Scholars of UzhNU and University of Central Lancashire discussed culture as a component of war
Two partner universities, Uzhhorod National University and University of Central Lancashire (UK) held an online discussion "Is culture a co-creator of war?" as part of the "Twinning: World Academic Talks" programme and with the support of the Fund of the President of Ukraine on November 28, 2022. The event was organized by the Department of International Relations at UzhNU. Why culture affected the emergence of a full-scale war and how to use culture to establish peace have been the key questions of the online forum of scientists from Ukrainian and British universities.
The main theses highlighted by the discussants from both universities are the extent to which culture and language are related to war, how to treat Russian culture after everything that the enemy's army has done in Ukraine, and whether culture can become a weapon. The panel members representing UzhNU were the Head of the Department of English Philology, Assoc. Prof., PhD, Snizhana Holyk and Assoc. Prof. of the Department of Political science and Public Administration, PhD Ihor Vehesh. The British University was represented by Dr. Francois Nel and Dr. Alexandros Koutsoukis. The event was attended by teachers and students of both universities. The discussion was moderated by the senior lecturer of the Department of English Philology, Antonina Bulyna.
According to Ihor Vehesh, the first speaker, culture is to blame for the war. Even the title of the discussion could have stressed on guilt rather than complicity. Russian culture is connected with the political system of the aggressor country. The idea of a "small person" who is unable to influence the environment and participate in political processes is one of its cornerstones. Under the influence of such an idea, a culture of conformism develops, when people adapt to circumstances and do not express their public position. The scholar emphasized that it was easy to win elections in such a society, moreover, when there was no opposition. While they had only two presidents in Russia, Ukrainians elected six different presidents. Therefore, the full-scale offensive is ordinary Russians’ fault, because they have been supporting their leader's policies for so many years, and their culture has been promoting it by raising spiritless, disenfranchised citizens.
In his report, Ihor Vehesh also mentioned the famous representative of Russian culture, the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky and the modern oppositionist Alexei Navalny who are imperialists and chauvinists in essence. This is clear from their position and statements about Ukraine and Ukrainians.
Snizhana Holyk was the one to continue the discussion. She presented her report "Language and culture: keys to the emergence of war". The speaker focused on the relationship between culture and language and emphasized that learning a language always involved learning culture. Language is one of the most important categories, along with art and traditions, that we use to characterize culture in terms of anthropology. It is, on the one hand, a system of symbols that people use to communicate, and on the other hand, it helps us to identify people, distinguish them. When a nation loses its language, it also loses part of its culture.
Snizhana Holyk believes that the Russian language is an instrument of war. Today, the language of the enemy is associated with fake news, manipulation, propaganda, and terror. The world does not believe what the Russians are talking about. Therefore, we have examples of rejection of the Russian culture in Ukraine and in the world today.
Dr. Francois Nel from University of Lancashire emphasized in his speech that the concept of "culture" is related to agriculture and comes from the Latin "to cultivate", that is, to develop in order to become better. To grow a certain crop, farmers always think about working together to achieve better results. There is also an analogy in society. Thus, the researcher asked several rhetorical questions during his presentation, in particular, how we disseminate the result and use culture to make peace. This is the main question, in his opinion. He is also considering how to create a culture of peace during a long-lasting war, what actions, resources, and people are needed to build peace, how to find these ideas, develop a system.
Dr. Alexandros Koutsoukis dwelt upon the weaponization of culture and civilization in his speech. He supported Snizhana Holyk's thesis that the Russian language had become a sign of terror. In his opinion, language and culture are not components of war, but have an impact on it, as well as on the achievement of peace.
He showed images with the examples of the destruction of Soviet cultural symbols in Ukraine. He believes that our country has found and created new symbols of freedom during the war. He also drew attention to the disputes taking place in the Ukrainian society about the renaming of Ploshcha Lva Tolstoho metro station and the closure of the Bulgakov Museum.
According to the British scholar, the future of people will depend on three factors: culture, war, and civilization.
Alexandros Koutsoukis asked the audience a rhetorical question, what kind of Russian culture can we talk about if, according to polls, Stalin remains the most significant figure for the Russians, and Putin is the second most important figure.
The second part of the event continued in the question-answer mode. The discussants paid a lot of attention to the issues of civic culture and the formation of a nation. Thus, Ihor Vehesh recalled the events of the Orange Revolution, when society did not agree with the falsified results of elections and protested. It was the first case when people could change the political system and the country. Today, the cultural front, which unites Ukrainian artists and helps the army is a good example of confrontation.
During the discussion, some other questions were raised, in particular, what the components of the culture of peace are today, and whether people or culture can be forced into peace.
Dr. Francois Nel noted that the conflict between races and national cultures was not new. And no matter how much you want to deny someone else's culture and language, sometimes people depend on language to express themselves freely, language helps to understand each other.
Culture and language can both unite and polarize the population. Today, the solidarity of Ukrainians can be observed, which has been facilitated by the unification around their language, history, and traditions. At the same time, this is a confirmation of the high level of political and civic culture of Ukrainians, who are winning on all fronts, and on the cultural front in particular.