Saturday, April 9, 2011

Are There Differences Between the Russians and the Ukrainians?

Even though we mostly speak the same language, there are important differences between us that are the result of our different history, geography, climate and culture. Here are some of these differences:

1. The most important invasion that was suffered by the  Russians was that of the barbaric, fiercely militaristic and nomadic Golden Horde. The presence of the Mongol invaders (who did nothing but burn, rape, rob, and ravage) throughout the 13th century isolated the Russians from the rest of Europe, putting them behind other European countries in terms of culture, economy, politics, religion, etc. While this was going on in Russia, a part of Ukraine was subjugated by the Lithuanians (who were behind the Ukrainians in terms of their civilization and development and quickly adopted Ukrainian culture and practices). Another part was conquered by the Poles (who were highly civilized ans sophisticated and brought European trends into Ukraine.) The consequences of this can still be felt today when the idea of being European and belonging to Europe is very attractive to most Ukrainians. Russians, however, are a lot more oriented towards Asia and view Europe with suspicion.

2. Most of the Russian lands are infertile and it is very hard to survive on them. For this reason, there were always strong communal tendencies between people who lived on the land. It was a lot easier to survive if you joined your paltry possessions with neighbors and cultivated the land together. The lands in Ukraine, however, are among the most fertile in Europe. Everything grows, blooms, and requires very little effort to become productive. This is why people are a lot more individualistic. It was a lot more difficult for Stalin to enforce collective ownership in the agricultural areas of Ukraine than it was in Russia. Also, the respect for private property is a lot weaker in Russia than in Ukraine. 

3. There was a very strong legacy of democracy in Ukraine that was completely absent from Russia. Between the XVth and the XVIIth centuries, Ukrainian cossacks created a democratic government where no distinctions were made between people of "high" or "low" birth. Russians, however, were always governed by extremely autocratic rulers. This is why today, Ukrainians are still trying to establish a democracy in their country, while the Russians seem to be quite content with their authoritarian government. 

4. Women always had much greater freedom in Ukraine than in Russia. Since the Middle Ages, Ukrainian women had an opportunity to choose their partners freely. Unlike in Russia, Ukrainians did not practice arranged marriages where women were not allowed to see their future husbands before the day of the wedding. The practice of having the women's side of the house where women had to stay was prevalent in Russia, but nobody ever heard of it in Ukraine. Women did not cover their heads in Ukraine (unless they felt like it), while in Russia they had to do so and cover parts of their faces as well. 

5. As a result of a greater freedom for women, sexually Ukrainians always enjoyed a much greater freedom and fulfillment. The sexual revolution in Ukraine began at around 1910 (earlier than anywhere else in the countries of our Western Civilization) with the writing of one of our greatest writers (and the future Prime Minister of the independent republic of Ukraine) Volodymyr Vynnychenko. 

6. Since their land was so fertile that people were pretty sure that they wouldn't starve no matter how little they work, Ukrainians became a lot more laid-back and likely to engage in prolonged spells of happy-go-lucky procrastination. You want hard-working and determined, go with a Russian. Looking for relaxed and happily snoozing on the sofa? Choose Ukrainian. 


el said...

Volodymyr Vynnychenko - can you tell me what he wrote that began the revolution, please? And his best book(s)? In Russian, so that I'll be able to google it right.

Never heard of him and now am curious to read. (In Russian since I forgot all the basic Ukrainian from school I had. Everybody talked Russian in our town, including all school subjects, except Ukrainian language and lit.)

Clarissa said...

Oh, Vynnychenko is an absolute and total genius. He was wildly popular both in Ukraine and Russia. He is one of my most favorite writers ever. Unfortunately, since he was a member of the government of the independent Ukraine (1918-1921), his very existence was repressed by the Soviet Union. Knowing his name was considered subversive, so people just forgot.

His early novel that defended a woman's right to sexual fulfillment is Честность с собой. His greatest novel is Солнечная машина. He also wrote fantastic plays that belong to the high modernism era in Ukraine.

The guy was a total auto-didact. He was born in a dirt poor family and educated himself to become one of the greatest Ukrainian writers and thinkers whose fame in his country at that time was unrivaled.

After the Soviets occupied Ukraine, he emigrated to Germany and later France. When the Nazis invaded France, they offered him to become head of the provisional government in the occupied Ukraine. Vynnychenko, who was a long-standing defender of the rights of Jews in the Ukraine, refused and ended up in a concentration camp.

Clarissa said...

Also, in the Ukrainian Parliament, Vynnychenko consistently refused even to consider working on legislation unless there was a significant number of Jewish deputees present. His Ukraine was "a country of Ukrainians, Russians, Jews and Poles" where everybody had a right to participate equally in running the country.

el said...

Wow, thank you! I will definitely check his books.

Considering your post asking for blogging ideas, I would be very interested in a post with your favorite Russian and English authors and their best books. A book recommendation list, but without Spanish or mystery genre authors, since you've already written plenty about them.

May be part of this explosion of visits came from English-speakers invited for a Saturday dinner with their Russian-speaking acquaintances, as I predicted? ;)

Clarissa said...

A post on the Russian and Ukrainian writers is a fantastic idea. Thank you!

I am still planning a post on music, too.

Pagan Topologist said...

For reference and comparison, what would you say about Poland, which is the only Slavic Country I have ever spent time in. (I have been there for a total of 15 months, though not since 1979.) I know that some Poles consider the natural boundaries of their nation to be the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.

Clarissa said...

I haven't been to Poland and don't know any Polish people, so I couldn't say. There has always been a huge resentment against the Poles on the part of Ukrainians because they kept invading. It is because of those invasions by the Poles that Ukraine has been forced to ask Russia for help and ended up under a bloody colonial domination by the Russians for hundreds of years. It is precisely the attitude that you refer to that makes it difficult to get over this animosity. It's kind of hard to be friendly towards people (Russians and Poles, in this case) who deny your right to exist.