Russian one, which has difficulty perceiving complex historical constructions and cultural concepts. Let them at least cry in their ears with their truthfulness. In order for the teacher not to lose again, it is necessary to reverse the situation: if the Russian ideology rests on the ignorance of its consumers, then our historical narratives should be based precisely on the understanding of their reality.
Yes, education again. Nothing new and unusual. It was ignorance that allowed Crimea to be lost so easily. Russia simply picked up what was lying on the sidelines. Ukrainians perceived the peninsula formally as part of the state, but culturally and historically as something foreign and quite exotic. And even now, a large number of compatriots perceive the annexation of Crimea not as a painful loss of the territory of their state, not as the destruction of the nation’s culture, but only as the loss of easily accessible beaches.
In a word, we need training courses supported by a targeted publishing program of scientific and popular science literature. Practically instant reaction and instant publication of the necessary texts. School textbooks and special methodical guides are needed, where the emphasis would be on the integrity of the Ukrainian territory, on the historical and cultural ties of the regions. And these will not be different regions united under the umbrella of a state organization, but a cultural mosaic that creates an original and unique picture. And if part of the mosaic is taken away, the picture will lose its integrity. Then the child’s mind will remember: the Russians are not looting and destroying faceless archaeological objects, but our historical memory, breaking out whole pieces of our history.
In a word, the modern generation should once again not waste time and make efforts to form a long cultural and historical narrative, which would become something respected and integral for our children, a part of their self-identification, which cannot be removed without losing one’s personality.
And do not let us, God, in this educational, historical and cultural marathon, once again ascribe to ourselves the beloved status of a victim. Whatever happens, external forces should not be blamed: from climate change to the mood of the master of the Kremlin. By describing ourselves as a victim, we undermine our own determination to change, paralyze our will and increase the amount of irresponsibility for the future that will be filled by the demagogic texts of the enemy.
Just as Ukrainian history is not limited to the borders of Ukraine, our culture is not confined to clear historical, geographical or ethnic boundaries. The aggressors are trying to establish the framework, gradually narrowing it. This is a creeping, sometimes even imperceptible (using such a pseudo-pacifist and manipulative tool as “what a difference” and “all people are brothers”) aggression, which ultimately leads to the deprivation of entire ethnic groups or their individual representatives of the right to use, develop and spread their own culture and language
So, in order for there not to be “any difference”, you need to very actively (on the verge of “aggressively”) promote your own culture. Not to defend and respond, which automatically means being late and always one step behind, but constantly putting the opponent in the position of the defendant and forcing him to justify his actions to the whole world.
Adequate aggressive countermeasures are necessary for Russian cultural aggression! Has anyone forgotten what is going on in the world? We are at war with you, gentlemen! There is no need to be ashamed of one’s own aggression during war. The world is as changeable and mobile as it is, thanks to human aggression in particular.
For some reason, we are uncomfortable being aggressive. Ah, it is so uncultured, indecent, and un-European, to retaliate in the face to someone who is trying to kill you! Sorry, but we’re not at a party, we’re on the battlefield. All methods will agree in their place and time. Somewhere along the line, the question of effective militarization (of social life, ideology) arises as a good tool for forming the will to victory. And by militarization I mean the spread of the laws of war to society in all its manifestations. Including cultural.
Otherwise, it will be as it was – either the war will not be noticed, or it will be ignored.
The world is militarized, the narratives are simply crying out for war. And we are driving our carts! This is not enough.
Modern discussions on historical and cultural issues are not limited to the exchange of interpretations at conferences, but have long been working to serve the practical needs of states. The practice of solving historical problems between Ukraine and Russia has now moved to the battlefield and we are talking about establishing new borders.
Yes, Russian cultural aggression does not cause shock on the part of the world community, for which Ukraine still remains mostly some kind of dark Cimmeria. It seems that it is not visible at all to the world, but it is quite painful for us, who have already been taught that behind cultural aggression, military actions begin and blood is shed. Ours is usually. As it turns out, this counterargument regarding Russia’s actions is not enough for the world. But we have enough.
We must realize that the struggle is not for amphorae and burial complexes, not for stones and remnants of fortresses, but for future generations. Not for you and I, who lost Crimea, but for our children and grandchildren, who must know which civilization they belong to and understand that the loss of cultural values will mean the loss of themselves.
d.i.n., s.n.s. Institute of Ukrainian
archeography and source studies
named after M. Hrushevskyi of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.