Society and Politics

Irina Zherebkina. What Kind of Victory Do We Need? team24/02/24 00:312.7K🔥

Two years ago, Russia started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It devastated civilian infrastructure, killed tens of thousands of innocent people, and forced hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes. In her manifesto, professor of philosophy at Kharkiv National University and researcher-at-risk at LSE Irina Zherebkina presents a vision of a post-war Ukraine that rejects ethnonationalism and proposes that the wounds of war can be healed through hospitality and inclusivity.

What kind of victory do we need?

During the current procedure for Ukraine to confirm its status as an European During the current procedure for Ukraine to confirm its status as a European Union candidate, the Ukrainian government is increasingly receiving persistent recommendations from various European commissions that in order to confirm its EU status, Ukraine is required to improve its legislation towards greater diversity, multiculturalism, and guarantees of democratic rights and freedoms for various ethnic minorities, including linguistic and cultural freedom for, in particular, the Russian-speaking Ukrainian population.

Why then do Ukrainian politicians so stubbornly refuse to follow these recommendations and continue to rely on 1) the ideology of nationalism and 2) the right-wing forces with their ideas of a mononational state and monolingual and monocultural politics, which contradict and prevent Ukraine’s European choice, for the sake of which the post-Soviet Ukrainian revolutions were made and for which Ukrainians today fight and die in the war against Putin’s dictatorship? Moreover, during the state of war, the ideology of nationalism and monoculturalism became especially dangerous and harmful for Ukraine since it could not provide for the nationwide total mobilization necessary to win the war, which passed into the stage of a war of extermination (as Etienne Balibar defines the current Russo-Ukrainian and Israeli-Palestinian wars, causing colossal population losses and a lack of human resources), which was clearly demonstrated during the 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine by the crushing victory of Volodymyr Zelensky, who used anti-nationalist ideology and rhetoric, over Petro Poroshenko, who used the ideology and rhetoric of nationalism. 

In my view, such persistent adherence to self-destructive nationalist logic in Ukrainian politics can be explained by the special attractiveness of the ideologies of nationalism and monoculturalism, which makes it possible to create the illusion of total mobilization and national unity in a situation where, as a result of the war devastating the country, the growth of social differentiation, inequality, and social injustice is intensifying. The use of nationalist, ultra-patriotic rhetoric allows the Ukrainian elites, who are not actually involved in the war, to fictitiously participate in the total mobilization, broadcasting ultra-patriotic slogans and advertising campaigns promoting their own image as dedicated fundraisers for the Ukrainian armed forces, etc., thereby camouflaging the fact that only part of the Ukrainian population is on the front line, in the trenches, and under fire in the frontline areas, while the other part of the population continues to lead a fairly protected and comfortable life in the rear or abroad. 

In a similar way, the ideology of nationalism and monoculturalism makes it possible to create the illusion of the flourishing of national culture, replacing the real achievements of the Ukrainian culture with activities to cancel and censor not only the Russian culture, regardless of the political position of its representatives, but also the figures of Ukrainian culture who are at least somehow connected with Russia or who occupy an insufficiently ‘patriotic’ position, as a result of which the Ukrainian culture supposedly benefits and develops, but in fact it only becomes impoverished and simplified. But the main thing is that thanks to the rhetoric of nationalism and ultra-patriotism, the frontmen and frontwomen of the Ukrainian monoculture, who, thanks to the war, are making an incredibly successful international career impossible in peacetime, manage to camouflage the situation of inequality and injustice within the Ukrainian culture itself, simulating participating in the war with Russia and in the total military mobilization through charitable musical and literary shows around the world.

It is a certainty that in order to organize the most massive political mobilization to defeat the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainians need to abandon the lures and illusions of the ideology of nationalism and monoculturalism and to build greater solidarity (“heterogeneous assemblages” in terms of Giles Deleuze or “chains of equivalences” in terms of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe) primarily with all of the opponents of Putin’s dictatorship and authoritarianism, regardless of their ethnic, racial, gender, and cultural affiliation. To do this, the Ukrainians will need to abandon their reliance on the ideology of nationalism and, most importantly, on the Ukrainian right-wing forces now celebrating together with Putin the murder of Alexey Navalny, and to return to the practices of democracy and the democratic freedoms that are not beneficial for ruling elites but are vitally needed for the people of Ukraine.

The real victory of Ukraine over Putin’s Russia will lie in the ability of the Ukrainian people to preserve and restore the remnants not of “radical democracy” (Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe), but of liberal democracy in their country, and to prevent it from turning into an analogue of Putin’s dictatorship, where all the democratic rights and civil liberties are destroyed. The main Ukrainian victory in this war will not be the destruction of the Crimean Bridge or, for example, the successful cancellation of Russian culture throughout the world, but the preservation of a “fragile democracy” (Judith Butler) and the prevention of the advance of authoritarianism in Ukraine. This would be a victory achieved in the interests of not only those in power but also all of the citizens of Ukraine.


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