What Vladimir Putin has proposed for Ukraine is nothing short of genocide
Toronto Star, 25 February 2022
Let’s not mince words: it’s genocide. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on Monday made clear that, in his mind, Ukraine — and thus over forty million Ukrainians — have no right to exist. Putin’s pretext for invading Ukraine is based on a 19th-century fantasy that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians constitute “one all-Russian nation.”
The idea of “one all-Russian nation” became state policy in the Russian Empire in 1863. In the first of a series of prohibitions against the Ukrainian language, the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs, in response to a proposed Ukrainian-language edition of the Bible, famously declared that there “has never been, does not exist, and cannot exist” a distinct Ukrainian language and culture.
In effect, the Imperial government staked its future on the myth of a single, indissoluble Russian nation — a gamble that proved to be utterly implausible in 1917-18, when, during the revolution, Ukrainians asserted their political independence.
Putin has revived this myth in a new and much more lethal form. What he has proposed is nothing short of genocide — that is, the destruction “in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” according to the legal definition.
In the occupied territories of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, all visible signs of Ukrainian culture are gone. Ukrainian institutions were shut down in 2014 and those who dare to identify themselves as Ukrainian have been persecuted and arrested, or simply disappeared. (Something similar has happened to the Crimean Tatars.) All this has been done in the name of “protecting” Russians.
Putin’s renewed assault on Ukraine means an expanded policy of cultural and physical extermination. Russian state media, in a frenzy of hatred, routinely refers to Ukrainians as “Nazis,” “traitors” and “dogs that need to be put to sleep.” Dehumanization is, we know, one of the stages of genocide, a step that paves the way for violence and murder.
Raphael Lemkin, the man behind the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, understood that genocide was, ultimately, a transformative political project. It is about erasing a social identity and transforming the human landscape — not just mass murder. Lemkin was among the first to recognize the Holodomor, the artificially created famine of 1932-33 that killed many millions of Ukrainians, as part of a long-standing attempt “to destroy the Ukrainian nation.”
This is not merely a “land grab.” Putin has made no secret of his intention — and his professed right — to subjugate Ukraine, a complex multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. He regards the very existence of Ukraine as an affront to his own sense of Russian identity. What subjugation will mean is the destruction of a vibrant democratic society, the loss of countless numbers of lives and the annihilation of an entire culture. Genocide, in short.
Source: Toronto Star