Ukrainian pride

Dec 9th, 2014 | By | Category: History, In Depth, Opinion, Ukraine
Railway bridge in Plebanivka

Railway bridge in Plebanivka, Ternopil’s’ka oblast, Ukraine

Railway bridge in Solkan

Railway bridge in Solkan, Slovenia

Another day a picture of a beautiful bridge in village of Plebanivka, Ternopil’s’ka oblast, Ukraine was shared on the Internet.  This event would not be worth mentioning if the picture weren’t commented by Moscow resident Irina: “And what are Ukrainians proud of? There are five viaducts with rails in this area – two in Ternopil oblast in Krovinka and Plebanivka villages, one in PreCarpathians and two in Lviv oblast. All viaducts were built in times of Austro Hungarian Empire. Ancient Ukes just digged the ravines so they had something to overcome”  Hardly a comment one would expect from an intellectual and cosmopolitan person that collaborate at “Open Russian Film Festival KINOTAVR”!

Well, who knows… it is likely the engineer that designed the Plebanivka bridge was of Czech or Jewish by nationality, but it is equally likely that in meantime another Ukrainian-born engineer was designing buildings in present-day Slovakia or Poland.  Fluidity of people was impressive within Austrian-Hungary.  Likewise, doctoral advisor of great Ukrainian poet Ivan Franko was Croat Vatroslav Jagić and Jagić’s doctoral advisor was Slovene Franc Miklošič.  All nationalities were contributing to common welfare of the Austrian-Hungary empire and all achievements can be considered their common heritage.  Ukrainians are entitled to be proud of beautiful Austria-Hungary Plebanivka bridge just as Slovenes are entitled to be proud of beautiful Austra-Hungary Solkan bridge at the opposite side of the ex-empire.  And vice-versa.

Of course, Austria-Hungary was far from the perfect country.  It was indeed dominated by Austrians and Hungarians, but still provided certain liberties to more deprived nations.  The primary education was carried in languages of each nationality, and moreover each nationality had its own military units, so that soldiers could get commands in their native language.  Interestingly, the most unpopular ban of Croatia-Slavonia was Hungarian Károly Khuen-Héderváry, because he made Hungarian co-official with Croatian.  Yes, you got it right – Croatian was official language in 19th century within Austria-Hungary province of Croatia-Slavonia (from 1883 also in province of Dalmatia).  Compare that to  Ems ukaz.

One of the reasons I was so appalled by the twisted logic of the comment is that I have never ever heard Austrians saying that Austria-Hungarian heritage in Croatia and Slovenia do not belong to Slovenes and Croats.  (Incidentally, I also know that part of my Croatian ancestors made fortune by building small bridges in Dalmatian hinterland during Austria-Hungary empire.)  Another member of Maidan Monitoring explained that logic best: Russian idea is that nation can be proud by an achievement only if the nation had their own state at the appropriate time.  So Jews have nothing to be proud about during last 2000 years, despite they created books and thoughts and ideas, because they were stateless.  On the other hand, Russians created the State, which was persecuting thoughts and ideas, burning books, and killing everyone around them, Jews including, but they have a lot to be proud of.  Sounds familiar?

To me it is deja vu.  This is exactly the logic our neighbours Serbs used as an excuse that allow them to rule absolutely “stateless” Slovenes and Croats after the first world war – despite the fact that Slovenes and Croats were economically and culturally superior.  In fact they succeed in annexing Slovenian and Croatian lands only because of the fact that most of Slovenes and Croats were sympathetic about idea of living in the same country with their “brothers” Serbs.  Later Slovenes and Croats regretted their choice, as it turned out that Germanic Austrians treated them better and with more respect than Slavic Serbs.

So what exactly makes west Ukrainians so hostile toward Russians?  The experience of relatively benign rule of Austria-Hungary before first world war is imprinted in their collective memory.  Russians are incapable to comprehend of that simple fact.  Their inability of self-reflection forces them to find the source of their problems in others, Ukrainians, Germans, Americans, never in themselves.

Despite being independent for 24 years, only since Maidan Ukrainians are finally starting to realise that they can take care of their fate themselves and live without supervision from the “big brother”.  And that is what really bothers Russians about truly independent and prosperous Ukraine – it puts centuries long Russian propaganda of the opposite to a plain lie. Ukrainians finally found the pride that was stolen from them centuries ago – and I hope this pride will get imprinted into their collective memory forever.


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