Postcolonial thinking of Ukrainians: history and consequences

Postcolonial thinking of Ukrainians: history and consequences

Before independence, Ukraine was part of various empires for a long period of its history, in particular the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, and later came under the total control of the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, the imperial policy left a significant mark on the consciousness and thinking of many generations of Ukrainians. What the peculiarities of Ukrainian post-colonial thinking are, how it appeared and whether it is possible to fight it - read in the new material.

The difficulty for colonies to abandon the habits and culture of the empire

At the beginning of the 19th century, Ukrainian lands found themselves on two sides: the Russian Empire and Austria-Hungary. Ultimately, for more than 100 years, Ukrainians were stuck in a political imperial system that limited national identity and destroyed the authenticity of Ukrainian culture. Subsequently, the Ukrainians came under the total control of the Soviet Union, which in many aspects acted similarly to the imperial states.

After independence, it is difficult for the colonies to abandon imposed imperial habits and traditions, so they hardly see the future separately, feel inferior in state-building processes, and often imitate certain cultural and political habits of the empire they were part of.

"Post-colonial thinking is characteristic of any state that has regained or gained independence after leaving a large empire. Therefore, it is typical for Ukraine and for many other states that are quite young and relatively recently appeared on the political map of the world," says Vladlen Marayev, historian and author of the "History without Myths" channel.

Countries that have gained their freedom find themselves in a state of uncertainty. They are no longer colonies, but in their views, culture and state-building tradition, they are not yet independent states. This is precisely the phenomenon of post-colonial thinking.

Influence of Austria and Moscow

As a result of the divisions of Poland, Galicia and Bukovina were transferred to the Austrian Empire in 1772 and 1775. At that time Transcarpathia already belonged to Hungary, which was part of the empire. The policies and reforms of Maria Theresa and Joseph II had a relatively positive effect on the development of western Ukraine. They stimulated the beginning of national revival.

The initiative was taken over by Greek Catholic priests who actively spread Ukrainian literature and opened schools and societies. At that time, the clergy was the only educated stratum of the population. During the Springtime of the Peoples in the middle of the 19th century, serfdom was abolished in these territories, and from 1848 Ukrainians got the experience of the first parliamentarian in the work of the all-imperial parliament.

Shifts in culture are taking place: a council of Russian scientists is convened in Lviv, at which a broad program for the organization of Ukrainian science is outlined and the grammar of the Ukrainian language is approved, educational institutions are opened, and Ukrainian works are published. The relatively soft policy of the Austrian Empire made it possible to gradually restore the Ukrainian identity and national idea.

"The Austrian authorities understood that it was impossible to assimilate Ukrainians with Germans. On the other hand, at the regional level, the Polish authorities in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, the Romanian authorities in the Duchy of Bukovina, and the Hungarian authorities in Transcarpathia engaged in a certain policy of assimilation, as they influenced culture, printing, and education. However, this influence was less than in the Russian Empire, starting from the 1860s," emphasizes Vladlen Marayev.

In the Russian Empire, on the one hand, one can observe the development of market relations. In 1861 serfdom was abolished; Western investors are coming to the region, creating economic prosperity. In the territories of Ukraine that were a part of the Russian Empire, cultural shifts are taking place - the period of activity of Shevchenko and Kotlyarevskyy, the opening of Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Odesa universities, etc. However, from the 1860s, the situation changed dramatically: the Ukrainian language and culture began to be oppressed.

"In the Russian Empire, before the Valuev circular, the attitude towards Ukrainian culture was relatively lenient - Russia did not yet see the danger for itself. Let me remind you that the works of Kotlyarevskyy, Kvitka-Osnovianenko, Shevchenko and Kulish were perceived positively and were published in St. Petersburg. This was perceived by the political leadership of Russia as "well, let the Little Russians practice their regional culture there, it doesn't harm anyone." But when they saw that there was a possibility of an alliance between Ukrainians and Poles, and the Poles rebelled twice in the struggle for their statehood, the Ukrainian movement was perceived as a threat," the historian notes.

The total ban on all things Ukrainian exceeded any oppression on the part of the Austrian authorities. Many activists were forced to emigrate to the west of Ukraine to continue their activities.

"Of course, people felt freer and more independent in Austria. One can even say that the very feeling of human dignity was at the highest level because the country stuck to the laws more or less. The judicial system and the legal profession were developed. If we look at what the Ukrainian intelligentsia did, many of them were lawyers. These are the people who will build West Ukrainian People’s Republic. Ukrainians had the opportunity to realize themselves in this profession: to be wealthy and authoritative. Whereas in the Russian Empire, many of the Ukrainian intelligentsia were revolutionaries who were sometimes imprisoned, then sent into exile, or deprived of their jobs. I think it is not even worth saying that in Russia as a state the word of the law carried less weight. Just like now, actually," the expert claims.

In the second part of the material, read about how the USSR deepened the post-colonial thinking of Ukrainians, about the "tragic" perception of history, as well as the instructions of the historian and author of the "History without Myths" channel Vladlen Marayev on how to get rid of such thinking.

The USSR is another manifestation of imperialist influence

After the suppression of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921, the Bolsheviks seized a significant part of Ukrainian territories, and in the middle of the 20th century, virtually all of Ukraine was part of the USSR.

"In the Soviet Union, on the one hand, there was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, thanks to which the term "Ukraine" and "Ukrainians" finally took root in the consciousness. On the other hand, the Soviet Union constantly promoted the so-called "unity of the Soviet people" or "brotherhood of nations." First of all, this concerned Ukraine, Belarus and Russia," says Vladlen Marayev.

At the same time, the Soviet Union was interested in the creation of party nomenclature and the consciousness of the "Soviet man". The Union did not tolerate excessive manifestations of nationalism, ethnic identity and national authenticity. All those who threatened the ideas of the regime were to be destroyed.

"A new generation of active Ukrainians was just growing up, those who threatened the regime, how they were destroyed. A striking example is the executed revival, later the sixties and dissidents. Others were lured into the service of the empire, transferred to Moscow and Leningrad, and given opportunities for career growth. That is why many Ukrainians in the post-war period are represented in the highest echelons of the Soviet Union government. At the same time, they became loyal to the Soviet system and would never have thought about the independent existence of Ukraine," the historian emphasizes.

As Marayev points out, the Ukrainization carried out in Soviet times was perceived as something close to Russian, something that cannot exist separately from Russia. That is why the restored Ukrainian independence in 1991 largely operated with an eye on Russia for a long time.

A pessimistic retrospective of the perception of one's history

A separate phenomenon of Ukrainian postcolonial thinking is the "tragic" perception of one's history. Most of the works of literature and the emphasis on the study of history falls on the failed revolutions, the loss of independence and the suffering of the Ukrainian people. This significantly affects the vision and perception of one's people and country. A large part of Ukrainians lives with a pathological attitude toward suffering.

"Such an attitude exists, because it is necessary to take into account the period in which we live in general: the extremely brutal 20th century, long periods of statelessness, the 31st year of independence, and all this time Ukraine was at the stage of permanent state building. It went through crises: political and economic. There has been a war since 2014, and since 2022 this war has become full-scale. Obviously, this affected everyone's life and only deepened this feeling," says Marayev.

How do you get rid of post-colonial thinking?  Instruction of the historian Vladlen Marayev:

  1. Move away from the negative and tragic perception of your history — focus on successes, victories, and outstanding figures.
  2. Consume Ukrainian content. Russian culture dominated Ukraine. A stereotype was formed that Russian is more serious, more interesting and of better quality. It is completely false - nowadays Ukrainian content is in no way inferior to Russian, and in many respects even surpasses it and has a constant trend of development and growth. For example, modern Ukrainian music is much more qualitative and diverse than Russian.
  3. Switch to the Ukrainian language in everyday and professional communication.
  4. To be interested in the history and culture of foreign countries, to study the connection with Ukraine, and to be aware of Ukrainian culture and history as an organic part of the world.
  5. To develop skills of critical thinking, and analysis of information from many (usually contradictory) sources, to constantly increase the level of erudition.