His words puzzled me for a long time. I was young and patriotic, and I thought that Scotland was the best place in the world. Then, sometime later, I was crossing the border between Scotland and England where the only things to tell me I had done so were a sign telling me I was leaving Scotland, followed by one fifty metres later telling me I was entering England, and for the first time the thought struck me – who put that there? The land on either side of the border was identical, but one was England and one was Scotland. Who put that line there?
Since then I have crossed a lot of borders, many far more definite than the one mentioned above. Probably the most definite border I have crossed is the one between the US and Mexico where there is a 6 metre high fence running in either direction into the desert as far as the eye can see, armed border guards and lengthy queues. But still, the land on either side of that fence is identical. Who put that line there?
The interesting thing to me was that these unnatural lines on the ground were put there fairly recently in historical terms. The border between Scotland and England changed as the two nations warred against each other, and traded land in treaty, and the same with the border between the US and Mexico. I realised that the lines were put there by warmongers and megalomaniacs trying to steal a bit, if not all, of what their neighbour had. And that is the case throughout the world. Now, more often than not, they simply stand as a divide between the haves and the have-nots, and therefore have little legitimacy.
Lines on the Ground
The ideas of nationality and of borders to be crossed became quite absurd to me. Scotland, while being very small, is a diverse country both in terms of dialect, attitudes and customs, and I have often found I have as much in common with someone from, say, the south of France or here in Ukraine as I do with some folk I meet when I’m back home.
I used to think completely differently, but I was young and patriotic then. The young find patriotism an easy concept to grasp because it gives a sense of belonging, and once that patriotic feeling is imbedded, it is very easy for it to be manipulated into something more extreme. Patriotism is, after all, a belief that your country of birth and its people are the best in the world, and it is therefore an easy step to consider everyone else inferior, especially other nationalities living in your place. Add to that a bit of social distress for which other ethnicities can be blamed and you have yourself a Nazi.
Ukraine’s borders are probably the most recently drawn and throughout the country’s history they have been shifted and moved and shifted again. Following the collapse of the Soviet UNI0N, it was necessary to give the people a sense of national pride to ensure unity and create a nation, mainly because of the ever-present threat from the big bear next-door. It worked. Many young people I speak to from all walks of life have a strong sense of pride in their country and culture, and that, under the circumstances, is a good thing. However, with such things there is always going to be a backlash, and that is what Ukraine is experiencing now, and it is something the country’s government has to deal with immediately.
Ukraine has always been renowned throughout the world as a country of inclusion and tolerance where people of various ethnic backgrounds live in peace and harmony, and that is still very much the case today. However, a small but very dangerous proportion of young people, usually with disadvantaged backgrounds, are, and have been for sometime, taking their patriotic fervour that one dangerous step too far and adopting extreme rightwing views. For the young and impressionable, it is a miniscule step from nationalism to racism: it’s not your country that’s best, it’s your race.
This year alone four people from ethnic minorities have been brutally murdered here in Kyiv, and many more have been violently attacked.
Sadly the government has been very slow to react to the issue, but eventually, earlier this year, they set up a hate crimes unit in the SBU, and in the last three months there have been convictions under race hate legislation for two murders and one violent attack. However, most of this year’s attacks and murders are still being investigated as acts of hooliganism.
Dealing with these horrendous offences after they occur is one thing, but these attacks come about through ignorance, and dealing with that ignorance is what the government needs to get to grips with, and it needs to do it now.
Education programmes in schools and universities along with mass media advertising campaigns have been proven to work with a large degree of success when it comes to dealing with xenophobia in other countries, but that is not happening here. In fact, one young Nazi I spoke to told me quite the opposite is taking place. He is an intelligent and articulate young man who does not participate in any acts of violence, but believes many foreigners in Ukraine are pariahs and parasites – contributing nothing while taking everything. He studies history at one of the city’s leading universities and he told me he was first turned on to the idea of Nazism during a year-long course on the rise of fascism in Germany. He told me his lecturer had emphatically demanded that fascism was the only choice for Germany at that time, and went on to draw parallels with modern-day Ukraine, creating a clear link between the two in the young man’s head. The lad recognised the flaw in his lecturer’s argument, countering himself without any prompting that it was impossible to know if fascism was the only option for Germany in the 1930s: it was what happened and that’s all that can be known, but this did not distract him from his beliefs. When you are young and unemployed, and you see people from other lands in jobs you’d like and driving around in huge automobiles, it’s easy to see where to place the blame.
While the education system and the government should be acting against racial intolerance, currently the opposite seems to be true. It is widely rumoured that certain prominent educational establishments here in Kyiv promote strong nationalist views, and such views are easily misinterpreted, especially by the young.
The country and its leaders need to take steps now to counter this backlash. The young people of this country need to be taught tolerance and acceptance, not the opposite. The Scottish government ran a TV campaign a few years ago where the words of an immigrant were placed on the screen over images of the beautiful Scottish landscape. They told of the man’s fears of leaving his home behind and moving to a different country, and his worries over being accepted in this new land. At the end of the advert the viewer was told that these were the words of a Scotsman who had emigrated to Canada in the early 1900s. This had a huge impact because it drove home the point that people are constantly on the move, and always have been. While some young Ukrainians may have no tolerance for foreigners, they may well find themselves living in another country in the future. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a sense of pride in your place of birth, but as Billy Connolly said, those feelings have to be controlled. Sadly, ignorance can never be completely eradicated, but if the good people of the country are educated in tolerance and, as is the case in my homeland these days, shout down anyone who acts in a racist manner or expresses such an opinion, then the effects of it can.
Nearly all racist attacks in Kyiv are carried out by kids aged between 15 and 17, and the childish and grotesquely high-spirited nature of this graffiti suggests that its creator was also very young. The young need educating.