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As this article is being written, cry „Slava Ukraini, Slava herojima!“ – “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to Heroes!”, echoes throughout Europe. I was never prone to taking up such popular slogans, even when very young and when my own country was in the somewhat similar predicament as the one Ukraine is today, and patriotic slogans were aplenty, although less prestigious because Croatia haven’t had a fraction of a fraction of the international support Ukraine has at this moment. Yet I cannot help but let it slip through my lips from time to time and allow myself a smile at the thought how such wide spectrum of experts miscalculated the historical place and significance of this people. Mind you, it is not primarily out of solidarity with the Ukrainians but first and foremost out of love for truth: I just cannot withhold my delight when it hits the wise among the nations over their heads, even with such a crude instrument as the bludgeon of historical reality.
Whatever the outcome of the war, no one will ever carelessly dismiss Ukraine as the mere “borderland” between Russia and Europe that has to fit into “zone of influence” of the neighboring regional power. Now when it is becoming obvious, even to those who know little or nothing about Third Rome and its “manifest destiny” that Russian aspirations far transcend the status of regional power, it is also becoming plain to see how hollow this eschatological empire in the making was, is and will be.
However, we will not dwell on history at this pressing moment – I mean, it must be pressing: even birds are tweeting “Slava!” “Slava!”; we’ll rather take into focus current affairs, more precisely: the awkwardness this Slavic word acquires when taken up by certain demographics.
Few years ago, I stumbled upon a podcast where a group of young Westerners – from the UK and US, if I remember correctly – residing in Russia, discussed the Russian propaganda. It seemed promising; a group of young men were pointing out and ridiculing the absurdities behind the Western oriented Russian disinformation campaigns until something one of them said gave me a moment of stunned pause. While talking about British acquaintance that got swayed by the propaganda and became an occasional mouthpiece for Russian media targeting Western audiences, the point was made that the gentleman in question was, among other things, a “Brexiter”; nothing surprising there, guy just fits the stereotype, I thought to myself, but then came the punch: one of the participants, in order to underline how unintelligent their Russia intoxicated peer was, asked: “why should he care about UK leaving the EU, when he doesn’t even live there anymore?”
This sentence, uttered, as I very well remember, with peculiarly indifferent contempt, indicates to the point I want to stress in this article.
Namely, people of Ukraine are now in the process of forging a nation by defending themselves from the attack that quickly transcended an attempt at political dominance by force and, bogged down by the determined resistance, became an existential struggle; not the least significant in this respect is that, in the eyes of the Patriarch of Moscow, their resistance puts them squarely on the left hand of the Lord, among the damned in what Russian Church/State deems to be the final metaphysical struggle between Christ and the Devil, where Ukrainians (“Nazis”) are at the spearhead of the Devil’s (“West”) attack on “Christ” (Russia), giving Russian leader’s decision its necessary spiritual seal of approval.
I cannot conceive of Ukrainian expatriate who could say that he doesn’t care about this because he doesn’t make money, pay taxes or party in the Ukraine anymore. Correspondingly, I also cannot imagine how young man from our example could in clear conscience go about shouting, chanting, but most likely predominantly tweeting “Slava! Slava!” Yet I am quite certain he is currently doing just that.
The mentality we outlined was unknown to me up to just recently; most of my peers probably wouldn’t even notice it being expressed, simply because they cannot conceive of such depth of indifference; it is not a matter of the lack of patriotism, which in normal people ignites only when faced with the threat such as the one at work in Ukraine now, anyway – it is, I would claim, lack of something much deeper; something conveyed not so much by the careless phrase, but rather by the mood in which it was uttered – the one of utmost indifference.
How can someone so indifferent about whom he is, aside from who he presently wants to be, have any understanding of someone struggling for preservation of what he received and chose to accept as where he belongs?
Yet this is at stake for Ukrainians now. Therefore, I find “Slava!” in the mouths of those who are so indifferent towards belonging to their own people that, for them, the closest thing to ’their people’ became other individuals with the same consumer choices or “sexual orientation” to be in bad taste, to say the least.
To use an analogy: the fire of their wrath over images of the devastation of Ukraine is as genuinely righteous as their titillation over the images of genital mutilation, incest and violence from Game of Thrones is genuinely sadist.
However, as I am not in the habit of picking up the pen just to point out that something is in bad taste, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Belonging to people is one among the givens that constitute the human being and, as such, it is both the necessary condition for – and the expression of – existing in history. If it becomes the subject of the political project, where sovereignty is, at least in theory, being allotted to people as one, unified entity, it constitutes the basis for the most resilient political project of modernity – that of nationalism. In this sense one may be swayed by the misguided intuition that indifference towards one’s own people, as the existence-defining given, could be just a reaction against the infatuation with nationalist ideology. However, I am fairly certain that young man from our example has no experience of the peculiar combination of violence and tedium nationalism tends to generate when it suppresses all other political and ethical considerations; rather, his attitude seems to come from active indifference about his people and their nation, not the rejection of political philosophy holding sway over them; that philosophy presently certainly not being nationalism, anyway.
To illustrate with one more example: a noticeable characteristic of the so called “ex-pats” making my country their temporary home is their readiness to embrace qualities like “sense of historical continuity”, “sense of community” and even “patriotic pride” in a way they would embrace “low taxes”, “affordable public transport” or “friendly locals”. They see it all as parts of the package competing on the global “homeland market”. However, once the realization emerges that what those qualities entail is not a matter of consumer’s choice, and that there is more to the package then initially meets the eye – that continuity of history is at the same time a burden; that sense of community excludes unbridled freedom of self-expression and that patriotic pride is more often than not combined with odium towards one’s neighbor and, moreover, that it is in various ways both right and wrong to love one’s own country – then, the “expat” either attempts to transform his new home into something more accommodating to his needs through some kind of activism or simply leaves. What he did not realize was that having a homeland and, correspondingly, place in history is not like renting an apartment in a pleasant neighborhood but rather more akin to accepting the inheritance, where both property, but also the debts of the ancestor are passed on to descendant.
Belonging to people is a qualification of man as the historical being, just like belonging to one of two sexes both limits and defines one as human being in general; therefore, it transcends and ontologically predates modern nationalism and is, in a certain sense, an impediment to development of the more extreme forms of nationalism based upon modern political myths as opposed to real historical formation of the given people. None of the qualities that express human existence can be removed without consequent erosion of all others because the eidos of man cannot be reduced to a single one element but exists only in cohabitation of all of them. However, in our age the dominant outlook seems to be the diametrically opposite: all determinations are eligible to be erased for the sake of individual’s ability to choose, even to the point of falling into illusion that such choice has ontological force, i.e. that every individual conscious actor can create its own being. All the revolutionary changes in postmodern age seem to presuppose this assumption; that’s why the equalizing of homo- and heterosexuality cannot stop at homosexual marriage and has to go further into direction of making inborn sexual determinations a matter of choice; also, that’s why the heroes of the classics of European literature and great historical personages must be re-imagined as belonging to non-European peoples; finally, that’s why in certain parts of the West one already cannot publicly affirm that he belongs to people, without being automatically denigrated, because the nationality, albeit a modern political form, is always rooted in the pre-modern factuality of everyone being a member of the certain people which is an elementary part of being a person but in no way the matter of personal choice, save for the choice to accept or deny it. This revolutionary process, however, is not primarily a political, but rather a metaphysical one, its final purpose being liberating the abstract individual from all constraints.
Yet it certainly has political expression, which carries it further, and in order for such politics to fulfill its purpose of creating a certain kind of intellectual climate where completely counter-intuitive propositions become perceived as natural, i.e. in order for it to be accepted and supported by the sovereign political subject of Western democracies, their citizens, two conditions must be met. First, there has to exist in individual and collective – and ‘the collective’ becomes the necessary dialectical correlate of ‘the individual’ when the real distinctions of “man”, “woman” and “peoples” have been denied, making these determinations meaningless – an intellectual laziness of cosmic proportions, that is: the laziness which prevents revulsion to interiorizing the most obvious contradictions; second, there has to exist an absolute indifference towards everything lost in this process, i.e. absolute disregard for all determinants of human being, save for the individual choice – with its transformation into a collective one, as Covid19 crisis has showed, never too far around the corner.
What then, I ask, people of this sort can possibly mean when they shout, squeal, but mostly copy&paste: “Slava herojima, Slava Ukrajini!”?
The question is not a rhetorical one. I genuinely don’t know.
But I could make a few conjectures.
What happened in Ukraine in the last week of February was the triumph of the wild card – the unforeseen and unforeseeable variable won the geopolitical game before it properly started.
This wild card was free will.
Since the inception of the Ukraine crisis in 2014 almost all one could hear about the matter was that one country and its people found themselves in the tragic position of being stuck between East and West; Ukrainians are, so the proverbial wisdom pontificated, a bargaining chip in the great game between the dominant Western powers and Russian quasi-empire limping its way into regional ascendancy. The image provided infinite room to differ about whether one loves, hates, pities or denigrates Ukrainians but all could agree upon one thing: their insignificance. They were never, or extremely rarely, considered as autonomous subject of the political clash, but rather as inhabitants of the great patch of flat land whose very name spells its doom to forever be a huge dirt road between East and West.
Yet they hardly figured into analysis as an independent actor.
Well, lo and behold, this is precisely what they turned out to be, under the eyes of the whole world.
In Ukraine, no matter the outcome of the war, not only Russia, but also geopolitical realism of the “great spaces” in general got a sucker punch that should never be forgotten: the unpredictable happened, the wild card became – if even for a brief moment in history – a trump card; and now nothing will be the same, not because Russia seems to have made a final cut with Europe – something that was in the cards for better part of modernity – but because the unpredictable happened and, if this is so, all optics by which the events where observed and calculated until now is put into question.
People of Ukraine made a decision to defend their home and unified around this free, autonomous, decision. I find it infinitely ironic that better part of far Western rightist and nationalists, especially younger ones, who constantly advocate for the rebirth of nationalism, now root for Russians who want to destroy the purest currently observable instance of one people’s national unity for the sake of their poor man’s supra-national project.
Yet what does all this have to do with “European values” of inclusivity, sustainability and fight against the climate change, so that everyone can cheer “Slava!” without becoming a backward nationalist?
One of the accusations the Patriarch of the Russian Church used as a punch line in his homily against Ukrainians was their commitment to the West and its “Gay Parades”. Could this be the reason why Westerners, as the one we have put forward as an example, cheer without fear that they could be betting on the wrong horse?
I am fairly certain that organizing the Gay Pride events – an obligatory political act of obedience serving to signal, wittingly or unwittingly, readiness to dissolve the core of the given nation, because the dissolution of sexual differences dissolves the political community altogether – is not something people forging their nation in blood would see as the light at the end of the tunnel they are currently traversing. I also doubt that they are doing it in order to initiate fair and honest debate on multiplication of personal pronouns and ability of men to use female public toilets.
Most peoples of Eastern Europe are to a different degree struggling against political engineering of this sort precisely because they are aware that their nationhood is not a spent legacy but an achievement in the making, sometimes won with considerable sacrifices, and sacrifices Ukrainians are currently being forced to make are on the scale not seen in Europe since WWII.
One has to bear in mind that what peoples of post-communist European countries mean by the word “transition” is not the same thing EU administrators mean by it; while the former consider “transition” to essentially mean reintegration into European civilization, entailing, among other things, the opportunity to become autonomous subjects of history, the latter obviously see it as meaning the exact opposite – a participation in the dissolution of Europe as a historical given and replacing it with the supranational project that at its core – oh, the irony – is being steered by certain Western European states that albeit they systematically denigrated their own historical roots, obviously haven’t simultaneously abandoned their drive to control Europe.
How conformist dwellers of the semi-supranational system think and feel about nations in the birth pangs?
Well, we furnished some examples that make the matter crystal clear.
They are not merely critical about the necessity of belonging to people and, consequently, of employing one’s free will in affirmation and defense of one’s home in history, no matter how unpleasant it might be.
They don’t even know something like that exists.
So, for them, Slava is probably, at best, a cheer for their own selves – what else there is? – and their “European values”, freely chosen on the “marketplace of ideas”.
In this sense, the Eastern Europe is a place where “values” are not really established properly, but is temporarily exculpated by its geopolitical role of the bulwark against the barbarian invasions from the East.
Also, and more importantly, it is a place to where people living in the fantasy world can safely delegate reality; early nationalist ideologists used to do this regularly in creating their foundation myths of “noble savages”, “heavenly peoples” and “simple peasants” now made obsolete by the ideological matrix of greater sophistication, where inherent violence of expansive nationalism is being trumped by the cosmic tedium of expansive individualism.
None of it has any real connection to Ukraine in whose Slava the peons are currently being written.
But, let us not forget, I am not writing this in Slava of Ukraine; wouldn’t write it even in Slava of my own patch of land, which passed through similar kind of baptism in blood although it never got catapulted into status of geopolitical belle de jour, cheered on by almost all the Western world. Anyone familiar with the subject of war knows that even the most justified defensive war sooner or later starts to resemble its opposite and I believe Ukraine will not be an exception in that regard.
I write this because of the love for truth. And what one can glimpse of it in all of this is that human being is not an indifferent individual without properties, but the creature determined by – but also determining – history; we have been treated with a rare moment when one could see how unpredictable act can change the course of things and trump “realist” geopolitical predictions and explanations.
As every truth is true insofar it participates in the first Truth, so, for those of keen gaze, the glimpse revealed that author of history is not the one who calculates but the One Who creates unimpeded by invisible, but very real, borders of the East and West.
To this uncalculating and incalculable Truth I’ll give my Slava as it is the only way to perhaps join few of those miserable Russian kids conscripted to die in the mud into the cheer for the freedom of their foe. Who knows, it might just work now that finally they’ve been consecrated to the heart of the sovereign whose power is measured only by mercy.
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