Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation by Serhii PlokhyMarketing Putin's cultural wars and wares....
Linguists say that "a language is just a dialect with an army." The political mobilization implicit in that joke usually betrays a fairly deep history.
We unfortunately see little of that in this book. As an overview of the Ukraine vs Russia culture wars, Plokhy depends on cultural narrative sourced from Russia while mostly ignoring political developments throughout Ukraine's history.
IN THE VERY HEART OF Moscow, ACROSS THE SQUARE FROM THE Borovitsky Gate of the Kremlin, stands one of the tallest monuments in the Russian capital. The statue of a man in medieval garb, with a cross in one hand and a saber in the other, is eighteen meters high. The man is Prince Vladimir, as he is known today to the citizens of Russia, or Volodimer, as he was called by medieval chroniclers. He ruled from 980 to 1015 in the city of Kyiv (Kiev), where he is known today as Volodymyr, and left a lasting legacy by accepting the Christian religion for himself and his realmthe medieval state of Kyivan Rus, which included vast territories extending from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Volga River in the east.
Many in Moscow believe that the impulse to erect the monumentwhose height and central location make it more prominent than the one to Prince Yurii Dolgoruky, who is alleged to have founded Moscow in 1147was based on a desire to glorify none other than St. Volodymyrs namesake, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. After all, it was Archimandrite Tikhon, rumored to be Putins confessor, who headed the committee that chose the winner of the hastily organized competition. Moreover, the site chosen for the monument was in a historical zone protected by UNESCO and thus required a special permit from the Moscow City Council, which could be obtained only with the blessing of the Russian president.
But the real or imagined connection between Prince Volodymyr and President Vladimir Putin offers only part of the explanation for the importance of the monument and the reasons for its erection in the heart of Moscow. More than anything else the monument symbolizes the Russian claim for Kyivan heritage and underlines the importance of Kyivan Rus for the historical identity of contemporary Russia. Otherwise, what would a monument to a prince of Kyiv, the capital of the neighboring state of Ukraine, be doing in such a coveted space in the heart of the Russian capital? The timing and circumstances of the monuments construction further stress the importance of Ukrainian themes in Russian history and politics. The first stone in its foundation was laid in 2015, soon after the Russian annexation of the Crimea, and was taken from that peninsula in the middle of the Russo-Ukrainian war. It was brought to the Russian capital from the site of the Byzantine city of Chersonesus, t! he legendary place of the baptism of Prince Volodymyr in 988.
Russia, especially by European standards, is a relatively young state. Its history as an independent polity officially begins less than six hundred years ago, in the 1470s, when Ivan III, the first ruler of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy to call himself tsar, challenged the suzerainty of the Mongol khans. At stake was not only the independent status of the rulers of Muscovythe principality centered on the city of Moscowbut also their control over other Rus lands, in particular Novgorod, whose independence from Moscow the Mongol khans sought to maintain. It was then that the Kyivan roots of the Muscovite dynasty and church helped form a powerful myth of origin that distinguished Muscovy from its immediate Mongol past and nourished its self-image as heir to Byzantium.
The traditional view holds that Russias problem with self-identification derives from the fact that it acquired an empire before it acquired a nation. This is probably true for a number of empires, including the British, the Spanish, and the Portuguese, but what makes the Russian situation unique is that none of those empires shared common historical roots and myths of origin with their foreign subjects, as had been the case with Russia throughout a good part of its imperial history.
The pan-Russian nation described in these pages is not to be found on any map and never materialized as a political entity, but it exists in the minds of political and cultural elites and, if one trusts opinion polls, of tens of millions of Russians as well. Its political influence exceeds that of many very real nations easily located on the political map of the world.
According to the Orthodox calendar, which counted years from the creation of the world, 1492 was in fact the year 7000, which would mark the end of time. The Orthodox faithful in Muscovy believed that 1492 would be the last year of their lives and of humankind in general. They thanked God that they professed the true religion and were about to be saved.
Poland had been a regional power with a highly developed sense of its own imperial mission and an elite loyal to its state and fatherland. A full-fledged political nation, it was not prepared to give up the ideal of independent statehood. The resentment of the Polish nobility, which considered itself culturally superior to the conquerors (much more so than the elite of the Hetmanate had in the seventeenth century), created an additional problem for the traditional modus operandi of the Russian Empire. Its usual strategy had been to make a deal with local elites at the expense of the lower classes and thus establish its supremacy. A deal was made in this case as well, but the local elite was not fully cooperative and occasionally refused to cooperate at all.
The story of the Polish lyceum was effectively over, while that of the Russian university in Kyiv was about to begin. It was named after St. Volodymyr, the tenth-century prince who was regarded as the founder of the Russian state and its first Orthodox ruler. The opening took place on July 15, 1834, St. Volodymyrs Day according to the Orthodox calendar. In symbolic terms, the imperial authorities were reclaiming Volodymyrs city. In his decree on the opening of the university, Nicholas I called Kyiv precious to all Russia, the cradle of the holy faith of our ancestors and first witness of their civic individuality. The minister of education, Count Uvarov, dubbed the university a mental fortress. There was no doubt whom it was supposed to protect, and who the enemy was. According to the minister, the new university was to smooth over, as much as possible, the sharp characteristics whereby Polish youth is distinguished from the Russian, and particularly to ! suppress the idea of a separate nationality among them, to bring them closer and closer to Russian ideas and customs, to imbue them with the common spirit of the Russian people.
Nicholas I offered a token of approval in the spirit of Catherine II by having a special medal struck for the occasion. Its inscription echoed the one on the medal that she had issued upon the second partition of Poland: Torn away by force (1596), reunited by love (1839).
The peace treaty signed in Paris in 1856 was viewed in Russia as humiliation at the hands of the West. The conquerors of Paris in 1814, the Russians returned to that city forty years later to sign an arrangement that violated the territorial integrity of their empire. St. Petersburg was forced to abandon imperial possessions in the Caucasus and the Danube area, and eleven years later, the cash-strapped government sold Alaska to the United States, lacking the resources to defend it. It kept the Crimea but was banned from maintaining a fleet or fortifications on the Black Sea littoral.
THE EDICT OF EMS HAD A SINGLE PURPOSETO ARREST THE development of the Ukrainian cultural and political movement. What it offered was a mix of repressions, prohibitions, and restrictions. There was no positive program to build up an alternative all-Russian project; consequently, no additional funds were allocated for the development of Russian-language schools, publications, or societies. The only exception was the section of the edict dealing with the newspaper Slovo (Word), which was published, of all places, in Lviv, the capital of the Galician province of neighboring Austria-Hungary. Russia was to support the newspaper Slovo, which is being published in Galicia with an orientation hostile to that of the Ukrainophiles, by providing it at least with a constant subsidy, however small, without which it could not continue to exist and would have to cease publication, stated the edict. The measure was justified as a response to Polish propaganda. The authors of the edict added, in parentheses: The Ukrainophile organ in Galici! a, the newspaper Pravda [Truth], which is completely hostile to Russian interests, is published with significant assistance from the Poles.
Russian nationalists realized that Ukraine was a problem for them. In his Gulag Archipelago, the key samizdat (self-published and secretly distributed without official authorization) text of the era, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn lamented the failure of earlier attempts to fuse Russians and Ukrainians without giving up hope that they would stay together. He wrote: In the Kyivan period we constituted a single people, but since then it has been torn apart, and for centuries our lives, habits, and languages went in different directions. He blamed communism, especially that of the 1930s and 1940s, for the rupture that had caused Ukrainians to strive for independence from Russia. But whatever their differences, Solzhenitsyn, the son of a Russian father and a Ukrainian mother, wanted them to stay together.
HAVE YOU READ DENIKINSDIARIES? VLADIMIR PUTIN ONCE asked Larisa Kaftan, a Ukrainian-born reporter of Russias leading newspaper, Komsomolskaia pravda (Komsomol Truth). The reference was to the memoirs of a leader of the Russian White Army of the revolutionary era, General Anton Denikin. No, responded Kaftan, who promised to read the work. Be sure to read them, suggested Putin, and then added: Denikin discusses Great and Little Russia, Ukraine. He writes that no one may meddle in relations between us; that has always been the business of Russia itself. Kaftan did as promised and later published an article that included a selection of quotations from Denikins writings. The one Putin had in mind read as follows: No Russia, reactionary or democratic, republican or authoritarian, will ever allow Ukraine to be torn away. The foolish, baseless, and externally aggravated quarrel between Muscovite Rus and Kyivan Rus is our internal quarrel,! of no concern to anyone else, and it will be decided by ourselves.
Disillusionment with the Russian World also engulfed the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, which found themselves on the verge of economic collapse and with no prospect of either joining Russia or surviving on their own. In fact, the New Russia project was effectively abandoned by the Kremlin as too costly. True believers, such as Gubarev, were removed from real power in the Donbas, which shifted from Russian nationalists and their local supporters to people who had no clear ideological agenda but were fully loyal to Moscow. Gubarev was lucky to survive an assassination attempt when he tried to challenge a Kremlin appointee as supreme ruler of the republic.
In 2015 alone, three of the most prominent local warlords who had helped raise the revolt the previous year were assassinated for failing to fall into line with the new policy of the Kremlin, which considered the economic burden of maintaining the Donbas too heavy and sought to push the region back into Ukraine as a federal unit with veto power over the countrys foreign policy. Gubarev rebranded the old slogan by claiming that the Donbas, to which he referred as New Russia, was a torch that would help bring the rest of Ukraine back to the Russian World. It was a tall order.