The Rizla between Russians and Ukrainians

Anyone would think the Soviet Union never went away:

The director of Moscow’s Library of Ukrainian Literature has gone on trial charged with inciting ethnic hatred against Russians.

Natalia Sharina is accused of disseminating banned literature classed as extremist.

First the prosecutor cited a long list of Ukrainian publications that are either prohibited or which she said experts had deemed “degrading” to Russians.

Russia bans books?  I confess, I didn’t know that.  I could well imagine that publishing something the government doesn’t like would mean you’d be investigated for tax irregularities or some heavies would duff you up a bit in entrance lobby of your building, but I didn’t know that Russia formally banned books.

And what are publications deemed degrading to Russians?  There are whole internet memes devoted to degrading Russians, albeit Russians who live in provincial villages and have no political clout whatsoever.  If the regime is hiring experts to ferret out literature which might be degrading to Russians then it’s not very sure of itself.

It is well known that civil wars are fought with more bitterness and brutality than those between different peoples, and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine looks to me far more like the former.  To an outsider who has some clue about Russians and Ukrainians, I am somewhat baffled as to what differences they’re fighting over.

Without even trying I can name six people I knew in Sakhalin whose surname ended with the Ukrainian -enko.  If I rummaged through my memory banks I could come up with another six.  Ukraine and Russia were so intertwined in the Soviet era and before that people would move from one to the other interchangeably.  The cultures were so similar that one could move to the other and nobody would know you were an outsider.  Nikita Khrushchev passed himself off as a Ukrainian for years, even though he was Russian.  By contrast, Stalin and Beria remained stubbornly Georgian and Mikoyan Armenian.  I would bet that if you were to ask a Russian whether they had a Ukrainian grandparent, relative, or a relative living in Ukraine most of them would say yes.  Okay, maybe not most, but a lot.  The cultural and physical border between the two was all but non-existent for years.

What about the language?  Ukrainian is indeed different from Russian.

However, in September I met a Ukrainian lady from Zaporizhia who was visiting Paris.  I asked her what her native language was, i.e. what language she spoke with her parents.  She told me it was Russian.  I then assumed that she was an ethnic Russian.  No, she said, I’m Ukrainian.  Both parents are Ukrainian, three out of four grandparents are Ukrainian, and the fourth Polish.  She can speak Ukrainian perfectly, but speaks Russian at home to her Ukrainian parents.  Go figure.

Apparently, for some, the differences are stark enough that Ukrainian librarians are facing jail for publishing banned books which say mean things about Russians.  Me, I think it’s all bullshit.

(Actually, I know what they’re fighting over.  But the ethnic and cultural differences are being exaggerated in ridiculous fashion.)


9 thoughts on “The Rizla between Russians and Ukrainians

  1. I went drinking with a Russian last night. Over vodka (what else) we got talking about politics. Because I was drinking with a Russian, I forget the details about his view on Ukraine, but he was very forthright about Trump- “he’s a leader. He knows what he’s doing”. That seemed to be it, but it also was his view on Putin… and the rationale behind why it’s ok to decide a big bit of Ukraine is suddenly yours.

    Also, the bill for the vodka was £177.

    This may be why this comment isn’t very illuminating or coherent

  2. Two words: Article 282. In the Yeltsin years, free speech was almost absolute. At that time, some of the Russian “liberals” feared the rise of a movement that would mix socialism with heinous ethnic nationalism. To stop a hypothetical Russian Hitler, they drafted a bill against “extremism.” Along with other Yeltsin-era bills, it was only passed after his resignation, in 2002. It added Article 282 to the criminal code, which banned speech inciting hatred against ethnic and social groups and allowed courts to ban offending books and websites.

    It did not take long for the Kremlin to put it to good use. One of the early victims was a Komi blogger who wrote that “faithless cops” should be burned at the stake in Syktyvkar’s main square. See, he incited hatred against the police as a social group. There are also draconian restrictions on “information harmful to minors,” so the censor’s toolbox is almost complete.

  3. Vodka is a ridiculously overpriced drink. There is virtually no difference between the cheapest and most expensive brands. Ethanol + water, add some herb or whatever to justify a 3000% mark up.

  4. It was only Absolut.

    I used to find that was the most expensive vodka on sale in Russian nightclubs! Russkii Standardt was the next most expensive, with Parliament being the cheapest drinkable stuff.

  5. PeterT,

    There is virtually no difference between the cheapest and most expensive brands

    Perhaps not in the West. In Russia you really, really, really don’t want to be drinking the cheaper stuff.

  6. “In Russia you really, really, really don’t want to be drinking the cheaper stuff.”

    Exactly. Not much difference between $20 and $200 per liter, perhaps (Beluga costs $22/l at Auchan in Moscow, and it’s supposed to be quite good). Go down to $10/l, and you’re still likely to buy something drinkable, as in non-poisonous. Anything for less than $5/l could leave you sick or dead.

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