How to make sense of the Russian brutal invasion, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine? Should we see it as a geo-political struggle for power and influence? Should we see it as a hunger for land and economic gain? Or is something different, more uncanny at stake? What to make of Putin comparing himself with Peter the Great? What to think of this reclaiming land ‘that has always been ours?’ Doesn’t this sound as madness, frenzy, mania or delirium?
In one of our earlier conversations our guests, Orysya Bila, mentioned that “the Russians since the ’90’s haven’t done their homework yet. Russia is like a dragon: as long as you keep it if feeding it still longs for more.” She was referring to coming to terms with the catastrophic experience of the Gulag, ‘the torture camps’, as our guest of tonight, professor Alexander Etkind, called it. “To learn about oneself is the toughest among the challenges of learning”, professor Etkind continues. “The self-inflicted nature of Soviet terror has complicated the circulation of three energies that structure the post-catastrophic world: a cognitive striving to learn about the catastrophe, and emotional desire to mourn for it victims; and an active desire to find justice to take revenge of the perpetrators. … The suicidal nature of the Soviet atrocities – in which victims and perpetrators were mixed together in the same families, ethnic groups, and lines of decent – made revenge all but impossible, and even learning very difficult.” (Warped mourning) The ban on the highly esteemed Russian NOG, Memorial, which is committed to the memory of the terror and the Gulag is just one symptom of the difficulty to learn and do justice to this catastrophe.
Could this inability to mourn the Gulag and a history of internal colonization shed some unexpected light on the madness of the rape of Ukraine by its ‘big brother’? In this episode of Don’t Give Up Ukraine! we explore this question with Professor Alexander Etkind. We will discuss two of his books which are especially relevant for our subject: Internal Colonization (2011) and Warped Mourning (2013). Alexander Etkind (1955, St. Petersburg, Russia) is a historian and cultural scientist. He is a Mikhael M. Bakhtin Professor of History of Russia-Europe relations at the European University Institute (Florence). He is fellow of the European Institute for International Law and International Relations (Paris).