We should all fear that Putin is trying to destroy Ukrainian culture – Philippine Canadian Inquirer
Since Russia first invaded Ukraine, Ukrainians have expanded what the sociologist Jeffrey Alexander calls it “the circle of us”. The circle of the we refers to all the people who do not directly experience the suffering of a group, but nevertheless come to assume responsibility for it.
To date, the circle has widened through social media and consumer-focused news. Because they depend on dramatic images and rapidly changing news cycles, the circle risks contracting and the world risks abandoning its responsibility to Ukraine.
By linking examples from Ukrainian history and the current war to concepts of cultural trauma and identity, I argue that maintaining the circle of “Ukrainian we” requires engagement with richer forms of Ukrainian culture.
Denying the existence of Ukraine
Alexander’s discussion of the “circle of us” is linked to the theory of cultural trauma. Culture creates a shared identity. When a culture is attacked and, at worst, destroyed, the people whose identity and individuality depend on that culture are threatened. It’s a cultural trauma.
the destruction of Ukrainian culture played an important role in the Russian invasion. For years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has paved the way for this onslaught. pretending that Ukraine is not a real nation.
But historians have shown that Ukrainian history can be dates back to 10th century Kyivan Rus. Like other European companies, Ukraine began to develop its modern national identity in the 18th and 19th centuries through literature, music, gastronomy, dance and language.
Since Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, artifacts of Ukrainian ethnic identity have played an important role in solidifying the national identity of Ukraine. These artifacts have been collected from museums and archives across the country.
More recently, symbols of ethnic identity were joined by civic and cosmopolitan expressions of Ukrainian identity such as the commitment to human rights and democracy. As political scientists Olga Onuch, Henry E. Hale and Gwendolyn Sasse point out, “civic identity seems to be gaining ground at the expense of ethno-nationalist identity.”
All of these elements of Ukrainian collective identity are under attack when Putin denies the historical existence of Ukraine and when the Russian military indiscriminately bombs Ukrainian cultural and educational institutions.
Some of them include the Kharkov Art Museumthe Kharkiv Operathe Slovo House in Kharkiv, Karazin University in Kharkivthe Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial in Kyivthe Svyatogorsk Lavra of the Holy Dormition in Donetsk and the Ivankiv Historical and Local Museum.
Ironically, Putin’s targeting of Ukrainian cultural institutions indicates his recognition of the uniqueness and strength of Ukrainian cultural identity.
Cultural trauma to solidarity
The threat of cultural trauma has often provided an opportunity for identity reconstruction and expanded self-understanding. This has been in evidence since Ukraine was first invaded.
This solidarity is shared by the international community. Social media and consumer-focused news helped Ukraine win the war for the European and North American imagination.
Stories like the Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island who said, “Russian warship. Screw you.» and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s rallying statement «I need ammo, not a roundall helped Ukraine gain support.
While we cannot draw a direct link between these media narratives and people’s attitudes and commitments to war, recent polls in the United Statesthe UK and Europe indicate strong support for Ukraine.
Maintaining the “circle of us”
Global responses to Ukraine depend on the ability to maintain focus on the war. But social media and consumer-driven news, the media through which the circle of us has expanded, are fragile and tend towards a spectacular and fleeting sensation.
For Ukraine, there are three risks:
- Although people connect emotionally with Ukraine, this may not translate into practical support, something Ukrainians say is still needed.
- Faced with the intensity and the number of images coming out of Ukraine, many in the West can be overwhelmed by emotional intensity of the war and therefore stop paying attention to it, an option that is not available to Ukrainians.
- As media reports and misinformation proliferate, people can become cynical and begin to doubt reality. It would be a victory for Russian propaganda.
To counter these threats, we must move into a new phase of our cultural engagement with Ukraine.
In his book on tyrannyhistorian Timothy Snyder says that one of the answers to fighting tyranny is to read books:
“Staring at screens may be unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can rely on a mental arsenal we’ve developed elsewhere…Having such a framework requires more concepts and having more concepts requires reading.”
Expanding the circle of us begins with the dramatic hook provided by social media. But the circle can only be secured and accountability fully developed through deeper resources.
These kinds of resources can balance the show by helping us approach richer concepts and narratives. They can manage emotion by reconnecting feelings and fend off cynicism by providing a basis for making judgments between right and wrong. More in-depth resources expose people to a vast world of ideas and possibilities, suggesting real avenues for practical action.