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Understanding the Ukrainian psyche

There is a Russian literary classic called “Mumu” by Turgenev, the story of a mute serf who bonded with a dog called Mumu, because that was all the serf could pronounce. But when his master ordered him to drown Mumu, despite this love for the dog, he obeyed…

If Mumu was Ukrainian
If Mumu was Ukrainian

18 comments to Understanding the Ukrainian psyche

  • JohnB

    I have been amazed and intrigued to see how whole narratives have been manipulated to wind up where we are in 2022.
    For instance.
    The Soviet bloc seemed to threaten the West with annihilation in the 1970s.
    Then came Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Lech Walesa in Poland, and a new reality materialised almost without effort. Freedom was (fairly) easy and possible.
    But now the reality behind Ronald Reagan’s famous quote: “The nine most frightening words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’ “, has somehow been erased from individualist/conservative thought. Never mind mainstream.
    We need government to fix everything.
    It seems that everyone, no doubt including myself, has/have been fooled by a reality/narrative manipulation that has gone right past us, unseen.
    I am reminded of another quote: Your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend.
    It has all become most strange!

  • Please be assured, JohnB (May 8, 2022 at 8:00 am), that Reagan’s rational fear of “The nine most frightening words in the English language”

    “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”

    has not been erased from my vocabulary. Just read my recent posts (including my Russia-Ukraine-war-related ones, in which a note on, for example, the phoniness of Biden’s actions towards the Ukraine, past and present, is made when relevant, which, alas, it pretty well always is).

    There are 6 more words in

    “I’m from the Russian government and I’m here to help you realise your true nationality.”

    The additions do not make the sentence less frightening to me, and I understand why it would and should alarm a Ukrainian. Perhaps I would be even more frightened in Stalin’s day, when ‘nationality’ would instead be ‘economic interests’ – but it’s pretty frightening even without that.

    It’s a pity that this foreign evil erupts while we face home-grown evils – but as I and others have explained, it is not an accident that this foreign evil erupted precisely when we are particularly weakened by home-grown evils. Let us be glad the foreign evil seems less effective than the western smart set thought.

  • I would have written “If Mumu were Ukrainian” – but if Perry avoided a locution that might have puzzled a Ukrainian as much as some products of our modern education system then Niall pedant Kilmartin grants absolution. 🙂

  • Sure JohnB, but I do not see the connection

  • I just went with the Ukrainian translation my Ukrainian chum provided 😉

  • JohnB

    Sorry, Perry, I don’t want to be too obtuse. But the whole current situation seems to have become confused, false-flagged and straw-manned to the point of complete obscurity.

    And this has even resulted in enmity between previous friends (of thought, anyway).

    How can collectivist EU central be taking all the right positions and Hungary, Poland, the wrong ones?
    How can the current US administration be taking the stand for truth and freedom?
    The UN chief, with no doubt the WEF and partners and followers doing all the good things?
    The guys trying to set up a global digital currency are on the side of the angels?
    Does one see a brave, new, world coming in on waves of confusion?

    I guess as long as one keeps the polarity as being between individualist and collectivist, one stands a chance?
    But, indeed, one can only respect Mumu.

  • Snorri Godhi

    How can collectivist EU central be taking all the right positions and Hungary, Poland, the wrong ones?

    Sorry, JohnB, but if you are under the impression that Poland and Hungary are on the same side on this, then you have some more work to do before offering your opinion on what is the right side.

    How can the current US administration be taking the stand for truth and freedom?

    Here you reveal yourself to be inconsistent. Obama enabled Putin. Trump neutralized the threat for 4 years. Then came “Biden” and Putin was enabled again. Now you tell us that “Biden” is wrong NOW, and by implication you are saying that Obama and “Biden” were right up to a couple of months ago, and Trump was wrong.

    And the same goes for the EU btw.

    I guess as long as one keeps the polarity as being between individualist and collectivist, one stands a chance?

    There is a more fundamental polarity: that between the sane and the delusionally insane.

  • I guess ‘Old Yeller’ wasn’t a popular film in the Ukraine?

  • How can collectivist EU central be taking all the right positions and Hungary, Poland, the wrong ones?

    Poland has been vigorously pro-Ukraine from the start. The collectivist EU was (before this started) and still is seeking to punish Poland and Hungary financially for insufficiently cringing to eurocratic diktats, which is wrong in itself in both cases but is especially wrong as regards Poland at this time. Things move fast, so I may be out of date here, but last I looked, Germany’s energy-payments to Putin, net of their sanction-withholdings, much exceeded Hungary’s, and that ratio can be weighed against the ratio of verbiage (whose Germanic sincerity I in any case doubt).

    How can the current US administration be taking the stand for truth and freedom?

    If you click on my name on the left-hand side of this blog under ‘Authors’ and then scroll down (a ways) till you reach the post ‘The big guy takes a big percentage’, you will that ‘the big guy’ is taking a stand for a very big percentage, not for truth and freedom. I’m glad if some crumbs from his greedy table benefit the Ukraine but that – and further posts you will meet if you keep scrolling down – may show you reasons to withhold from Biden the very unearned admiration your sentence would imply.

  • Fraser Orr

    My thought on this: what is it about the Russian psyche that all of their literature is so damned depressing? I’m no expert but I have read some Tolstoy, a couple Dostoyevsky’s novels and a little Chekhov, and now this little piece about the guy killing the little dog he loved. OMG, they all want you to consume vodka until your liver pickles.

  • So true Fraser, Russian literature really is designed to make people vodka soaked depressives.

  • mickc

    Anyone here ever hear of a man named George Kennan? Just asking…

  • Zerren Yeoville

    PG Wodehouse summed up Russian literature in one sentence:

    ‘Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.’

  • Snorri Godhi

    As an over-simplification, Russian literature is the opposite of the Sagas of Icelanders.
    The former provides plenty of negative role models; the latter provides plenty of positive role models (if your values align with Asatru).
    The former warns you of how low you can fall; the latter inspires you to rise.

    As a consequence, both are valuable. Russian literature should not motivate only to drink vodka (or your spirit of choice, which isn’t vodka for me): it should motivate to avoid degeneration.

    I note that The Cossacks by Tolstoy does provide positive role models. (It is depressing in parts, but i find it uplifting as a whole.) That is part of the reason why i started this comment with “As an over-simplification”.

    Joseph Conrad is a Slavic (Polish) author who provides mostly positive role models, in my limited experience.

    Perhaps Perry or others can suggest Ukrainian authors?
    Preferably positive role models, please.

  • bobby b

    If a national psyche spends more time warning about the swamps than pointing to the mountaintops, you can usually bet that its history contains a lot of swamps.

  • NickM

    Absolutism tempered by assassination.

    – Count Munster, Hanoverian envoy at St. Petersburg, writing of the Russian Constitution

  • I agree with bobby b (May 8, 2022 at 11:45 pm), and note the follow-on question of cause and effect. If your history includes Ivan the Terrible, does that make your literature more full of negative role models? If your literary role models trend negative, does that make Stalin more likely?

    This indirect question is easier to ask than to answer. I am more confident in Hannah Arendt’s dictum that when something has once occurred then its recurrence is more likely than its initial occurrence ever was. When you’ve had Ivan the Terrible then Stalin is more likely – especially if the time between has not been as full of contrasts as great as English-speaking culture, say, can offer.

    In ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, Hannah has a section on how the mysteriousness of rule by decree as against the comprehensibility of rule by law led to the deep Russian literature of ‘fate’ in Russia – that it’s apparent greater profundity relative to western literature arose out of a shallower political reality. She contrasts this with Kafka, the satirist of the same phenomenon in the Austro-Hungarian empire (she says the tale of the Barnabases in Kafka’s ‘The Castle’ “reads like a parody of a work of Russian literature”). She explains the difference by saying the Russian people saw their government as their government (as the peoples of most ethnically-based states did and do, regardless of how annoyed by it they may be at times), and so were always tempted to seek a meaning in the fundamental meaninglessness of rule by decree. By contrast, the many ethnic groups who fell under the Austro-Hungarian empire’s rule, and the way in which even predominant groups like the Germans and Hungarians were limited by its rules, meant they never identified to the same degree with that state – so got Kafka rather than Turgenev.

    Hannah is very capable of overthinking things (and on the other hand not wholly incapable of being simply wrong – her research is deep and thorough in the main but she never realised the economic statistics on which she based some of her Victorian/Edwardian empire analysis were not even mere errors but raw socialist-academic-promoted fakes). I offer her analysis for what it is worth – and remark that I think it is worth something.

    (All quotes are from memory.)

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