Who would grasp it with the mind?

by Stefania Kulayeva

Some witty person once proposed to change the well known words of Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev “Who would grasp Russia with the mind?” by inserting another country’s name there. Thus a following piece was born:

Who would grasp Uganda with the mind?

For her no yardstick was created:

Her soul is of a special kind,

By faith alone appreciated.

Back then, at the time of the Iron Curtain, late Soviet stagnation and almost complete political isolation of the country, we hardly knew anything about Uganda and knew nothing about what happened there. But it seemed that appreciating Uganda by faith alone was a wild and ridiculous idea, because for us there was hardly anything great in this far away Uganda, whose place on the map only the most educated people could find.

However, nowadays these poetic lines do not seem as absurd as they did before. The world was opened to us, we visited some countries, learnt more about the others, watched films, read books, met people. Uganda turned out to be not a small country and not much more savage than our own country. This country, it turned out, also made statements about its own uniqueness and made stands opposing Europe (if we return to Tyutchev, it is obvious that the “yardstick” mentioned in his poem is “the European way”, and while Tyutchev preferred to live in Nice, he called on the others to appreciate Russia by faith alone and it was for this reason he was widely quoted over the last hundred years).

Uganda, too, has its own values – African and Christian – and they are opposed to some European ideas, such as legalization of same sex marriages, for example. Ugandan authorities try to introduce death penalty for homosexuality and they consider international protests against this to be the ill will of immoral Europe. They haven’t forgotten completely that their religion which calls for such drastic measures against homosexuality – Christian religion in its Anglican version – also came to Uganda from Europe. But at the same time they think that Europe no longer has real values and traditions of its own, while those are kept intact in Uganda. Doesn’t this remind you of anything? Of course, it does!

Even Vladimir Tolstoy, talentless offspring of a talented Russian writer, together with the head of presidential administration Sergey Ivanov and Russian minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky state that Russia is (at the same time): a) not Europe, b) greater part of Europe.

This should be interpreted in the following way: West cannot dictate its ideas to us, their values are not our values, we are greater, cooler, more Christian, more traditional, our soul is of a special kind and those who do not appreciate this can only blame themselves. Our culture is great, different, more profound. We do not accept tolerance or multiculturalism, these are the signs and forms of the decay of the West. We are defending the rights of Russians in other countries, but the rights of non-Russians in our country (let alone foreign countries) do not interest us, it is not our tradition to defend them, we don’t need this at all. We stand for federalization of Ukraine. But the fact that Russia is also formally a federation and is a multi-ethnic country, doesn’t mean that we should develop multiculturalism here. We have our language here, so everybody is obliged to read, speak it, sing in it. You can speak languages other than Russian, but don’t go too deep into multiculturalism – you can express yourselves at folk dance festivals or in your own kitchen, but as far as the politics go, we have a single concept, which describes all values, it is published and you should not go beyond it. This simple ideology will serve as a basis of both our domestic and foreign policy.

Such an approach seems to be rather too radical for Uganda, though. It’s not a coincidence that of all the African nations only Zimbabwe supported Russian annexation of Crimea. Uganda seems to have backed off, it probably thought that in this respect it’s not time yet to compete with Russia.

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