“Russophobia” & decolonization

14 12 2022

What does it tell us that even the supposedly “best” Russians — the Pushkins and Joseph Brodskys, for instance — were capable of such brutishly colonialist, Russo-chauvinist writing as the pieces referred to in this article, from earlier this year (“The Ally of Executioners: Pushkin, Brodsky, and the Deep Roots of Russian Chauvinism“)?

Reading Nobel Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate Brodsky’s 1992 poem “On Ukrainian independence” is, I think (if I’m a sufficient sample), repulsive to a Ukrainian. Listening to him read it in his agonized, incantatory style, complete with Russian-Orthodox cantorial tonal ascent toward a kind of epic climax, is all the more so. For Russians with a conscience, I suspect it may be squirm-inducing. I can only imagine Brodsky wrote it to express some deeply hurting chip-on-his-shoulder whose source he couldn’t quite identify, and instead projected an imagined betrayal onto an entire nation.

It took the wind out of me when I first watched the video. It also confirmed that accusations of Ukrainian “Russophobia” are a little bit misdirected at this point. (Is it Russophobic to fear, or even to hate, people who are invading, bombing, shelling, murdering, and raping your co-citizens? This may be “Putin’s war,” but it happens to be supported by a majority of Russian citizens, with only a few thousand out of 144 million ever showing any inclination to protest it, and many proud of it in a smirky, alt-right kind of way.) 

The lesson in it, I think, is that colonialism and imperialism can get so deeply rooted in the colonizer, and in any person who identifies with that colonizer (as both Brodsky and Pushkin did), as to be almost impossible to even notice, let alone begin to uproot. If this is the case with Russians vis-à-vis their ostensibly lesser Ukrainian “brethren,” then no wonder Europeans and Euro-Americans are still struggling with their own racism against the non-white, non-European world.

Decolonization is hard work, especially for those who don’t realize how infected they are by the disease. It’s also a shared task, with so many colonial legacies still at large in the world. The best result of the Russian invasion is if, once it manifestly fails, it leads to a process of self-decolonization within Russia. But I suspect the complexes run deep — superiority vis-à-vis one’s neighbors, inferiority vis-à-vis the West, resentful obeisance before czar and/or church, et al. — that even that will take a deeper therapy than will be on offer. (And it does make one wonder if all of that is part of the reason communism failed so miserably in Russia.)



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