Since February 24th, 2022, we have been witnessing with great sadness the unprovoked military aggression of the Russian Federation against the independent and democratic Republic of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, known for his autocratic rule and trampling on human rights, undemocracy, and restrictions on human freedoms, opted in the style of his Bolshevik predecessors for military intervention in the neighbouring country, which had violated its territorial integrity in previous years.
As the director of the Study Centre for National Reconciliation, where I work with my colleagues to study totalitarian regimes, I call on the Slovenian public and academia to publicly oppose Putin’s revisionism of history and the political language he uses. It should be noted that in 2015 Putin already started falsifying history with the thesis of Polish guilt for the start of World War II, due to the events related to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938. With this thesis he wanted to justify the Soviet attack on Poland in 1939 between Hitler and Stalin on August 23rd, 1939.
Just before the attack on Ukraine, Putin accused the democratically elected President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, who is otherwise of Jewish roots, of Nazism or fascism, precisely in the style of the claims of his predecessor Stalin that fascism is everything that opposes him. Unfortunately, the same political jargon is increasingly used in Slovenia. Putin further accused the Ukrainian political leadership of committing genocide in Donbas. Such an accusation is the least disrespectful and immoral to the victims of the Holocaust, Porajmos, and other genocides that have taken place in the past, the last not far away in Srebrenica. Unfortunately, such claims are also published by various Putin-friendly portals in Slovenia. Meanwhile, the Russian military is relentlessly and increasingly attacking the civilian population in Ukraine, which is clear evidence of military impotence and a violation of international law. At these horrific events, unfortunately, Putin and his army are repeating thought patterns from the communist past, as they did with the Yugoslav People’s Army in 1991.
Of all the European countries, Ukraine may have suffered the most in the 20th century. It suffered the loss of short-lived independence after World War I, the Holodomor and more than three million victims in the 1930s, World War II with more than a million Holocaust victims and the total loss of at least five million Ukrainians. The massive population losses have profoundly changed the ethnic structure of the population in eastern and southern Ukraine, which is at the heart of the conflict today. Timothy Snyder, a leading expert on the region’s history, rightly ranked Ukraine among the European Bloodlands, the bloodiest lands, because of the bloody 20th century.
Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation have once again found themselves in a very difficult ordeal this year. Recalling that we lived with the western part of Ukraine and its population more than a hundred years ago in the common imperial-royal Austro-Hungarian Empire and that the Ukrainians bravely defended the Slovenian lands on the Isonzo Front, as reminded by the monument in the forest Panovec at Nova Gorica, I call on Slovenian public research institutes and Slovenian universities, following the example of abroad and in accordance with their financial capabilities, to announce tenders for visiting researchers and university professors from Ukraine, thus not only helping them financially but also preserving the critical intellectual core that Ukraine will desperately need when rebuilding its country. It would be disastrous if the war was followed by the Slovene scenario from 1945 with a more or less permanent loss of the intellectual elite. We should also remember Aleksandar Dimitrijevič Bilimovič, a Ukrainian economist who fled Kiev to Ljubljana in 1919 and then taught political economy at the Faculty of Law from 1927. He was twice its dean and the most prominent economist of his time between the two world wars. It would also be right for student dormitories to be involved in resolving the issue of refugees from Ukraine, provided that they have sufficient capacity to receive those in need.
As a sign of support for Ukraine, I finally call on linguists and Slovenes to advocate the introduction of the use of Ukrainian forms of personal and especially geographical names in Slovene. The use of Russian forms of city names such as Lviv, Kharkiv or Zaporizhia, despite the seemingly greater proximity of Ukrainian to Russian, is something like still using Laibach, Marburg or Heidenschaft in Italian or English for Ljubljana, Maribor or Ajdovščina.
Ljubljana, March 8th, 2022
Dr Tomaž Ivešić, director of SCNR