Discussions / War Against Ukraine

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Business as Usual, idi nakhui

Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine vividly demonstrates the Putin regime’s utmost inhumanity, social irresponsibility, anti-western ressentiment, and obsession with Ukraine. At the same time, it shows that this is not only Putin’s war but Russia’s: of Russian businesses, media organizations, universities, and ordinary people. Whether they fully support Putin’s agenda of conquering Ukraine, do not care about his policies and focus on their own needs, or oppose those policies but are afraid to protest, they enable their state’s horrific crimes against the Ukrainian people, whom most of them used to call – and some still call – “brotherly.”

In Ukraine, the realization of this popular complicity has unleashed an upsurge of anti-Russian sentiment far surpassing those occurring at the times of the post-Euromaidan President Petro Poroshenko and the inter-war nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, two prominent figures on Russia’s demonization list. The motto to this new sentiment was given by the response of the Ukrainian border guards to the surrender ultimatum of a Russian warship on the very first day of the full-blown war: “Russkii voennyi korabl’, idi nakhui (Russian warship, go fuck yourself). These words, which even the most educated and refined Ukrainians do not consider appropriate to censor, have been quickly extended to the whole Russian army, state, society and, in effect, all things Russian – in a civic, not ethnic sense. This, of course, includes Russian educational and research institutions, with which many Ukrainian scholars collaborated even after the Russian aggression of 2014. It is hard to imagine any such collaboration in the future.

In the west, however, the sentiment is obviously more ambivalent. While most scholars fully support Ukraine and condemn Russian aggression, many are reluctant to sever ties with Russian scholarly institutions, let alone individual scholars. We hear the argument that many Russian scholars oppose Putin and should not be punished for his policies, and that the west should not lose partners with whom to work on understanding and, eventually, changing Russia. These arguments are unsustainable as no Russian educational or research institution has publicly condemned the war against Ukraine, while the money Russian scholars receive from western partners are taxed by the Russian state and help finance its military might. One cannot but suspect that many westerners simply do not want to give up their own collaborative projects with Russians and thus opt for business as usual, even as Ukrainians, including academics, are being killed and displaced.

For scholars in Slavic and post-Soviet studies, a no less important task is to renounce business as usual in studying and teaching languages, histories, cultures, politics, and societies of the post-Soviet countries. The present catastrophe inflicted by Russia onto Ukraine and the whole world should teach those studying the region not to prioritize Russia over Ukraine and other parts of the former USSR, on the one hand, and not to prioritize language and literature over sociology, anthropology, and political science in the study of Russia, on the other. I hope western universities and research foundations will understand the urgent need to radically increase the number of chairs and courses, research centers and projects dealing with Ukraine, and Ukrainian refugee scholars will help to launch or expand them. At the same time, the focus of Russian studies should shift from texts of long-dead writers to attitudes and actions of present elites and ordinary people, even if it means discontinuing accustomed positions and preoccupations of many western academics. The scholarly community in the US and other western countries should take this tragic opportunity to reconsider its priorities to make them adequate to understanding the causes of the present disaster and suggest ways to overcome its consequences and prevent its repetition.

More Letters in this Discussion

See Full Discussion
  • There Can Be No “Vne”

    As are many of us, I am reacting to Russia’s criminal and devastating war against Ukraine with tears, desperation, a sense of guilt, helplessness, disgust, and anger. But I am […]

  • They Told You So

    From early 2014, as the Euromaidan Revolution unfolded, Ukraine’s citizens were forced to respond to countless editorials and articles in western publications, all of which assumed that they were a […]

  • Why You May Want to Go to Ukraine Now

    As the situation in Western and Central Ukraine has for now stabilized, a trip to Kyiv can provide those interested in international affairs with a unique opportunity to observe world […]