Today, Vladimir Putin made quite the statemet regarding sovereignty and colonies. The truth of the statement is without question. There is no in intermediate state: either a country is sovereign or it is a colony. He went on in a video to say (translated):
“During the war with Sweden, Peter the Great didn’t conquer anything, he took back what had always belonged to us, even though all of Europe recognised it as Sweden’s. It seems now it’s our turn to get our lands back [smiling]“
The world might view that differently if it was Boris Johnson or the Queen saying the same about the former English colonies, or Macron speaking of the former French colonies.
The difference, as more than one person of pigment has told me in so many words, is that Ukrainians are not people of pigment. They’re white. And, as has shown up more than once, while bad things are happening in other parts of the world, Ukraine seems to be sucking the air out of the room. “What about Syria? Palestine?” I heard more than once. Some were clear trolls on twitter, some not, but when it gets left hanging, it reinforces the view that the only difference between Ukraine and these other places, from the Congo to Palestine, are a matter of color.
To an extent that might be true. There’s also the issue of land mass, proximity to EU nations and the UK, it’s supply chain of wheat and lithium, and, an interesting thing that almost no one pays attention to: language. In Ukraine, while Russian and Ukrainian are spoken, the major cities have are able to speak the languages of people outside of Ukraine – like English, which we who read this have some grasp of. Nevermind the religious aspects, such as Christianity. In many ways, what isn’t a part of the EU looks a lot like a member of the EU.
Then, there are the nuclear power plants where a nuclear power that threatens using nuclear devices gets more nuclear plants.
The spokespeople from the start have been, aside from President Zelensky, well articulated Ukrainian women. That may have had an effect too; I don’t know, but it was markedly different.
Democracy, sovereignty… a nuclear power not just being dishonest from the start, but being dishonest throughout. Yes, we have seen that before, and we didn’t like it. The New York Times even apologized. Military members were prosecuted for abusing positional authority, which in some instances is a kind way of putting it. Too kind, in my opinion, but the point was that it was bad, and we know that.
What’s not talked about is the past of Ukraine beyond ‘it was once a part of the USSR’. An entire generation, has been born since the fall of the USSR, but the veil of colonialism persists beyond it’s fall, just as the colonial past haunts former colonies made independent just in the last century; 2 or 3 generations.
I’ve been biting back a post on colonialism for some time as I listened to Ukrainians speak in the Ukrainian Spaces on Twitter. It brought up some old conversations had at the first CARDICIS in St. Lucia, in 2004, where I found myself sitting beside a Carib chief at times, where the melting pot of the Caribbean met to talk about culture and ICT. I’d thought I was invited by mistake, but intrigued I went anyway and the experience changed the way I viewed the world. What I heard in the Ukrainian spaces was almost exactly what I heard at CARDICIS, only with a different accent.
CARDICIS had commonalities, and the point of the exercise was to transcend differences in whose colony left what language where, and to recognize the deep diversity of the Caribbean and what separations there were – and building bridges across them. It worked to a degree, but there’s only so much one can do against the inertia of various cultures.
Thus, it was peculiar after 18 years to sit, listening in spaces on Twitter, about the Ukrainians talk about the Russian imperialism while in the same breath wondering why there wasn’t more support for Ukraine in Africa, India, Latin America and the Caribbean. And I cannot help but wonder how the insulation may have worked both ways. In trying to communicate with some speaking out about how colonialism impacts Ukraine, I was met with silence. They are a bit busy making their case to the world, and I think the case would be made better if they made it to a broader audience who could sympathize and not just empathize. Still, it’s not my case to make.
There’s a plurality in Ukraine of people who, over hundreds of years, have not had a great relationship with the former Russian empires. Crimean Tartars, Roma, Cossacks… the list goes on. The people of Eastern Europe, it ends up, surprised the world with ‘revelations’ that they knew all too well and which we didn’t. It’s plausible that it works both ways.
There’s the recent reaffirmation of ‘regrets’ by Belgium’s King regarding the colonial past in the Congo. There’s the issues being discussed about the United States territories in the context of colonialism. Egypt had the Cairo Punch, started in 1908, had it’s satirical illustrations of nationalism and colonialism. There’s Britain’s Windrush Scandal, among many other things related to colonialism brought to the fore on the Queen’s Jubilee (Happy birthday, by the way, I forgot to send a card). The University of Texas at Austin even has a recent article about how the Legacy of Colonialism Influences Science in the Caribbean. and while I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of India and it’s complexities, this line by Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, is a powerful line to write 75 years after India’s independence:
“No one can stop us from writing the truth. We are now independent. We can write our own history,” he said.
75 years after independence from Britain, in a large nation, a nation with nuclear weapons but not falling under the definition of ‘nuclear power’ (an interesting read), has someone being quoted as saying that.
Colonialism and it’s effects are everywhere, and it’s generally omitted in it’s effects across media. What’s the cure? Well, developmental aid doesn’t seem to be working, according to this this article about development aid:
“…We should not be surprised that the aid industry keeps itself busy, year after year, without ever getting closer to what should be its goal – a world without aid. Industries and institutions seek not merely to perpetuate themselves, but to grow. The aid industry has no intention of ever packing up and going home. On the contrary: the UN announced eight development goals and 18 targets in 2000. In 2015, that grew to 17 goals and 169 targets….”
So, what is the answer?
The first step, I think, to move beyond colonialism is to find others with common issues, and one of the more common issues is the isolation from others, such as in the Caribbean even the next island over, by language, by culture, and by economic connection.
Colonialism is more of a common issue than most people think- with only a few articles linked here from the plethora on the Internet, which of course leads us to the Digital Divide, technocolonialism – other things I’ll be writing about soon.
For now, as the world becomes more aware of the voices in Ukraine speaking of the Russian empire, there are those speaking of the European Empires even as 2-3 generations later, former colonies are still recovering… maybe the best answer is to find the commonalities and build from there. As the narrative was at CARDICIS, we all cook, we all eat – but everyone’s food tastes different because of the different ingredients and balances of the ingredients.
There is much to learn from those different balances and different ingredients.