In LRB Keith Gessen takes a tour of post-revolutionary Odessa – and has some commentary on the historical background to recent events:
Concerns over the collapse of the Russophone political space are nothing new. In the 1990s such disparate writers as Solzhenitsyn, Brodsky and Eduard Limonov worried over it. Solzhenitsyn proposed creating a Russian-language superstate, encompassing the Russian Federation as well as the Russian-majority sections of northern Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. Limonov actually took up arms, or tried to: he was arrested in 2001 for trying to transport a cache of Kalashnikovs and some explosives which he may have been planning to use in an invasion of northern Kazakhstan, with the intention of declaring a Russian republic there. Brodsky’s poem ‘On Ukrainian Independence’, written in the early 1990s, excoriated Ukrainians for wanting independence from Russia. He read the poem once at a public gathering in New York, then forbade its publication, but it’s circulated online for years. It’s a furious poem, but I had never truly realised, until seeing the Russians in Odessa, just how nasty it was. Brodsky warns his Ukrainian readers that on their deathbeds they’ll remember the poetry of Pushkin, not the brekhnya (‘gibberish’) of the Ukrainian national poet, Taras Shevchenko. And maybe he’s right: maybe Pushkin is the better poet, and maybe a Ukrainian inclined to remember poetry on his deathbed would choose Pushkin. But maybe he wouldn’t. And in any case Ukrainian independence isn’t a poetry competition.