Stop Blaming the Russian Soul by Ian Buruma

Considering the war in Ukraine as a conflict not only with the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin but also with Russian culture is a great gift for the Kremlin. This reinforces the persecution complex that Putin needs to maintain popular support.

NEW YORK – In a recent interesting article from the Times Literary Supplement, the Ukrainian novelist, essayist and poet Oksana Zabuzhko criticized Western readers for not recognizing Russian barbarism. Too many people, according to Zabouzhko, believe that great Russian writers, like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, expressed European humanist values. They did not sufficiently deepen the Russian wild soul.

Zabuzhko believes that Russian literature represents “an ancient culture in which people breathe only underwater and have a banal hatred for those who have lungs instead of gills”. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can only be understood through the prism of ‘Dostoevskyism’, defined as ‘an explosion of pure, distilled evil and long suppressed hatred and envy’.

This type of cultural analysis sounds rather old-fashioned. It was common to interpret the Third Reich as a disease of the German soul: “from Luther to Hitler”, according to the thesis, implying that Luther’s anti-Semitism sowed the seeds of Nazism some 350 years before the birth of Hitler. But few people today have such a crude view of German history.

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