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July 2, 2022 7:41 pm

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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Russian Literature All Too Often Provides Russian State with Justification for the Oppression of Other Peoples, Starchenko Says

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Paul Goble

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            Staunton, June 4 – Many in Russia and abroad often argue that Russian writers have made a significant and irreplaceable contribution to world literature and thus deserve praise even if the governments, tsarist, Soviet or post-Soviet, they have been forced to live under have been guilty of the most heinous crimes.

            Others again both in Russia and abroad disagree and say that Russian literature and the Russian state are simply two faces of the same monster and that the crimes of the Russian state and Russian literature cannot be separated because each informs and intentionally or not supports the other.

            Neither position in its pure form is correct, of course. Russian literature contains much that is at odds with and even directly opposed to the kind of behavior Russian governments are noted for; but it is also true that Russian literature features all too often justifications for the worst kind of crimes by the state against other peoples.

            Ukrainian historian Natalya Starchenko is one who argues that “the messages of Russian literature legitimize the destruction of other peoples in the name of the greatness of Russians” (idel-ural.org/archives/messedzhi-russkoj-literatury-legitimiziruyut-unichtozhenie-drugih-narodov-radi-velichiya-russkih-istorik/#more-10169).

            In an examination of the words of Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and Tyutchev, three of Russia’s greatest writers, she shows that the celebration of the greatness and uniqueness of Russians all too often leads to a condemnation of other peoples who resist Russian efforts to subordinate them. This hostility is thus derivative in one sense, but it is ugly, even bloodthirsty in others.

            Consequently, Starchenko says, it is long past time for the world to recognize that Russia may have produced some great writers but that these writers in their celebration of the Russian people has been used by the Russian state to legitimize its actions against others, including most recently Ukrainians.

Window on Eurasia — New Series


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