It used to be a trope in the study of history that ancient, younger and more energetic peoples, thanks to their unconstrained genius, were able to craft powerful myths to explain the world around them, their own genesis and their mission. In these earlier stages of a civilization, ancient peoples were considered to be a in a state of childhood, during which, like children, they possess unlimited creative fantasy to make beautiful and compelling stories up, have enough recklessness to believe in them and a natural confidence in their abilities. Ancient Greeks, the Jewish prophets of the Bible, and Americans were all gifted with these wonderful artistic qualities – and modern Ukrainians have them too.
“Sanskrit, the ancient language of Indians, is close to Ukrainian”, says a geography textbook used in Ukrainian schools. “And the names of Western and Southern countries and people like Galatea, Galilean, France (Gaul), Galicia in Spain or Portugal (Portu-Gal) likely suggests that the ancestors of contemporary French, Spanish, Portuguese, Jews and Turks could have reached their lands from Ukrainian Galicia”, the authors of this textbook for 15-year old pupils go on.
Another textbook begins referring to the one-hundred-forty-thousand-year long history of the Ukrainian people. A different one calls all territory from the Carpathians to the Urals as “Greater Ukraine” 1000 years before Christ, equating Ukrainians to the ancient Arian people tout court (this helps explaining the residual of sympathy towards the ideals of Arian purity in the most aggressive elements of contemporary Ukrainian patriots, even if the German champion of the Arian race did not exactly hold of high opinion of all Slavs in general, deeming them a slave race). The same textbook then refers to the Scythian campaign of the Persian king of kings Darius the Great in 513 BC as a “Ukrainian-Persian war” – because it was largely fought in the territories that today belong to Southern Ukraine.
In the poisoned atmosphere that emerged following the onset of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, any criticism of Ukraine is dismissed as some form of Russian propaganda. Westerners want to see the sort of Ukraine that makes them feel good about themselves, where Ukrainians are model Europeans who love Europe and want to be just like Europeans and for this reason fight for their freedom against the evil forces of reaction and brutality that Russia embodies. Westerners are interested in little else – all the rest is Russian disinformation.
The kind of myth making displayed in many contemporary Ukrainian textbook is undeniable though. It can be interpreted of course of the healthy manifestation of a perfectly natural vigour that so often characterizes the early stages of the history of a people when energy is so abundant that appears limitless – fact-based narratives and careful consideration being something for later, more mature but also almost senile, more tired, more cynical and sometimes decaying civilizations. Or it could be seen as a symptom of deep insecurity by a young nation, which, much like teenagers do, makes wild stories up to give itself some sense of importance and feel cooler.
Stefano Di Lorenzo @StefanoDiLoren5