When Putin Takes Revenge on His Own History
A Greek version of this text is available at Polymeros kai Polytropos, the blog of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies
At the time of writing, the tsar’s fighter jets are pounding the gorgeous Kyiv, and air raid sirens are echoing everywhere. “Who has believed our message” declares the prophet Isaiah: the fighters of Vladimir Putin are striking Kyiv, not Tbilisi, Yerevan, Berlin, Paris, or Istanbul, and certainly not New York. In fact, the Russian tsar wants to exact revenge on the Ukrainians…and on his own history. He is destroying the cradle of his own civilization, never the cradle of the western civilization that causes him disgust and nausea. He is destroying Kyiv of antiquity with its majestic laura of caves that was established in the 11th century and is considered the mother of the Russian church and its sanctuary. Thousands are blessed daily with its bones that emanate myrrh. He is destroying a Kyiv that is proud of its Saint Sophia church that takes us back to the genius of Slavic Christianity and to the extent of its deep rooting in the cultural ambit that comes from Byzantium, precisely from Constantinople, from the shores of the glorious Bosphorus and the suns that dance there on the splashes of the waves.
Kyiv has woven the beginnings of the Russian people’s civilization. There, from the care and the diligence of the Hellenic monks and their blessed disciples, the Russians started laying the foundations of their civilization: books, architecture, and icons where light dwells in their coloring and meaning transpires. Therefore, the attack that is lead today by the master of the Kremlin on his neighbor, on his “soft spot,” as some fools would like to call it, isn’t measured by political and economic interpretations only; further than that, it assumes far reaching cultural consequences. In fact, the destruction of civilizations is neither a passing matter, nor is it an inevitable consequence of unavoidable wars.
It is said that those who destroyed Beirut at the onset of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) were country dwellers who held a grudge against the majestic city because of its riches, radiance, and mad pace, which caused bother and confusion for these country dwellers. It is also said that the beauty of Paris saved her when a rebel Nazi officer refused to follow the Führer’s orders to burn the “city sleeping in the garden of its flirtation,” when the signs of Nazi defeat started appearing at the horizon. Certainly, it is worth enquiring about those who wanted to inflict vengeance on Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and its areas, and therefore deliberately disfigured them and sowed destruction in their antique districts.
As for the new tsar today, he inflicts vengeance on the sources of his own history. He strikes the geography where the civilization of his own people blossomed, despite the fact that he is venturing into a war against Ukraine in the name of Russian nationalism itself; but it is a dysmorphic nationalism mixed with the old imperial dreams and the arrogance of Soviet ideology that Mr. Putin spent the spring of his youth serving. Evidently, he has not read history, for unrepentant idiots do not read. Even if he has read a shred of his nation’s history, his hatred would prevent him from bowing with reverence to all Ukrainians who participated in forging the same Russian identity that he is so proud of today. He has lead himself to believe that clumsily clutching to this identity can restore Russia’s former glories or feed bread to its poor.
When Mr. Tsar announced the invasion of Ukraine from his high tower, relying heavily on his gigantic army, threatening and menacing, he was like someone longing for a long-gone era that produced the Soviet Union, and allowed a bunch of tyrants to despise peoples’ freedom and trample on their dreams from Irkutsk to Kabul. Mr. Putin missed that the Berlin Wall has now become a mere tourist attraction, and that history does not double back. However, the most important thing in the case of the new tsar is that he looks like the first tyrant who conducts a war against his own history, his own civilization, and against himself, by pounding the most authentic city in the history of the Russian people, even if it is today the capital of Ukraine.
Assaad Elias Kattan is a Lebanese Orthodox theologian and professor of Orthodox Theology at the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Münster, Germany.
This essay was translated into English by Najib Coutya.