Philosopher Vakhtang Kebuladze: “Everyone who considers themselves Russian is affected when you treat them and their culture with irony”

Aspen Institute Kyiv held a conversation dedicated to culture. The Institute involved Ukrainian cultural figures and community members — leaders of various fields — in the dialogue. In the context of culture, the philosopher Vakhtang Kebuladze talked about the prejudices that exist about it, the connection between the xenophobic Russian culture and the atrocities committed by Russians, and the attitude towards it that affects Russians.

“If I had to choose between Russian culture and tanks on our territory, I would easily get rid of this so-called great culture together with the tanks and live happily after”

Vakhtang Kebuladze spoke about several prejudices that exist in terms of culture. First, regarding the fact that it only unites, unlike politics or economics. Culture can be toxic, dangerous, and even murderous. Secondly, Vakhtang believes that people who belong to this sphere overestimate the importance of culture: here, the philosopher agrees with the statement of Edward Said: culture is the field of struggle.

— If I had to choose between culture and life, I would choose life. If I had to choose between Pushkin and Dostoevsky, the Russian theater and tanks on our territory, I would quickly get rid of this so-called great culture together with the tanks and live happily after. At the same time, nothing will change. Let it all go its way if you put the Russian nuclear baton on one side of the scale and the so-called great Russian culture on the other.

Many people in Ukraine, even patriotic ones, cannot imagine the world without her. In addition, Ukrainians have their post-colonial deformation — we take Russian culture too seriously. But the reality is that Russian culture is one of many in the world – for some, it is interesting; for others, it is not. For example, if you ask an educated European man or woman about Russian literature, they will name only Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. The world does not read this literature.

Everyone who considers themselves Russian is affected when you treat them and their culture with irony.

According to Vakhtang, everyone who considers themselves Russian is affected when they and their so-called great culture are treated with irony. The philosopher is convinced that this is the modus vivendi — precisely the ironic attitude we should adhere to. In this context, he also talked about the “Chikoki effect”:

— I was in Spain and my music friends invited me to a concert. They said I should have been interested because they would play Chikoki. I questioned why I should be interested in listening to Chikoki and realized that the Spanish have difficulty pronouncing the word Tchaikovsky, so they say Chikoki. If Chikoki’s music disappears, there will be other music. We will not die, and our children will not be uneducated and ignorant if they do not listen to Tchaikovsky.

Vakhtang said that he talked about this effect at a forum of librarians in Lviv many years ago, but at that time, the Russian-Ukrainian war was already going on. According to the philosopher, he has never felt such a wave of self-hatred – the Russian Internet reacted, and the trolls activated. Serious critical reviews of Russian culture, history, literature, and politics from Vakhtang did not receive such hatred before. This is a marker of what is unpleasant for Russians.

The roots of Russian atrocities lie in xenophobic culture.

Vakhtang Kebuladze emphasized that separating the Russian language, culture, and literature from Putin or Stalin is impossible. From the very beginning, Russian culture has been xenophobic, which is the root of the atrocities committed by Russians.

— Germans could be conditionally treated by forcing them to read Goethe because Goethe is a world-class writer. What he wrote applies to every person. And if Russians continue to read Pushkin, they will become even worse because Pushkin is a xenophobe. No one disagrees with the fact that he is a talented poet, but it is dangerous precisely because this literature is masterful.

The project “Social contract for Ukraine” is realized with the support of NED