Embittered Ukrainians find joy in schadenfreude

Happiness about other people‘s misfortunes seems to be one of the lowest points that the human soul can reach. The Germans famously have a word for this particularly distasteful feeling, Schadenfreude, and there is an equivalent word in Russian too, злорадство or zloradstvo, most probably like many other words in Russian created and adapted on the basis of a German word.

Social media, among its many effects on the way we communicate and relate to people, has laid bare the human soul in many of its less than appealing sides. If a century ago it was the task of literature to explore the dark corners of the souls, today social media is pretty good at showing that too. Some people cultivate dreams about the continuous perfection and refinement of humanity, but even a cursory look at the kind of things apparently perfectly civilized people say to each other on social media should be enough to free oneself of many romantic illusions about the fundamental goodness of the human soul.

Over the last few years, zloradstvo has been a very common sight every time anything tragic happens in Russia. It is particularly Ukrainians who appear to indulge in this without many signs of remorse. In the eyes of many Ukrainians, what many perceive as Russia‘s war against Ukraine that has been going since 2014 in the Donbass gives them the right to rejoice about someone‘s else tragedy.

When in 2018 a fire killed 60 people in a shopping mall in the Siberian town of Kemerevo, among them many children, some Ukrainians remembered that the city of Kererevo had sent a humanitarian convoy to the Donbass after the war broke out there. “Children are paying for the sins of their parents”, wrote some.

When a few days ago a flood inundated some parts of Crimea, the Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov commented: “The Lord God gave too much water to the Ukrainian Kerch and Ukrainian Yalta at once, and now the Crimeans do not know what to do with it.” Crimea has suffered a draught and a lack of water before. Hurt by the loss of Crimea after the pro-Western revolution in 2014, now many Ukrainians found comfort and pleasure in seeing others suffer. Could a society possibly fall any lower?

For one reason or another, for many Ukrainians a deep-seated and acute hatred of all things Russian has become a dominant feature in their lives over the past few years. Every possible Ukrainian and in general world evil is blamed on Russia, the Russian people and Putin. A new history of Russia, recently published by a major Ukrainian publisher, is called “Antichrist”. It portrays Russia as a devilish force over the course of its entire existence, a force fundamentally opposed to the innocent and naive Christian Ukraine for its whole history. When a few days ago Russia faced Belgium in one of the opening matches of the football Euro 2020, some Ukrainians, among them many prominent Ukrainian personalities, wrote on their social media profiles: “I am Belgian today”. Russia went on to lose 3-0.

These are just a few examples of what has become one of the most common manifestations of Ukrainian collective psyche. Persuaded that Russia is waging war at Ukraine, and utterly uninterested in exploring all the nuances and the complex picture of the conflict in which some parts of Eastern Ukraine have plunged since 2014, for large sectors of the Ukrainian society unity in hatred is only the catalyst of consolidation and patriotism.

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