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Russophobia means Russian hate speech

Russophobia means Russian hate speech

Timothy Snyder’s Testimony to the United Nations Security Council March 14, 2023


I now give the floor to Mr. Timothy Snyder. You have the floor.

Thank you very much.


Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very glad to be with you. I will try to keep my remarks brief. I speak to you as a historian of the region, a historian of Eastern Europe, and specifically as a historian of mass killing and political atrocity.

I believe that the discussion that we have today about this word “Russophobia” can clarify something. Something very important about the character of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and about the character of Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukrainian territory.

I will limit myself to two main points.

My first point is that:

harm to Russians and harm to Russian culture is primarily a matter of Russian policy.

So that if we’re concerned about harm to Russians and Russian culture, we should be concerned about the policies of the Russian state.

My second point will be that

the term Russophobia, which we are discussing today, has been during this war a form of imperial propaganda, a form of imperial justification for Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

So, beginning from the first point, the premise, when we discuss Russophobia, is that we are concerned about harm to Russians. That is a premise that I certainly share. I share the concern for Russians. I share a concern for Russian culture. Let us think then of the actions this last year that have caused the most harm to Russians and to Russian culture. I’ll briefly name ten.

Number one, forcing the most creative and productive Russians to emigrate. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused about 750,000 Russians to leave Russia, including some of the most creative and productive people. This is irreparable harm to Russian culture.

Number two, the destruction of independent Russian journalism so that Russians cannot know the world around them. This too is Russian policy and causes irreparable harm to Russian culture.

Number three is general censorship and repression of freedom of speech in Russia in the Russian language. And this is an irony that bears noting that in Ukraine you can say what you like in either Russian or Ukrainian. In Russia you cannot, if you stand in Russia with a sign saying no to war, you will be arrested and very likely imprisoned. If you stand in Ukraine with a sign that says no to war regardless of what language it’s in, nothing will happen to you. Russia is a country where there’s one language and you can say very little. Ukraine is a country where there are two languages and you can say what you like. When I visit Ukraine, people report to me about Russian war crimes using both languages, using Ukrainian or using Russian, as they prefer.

Number four, the attack on Russian culture by way of censoring schoolbooks, weakening Russian culture at home, and the destruction of museums and non-governmental organizations devoted to the memory of Russian history. All of those things are Russian policy.

Number five. The perversion of the memory of the Great Fatherland War by fighting a war of aggression in 2014 and 2022, thereby depriving all future generations of Russians of that heritage. That is Russian policy. It’s great harm to Russian culture.

Number six, the downgrading of Russian culture around the world and the end of what used to be called the Russkiy Mir, the Russian world abroad. It used to be the case that there were many people who felt friendly to Russia and the Russian culture in Ukraine. That has been brought to an end by the Russian invasion and that is Russian policy.

Number seven, the mass killing of Russian speakers in Ukraine. The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has killed more speakers of Russian than any other action by far. There’s no comparison.

And of course, number eight, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to the mass killing of Russian citizens. Some 200,000 are dead or maimed. And this is, of course, simply Russian policy. It’s Russian policy to send young Russians to die in a war of aggression.

Number nine. This war also means that a generation of young Russians, those who survive will be involved in war crimes, will be wrapped up in trauma and guilt for the rest of their lives. That is great harm to Russian culture and that has been achieved like all of these policies by the Russian government itself, mostly in the course of the last year. So if we were sincerely concerned about harm to Russians, these are the things that we would think about.

But perhaps the worst Russian policy with respect to Russians is the last one, number ten, and that is the sustained training or education of Russians that genocide is normal.

– We see this in the president of Russia’s repeated claims that Ukraine does not exist.

–  We see this in genocidal fantasies in Russian state media.

– We see this in a year of state television reaching millions, tens of millions of the Russian population every day.

– We see this when Russian state television presents Ukrainians as pigs.

– We see this when Russian state television presents Ukrainians as parasites.

– We see this when Russian state television presents Ukrainians as worms.

– We see this when Russian state television presents Ukrainians as Satanists or as ghouls.

– We see this when Russian state television proclaims that Ukrainian children should be drowned.

– We see this when Russian state television proclaims that Ukrainian houses should be burned with the people inside.

– We see this when people appear on Russian state television and say, quote, They should not exist at all. We should execute them by firing squad.

– We see this when someone appears on Russian state television and says we will kill 1 million, we will kill 5 million, we can exterminate all of you, meaning all of the Ukrainians.

Now, if we were sincerely concerned about harm to Russians, we would be concerned about what Russian policy is doing to Russians. The claim that Ukrainians are quote-unquote “Russophobes” is one more element of Russian hate speech. In Russian state television, those other claims about Ukrainians are intermixed with the claim that Ukrainians are Russophobes.

So for example, in the statement where the speaker claimed that all Ukrainians should be exterminated, the reason he gave is that they should all be exterminated because they are Russophobes.

This brings me to my second point. The claim that Ukrainians have to be killed because they have a mental illness known as Russophobia is bad for Russians because it educates them about genocide. But of course, such a claim is much worse for Ukrainians.

And this is my second point.

The term Russophobia is a rhetorical strategy that we know from the history of imperialism.

When an empire attacks, the empire claims that it is the victim. The rhetoric that Ukrainians are somehow Russophobes is used by the Russian state to justify a war of aggression. But of course, it’s the war of aggression.

It’s the setting that matters. The invasion itself, the destruction of whole Ukrainian cities, the execution of Ukrainian local leaders, the forced deportation of Ukrainian children, the displacement of about half the Ukrainian population, and the destruction of hundreds of hospitals and thousands of schools. The deliberate targeting of water and heat supplies during the winter.

That is the setting. That is what is actually happening. The term Russophobia is a claim by the imperial power that it is the victim even as it is carrying out a war of atrocity. This is historically typical behavior.

The imperial power dehumanizes the actual victim and claims to be the victim.

When the victim opposes being attacked, being murdered, being colonized. The empire says that this is unreasonable. This is an illness. This is a phobia.

This claim that the victims are irrational, that they are phobic, that they have a phobia is meant to distract from the actual experience of the victims in the real world, which is an experience, of course, of aggression and war and atrocity.

The term Russophobia is an imperial strategy designed to change the subject from an actual war of aggression to the feelings of the aggressors, thereby suppressing the existence and the experience of the people who are most harmed.

The imperialist says

We are the only people here. We are the real victims and our hurt feelings count more than other people’s lives.

Now Russia’s crimes can be and will be evaluated by Ukrainian law because they take place on Ukrainian territory and by international law to the naked eye. We can see that there is a war of aggression, crimes of humanity, and genocide.

The use of the word Russophobia, the claim that Ukrainians are ill rather than that they are experiencing an atrocity is colonial rhetoric and it’s part of a larger practice of hate speech.

That is why this session is important in Russia’s genocidal hate speech. The idea that Ukrainians have a disease called Russophobia is used as an argument to destroy them along with the arguments that they are vermin, parasites, Satanists, and so on. Claiming to be the victim when you are in fact the aggressor is not part of the defense. It’s actually part of the crime.

Hate speech directed against Ukrainians is not part of the defense of the Russian Federation. It’s part of the crimes that Russian citizens are committing on Ukrainian territory. In this sense, in calling this session, the Russian state has found a new way to confess to war crimes. Thank you for your attention.

I thank Mr. Snider for his briefing.


See the original video presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9c3-Ps3TjI

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