Putin says I’m a Nazi, and Medvedev says I don’t exist
I’m thoroughly confused, and it’s all the fault of the Russians. One of them says I’m a Nazi; another says I don’t exist. Now, if I’m a Nazi, I obviously exist. And if I don’t exist, I can’t possibly be a Nazi. Logic was never a strong point of the Kremlin, I guess, but the two claims still worry me.
Heck, I know that I am not — never have been and never will be — a supporter of Adolf Hitler and his regime. I despise anti-Semitism and racism, and I’ve never met an Übermensch I didn’t dislike. I’ve been to Auschwitz, Dachau and Mauthausen and was overwhelmed with horror in each place.
As a matter of fact, I’ve always fancied myself as a moderate liberal with some conservative and social-democratic tendencies. As a teenager, I read National Review and Ramparts, but my real love was the Sporting News. I even flirted with the Evergreen Review and tried (but failed) to appreciate the work of Stan Brakhage at the original Anthology Film Archives on Lafayette Street.
So why does Russian President Vladimir Putin say I’m a Nazi? That’s easy: I’m a Ukrainian American, born and raised in New York City, who is proud of his heritage and wants his ancestral homeland to be a nice, democratic, liberal country. According to Putin and his comrades, however, all Ukrainians who think of themselves as different from Russians are “Nazis.” Hence, Russian calls to de-Nazify Ukraine are nothing less than calls to destroy everything that makes Ukraine different from Putin’s fascist Russia.
Will the Russians try to de-Nazify me as well? Could be. After all, the Kremlin insists it has a right to defend the rights of Russian speakers in the entire world. It logically follows that it thinks it has the right to de-Nazify Ukrainian speakers throughout the world — and that includes New York. To be sure, the Russians have a funny way of showing their solicitude: The residents of Mariupol, Ukraine, spoke primarily Russian and their “liberation” entailed their city’s complete destruction.
I suspect (not without some pride, I confess) I may even deserve to be near the top of Putin’s blacklist. I’ve got nothing against the Russians who despise Putin, but I’m not sure I like those who don’t. Worse still, I truly detest Putin. I have satirized him in three novels, and there’s probably nothing worse in Putin’s eyes than a Ukrainian who laughs while hating him, in Ukrainian and English no less.
And then there’s the other question that bugs me. Why don’t I exist? Well, it’s because that same Putin Doctrine insists there is no such thing as Ukrainians. As Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and prime minister of Russia, recently opined, “Ukrainianism is a fake.” Which makes me a fake. A fake Nazi, perchance? Nyet! I must be a fake Ukrainian, which is to say I’m really Russian. And the more I deny that, the more am I evidently in need of some heavy-duty de-Nazification.
Now, this is getting serious, because just as I know I’m no Nazi, I also know I exist — as a human being, as a New Yorker, and as a Ukrainian American. Like Descartes, I am a thing that thinks — and writes and reads and eats potato dumplings and borscht and watches bad cop shows on TV.
So, Medvedev notwithstanding, I’m darn sure I exist.
But can I ever convince Putin and Medvedev of that? Only, I suspect, if I were to admit to being a Nazi. Then, they just might ignore the illogic of their claims and grant me a dispensation. As you can see, we’re back to where we started.
There’s no way out of this vicious circle, alas. Nor is there any point in asking what right Putin and his sidekick, Medvedev, have to tell me who I am and whether I exist or not. Obviously, they have none. Just as obviously, they think they have that inalienable right, but only because they’ve constructed a parallel reality akin to that encountered by Alice in Wonderland:
“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’”
There’s no arguing with the Humpty Doctrine or its offshoot, the Putin Doctrine. It’s best to ignore them. Let them think they are masters of reality. Like any sensate person with a conscience, I know better.
I also know what happened to Humpty Dumpty and am quite certain that a similar fate awaits his pal, Putin:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Could not put Humpty together again.
Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction.