Sunday, January 14, 2007

Giustino of Itching for Eestimaa writes:

[...] Every Russian person that finds themselves the victim of Russophobia and Western mistrust today owes a great deal of their position to Mr. Djugashvili. His government killed millions, and yet very few of the war criminals in it were ever held accountable for their crimes. And so, 60 years after it was erected, some Estonians find accountability in an old bronze statue. [...]

This reads totally okay when I do it quickly, but when I pause, all kinds of thoughts start entering my head.

- Something's terribly wrong with this premise: Russians suffering from Russophobia should blame Stalin, a Georgian, for it. It's almost funny, isn't it, considering the recent gruzinophobia in Moscow...

- The Russian in me is somewhat bewildered.

My great-grandfather Andrei Khokhlov moved from Moscow to Kyiv at the beginning of the 20th century. He was a hair-dresser. An ethnic Russian, as far as we know (my father told me once there was some Greek blood in us somewhere, but he didn't know the details).

My grandfather Sergei Khokhlov (my father's father, who died in 1969, five years before I was born) made quite a career at Ukraine's ministry of construction.

His sisters were architects - one lived in Kyiv, the other in Moscow, and the third in St. Petersburg.

Sergei's wife, my father's mother, was from a Russian village located somewhere near the Ukrainian border. She was ethnic Russian, too - without any doubts.

Her younger brother, Pavlusha, was drafted into the army around the time the shameful Soviet-Finnish War started - and he was taken POW pretty soon, somewhere in Estonia.

After he was released, they sent him to the camps, and later exiled him to Central Asia.

Pavlusha's father followed his son in exile and died and is buried there.

My father used to visit Pavlusha and his family (and his grandfather's grave) every time he went to Tashkent for a tennis tournament. Pavlusha was married to a woman who, judging by the way their daughters looked, must have had some Uzbek blood in her - but again, we don't know the details.

Here's a picture of Pavlusha's daughters and his son - my aunts and uncle:

I've never met any of them, but discovered this photo when I was 14 or so and had an instant crush on this breathtakingly beautiful man who somehow happened to be my uncle - I used to feel so lucky about it.

We don't keep in touch with this branch of the family: last time I heard, they were living somewhere in Russia.

There are many details I'm too lazy to write about now, and there are many details I don't remember. The only one who does is my father, but, in his present condition, he won't be able to share any of it with me. It really hurts to realize this: that in addition to my father, I'm losing bits of family history, forever.

Anyway, what am I trying to say?

There's enough Russian in me, I guess, to feel "Russophobia and Western mistrust" - and yet I never do. It must be because there's enough Ukrainian in me, too. And only God knows what else and how much of it. Which doesn't make me any less Russian, of course. Which probably means that this whole Russophobia thing has way too many loopholes in it.


  1. A very interesting post (and a great pic!). It's always riveting to compare the sense of such things in countries with parallels in their linguistic and nationalistic identity difficulties (of different degrees of severity even within such a small country as Latvia, e.g., between Latgallia and Courland).

    Of "Russophobia" -- I find it to be one of those words that's out of control (like, heh, "terrorism"). Some people apply it not to a phobia in the first definition of an irrational fear but to any criticism (and sometimes quite rational fear) of Russia; in this sense it's rather as some accuse anybody critical of Israeli policies of being anti-Semites (or, if the critical person is a Jew, of being a "self-hating Jew"). Not a few people who cry "Russophobia!" at the slightest provocation don't seem to be so very perturbed if somebody calls all Balts "fascists" or "gansi," thinks of anybody from Lviv as dressing in jackboots before their morning tea, considers all Chechens barbarian Islamists, etc.

    When I first went to Russia, in 1992, I was nearly beaten up on the train to Moscow because I didn't speak Russian; the gentleman opposite me in the dining car explained to his companions that I must be a Latvian fascist, and I had to pull out my US passport to defuse the situation.

    Whilst sterotypes do abound in the Baltics, unfortunately -- what "Russophobia" there is (and there is plenty, to be sure) is not usually ethnic bigotry per se; a person with an aversion to "Russians" is usually quite capable of distinguishing the stereotype from the individual. Askolds Rodins, a commentator in Diena, once noted that the "Macedonian scenario" Mme. Ždanoka likes to invoke won't happen here because the problem is political, not social -- he described his neighbor as anti-Russian, but observed that if you ask him about the Russian down the road... "oh, I don't mean him, he's a good guy..." Most everybody has Russian relatives, in fact -- the rates of inter-ethnic marriage here were among the highest in the USSR, and they did not change much after independence was restored (unlike in the former Yugoslavia).

    I find it questionable, then, whether most of the so-called "Russophobia" is "racist" -- it's a mixture of things, linguistic and political, based on behavior and attitude but not on ethnic origin. In my experience, those who suffered the most during the occupation are the least Russophobic -- deportees learned what Solzhenitsyn did about that line running straight through the human heart. That does not keep them from being nationalistic, though.

    Stalin was an ethnic Georgian, yes (Hitler Austrian, Napoleon Corsican...) -- he even retained an obsessive interest in all things Georgian even unto death, spinning his phobias about "rootless cosmopolitan" doctors. Sitting in the Kremlin, he also presided over Russification in its very worst forms, however, and he infused the supposedly internationalist USSR with age-old Great Russian chauvinism in order to win the Great Patriotic War.

  2. a great post, picture and even comment. another fix to return soon to site.

  3. Hi Neeka,

    I didn't necessarily mean that "Russophobia" - or this common sense of Russians as an "other" in Europe and North America is due to what Stalin DID, it's how Stalin is treated historically by Russians.

    Even in Estonia, all the death caused by Stalin gets swallowed by this very bureaucratic-sounding word - "occupation." But what did that mean? It meant that a couple blocks from our apartment, in the monthof July 1941, 250 political prisoners were put down like dogs in a courtyard.

    And where are the criminals that did that? Why they could have been in Moscow in 2005, surrounded by Nashi (the Kremlin-sponsored youth group) and hailed as heroes.

    To me, as a human being, that's pretty disgusting. When Putin shows up and toasts the FSB and says that Estonia willingly joined the USSR, that's just unbelievably scary. So when you see young Russian teenage girls with "We Love Putin" shirts - the "Russophobia" radar is triggered. They become "the other" that way. I can't relate to people that shrug off crimes against this country like destroying people doesn't matter.

  4. peteris and giustino, thank you so much for writing!

    guistino, each of the things that triggers your russophobia radar, triggers mine, too. but perhaps it's the term 'russophobia' that doesn't agree with me - a bit like writing 'russia' while actually meaning 'the soviet union' (my radar sometimes goes off in ukraine as well, you know), and this 'phobia' thing - isn't the feeling much more complex than just 'fear' (like, a mix of disgust and hatred...)? and now mishah is telling me that to him, any phobia - russophobia, judophobia, etc. - is irrational, while what you're feeling is completely motivated and justified...

  5. It does have the danger of becoming a term like "anti-semitic" - ie. if you criticize Israel, then you are "anti-semitic", if you criticize Russia then you have a case of "Russophobia".