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“Ukrainian Multiculturalism” Gone Awry on Independence Day

August 24, 2010

The Ukrainian television channel “Inter” recently ran a bevy of ads in celebration of Ukraine’s 19th independence day. The ads depicted 14 different ethnic groups (Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Roma, Jewish, Azeri, Armenian, Georgian, Belorussian, Hungarian, Tatars, Greeks, Romanians, Hutsuls) of Ukraine in various “ethnic” settings to celebrate independence day. Each begins with a bit of dialogue and ends with the singing of the hymn of Ukraine in their native language. At the end of each skit, the words appear: “Ми різні, але ми єдині! З Днем народження, Україно!” (“We are different, but we’re all together! Happy birthday, Ukraine!”).

To give a couple of examples, Ukrainian Jews are depicted in a school receiving a lesson from their teacher. The teacher asks them in Yiddish what the importance of August 24th is and then all the very Jewish-looking children yell out “Independence Day of Ukraine.” They, of course, then break out into song. Others, like the Georgians, are depicted dancing about (as those Georgians are known to do! (sarcasm)) and the Roma hanging with horses in a field, playing music (I guess they do this when they’re not being beaten up and deported by European countries).

This kind of mawkish, pointless multiculturalist trash generally makes me want to gouge my eyes out for a host of ideological reasons too extensive to list here, but that’s not even what I want to touch on here (it’s not always about “me” here at the Third Rail). Instead, I’ll just simply focus on how angry everyone is in Ukraine.

Apparently, the authors of the videos, Mark and Anna Gres managed to upset quite a few people. For starters, an Ukrainian organization VO “Svoboda” is angry because they believe the Ukrainian hymn should be only sung in Ukrainian (wouldn’t want those dirty minorities singing it). You can also find some wonderful responses from Ukrainians in the comment forums following some articles online (in Slavic) in which they share their feelings about the videos. My favorite was about how the “the kikes are offending everyone,” but that’s not worth exploring at length here. Somehow Hungarians and Azeris are mad at the quality of their native tongues in the videos.

Yet, best of all, is the Russian reaction to the video. I’ll let you watch it here:

As you can see, every other ethnic group, no matter how stereotypically they are depicted, is jumping around and/or doing something respectable or at least, fun, but the Russians? They wake up late, can’t seem to find any type of clothing other than their Navy outfit (it is comfy to sleep in though, to which I can attest), and apparently are drunk and stupid. And don’t think the Russians in Ukraine haven’t taken notice! A Russian group in Sevastopol, “Za Edinuiu Rus'” (“For a United Russia”), for one, is not happy. A representative, Vladimir Tiunin remarked:

The Jews are shown in a school, Armenians at work, Georgians dancing on stage, and Gypsies in a field, playing the guitar. Everyone in the videos appear as happy, inspired, intelligent people. But the Russians? They appear as the complete opposite – the main character is sleeping on the street, wakes up, scratches his belly, is unshaved, wearing a Navy shirt, gets up and drinks some brine. He then appears with an accordion player. The accordionist, who appears in shorts, barefoot, and is unshaven like everyone else, to put it mildly, is hardly inspiring.

Pro-Russian groups are now sending letters to President Yanukovych to complain and even one of the leaders from the Party of Regions (Yanukovych’s party) has weighed in saying the governmental body in charge of “ethics and morals” (SMI) might have to get involved.

Gres defended the video, first, by noting he is half-Ukrainian and half-Russian (whatever that means), second, by noting the point of the videos was to depict different ethnic groups in various musical situations where viewers could laugh at them in a light-hearted way and those groups themselves can also learn to laugh at themselves. Plus, as Gres’ pointed out, the Russians are an “old race” that has always had a good sense of humor and ability to take a joke (whatever that means too).

Well, apparently Gres’ hope that Russians would be willing to laugh at themselves was a bit optimistic. I suppose you can blame him (and the people at Inter) for putting these commercials on television for a lot of reasons: naïveté for thinking no one would get pissed off at the videos; hopeless optimism in the sense that they really believed this would bring Ukrainians together on this holiday; idiocy for taking a shot at the Russians, of all people, given the situation in Ukraine; crude intellectualism in trying to import a Western concept like multiculturalism and impose it on the Ukrainian case. In the end, nothing major is likely to come of the video controversy — it’ll just serve as another potent reminder of the nightmarish task of the modern nation-state in the 21st century to remain a united and functional entity in the face of its own never-ending list of contradictions, exaggerations and often times, lies with regards to ethnicity and national identity and how unlikely it is that the cumbersome tool of multiculturalism will prove the elixir to cure it, either here in Ukraine or in the West. The scholar of nations and nationalism in Eastern Europe, Czesław Miłosz, once wrote, “the existence of nations cannot be justified rationally; at the present state, however, one must deal with it as a fact.” I suppose that’s where we find ourselves at present.

Extra: It is also noteworthy that Inter has now edited the controversial video of the Russians on their website – nothing appears when you click the Russian video. You can see it here. For a good summary in Russian and a link to the clips in YouTube see this article from Glavred.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 9:13 am

    What’s even more inspiring is the enthusiasm with which each ethnic group is singing. My person preference is for the one group singing in the slums with traditional ethnic garb and while there are 4 women in the video all you can hear are men singing the song… and someone humming along obnoxiously!

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  3. January 13, 2015 9:48 pm

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