Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 08.12.2017
Ukrainians and Russians are radically different people. Their societies are nothing like each other, at the roots. This distinctness is something Ukrainians know and feel and experience from birth. Russians who can escape from Kremlin propaganda have a sense of it too. But in Western Europe and North America most people merge the notions of “being Ukrainian” and “being Russian.” This erroneous perspective has had ill consequences for Ukraine. Descriptions have been imposed from outside, and the Moscow viewpoint has dominated for hundreds of years. Until recently, Ukrainians have not been giving voice to themselves, and having that voice heard beyond their borders.
With the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-14 and with the defence of Europe from Russia’s invasion from 2014 onwards, this has all been changing rapidly. More than at the time of the Orange Revolution of 2004 and much more than at the time of the re-emergence of independence in 1991, Ukrainians are speaking and acting in the public realm – with great enthusiasm and to lasting effect. The character of the Ukrainian people is shining through. With that, the radical differences between Ukrainian society and Russian society are showing themselves. Ukraine is the quintessential European nation, and thoroughly Western. Russia isn’t.
One example will show how different Ukrainians and Russians are, and how the spiritual gap between them is growing. On December 6, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a bill on the criminalization of domestic violence. On December 7 a bill was passed on preventing and combating domestic violence, and a bill was passed on additional measures against those who systemically fail to pay alimony. Domestic violence is a problem in Ukraine. Abuse in the home is immediately and shockingly harmful, and it causes long-lasting damage to families. Ukrainian society as a whole suffers when the sanctity of the home is torn apart by abuse and neglect and cruelty. What Ukraine is doing is bringing this problem to the state level. It is putting domestic violence on the same legal and criminal level as public assault. Wife abuse isn’t “something that husbands do.” Beating up women is something that thugs and criminals do. A law that criminalizes domestic violence is normal, it is healthy, and it is part of how a rational society tries to govern itself humanely.
On 27 January 2017, Russia’s parliament, the Duma, voted 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence in cases where it does not cause "substantial bodily harm" and does not occur more than once a year. The Kremlin spoke about “family conflicts” instead of domestic violence. Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, said that decriminalizing domestic violence would help build “strong families”. A critic of the decriminalization law, Alena Popova, said that it illustrated a lamentable characteristic of Russian society: “Violence isn’t just a norm, it’s our style of life.” Russian celebrities who are women mostly came out to praise the “defence of traditional Russian values” that they say the ‘wife beater law’ entails – just as they have come out in recent days to defend sexual harassment of women in the workplace and to mock the United States for going through a convulsive period of introspection about that now. The epidemic of domestic violence in Russia is not being addressed in any way, and is now encouraged to get worse.
Ukrainians always knew that domestic violence is wrong. They just weren’t doing enough about it before. Now they’re trying. Russian’s always felt in their heart of hearts that domestic violence was an expected part of family life. Some even took pride in this “distinctive” feature of Russian society that made it different from the West. Ukrainians and Russians were different before, and they are becoming more radically divergent now. Ukraine is on its practical European path. Russia is on its fantasist path to oblivion. Criminalizing domestic violence in Ukraine and decriminalizing it in Russia perfectly illustrates that “being Ukrainian” and “being Russian” are two completely different conditions of life.