Why do Belarusans misunderstand Ukrainians? (Video)

Yauheniya Burshtyn, EuroBelarus Information Service, video by belmediaschool.org

For days Belarusan intellectuals were discussing what can culture oppose to the “hatred machines” that are accompanying a war. They argued until they almost fought.

It didn’t, of course, ended in a physical fight; however, peacemakers were generously crushing each other with arguments and their personal experience. That was the beginning of the public campaign “Understanding Ukraine”, and in the current situation that Ukraine is in it looks quite symbolic. The EuroBelarus Information Service writes about the key points of the first round of the discussion.

On barricades and high culture

In general, the campaign is dedicated to the launch of the “Year of Ukrainian literature”; that’s why the moderator and one of the meeting’s guests, philosopher Ihar Babkou and the poet and translator Andrej Khadanovich brought some of their favorite Ukrainian books with them in order to leave them at the “Ukrainian library” of the Lohvinau book store. By the way, anyone can bring more books to the improvised library, as well as read them: one should only leave the employer of the bookstore his or her contacts to get the book home for several weeks.

The idea of the public campaign came as an answer to the Ukrainian situation of the recent years, which influenced the intellectual field. “Either you are on the barricades and bring shells in which case you should forget about yourself as a thinker, or you find a place and mission of culture in this situation of war,” Ihar Babkou confounded everyone with a dilemma. He believes that literature and high culture are the best opposition to the war.

Andrej Khadanovich noticed that many Belarusan authors (including himself) first were publishing their books in Ukraine in Ukrainian language, and only after that — in Belarusan in his homeland, Belarus.

“Every Belarusan authors, who comes to Ukraine, gets the warmer and more abounding in enthusiasm, intrigues, and euphoria welcome than in Belarus,” he marks. “Being a poet in Ukraine is incomparably more thrilling than being a poet in Belarus.”

Belarusans are not perceived as something alien in Ukraine. Indeed, our nations can speak their own languages and still perfectly understand each other, since as linguists say, Belarusan and Ukrainian languages are only 17% different and 83% coincide. One the one hand, it seems that there’s no need to translate something that can be easily understood. However, the authors see a certain declaration of love in that. At the same time, today’s Ukrainians are ready to read in Belarusan and publishers are ready to launch books in Belarusan.

On the one hand, there is a certain stereotype of resemblance.

“If to a certain degree we are Balto-Centric Slavs, Ukraine rather belongs to Balkans. Sergiy Zhadan is a Slavic Emir Kusturica. When you read for the Ukrainian public they laugh if they want to; if you read something in Belarus and try to laugh they try not to laugh as long as they can, but after the readings they approach you and thank for the hilarious time,” Andrej Khadanovich said.

On antisemitism, nationalism, and dictatorship

Cultural scientist Yulia Chenyavskaya assumes that we have already created “our” Ukraine, adding something that we have expected from Russia, but what we didn’t get from it. “We constantly create Ukraine as some inspiring homeland, which we would like to have here,” Yulia Chenyavskaya is convinced.

She noted that when she lived in Ukraine she felt that she is not perceived as “one of their kind” but rather as “the one of others”, whom they treat well. The cultural scientist recalled the Jewish pogroms in Ukraine, marking that antisemitism is more visible in Ukraine, as well as said that “it’s not worth white-washing the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which is now happening in Ukraine.”

“I had a feeling that all this got somehow became even in Lvov, whereas in Kyiv it has become aggravated,” Yulia Chenyavskaya said, admitting that she hasn’t been to Ukraine for the long time.

“If we compare 2012-2013 and 2014-2015, over this time the acceptance of Russian language in the streets and in cafes has become much bigger than it used to be before,” contradicted the philosopher and methodologist Uladzimir Matskevich.

According to him, now Ukrainian language in Kyiv ceased to be the passkey. Maidan was a certain initiation of the Ukrainian nation, a time when people crossed some border.

“There is a phenomenon of mirroring propaganda. I understand that Russia is big, frightful, and mean. But on the other hand, the other side gives Russia the same treatment. Should the response be symmetrical?” Yulia Chenyavskaya asked herself a question.

A dispute started: Uladzimir Matskevich tried to convince his opponent that Ukraine’s response is, indeed, non-symmetrical. He supported his statements with his own experience, admitting, however, that there are hotheads here.

“Show me at least one Ukrainian TV-channel that is similar to Russian. You wouldn’t find that,” the philosopher marked.

Despite the efforts of Ihar Babkou to put the rails of the round table back to the work of authors, the heated debate fully absorbed the participants.

“I was born with the nickname “banderovec (“Banderivtsi” is a term derived from the name of Stepan Bandera; nowadays it usually refers to Ukrainian nationalists and is often used by the Russian propaganda in negative meaning as a synonym for banditry. — EuroBelarus IS),” continued Uladzimir Matskevich. “I lived in Siberia, where there’ve been a lot of resettlers. We, Belarusans, were all called “Banderivtsi”.

Matskevich marked that throughout his life he has never met everyday nationalism. Yulia Chenyavskaya contradicted, saying that she had repeatedly been in the situation when in response to the Russian language in Latvia people would show her the wrong direction.

Trying to get back to the primary idea of the campaign, Uladzimir Matskevich said that after Maidan thinking has basically disappeared in Ukraine.

The only thing that the interlocutors agreed on was that Belarus is much more European than Ukraine.

On degraded people and green light

Yulia Chenyavskaya recalled the idea of Mark Schaller about the opposition of absolutely pure and weak “spirit” and completely materialistic, though strong “impulse”.

As Ihar Babkou noted, the discussion has led to the participants’ distribution on the barricades re the situation no one of them actually knows well enough.

“The fact that we don’t understand each other (Belarusans and Ukrainians. — EuroBelarus IS) starts from non-understanding ourselves,” summed up the philosopher and methodologist.

The most meaningless discussion among Belarusans is that about Ukraine and about Maidan, since when we start talking about it, the “hatred machine” is absorbing us, Ihar Babkou is convinced.

“We really don’t understand Ukrainians,” he concluded. “The state for Ukrainians is “today it’s one name, before that the name was different.” I feel as a German when I start talking to Ukrainians and explaining to them that the state starts from crossing the street to the green light.”

Well, Andrej Khadanovich is, obviously, right when saying that to remain human and stop hatred is the circle of reproduction of hatred in nature. However, one should at least try to understand his or her neighbor. Within the course of the campaign there will be lots of opportunities to do that: organizers promise discussions, movie sessions, book presentations, and meetings with the authors. Follow the announcements!

Video of the discussion (in Belarusan):