There Has Always Been a Ukraine – Part III

Dear Readers:

Today continuing my review of this piece from RIA Novosti.  We saw the origins of the grandiose version of Ukrainian history, namely the “moderate nationalism” of ethnic ferment in the Austro-Hungarian Empire; and then encouraged in the multi-ethnic Soviet “Empire” as well.  We also see, as my commenter Benjamin shrewdly pointed out, the endemic confusion between “histories of a place”, for example “the history of France”, and the various peoples who passed through it and formed various governmental entities; versus the history of a single people (ethnos, culture, language, DNA, etc.).  Which is often a completely different thing, given that humans tend to move around so much.  Especially in that part of central Europe.  Heck, there could have been cities of Neanderthals living there at some point, for all we know.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that anybody who ever dwelled in that swath of land was a Ukrainian!  These things are so obvious, that even a child should see it.

Ukrainian author Sergei Plachinda

Anyhow, the plot thickens, along with the nonsense, in 1991 when the Ukraine gains independence from the Soviet Union.  Newly independent Ukrainian intelligentsia need to find a way to justify the existence of this new entity, not to mention themselves; and this is when people start to get really silly.  For example, according to Lisitsyn, the Ukrainian writer Sergei Plachinda “discovered” that Christ’s Apostle Andrew had Ukrainian origins.

Well, actually, that’s an old claim that pertains to ancient Rus in general, and thus shared by Russians as well as Ukrainians.  Just as the Irish have their St. Patrick, so Rus had its (alleged) St. Andrew, who allegedly preached in the Greek cities along the Black Sea coast, and allegedly made it as far as the hills above the Dnipr River which would later become Kiev, the Mother of all Russian cities.  “Do you see these hills?”, Andrew allegedly said.  “God’s Grace will shine on these hills, there will be a great city here and God will build many Churches.” According to the legend, Andrew blessed the hills, climbed them and installed a cross there.  Yeah, it could have happened like that, although Biblical historians say, probably not.  In my opinion, if Andrew had climbed those hills then, he, like Kilroy, would have carved his graffiti on them, like “Andrew was here!”  And in any case, even if Andrew had passed through, that doesn’t make him Ukrainian.  Heck, I once visited Montreal, but that doesn’t make me French.  And I’m not even Jewish!

The Role of Philology In The Destruction Of Empires

Andrew was originally a fisherman befriended by Jesus.

Sergei Petrovich Plachinda, who died a few years back, in 2013, at the ripe age of 85, had been born in the Ukrainian village of Shevchenko, in 1928.  This was a hard-working Soviet child:  He went to school and also worked as a lathe-turner in the workshop of the sovkhoz where he grew up.  When Sergei got older, he got a job writing for a local newspaper.  In 1953, he graduated from the Philological Faculty of Kiev State University.  A couple of points here:  Kiev University was a major academic institution during Soviet times; to even get in, one would have to be very bright, especially a poor boy from the provinces.  Secondly, we see that word “Philology” again, which happens to be one of my trigger words.

I have a joke, which I repeat far too often, namely:  Philology is to Scientific Linguistics; as Alchemy is to Chemistry; as Numerology is to Mathematics… [you get the point].  Anyhow, Philology was a huge thing in Soviet times as well, it was the study of ethnic/national cultures, languages, poetry, folklore, history, etc.  This was a way, in Soviet times, for talented intellectuals from the provinces to discover and advocate their own local cultures and develop “local heroes” for the masses to look up to and make them feel warm and fuzzy about their ethnic identity; while making a good living and gaining academic prestige for themselves.  I’m not saying that all these studies were bogus; far from it.  People do need to study culture and poetry and literature, and stuff like that.  But, given everything that happened, one can see, in hindsight, how Philology contributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  By creating local elites whose emotional and intellectual loyalties lay with the peripheries, rather than the center, of the Empire.

The main building of Kiev University, is painted bright red.

Returning to Plachinda’s bio:  After he graduated from Kiev University, Plachinda did his graduate work at the Shevchenko Institute of Literature under the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.  His first scholarly monographs began to come out in 1947.  And in 1959 (he would have been about 31 years old then), he published his first book:  a compilation of stories and sketches called the “Stony Rainbow” (Каменная радуга).  In 1960 Plachinda was inducted into the Union of Writers of Ukraine, which was also a huge honor, in Soviet times.  It meant that he had worked his way right into the elite intelligentsia of the Soviet Ukraine.  And he continued to write a torrent of literary works and biographies.

Making A Case For Jesus

Toward the end of the 1980’s, as the Soviet Union started to fall apart, Plachinda wrote a series of articles arguing against the Russification of the Ukraine.  And after Ukraine became independent, Plachinda’s views became ever more nationalistic.  He published a torrent of works, including “Myths and Legends of ancient Ukraine”.  And Plachinda was the source of a lot of the nonsensical “ultra” assertions, like Apostle Andrew and even Jesus having some connection with the Ukraine.

Philology is to Scientific Linguistics, as Chiropractice is to Scientific Medicine…

This is also when Plachinda “discovered” that the Ukrainian language is very similar to Sanskrit.  Well, if he had studied Scientific Linguistics instead of Philology, then he would know the real reason why – duh!  (Hint:  all Slavic languages share a remote common ancestor with Sanskrit; it’s called Indo-Aryan/Satem.)

Among Plachinda’s other fallacies is the claim that the “ancient Ukrainians” invented writing (No, they didn’t), and were the first people to domesticate horses.  As to the latter claim, I saw this link which gives the credit to people living in the area now called Kazakhstan, around 6000 years ago, because those horses had to wear bits in their teeth.  Well, who knows, it could have been older than that, and in any case, once again, just because these equestrians lived in Kazakhstan doesn’t make them Kazakhs, necessarily – they could have been Mongols, for example.  They certainly were not Ukrainians, because Ukrainians didn’t exist back in those days!  Once again, just empty boasting to claim that all meaningful achievements were accomplished by me me me me!  Dudes, can’t you leave at least some glory to other people?

[to be continued]

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4 Responses to There Has Always Been a Ukraine – Part III

  1. Benjamin says:

    Regarding ancient ‘Ukrainians’ inventing horse domestication, this one probably actually does have a degree of truth to it.

    The basic summary is that a huge number of languages, from Western Europe all the way to India, and including at least as far south as what is now Iran, are clearly related. And the types of words where the connection is most prevalent are ones related to horses and wheels. The wheel isn’t very old technology at all, only 5,000 years or so. By combining linguistics and archeological finds of chariots and related technology, it’s possible to broadly trace the technology (and the words related to that technology and thus the language) to its place of origin.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurgan_hypothesis is currently the dominant theory on the place of origin of the horse domesticators, and genetic evidence seems to partially support it. The domestication of the horse and the development of the chariot were hugely important. The people who first mastered it spread far and wide and dominated local people who didn’t have those advantages. They left a massive, permanent cultural and linguistic impact (and no, linguistic impact doesn’t include writing. Cuneiform writing was already over a thousand years old in Mesopotamia when horses started to show up).

    So, were they ‘Ukrainian’? Well, no. Putting aside the usual problems with claiming any ancient people living on the land that is now within the borders of a modern country as part of the modern nationality of that country, the Kurgan hypothesis places this homeland in a massive zone of steppe that stretches from Bulgaria through Romania and Moldova, parts of Ukraine and Russia, and ends in Kazakhstan.

    Any one nation trying to lay claim to these people is patently absurd. Now, if you wanted to make some sort of pan-Slavic claim to these people that… would also be absurd, frankly. Slavs didn’t exist in 3500 BC. These people would have in some way been ancestors of Slavs, but they were also ancestors of lots of other modern people. For instance:

    Proto-Indo-European ‘ekwos’ (horse) becomes the Latin ‘equus, Greek ‘hippos’, Persian/Farsi ‘asp’, Sanskrit ‘asvas’, Luwian/Hittite ‘asuwa’, Irish ‘ech’, and Lithuanian ‘asva’.

    As for Mongols, Mongolia is too far east to be the PIE homeland. Anyway, Mongols specifically aren’t even loosely attested before the 700s AD (in Chinese records as ‘Mengwu’; that these were Mongols is of course unprovable). The Eurasian Steppe is basically a giant highway. People have been traveling across it for thousands of years. It’s literally impossible to disentangle how Steppe peoples are related to each other.

    Speaking of Proto-Indo-Europeans, if you really want to see crazy, read up on Hindu ultra-nationalists sometime. These are the fanatical supporters of current Indian Prime Minister Modi. They’re basically fascists, or at least very fascist-adjacent. They really like rioting and killing Muslims. They also *really* don’t like the idea of a PIE homeland in the Steppes, and insist that the Indian subcontinent is where the domesticated horse and chariot came from. They feel the similarities in ancient Sanskrit to European languages of course means the words originated in the subcontinent. In other words, Hindus invented everything.

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    • yalensis says:

      Thanks, Ben, your scholarly ways are much appreciated! For the Hindu thing, don’t their sacred texts clearly tell of the “Aryans” like Vishnu and the others, conquering the subcontinent? In other words, these Aryans came from somewhere else. I’m not an expert in that region, but I remember reading how the Indian subcontinent was completely populated by more indigenous, aboriginal (non-IE) peoples who were conquered by the proto-Indo-Europeans. The latter probably taking advantage of their horse-and-chariot technology to subdue the technologically more primitive aboriginals.

      Speaking of horses, Slavs are the outliers here, using non-IE words for horse, namely the Proto-Slavic *kon’ – Russian kon’, Ukrainian kin’ (Кінь), etc.
      Instead of using the normal I-E word for horse, *ekwos, in other words. People can make of that what they will. In addition, Russians have a word they borrowed from Turkish, namely loshad (ло́шадь) .
      Either way, Ukrainians didn’t domesticate the horse, even if their I-E ancestors did. To take credit for “Aryan” achievements smacks a little too much of you-know-what.

      P.S. I am glad you brought up the Hittite word for “horse”, asu, aswa, which is clearly one and the same as the reconstructed I-E *ekwos or *hekwos.
      That is one of the words used by historical linguists to take the proto-language even farther back, to a proto-proto Hittite-Indo-European language. And the Hittites were also famous for their horses and chariots, even mentioned in the Bible in that way: 2 Kings 7:6:

      For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.”

      Isn’t history fascinating!

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      • Benjamin says:

        As far as I know who the Proto-Europeans actually were ethnically remains fabulously obscure. In regards to India the current consensus is an imigration theory rather than invasion. They just intermixed with the natives. How all this connects to the Harrapan civilization is also completely unclear.

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        • yalensis says:

          That’s interesting, because the Hindu mythology is very warlike, with tales of conquest and subjugation, even genocide. Hitler probably jerked off on stories of Vishnu and Harry Krishna picking off dark-skinned aborigines from their royal chariots, like shooting fish in a barrel… So, it never actually happened that way, is what you’re saying… People are lot more peaceable and a lot less genocidal than they sometimes think they are!
          🙂

          It’s funny, because in modern times people would not boast about committing genocides that they actually had not done! Quite the contrary, they would deny them…

          A few years back I read a book by a Biblical scholar making much the same point about the ancient Hebrews, namely while there would have certainly been some military battles between this ethnos and other peoples living in the Levant; but that the whole “Moses” myth is basically a crock; that the Hebrews were living there all the time, along with other peoples; and granted some comings and goings. But the ancient Jews didn’t just burst in from the desert and burn down every city they came to, like they claim in their Bible. Maybe Jericho, but that was probably the only real military success they had…

          In other words, all the genocides that they boast about in the Old Testament (and which still tick Jew-haters off to no end) didn’t really happen! As in “And thus they slew every man, woman and child, yada yada…” I remember reading the Old Testament as a child (in Sunday school) and being horrified by the unconscionable violence.
          🙂

          And then come to find out that it probably didn’t actually happen that way, and wars were probably more the exception than the rule…

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