I am not indifferent to the topic of decolonization. I carefully follow the development of this topic and record important moments. The other day I listened to part of the conversations of the cycle “Creative Deconstruction” from the Museum of Theater, Music and Cinema. These conversations accompany the rethinking of the museum’s permanent exhibition and decolonization is chosen as one of the methodologies of this process.
I admire my colleagues who dared to do such a difficult job in such an extremely difficult time. On the other hand, it is an obvious and urgent process when the existing expositions, made in the 1960s and 1970s, have no relation to the reality outside the window and need updating here and now. After all, no one can look at the Soviet (mostly Moscow) version of our history.
Despite a generally positive impression of the program, I have a number of questions and comments. I suggest online discussions to my colleagues.
Oxymoron “Gentle colonization”
Decolonization cannot be reduced to criticism of everything Russian and glorification of everything Ukrainian, which is exactly how I felt the tone of most of the speakers. This distortion can be understood purely emotionally – as a desire for justice. But in scholarly discourse, it reveals a lack of understanding of decolonization and postcolonial theory. This is also indicated by other things, in particular, the use of the concepts “civilization”, “progress”, the justification of colonization in the “gentle” version, which will be discussed later.
The use of the phrase “gentle colonization” as a scientific concept. This, at least, contradicts the existing theory. And is an oxymoron. If it is colonization, then there can be nothing gentle about it. If it is gentle, then it is not colonization.
After all, colonization – it is always violence and coercion. It is always about denying the identity of the other and imposing on him the identity projected on him by the colonizer.
One more question for the speakers – legitimization of the concepts “civilized-uncivilized” in relation to the colonizers and the colonized. After all, decolonization as a movement undermines the obviousness and legitimacy of these concepts. The ideas of civilization and progress are still used by us as positive by default, we evaluate them as something of quality, good. And we forget that it was with these words that Western civilization justified terrible crimes against the indigenous population of Africa, South and North America, Oceania, and Asia.
“Carrying the light of progress and Christianity” Europeans called genocidal actions against groups of peoples, whose culture and history they knew little about, but despised and denied. It was thanks to scientific and technical progress that Europeans developed weapons and tools of subjugation, destroyed monuments of culture and architecture of ancient peoples, stole artifacts, most of which are still kept in the museums of the colonizing countries. Artifacts are not returned to the countries of origin precisely because the legal owners of these artifacts do not have the same technological progress to build museums no worse than the museums of the colonizers.
And in these discussions, it is difficult to convey the argument that colonized peoples often do not have sufficient resources because they were taken away by the colonizers. And with these resources they built their museums, universities, theaters and wrote books in which they prove their right to the truth, history and resources of all whom they managed to conquer.
The decolonization movement undermines the concept of civilization in the understanding of European progress as a good and raises questions about the equality (or superiority) of other ways and meanings of humanity’s existence, which should not necessarily be based on the idea of rational progress.
Instead, they profess the cyclical nature of existence or simply develop other, non-rational, aspects of the human essence (emotions, intuition, harmonious connection and coexistence with nature, knowledge of the transcendent in a non-rational way). Perhaps it was the European way that was a mistake, because it brought man (and the planet in general) to the edge of existence in its unstoppable rational progress.
Emancipation of cultures
In this context, there is a lack of talk about “emancipation”, which, in my opinion, is the essence of the process of liberation from colonialism. And in this sense, the interaction of Ukrainians and other ethnic groups in Ukraine should be understood more deeply. It is obvious that this is a difficult topic that needs to be discussed further. And not only Ukrainian-Jewish relations or with the peoples of Crimea.
In conversation Serhiy Rudenko with a theater expert Anna Veselovskaya at the end there is a question that stuck with me and that has not been talked about enough, although it is key in the topic of decolonization in the museum. Rudenko asks whether a change of exposition in one museum can change something in society. Hanna Veselovska deftly unfolds the logic of changes and the scaling of the influence of one specific exposition on a generation of Ukrainians.
But the fact that this question is heard in the museum is for me a manifestation of doubt in the ability of the museum to influence public knowledge, the opinion of Ukrainians about themselves and their culture. (Although maybe I didn’t catch the subtle irony).
And in this doubt for me lies all the pain of the position of the colonized. It is as if we admit that the ten/hundred years of destruction of our intellectual elite were successful and we are unable to extract valuable knowledge about ourselves, unable to produce a reflection that frees us from the inferiority and inferiority that “museums and all these bubbles of museum workers” they do not change anything and do not do real work for society.
The devaluation of the role of culture was the policy of Russia and the USSR in Ukraine. “Culture doesn’t matter” – tried to convince us in all possible ways, from banning Ukrainian-language theater to funding on a residual basis for decades. And it was precisely this thesis that Ukrainian culture, from the Theater of Coryphaevs to the Sixties and the Red Ruth, refuted in every way, when it continued to nurture the ideas of Ukrainian statehood. It is this thesis that Ukrainian artists who are now fighting against the empire in its neo-colonial war of aggression refute.
Watch recordings of the program’s conversations and share your thoughts. Thank you to the museum for organizing the program and recording, and the ZSU for the opportunity to live and create culture today!
Tatyana Filevskaart critic, creative director of the Ukrainian Institute, specially for UP.Zhyttia
Publications in the “View” section are not editorial articles and reflect exclusively the author’s point of view.