Understanding How the World Works: A selection of books by a Svidomi journalist Oleksandr Ihnatenko

Understanding How the World Works: A selection of books by a Svidomi journalist Oleksandr Ihnatenko

Translated by Anastaiia Belanova

Oleksandr Ihnatenko writes articles on historical and international topics. In particular, he has dealt with the Wagner PMC in Africa, Russian propaganda on the continent, the protests in France, Bulgarian politics, Austrian neutrality, and European weather conditions. Sasha has a strong educational background: he received a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and is currently obtaining a Master's degree in the same field at the Central European University in Austria. He has also studied at Charles University (Czech Republic), Bard College (USA), and the University of Giessen (Germany) under exchange programmes.

To help you better understand international politics, Sasha has compiled a list of books he recommends reading.

If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

Levi is an Italian Jewish survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. In his book, he recalls his 11 months of incarceration and tries to find the answer to the question his title asks: what does a person become when they lose everything, and do they lose their humanity?

However, this book is important not only from the point of view of remembering the line that humanity crossed during World War II. The concentration camp as a space is key to German identity, which is now being transformed by the full-scale invasion.

Finally, Levi's work is also useful for the Ukrainian present. The author writes that the post-World War II world has many security defects. But it also has an advantage: the free flow of information. However, he does not believe that the Germans or Austrians did not know about the concentration camps. They just didn't want to know about what was happening next door.

The Glass River by Emil Andreev

Andreev is one of Bulgaria's most popular writers. His bestselling novel The Glass River tells the story of a group of local researchers who are restoring an old church in a remote Bulgarian village. When they are joined by a student from France, mystical events begin to take place in the village. The characters with rational views begin to believe in miracles and redefine themselves.

This is a book about how Bulgarian post-communist society is searching for its own identity. The modern Ukrainian identity began to be actively created only when it was threatened. Bulgarians are not threatened, so they are forced to look for meaning in the past.

Magical and terrible events unfold only when a non-native enters the sacred church space. The analogy between The Glass River and Gogol's Viy is obvious here. This is not the only similarity between Ukraine and Bulgaria, which have long fought for their right to exist among empires.

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon

Fanon is a classic of postcolonial studies, and his work contributes to a better understanding of the Global South. In his book Black Skin, White Masks, he seeks to define the experience of colonialism and racism and to understand the role violence plays in it.

"Affect is exacerbated in the [black man], he is full of rage because he feels small, he suffers from an inadequacy in all human communication, and all these factors chain him with an unbearable insularity," Fanon writes.

Although one may disagree with the author, the book can be useful for those who want to better understand societies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. So far, Black Skin, White Masks has not been translated into Ukrainian.

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński

Travelling today is a privilege. A large part of Ukrainian society does not have it. The situation was similar in Kapuściński's time. During the Cold War, it was not easy to get to the other side of the Iron Curtain. An average resident of Soviet-era Kyiv could live there their entire life and never meet a foreigner.

So when the Pole Kapuściński got the opportunity to travel, he didn't let go of it for the rest of his life. The reporter visited more countries in Asia, Africa, and South America than his contemporaries could show on a map.

However, his travels, as chronicled in this work, are not just about wasting time for pleasure or adventure. The book screams: "I wanted to learn the language, I wanted to read the books, I wanted to understand every single detail."

In February 2022, Ukraine hit the headlines of the world's media, emerging from informational oblivion. That's why many readers did not understand the war. To explain its meaning, you need to understand who you are talking to. And to do this, we should adopt Kapuściński's thirst for knowledge and study of foreign countries without dissolving ourselves in them.

Postwar by Tony Judt

"History contributes to disillusionment with the world. Much of what it offers is uncomfortable or even subversive" is the main motif of the book by Judt, a historian who inflicts pain. Writing a comprehensive history of Europe from the post-war era to the present, he was not limited by historical traditions. In them, as a rule, representatives of the nation are heroes, and foreigners are enemies. In Judt's story, although there are heroes, they are in the minority.

He demonstrates not only the social and political transformations that have taken place in Europe over the past 80 years. The main idea of the work is to show how flexible the memory of the past is. Contrary to popular belief, immediately after the end of World War II, Europeans did not comprehend the full extent of Nazi crimes against Jewish people. As a rule, they ignored it. A change in this attitude occurred 20-30 years later.  

The memory of the Holocaust has become the basis of the EU's political identity, but Judt suggests that it will continue to evolve.

This is a heavy book, both in terms of its size and the straightforwardness with which the historian makes his point. As Judt demonstrates, even defeat does not guarantee accountability for the victors, so reading this work will allow us to better understand the post-war transformation of European societies. In addition, the book will help to be more realistic about the long-term prospects of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation.