What, for so many centuries, has your soul been seeking here, Rusich? / You have so much land that you cannot embrace it all.
My heart has grown rooted to these bare gorges and cliffs. / So why have you come here to die again?
— Khas-Magomed Hadjimuradov, “New Year’s Eve in Grozny” (1999)
You can point to various dates: fourteen years ago, when Russia invaded Georgia; twenty-eight years ago, when Moscow went to war in Grozny; thirty-one years ago, when the Kremlin got involved in the conflict in Moldova. Or we could quote Timur Mutsurаyev, who sang that “We’ve been three hundred years at war with Russia…” This would also be true, though that is a whole other story, of course. But for me, a person known in Russia as a khach and a churok [common Russian racial slurs for Central Asian, Caucasian, and dark-skinned people], it makes the most sense to say, “Dear Russians, welcome to New Year’s Eve in Grozny! We’ve been waiting for you. It’ll last forever for you, until it ends. And it’ll definitely end soon, and then it will be a New Year.”
What is this “New Year’s Eve in Grozny” on a symbolic level? It’s not just a tragedy. It’s the beginning of History, which, according to Francis Fukuyama, was supposed to have ended already. The tragicomedy is that the “end of history” didn’t occur in 2001. It occurred—as we can see now—in 1995, with the start of the First Chechen War, which painfully resembles the one underway right now in Ukraine. For examples, see here, here, and here, as well as this, of course:
But why was the continuation of the Russian Federation’s terrible, bloody, and inhumane war against its former colonies on February 24, 2022, such a shock for me, a Kazakhstani and, I’m sure, for many of you?
The simplest and most correct answer lies in the fact that its previous phases did not affect us. It all happened (I have in mind primarily the Chechen Wars) somewhere else, and involved non-white Muslims, gangsters, and terrorists. It was Russia’s internal affair, to which all so-called progressive humanity more or less gave its blessing. Well and what do you expect? It would hardly have befitted the US, after the Gulf War and in the midst of bombing Iraq, to stand up for Muslim Chechnya. But not everyone let Russia off the hook and forgot about this. The first foreign volunteers in unrecognized Ichkeria were, in fact, not Arabs or Afghanis but Ukrainians (see the interview with Aleksandr Muzychko, a.k.a. Sashko Bily). But even I (as, again, a Kazakhstani) thought before February 24 that if Russia were ever going to change, it would be due to civil war rather than military defeat. And so much more terrifying is the irony in the fact that people who previously didn’t care about the fate of Chechnya massively reposted an interview with [Dzhokhar Dudayev], the first president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, in which he predicted this war with Ukraine a full twenty-seven years ago.
But the reasons that prompted me to write this text have nothing to do with a foreigner’s apparent decolonial attack against white masters, one full of ressentiment along the lines of “Did you really think that the slaughter in Bucha wouldn’t happen after the ‘mopping-up’ (this term actually first came into use then) in the village of Novye Aldy? Did you really think there wouldn’t be a strike on the Kramatorsk train station after the missile strike on the Grozny central market? Did you really think that Russian soldiers wouldn’t commit war crimes if, after two wars in Ichkeria, only two people were convicted of war crimes—Budanov and Lapin? If all the people who gathered evidence and conducted investigations (Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, and Stanislav Markelov) were murdered, all three of them?”
No, not at all. First and foremost, I want to repeat for everyone in Central Asia, the Baltics, the North Caucasus, and Eastern Europe who hasn’t yet understood it (and there are fewer and fewer of these people with every passing day): our life didn’t just change into a “before” and “after” on February 24. Those thirty years since the collapse of the USSR took shape as History. That whole viscous, formless time—in which we had led our private lives, built nation-states, felt that we were, as Sergei Timofeev’s poem has it, “the underbelly of Europe” (or Asia), and watched wars in the Middle East—that whole time the History of the post-Soviet space had been going on outside of our private lives. Every attack by Russian officials on various minorities and every minute of propaganda TV broadcasts (as we all found out after the war was continued) were not just a way of consolidating the electorate of Russia’s ruling party, which allegedly had no ideology. No, they were all drops in the ocean of Russism, as Dzhokhar Dudayev called it, something with which we all collided on February 24, 2022. For thirty-one years it had been growing and maturing, and all of our hopes (including my own) for decolonizing Russian and Russia without a military defeat in a monstrous war, were lost. Future historians will describe this time as “the years of Russism and the struggle against it.” While we thought we had been living in an era of local conflicts, nation-states, and gradual democratization!
I thus declare with confidence that the most decolonial (in all senses) decision right now for everyone, for the whole world, is to completely support Ukraine. Because if it’s permitted to bomb even white Christian Europe, then it’s okay to “not sweat it” like China with the Uyghurs and just build concentration camps in downtown Paris. For anyone you want.
To sum up, I want to quote a poem by the Soviet poet Vladimir Burich, who was born in Kharkiv (cruel irony)—a poem we can all feel right now with our whole bodies:
The world is filling up with
among my letters I found
a bar of prewar soap
I didn’t know what to do
The prewar era is
a lost Atlantis
the miraculous survivors
Our prewar era has truly gone under, and we are its last witnesses. Just as the Second World War turned the Great War into the First World War, the thirty-one years between the collapse of the USSR and the bombing of Kyiv on February 24, 2022, have crystalized. Our political philosophy, historiography, and humanities will change. Our whole understanding of social reality will change, whether we want it to or not. History, as is still often the case, is unfolding before our very eyes. Better not blink and miss it.