Ukraine’s complex transition
Edited By Klaus Bachmann and Igor Lyubashenko
“This Is a Strife of Slavs among Themselves”: Understanding Russian-Ukrainian Relations as the Conflict of Contested Identities
As Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet, was nervously following the news from Poland where the Russian troops laid siege to Warsaw during the 1831 Polish Uprising, he was never in doubt as to what was at stake in this bitter Russo-Polish conflict:
Will the Slavonic streams converge in the Russian sea? Will it dry up? That is the question.
While he conceded the existence of a distinct Polish national identity, Pushkin was firmly convinced that an independent Polish state was inimical to Russia’s interests. Moreover, he passionately argued in his patriotic ode “To the Slanderers of Russia,” addressing political leaders of the non-Slavic West, the old Russo-Polish rivalry, basically a domestic Slavic affair, had already been resolved in Russia’s favor and in any case it was none of Europe’s business.
This is a strife of Slavs among themselves, An old domestic strife, already weighed by fate, An issue not to be resolved by you. Leave us alone… To you is unintelligible, to you is alien This family feud.1
Pushkin’s emotional and defiant poem is quite remarkable in that it contains all the basic features that would become characteristic of Russia’s stance vis-à-vis its Slavic borderlands and the nations of the “core Europe” for many decades to come. These main features are as follows: Russia should assert itself as the leader of the Slavs, firmly securing all the “Slavic rivers” flowing into the “Russian sea”; Russia’s Slavic possessions (which in...
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