From xxxxxx <[email protected]>
Subject Ukraine: Beyond the Postsoviet
Date March 11, 2022 1:05 AM
  Links have been removed from this email. Learn more in the FAQ.
  Links have been removed from this email. Learn more in the FAQ.
[ The war is shaped by global neoliberalism, sexism, and
racism—not just Cold War dynamics. Only by understanding Eastern
Europe beyond the old dichotomies of the free West versus the
authoritarian East can we begin to grasp the war’s significance.]
[[link removed]]

[[link removed]]


Ileana Nachescu
March 4, 2022
Boston Review
[[link removed]]

[[link removed]]
[[link removed]]
* [[link removed]]

_ The war is shaped by global neoliberalism, sexism, and racism—not
just Cold War dynamics. Only by understanding Eastern Europe beyond
the old dichotomies of the free West versus the authoritarian East can
we begin to grasp the war’s significance. _

Kharkiv skyline before Russian invasion., Image: Viktor O. Ledenyov
// Boston Review


“Russians and Ukrainians actually understand each other well. That
is perhaps the . . . saddest irony of this perverse, unnecessary
war,” writes Ukrainian journalist Natalyia Gumenyuk. “We know each
other’s mentalities. We understand each other’s languages. We
share a Soviet past.” Gumenyuk’s comparison underscores how
different two such seemingly similar countries can be.

A great misunderstanding about the war has gone largely unchecked:
that it is simply a sequel to the Cold War that plays out resentments
dating from the time of the USSR.

The two countries’ commonalities have perplexed and misled many
foreign commentators. J. D. Vance, of _Hillbilly Elegy _(2016) fame,
and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez share little in the way of
politics, but they initially agreed that the war in Ukraine does not
warrant U.S. military intervention. It’s nothing more than Eastern
Europeans fighting other Eastern Europeans—a localized
conflict—they seemed to think. Though they’ve both subsequently
changed their opinions, their brief accord highlights how Western
misunderstanding of Ukraine have at times created strange bedfellows.

It certainly has not helped that reporting on the war is dominated by
white, mostly male faces from the West. There are very few foreign
names, even fewer accents. If Ukrainians are interviewed, they are
usually cast in the roles of tearful, frightened witnesses. They are
rarely shown as experts in their own history. Among those rendered
invisible by this are the millions of Eastern Europeans who arrived in
the West during postsocialist waves of migration, which have far
exceeded the small number who arrived as refugees in the 1980s. These
earlier groups were celebrated because their narratives about the
traumas of socialism ticked certain boxes in the context of the Cold
War. Yet newer migrants, brought to the West by the tremendous shocks
suffered by Eastern European societies once opened to neoliberal
capitalism, have been largely ignored.

Thanks in no small part to these silences, a great misunderstanding
about the war has gone largely unchecked, namely that it is simply
internecine, a sequel to the Cold War that plays out simmering
resentments dating from the time of the USSR. In reality, Eastern
Europe has been shaped by global forces as much as any region around
the world: neoliberal capitalism, patriarchal authoritarianism and
other forms of sexism, racism, and global migration (contoured by all
the preceding) are deeply entangled in the roots of this war. And only
by understanding Eastern Europe beyond the old dichotomies of the free
West versus the authoritarian East can we begin to grasp the war’s
significance and imagine new solidarities.

And while the conflict is playing out in national terms—while
transnational entities such as the EU and NATO hover in the
background—it is critical to think of this war in the context of
Eastern Europe as a region. In what follows, I revisit a time when I
experienced Eastern Europe as a world of its own, with its own rules
and themes and limitations. In 2000, approximately a decade after the
end of socialism, I attended the Foros Summer Institute in Kharhiv,
Ukraine, at a time when both Russia and Ukraine were still open to new
things from the West, and intellectuals, after years of censorship,
were trying to enter a dialogue with their Western colleagues. Twenty
years later, in spite of economic and military alliances, Eastern
Europe is still not the West and not the Third World either, and it
experiences the problems of the global world in its own way.


The taxi swerved to avoid a car coming from the opposite direction,
its lights blinding us for a moment. I tried to look at my watch and
guess how long we had until our arrival. Were we even headed the right
way? Had we gotten lost? There was no way to tell. The road had
changed from a two-lane highway outside of Simferopol, partially lit,
to a narrower road framed by woods. I had known that the trip would
last more than an hour. I had not anticipated that it would be in
complete darkness. I had no reason to mistrust the taxi driver, but I
could not communicate with him either. He did not speak English,
Romanian, French, or even German. I did not speak Russian or
Ukrainian. It was the summer of 2000, before cell phones. I was in a
foreign country whose language I did not speak, on a deserted road, at
night, in a car driven by a man I did not know. I kept telling myself
that I was no more likely to be abducted at night than during the day.
The idea offered little comfort.

The war in Ukraine, and the West’s reaction to it, simply cannot be
understood without reflecting on the role of race.

I finally saw a cluster of lights, which turned out to be a street,
and a tall building in the near distance. The driver pulled over and
helped me with my bags. We walked through a garden on a winding path
lit by decorative lanterns. I could hear the waves not too far off. I
breathed in the Black Sea’s breeze. I had arrived at my destination,
the Fourth Foros Summer Institute for Gender Studies.

The Institute was organized in Foros, a Crimean resort town on the
Black Sea, by the Kharkiv Center for Gender Studies, with the help of
a MacArthur Foundation grant, in an effort to establish gender studies
as an academic discipline in post-Soviet countries. The institute took
place every year for more than ten years, between 1997 and 2008. It
encouraged faculty across Eastern Europe to teach gender studies
courses and organize academic centers. The Kharkiv center published a
magazine and a book series, and circulated syllabi developed by summer
school attendees. I had started a women’s studies center at my own
alma mater, and was, in fact, in transition after a year I had spent
at the Central European University, in Budapest, a blissful time spent
reading everything I wanted, as for the first time I had access to a
U.S. library. I was expecting to find community at the Summer
Institute. I got so much more.

No one had ever thought of me as both Western and Romanian at the same
time, but that is exactly what happened that summer. Most attendees
were from former Soviet republics—Ukraine, Russia, Georgia,
Belarus—and those of us from outside of the post-Soviet space were
seen as different in a positive way. My colleagues exchanged looks of
approval if I shared a bar of chocolate or cigarettes. There were
three other students from outside the post-Soviet space, two young
scholars from the Czech Republic, whose elegant English I envied, and
my roommate Tania, with whom I became fast friends. She told me that
she taught a subject that was twice inexistent: Yugoslav economics. It
was in the aftermath of the Balkan wars.

The vestiges of the socialist past were evident in the hotel’s
Brutalist architecture and furnishings, which could be described as
socialist nice. The hotel’s balconies, which overlooked the Black
Sea, were wide enough to accommodate not only a table and chairs, but
a bed as well, so that one could fall asleep outside, to the sound of
waves. The hotel had a sanatorium, which reminded me of the socialist
era vacations I took with my grandparents, and some services, such as
mud wraps, water massages, and mineral baths were complimentary if one
had a referral from a doctor. During socialism, my grandparents and
parents and almost everyone I knew had gone to sanatoriums and enjoyed
such treatments, usually paid for by their unions. The sanatorium
doctor gave me a referral, and I sunk into the hotel’s mineral bath.

Eastern European countries are perceived as only “relatively”
civilized, only “relatively” European.

The academics who attended the summer school were mostly early career
or still graduate students, as I was—sociologists and historians and
economists. They came from Tbilisi and St. Petersburg, Kharkiv and
Moscow. The languages of the conference were Russian and English, and
there was a lecture every morning and a discussion in the afternoon.
In a room cooled by the sea breeze, some of us sat on the floor,
others perched on chairs and sofas, fanning ourselves on hot days with
the xeroxed copies of the articles we had to read. We had access to a
copy machine and a library and a printer, and we received books and
bound collections of essays, none of which our home institutions could
afford in most cases.

Some of the scholars who taught the seminars had been associated with
Women in Black, the loose network of peace activists that had
protested the occupation of Palestine and the war in former
Yugoslavia. Nationalism and its patriarchal underpinnings, we
understood, were the enemies—a fitting message given the complicated
histories of our region. I remember a long debate, filled with
laughter, about the supposed feats of masculinity of nationalist
leaders like Slobodan Milošević, Vladimir Putin (then in his first
presidency), and Franjo Tuđman. Women sent them love letters and
naked photos of themselves, we learned. Was that an improvement over
the revolutionary love we had had to feel for socialist leaders,
“fathers” of our nations? The discussion continued over drinks at
dinnertime, and we laughed and smoked cigarettes, and, although not
all of us spoke the same language—some knew English, others Russian
or Ukrainian, plus a handful of other languages—it became clear that
there were many historical experiences that we had in common.


Twenty years later, Eastern Europe has been divided several times:
some countries have joined the European Union, others NATO, others
have remained on the periphery of these spaces. Although Crimea was
annexed in 2014, the Foros Sanatorium still accepts bookings.
Feminists in Ukraine have continued their work. There are now
women’s studies center at all major universities. In Russia,
however, dissent has been squashed, as the members of the feminist
punk rock group Pussy Riot learned when they protested Putin’s tight
connection with the Orthodox Church.

Thirty years of global neoliberal capitalism have also engendered an
unprecedented accumulation of wealth, especially by white men. At no
time in history has the wealth of the planet been concentrated in such
a small number of pale-skinned, male hands. Not all these men appear
interested in conjoining their enormous wealth with political power,
but it is a matter of luck and disposition: today they’re launching
a rocket manned by astronauts wearing tuxedo-style costumes, tomorrow
they might resolve to use media to sow their most outlandish fantasies
in the hearts of millions. Today they’re building yachts the size of
natural formations for their girlfriends, tomorrow they might decide
to invade a country of 40 million people. Who could stop them?

At no time in history has the wealth of the planet been concentrated
in such a small number of pale-skinned, male hands. Tomorrow they
might decide to invade a country of 40 million people. Who could stop

Of course, there have been, in the past, dictators who have amassed
uncontrollable power over their subjects, and there have been men with
unimaginable wealth accumulated via the suffering of many. But the
sheer size of our contemporary oligarchs’ riches makes any kind of
comparison with the past irrelevant. And yet they are human beings, we
need to remind ourselves, aging men of fickle disposition, petty,
whiny, manipulative but not necessarily wise after all. Yet their
whims can destroy the lives of millions.

Putin’s actions can only be properly contextualized as being those
of one of these oligarchs. Although his personal wealth is well
hidden, it may exceed $200 billion, which would make him one of the
top three wealthiest men on the planet. As such, Putin is not so much
a product of some sort of an authoritarian past, nor simply of the
legacy of communism, which after all ended thirty years ago. He is as
much or more a product of neoliberal capitalism and his actions can be
read as continuous with its logic of accumulation.

Never since Nicolae Ceaușescu’s final moments has a dictator
sounded so unhinged, so deluded, so at war with reality. In December
1989, Ceaușescu insisted that foreign agents were manipulating an
otherwise compliant population, who wanted nothing but socialism and
his leadership—while workers were protesting his rule right outside
the balcony where he delivered his last discourse. Nothing pierced his
conviction—even, apparently, being brought in front of the execution
squad. Nothing will pierce Putin’s baroque ideas about drug addicts,
Nazis, and sexual deviants supposedly threatening the Russian
border—nor the universal excuse for war, invented aggression by the
other side.

In the same way, we must recognize that this is not a Russian war,
this is Putin’s war. The nonprofit watchdog Reporters Without
Borders ranks Russia 150 out of 180 for freedom of press. And yet
close to 6,000 people have been arrested in Russia at protests against
the war. The daily _Novaya Gazeta _(New Gazette) published last
week’s Friday edition in Ukrainian in an act of defiance, and Putin
warned its editor in chief, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov,
that international awards would not protect him. Russian feminists
have also called for resistance to war, outlining how war affects
mostly civilians and women.

Putin’s actions can only be properly contextualized as being those
of an oligarch. He is a product of neoliberal capitalism and his
actions are continuous with its logic of accumulation.

After all, the wealthy always have ways to avoid the war’s dangers.
Rich Ukrainians have been able to leave their country on private jets;
they may well already have multiple citizenships and will not need
refugee status anywhere. On the other side, it is poor Russians who
fill the ranks of the army, from families without resources or
connections, who could not avoid the compulsory military service. The
inflation created by U.S. sanctions, which the Biden administration
hopes will somehow affect Russian oligarchs, has already started
wreaking havoc in the lives of ordinary Russians. Ordinary Ukrainians
are escaping their sieged country on foot, carrying their belongings
in their hands.


A class analysis was something that was surprisingly not present in
our minds at the Foros Summer School. We discussed women’s history,
the sociology of gender, post-structuralist and feminist theory, and
read women authors such as Croatian feminist Slavenka Drakulić. Yet
poverty, one experience that we all shared, was never discussed.
Neither was the economic transformation taking place in our countries.
We did not have a critique of neoliberalism, although we were its
frontline victims.

My dream then was to travel to the West, live in Paris let’s say, or
London, visit Cologne and Copenhagen, Milan and Barcelona. Lack of
money never allowed it to be more than a dream—and even if I’d had
the money, I did not have a visa, and at the time I needed one to
travel to the West. My Eastern European colleagues were all broke. We
struggled to pay our bills on meager salaries, reading
post-structuralist theory from xeroxed copies shared by generous
Western colleagues. As often happens for the poor, we became obsessed
with hopes offered by occult economies. Friends would try the most
outlandish schemes, and suddenly for a while someone would make money,
nobody knowing exactly how and everyone trying to find out. But most
who tried these get-rich-quick schemes ended up even worse off, having
lost their savings and sometimes their homes.

On one of the last days of the Foros Summer School, we took a trip to
Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea. I was walking down a sunny
street leading to the Maritime Museum, in the old part of town, yellow
leaves on the ground announcing the fall: that street, with its
crumbling facades, could have been anywhere, from Split to Tartu, from
Prague to St. Petersburg. Under socialism, it had been a vestige of
the past, one we did not care much about—socialism had built modern,
comfortable apartment buildings after all. After its fall, such
streets had become symbols of our inescapable poverty; if only we
could repair them, then we’d reconnect with the glory of our
presocialist past, and our cities would look like the West. But that
afternoon, I saw their wistful, imperfect poetry. Like us, they were

This is not a Russian war. This is Putin’s war.

It turned out that I did not have a full-time position waiting for me
upon my return to Romania. By October, I had settled into a routine of
three part-time gigs: managing a project on domestic violence,
teaching part-time at the university, and translating. Doing so, I was
able to cobble together the equivalent of U.S. $150. This is not a
post-factum translation for U.S. readers; it is indeed how we made
sense of our incomes back then. After several years of runaway
inflation, the government diminished the value of the _leu_ 10,000
fold, making the Romanian currency too unstable and then too
incomprehensible to think in.

My income was average, not too bad according to the Romanian standards
of that time, although each of the jobs demanded more time than I had
initially thought, more like a fulltime position except for the
paycheck. I barely had any time to sleep. I remember going to the
supermarket and feeling helpless as half my salary went to yogurt,
bread, pasta, and apples. At the end of the month, I had to borrow
money—but then, I reasoned, so did everyone else.

And still, at the time, Romanians were earning far more than their
colleagues out East, be they Russians or Ukrainians. Georgians, I had
learned, lived off the equivalent of $15 a month, and there was
electricity for only a few hours a day.

“You mean $50?” I remember asking.

“No, $15,” the woman answered.

The year was 2000. By then it had been a decade since socialism ended
in all our countries. There were few reasons to imagine that
improvement was still on the way.

I started sending applications to U.S. universities that had doctoral
programs in women’s studies. I was not interested in anything else.
A couple of months after I mailed four thick applications, a brief
email arrived at my Yahoo address: I had been accepted as a graduate
student in a doctoral program and I was going to receive a teaching
assistantship for four years. The message was signed by an American
professor: in sisterhood, she said. I wanted to be grateful, but I
could not image any kind of equality that could overcome the
difference between our statuses, whether in terms of freedom of
movement, power, or wealth.

At that time, I also did not yet understand Eastern Europeans’
precarious grip on whiteness, and how it left us wedged in a
complicated middle space of power and lack thereof. Now, I realize
that the war in Ukraine, and the West’s reaction to it, simply
cannot be understood without reflecting on the role of race. Scholars
have coined various names for racialized categories adjacent to
whiteness, but perhaps the simplest way to understand the racial
paradox represented by Eastern Europeans is to understand that we are
white but not Western. This whiteness is perhaps most visible when
wielded as a cudgel against the Romani, a Ukrainian ethnic minority
who have a long and painful history of being exploited, including half
a millennium of slavery, in the region.

It is poor Russians who fill the ranks of the army, from families
without resources or connections. They are also those harmed by U.S.

And yet, non-Western status shows our powerlessness throughout the
world. “Relatively civilized,” “relatively European,” opines
Charlie D’Agata on CBS News, and this extraordinary statement, for
which he has apologized, shows us bluntly the global hierarchies
unfolding under Western eyes. On the one hand, “civilized” and
“European,” more “like us” (Westerners) than people of color
from other parts of the globe. The Syrian refugee crisis, for example,
received a very different press only a few years back. On the other
hand, Eastern European countries are perceived as only
“relatively” civilized, only “relatively” European. Only in
comparison with others—people of color, people of other
religions—can Ukrainians be recognized as acceptable to the West,
and then it will be in some sort of subservient position.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s statement that Ukraine is fighting
to be “equal members of Europe” is rather unlikely to come to
fruition, even if Ukraine’s membership in the European Union is
miraculously fast-tracked. Judging by the experience of other former
socialist nations, even joining the European Union has not necessarily
resulted in prosperity, and most Eastern European countries have
experienced successive waves of outmigration. It is rather common for
Eastern European families to have members living in three or four
different countries, a further dissolution of community ties that
began with the end of socialism. Only a small number of Polish and
Romanian citizens have reaped significant economic benefits from the
European Union; many remain impoverished. The ability to work abroad
might have mitigated the worst effects of poverty, yet it has resulted
in a brain drain, as Eastern European countries are losing their
doctors and nurses to the West, which has not invested in their
education. In the European Union, Eastern European workers are still
viewed as undesirable, second- or third-class citizens, even though
they are necessary to the local economies. At the height of the
pandemic, Romanian agricultural workers were airlifted to Germany to
work on farms in unsanitary, unsafe conditions.

Thus, the answer to this war is not to go back to using expressions
such as “the free world” uncritically. Just as Putin is not only a
product of postsocialism but also, and perhaps principally, of
rapacious neoliberalism, Ukraine is not only a postsocialist country,
it is also a part of global migration circuits. Among the refugees
fleeing the country are not only Ukrainians and Romani, but also
Indian students and Black Ukrainians of various backgrounds. The old
framework of East versus West does not account for racialized
experiences, nor for the measure of white privilege some Ukrainians
can hope to acquire while others cannot. Yet only by accounting for
race, for the way racialized language ranks experiences and pain and
measures who, specifically, via their proximity to whiteness, is
worthy of compassion, can we move toward true democracy, one that can
be experienced regardless of skin color and nation of origin.

Why is U.S. military help not on its way to Ukraine yet?

On Sunday, February 27, Kharkiv, with its thirty-eight universities
and its forward-thinking gender studies centers, was attacked by
Russians with rocket launchers. Civilians are no match for a
professional army.

We can draw on our memories of socialism to demand an end to the rule
of oligarchs around the world, an end to neoliberal capitalism, and
true democracy and freedom for all.

From Eastern Europe’s historical experience of second-class
citizenship, of non-Western whiteness, and of poverty under neoliberal
capitalism, a new form of solidarity should emerge, one that connects
with impoverished people and people of color everywhere, from the
First World to the Third. Rather than asking for whiteness, which will
only be granted provisionally and partially, or “civilization,”
whatever that means, from the margins, we can draw on our memories of
socialism to demand an end to the rule of oligarchs around the world,
an end to neoliberal capitalism, and true democracy and freedom for

_[Ileana Nachescu is a writer and a scholar. She grew up in socialist
Romania and came of age during the uprising that ended state socialism
in her country and the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. She came to
the United States as an international graduate student and completed a
doctorate in women’s studies. Her essays have appeared in
the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Rumpus, the Atticus Review, and
elsewhere. She is currently at work on a full-length
collection, Memoirs of a Socialist Childhood.]_

[[link removed]]
[[link removed]]
* [[link removed]]







Submit via web [[link removed]]
Submit via email
Frequently asked questions [[link removed]]
Manage subscription [[link removed]]
Visit [[link removed]]

Twitter [[link removed]]

Facebook [[link removed]]


[link removed]

To unsubscribe, click the following link:
[link removed]
Screenshot of the email generated on import

Message Analysis

  • Sender: Portside
  • Political Party: n/a
  • Country: United States
  • State/Locality: n/a
  • Office: n/a
  • Email Providers:
    • L-Soft LISTSERV