Vishivatnik case study

So yesterday I posted on the difference between Russian vatniks and possible analogs in other countries. One of those analogs is the so-called vishivatnik, a Ukrainian breed of vatnik.  Obviously the vishivatnik is not as popular as the vatnik, who dates back to 2011-2012, so some people quite understandably want more info. Then as luck would have it, I checked my Twitter feed this morning and a perfect case study was practically staring me in the face. Coincidence? Yes I think so.

The case study in question is pseudo-scholar Volodymyr Viatrovych, a major supporter of Ukraine’s new laws banning Communist and Nazi(but not collaborator, of course!) symbols and criminalizing criticism of the OUN(Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and UPA(Ukrainian Insurgent Army). Viatrovych, quite predictably, wrote a response to David Marples’ open letter to Ukrainian president Poroshenko asking him to veto the laws. The letter, incidentally, was signed by 70 scholars specializing in Ukrainian and Eastern European fields from North America, Western Europe, and Ukraine itself. Marples responded to Viatrovych, quite diplomatically in my view since he at no time points out Viatrovych’s use of fake sources and his denial of well-established atrocities committed by the OUN and UPA, but it was quite apt. I hadn’t read Viatrovych’s response myself, but in Marples’ response to his accusations, Viatrovych’s vishivatnost becomes apparent. Let me share a few excerpts.

Viatrovych asserts that “similar laws were adopted by other Eastern European countries,” a non sequitur as an explanation of the motives for adopting them in Ukraine. First of all, we were not discussing the laws in other countries.

Does that sound familiar, dear reader? Of course- it’s whataboutery. For one thing, this doesn’t address the question of whether those laws are good. They certainly haven’t done anything to improve the situation with corruption, unemployment, or demographic issues, or example. Second, there’s often a very curious phenomenon in countries which equate Nazism and Communism. They usually tend to have a rather active right wing, and since they tend to use other symbols as opposed to German ones(just like most collaborationist organizations did anyway), they get to slip through the massive crack in the law. To the credit of such European nations, at least they do not criminalize the public criticism of nationalist and collaborationist movements or organizations. Viatrovych is far closer to Moscow than he thinks.

Viatrovych dismisses the non-voting MPs on April 9 as pro-Russians who do not have at heart the interests of Ukraine. But are they not elected officials representing their own specific communities? Opinion polls circulating in early 2014 suggest that fear of Euromaidan was as prevalent in Ukraine as support for the protestors. But for Viatrovych all opposition to the laws is either pro-Moscow or of benefit to Moscow and thus should be dismissed and disparaged.

Sound familiar? Ilya Ponomarev is a traitor! An agent of the State Department! What’s that? The ruble is tanking? The Russian Central Bank is controlled by the USA! Nakatem bleyat’!!!

It is still unclear what happens to those who fall on the wrong side of these laws. Viatrovych suggests that no scholars will be punished for what they write. But one of the Ukrainian signatories to our letter to Poroshenko and Hroisman has already been harassed and threatened by his superiors, suggesting that opposition to the new laws will not be tolerated.

Insisting that society is free while people’s careers and sometimes freedom is threatened because they dissent from the state’s line. Sound familiar?  I suspect Viatrovych secretly has a dozen ushanka hats in his closet. He also probably eats food covered in dill.

On UPA he seems to have a blind spot. He suggests inter alia that our comments on ethnic cleansing in Volhynia represent simply one point of view, hinting that perhaps this event never took place or that it has been misconstrued. “It is only one of the opinions that has the right to exist.” It is not an opinion, however, but a fact and one that has been carefully documented by a number of scholars, including Timothy Snyder in his Past and Present article of May 2003. I cite this article in particular because Snyder can hardly be accused of being anti-Ukrainian and has been among the most supportive scholars of Ukraine throughout the current crisis.

Post-modernism where everything is a matter of opinion and all narratives are valid (but some can be enforced by the state)? That sounds really familiar. Kind of reminds me of a certain TV network with a green and black logo.

Also Marples correctly invokes Timothy Snyder, but of course we all know that Snyder is a paid Kremlin whore who secretly supports Vladimir Putin…By writing scathing criticisms of his regime and its actions.

Lastly, Viatrovych objects to certain signatories on our list whose articles on “primordial Ukrainian collaborationism” are “actively used by Russian propaganda.” Unfortunately, propaganda organs, Russian or otherwise, regularly exploit and distort scholarly work in this way. But Viatrovych is suggesting also that our naive trust of a group that wishes to malign Ukraine “was a reason for the appearance of this appeal,” which “has already become an instrument in this war.”

Here Viatrovych reveals the vishivatniy trope of Russia as the puppetmaster pulling all the strings. For the Russian vatnik, it’s America. Any criticism of Russia’s government, foreign policy, or even endemic social problems( some of which predate Putin’s rise to power) is viciously attacked as either pro-Western propaganda, or material which can be used by Western propagandists.

Oddly enough, in both cases the nefarious propagandists usually don’t use the material in question. For example, most Russian propaganda tries to portray Ukrainian nationalists as Hitler-loving neo-Nazi racists. The reality is far different. The nationalist narrative, thanks to falsifiers like Viatrovych, tells them that the OUN/UPA fought against Hitler as much as Stalin. Pseudo-scholars like Viatrovych have even insisted that those who joined the Ukrainian 14th Waffen SS division “Galicia” shouldn’t be seen as collaborators. Some may have even bought into the lie that the OUN was a democratic, liberal, tolerant organization, something totally unheard of at that time and place in history. Now obviously if you believe that these collaborators were inclusive liberal democrats, you’d be wrong and you need to pull your head out of your ass. But that is a lot different from someone who knows the reality of the OUN and joins because they support that ideology and its goals. It is even further from someone who glorifies Hitler. Of course none of that stops Russian propagandists from photoshopping portraits of Hitler into photos of Ukrainians or claiming that Hitler will appear on the new Ukrainian banknotes.

So in case you weren’t keeping score, we have:

-Whataboutery and red herrings (Russian equivalent: What about Uganda? What about Iraq and Libya? What if those girls tried to dance in a mosque in Saudi Arabia?)

-Use of the traitor label (Russian equivalent: 5th column! 6th column! 38th column! Our constitution was written by the USA!)

-Acting like all points of view are equally valid (Russian equivalent: Okay so that’s what your fancy investigation of MH17 and all its evidence has to say, but I have eight, no wait, nine alternative theories about that!)

-Warnings that criticism could be used by others as propaganda (Russian equivalent: We can’t let the Americans hear us complaining about our country!)

-Overwhelming desire to use state force to impose beliefs and narratives on people (Russian equivalent: Too many examples to count)

There you have the ultimate irony and tragedy of the vishivatnik. He wants recognition of being the polar opposite of the Russian, yet when you scratch beneath the surface you see that he embodies all of Russia’s worst qualities. This is why Ukraine cannot possibly hope to escape Russia’s domination with such people in charge. Putin’s Russia will always be able to beat them at this game, and their antics divide Ukraine rather than unite it.


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