Russia uses history as weapon in its war on Ukraine - media

16:20, 04 October 2017
Politics
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Amid the deluge of Communist-related media content expected to come this fall on the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the audience is unlikely to see a serious analysis of Ukraine's 1917-21 statehood bid and its considerable relevance to the geopolitical tensions of today, Peter Dickinson wrote for the Atlantic Council.

Photo from UNIAN

Instead, the Ukrainian independence struggle looks set to be airbrushed out of the Bolshevik spectacular, much as it has been for the past hundred years. Ukrainian history will remain the great unknown of the European narrative, the article on the Atlantic Council reads.

The author says it is both an error and a missed opportunity. It is an error because "events in Ukraine decisively shaped the outcome of the Russian Revolution. The Ukrainian theater played a central role in the fighting that engulfed the Russian Empire after 1917, while Bolshevik opposition to Ukraine's independence bid exposed the old-school imperial instincts. USSR was a colonial power from the moment its troops first crossed into Ukraine."

Read alsoOld narratives of Stalin's Holodomor shape up Putin's act against Ukraine - mediaThe author believes it is a missed opportunity because "the international community would clearly benefit from a greater awareness of Ukrainian history. The current confrontation over Ukraine has driven the world to the brink of a new Cold War, yet the underlying historical currents at work in Ukraine remain widely misinterpreted and misunderstood. This lack of context leaves global audiences vulnerable to deliberate distortions and disinformation."

With little prior knowledge about Ukraine, people have tended to accept Kremlin narratives at face value. For example, many did not think twice when seeing Russian-speaking Ukrainians casually depicted as default Putin supporters, and swallowed arguments that Crimea was "historically Russian" with equally little protest. "A more nuanced appreciation of Ukrainian history would have alerted audiences to the paucity of these claims," the piece reads.

Even now, after three and a half years of intensive coverage, numerous commentators continue to view Ukraine as a hapless pawn in the wider geopolitical fight between Russia and the West. "Such thinking not only denies Ukrainians agency. It also diminishes one of Europe's long-running independence struggles and perpetuates what is arguably the continent's most glaring historical oversight," the article reads.

Read alsoWest needs to get real on Ukraine - mediaOne of the biggest barriers to a better understanding of Ukraine's place in the broader European historical narrative is the habit of treating Russia as a country rather than an empire. For many years, it has been common practice for Western journalists and historians to speak of "Russians" when they are actually referring to the diverse nationalities of the Tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union. Everything goes by the convenient but inaccurate but convenient shorthand of "Russia," with no room left for complex explanations of the imperial national minority policies or Ukraine's own claims to statehood.

Accounts of World War II are a particularly good example of this practice. Western histories of the war routinely refer to Soviet forces collectively as "the Russians." We learn that "the Russians" suffered twenty-seven million losses before taking Berlin. Meanwhile, there is scant reference to the fact Ukraine saw far more of the actual fighting than Russia, nor to the millions of Ukrainians who fought in the Red Army. The scale of Ukraine's human and material losses during the conflict defies comprehension, but the country barely gets a mention. This staggering omission demonstrates the sheer size of Europe's Ukraine-shaped blind spot.

Read alsoSpeaking of Crimea, Merkel recalls history of GDRUkraine is simply too large and too much of an unknown quantity to slip seamlessly into the existing European narrative. Instead, it will inevitably take time for popular perceptions of Europe to accommodate these changes. For the time being, there is modest progress. International audiences are belatedly beginning to recognize that Ukraine is not Russia, but there is still considerable resistance to the idea of Ukraine as a fully-fledged member of the European community.

"Eventually, Ukraine's European credentials will become self-evident, even in Russia itself. However, until we reach that point, Europe will struggle to formulate a coherent policy toward a country whose awkward emergence poses important questions for the continent's understanding of its own past," the author concludes.

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