Post-Soviet pulp fiction: Presages of the war in Ukraine

“Russian liberalism stops when the Ukrainian question comes up.” – George Grabowicz, professor of Ukrainian literature (Harvard University), reporting a Ukrainian saying.

Since the Nord Stream one gas pipeline was first proposed in the late 1990s, its supporters, including successive German chancellors such as Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel, hoped it would knit post-Soviet Russia into the comity of nations.

As enormous amounts of natural gas flowed from Russia to Western Europe, 59.2 billion cubic metres in 2021 alone, literary scholars like the University of Copenhagen’s Professor Mikhail Suslov, the Russian writer Maria Galina, and National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy PhD student Mariia Shuvalova, have charted, via their analysis of the irredentist themes in Russian science fiction or speculative fiction towards Ukraine, the failure of this European dream.

During a Zoom interview with Shuvalova, who had been on air raid duty the night before in a location outside Kyiv, she pointed to Maxim Kalashnikov’s Independent Ukraine: Failure of a Project (2009) as a paradigmatic example.

Vladimir A Kucherenko’s none-too-subtle pen name – made up of the first name of the inventor of the machine gun, Hiram Maxim (d 1916), and the surname of the inventor of the famous Russian submachine gun, Mikhail Kalashnikov (d 2013) – means, essentially, ‘machine gun machine gun’.

Under his own name he has published novels and other writings that discuss Russian nationalism, and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, and predict nuclear war with the United States. As does Fyodor Berezin’s War 2010: The Ukrainian Front, Kalashnikov’s novel “described a full-scale military invasion by Russian troops of Ukraine that was supposed to happen between 2010 and 2011”, says Shuvalova.

Indicators of collective sentiment

Literary scholars tend to shy away from studying pulp fiction. However, “[m]ass culture in general and mass literature in particular are sensitive indicators of collective sentiments, phobias and hopes.

“So, it is worth paying attention to mass genres and so-called trash literature – especially to speculative fiction for this reflects traumas and expectations even better than in individual works of art,” writes Galina in her chapter in The Post-Soviet Politics of Utopia: Language, Fiction and Fantasy in Modern Russia, (edited by Suslov and Per-Arne Bodin, 2019): “Ressentiment and Post-traumatic Syndrome in Russian Post-Soviet Speculative Fiction: Two Trends.”

The trauma Galina refers to is the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike, for example, Britain which, to some degree, has come to terms with the fact that once India became independent in 1947, the empire could not survive, most of Russia’s intellectuals have not even tried to imagine something other than a gathering in, by force if necessary, of Byelorussia and, especially, Ukraine.

“You have to remember, Russia was a colonial empire (on land) with colonial relationships with its various parts, including Ukraine. The relationship with the former colonies has not been intellectually processed. Russians, including many liberals who otherwise oppose Putin, embrace this cultural imperialism,” Suslov told University World News.

“There have not been many attempts at self-introspection, or self-reinvention of itself [Russia] without Ukraine [like] that [which] occurred in France after the loss of Algeria, or Britain without India. This work has not been done since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a very fundamental way this is the reason for the war in Ukraine.”

Soviet-era fiction

The speculative fiction (SF) that both predicted and helped prepare the way to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea and de facto seizure of Ukraine’s eastern provinces, Donbas and Luhansk, differs greatly from the SF popular in the Soviet Union.

Much Soviet-era SF was not unlike its Western cousin. It provided some room for writers to be critical of the regime, if only indirectly. Some authors went so far as to depict more democratic and inclusive systems than those in which they lived in the USSR.

“It [SF] dealt with universal principles, asking such questions as ‘What is freedom?’, ‘What is development?’, ‘What is the good life?’,” notes Suslov. Central to many stories was an almost Stalinist interest in technology, five-year economic plans and a programmable future.

“This SF can be compared to a spaceship. It’s launched toward a distant planet. So, you have to calculate the trajectory, you have to know the supply of food, you have to have a trained and good crew. And, if all these conditions are fulfilled, then your spaceship will reach this planet. In the same way they thought about Soviet society, if you fine-tune it the right way, then you will reach communism,” he says.

By contrast, post-Soviet SF is stridently nationalistic and openly imperialistic. Entire sub-genres exist that depict a modern or future Russia that (re)conquers lands that had once been ‘theirs’, especially Ukraine.

Emphasising Russia’s greatness

Those that take a page from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court and depict the past, refashion it to emphasise Russian greatness, which includes Ukraine.

Aleksandr Prozorov’s 2003 novel A Land of Dead Ones, says Galina, may have been criticised for its anachronistic portrait of the 16th century court of Ivan the Terrible, but the anachronism is telling, for Ivan’s court has the trappings of the ancient Rus’, also known as the Kievan Rus’, a 19th century term denoting the period from the mid-9th to the 13th centuries when the Rus’ capital was in Kyiv.

Though Ivan’s forces lost the Russo-Crimean War (1570-72), his reign is associated with a drastic increase in areas conquered by Russia. Other novels reverse the outcome of the Crimean War (1853-56) when Tsar Nicolas I’s forces were defeated by a coalition led by Britain and France, and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 when the Japanese annihilated the Russian fleet in the Battle of Tsushima.

The mainstream of post-Soviet SF is, therefore, “informed by fear, rather than hope, imperial fantasies of Russia’s geopolitical ascendence [from the depths to which it was perceived to have fallen under former president Boris Yeltsin]”, writes Suslov in the introduction to The Post-Soviet Politics of Utopia.

“It is filled with “ressentiment [resentment] towards the global ‘West’ . . . and cosmopolitanism, a drive to restore the past rather than create a future, and a dystopian rather than utopian vision of the future,” which characterises much SF in the West from the genre’s earliest works – Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Thomaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1602), through to Jules Verne’s novels and on to the multiracial, indeed, interplanetary bridge of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek.

“Identitarian” science fiction

What Suslov calls “identitarian” SF is not cut from wholly new cloth. Late 19th century SF dealt with the perennial question of Russian identity. Slavophiles criticised Russia’s increasing Westernisation.

What did it mean to be the third Rome in an increasingly capitalist and urban world? (The first Rome was the Eternal City, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, while the second was Constantinople, the seat of the Orthodox Church until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the mid-15th century.)

Many of these books contain “colourful apocalyptic scenes”, a strong tsar and Russian Orthodox Church, and, as Suslov told University World News, “dreams of a greater Russian state tramping on the enfeebled nemeses from the West”.

(Russia’s defeat of Napoleon by ‘General Winter’ in late 1812 led to a messianic view of Russia’s mission to the world; after 1945, Suslov explained, this messianic view of Russia incorporated the Red Army’s defeat of Hitler’s Wehrmacht in what Russians call ‘The Great Patriotic War’.)

What makes today’s ‘identitarian’ SF so powerful is its reach. Unlike the late 19th century SF, which, because of Russia’s low literacy rate, was read chiefly by the nobility and the small bourgeois class, Russia’s literacy rate today is above 99%, meaning there is a huge market for all literary genres including SF.

Literary ‘infrastructure’

Suslov was unaware of Jürgen Wertheimer’s Project Cassandra, an initiative housed in the Universität Tübingen (the University of Tübingen in Germany) that sees literature as an early warning system that, five years out, can predict social strife and wars. (As I was finalising this piece, I received an e-mail from Wertheimer telling me that he had received the Serge Lazareff Prize – Legal Services from NATO for Project Cassandra.)

Yet Suslov focuses on what Wertheimer calls the “literary infrastructure” as one of the central ways of determining the reach of the genre in question. Examples of this infrastructure are both the Russian science fiction convention, ROSKON, and the prize awarded there. In 2017, the nomination list for this prize ran to more than 800 novels. In the 1990s, 15% of readers preferred SF to all other genres and 32% had bought a SF novel the previous year.

This pulp fiction genre, preferred by more than a quarter of Russian teenagers and uncounted numbers of security guards, is replete with ultra-nationalist authors. A former member of the Duma (legislature) and a member of the pro-Putin United Russia party, Rykov was one of the founders of the popular SF series ‘Etnogenez’.

In 2014, the same year Putin sent troops into Crimea and fomented rebellion in the Donbas and Luhansk, one of the series’ novels was turned into a massive multiplayer online role-playing game that presented “a vision of Ukraine engulfed by chaos, civil war and NATO troops”, writes Suslov.

The very name of the series, Etnogenez, he adds, reveals the ultranationalist aims, for it is the Russian for “ethnogenesis”. As propounded by Russian ethnologist Lev Gumilyov, ethnogenesis means the crystallisation of a nation as a sociobiological body, which also implies the gathering together of peoples according to ineluctable ethnic traits – and, thus, can be compared with the Nazis’ use of the term Volk.

Putin often cites Gumilyov, whose thoughts are echoed in Putin’s 21 July 2020 essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, which Suslov and Professor Vitaly Chernetsky, who teaches Slavic languages and literature at the University of Kansas, underscored.

This essay traffics in a number of myths and according to the Moscow-based RBK Daily is required reading for Russia’s military: “Our relationship is passed down from generation to generation. It is in the hearts, in the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families.”

For his part, Suslov told me that when he read Putin’s essay he knew an invasion of Ukraine was inevitable: “It was a declaration of war.”

The offence of independence

Ukraine, not Lithuania, Estonia, Azerbaijan, Moldova or the other 10 former social republics that became independent countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, was soon the focus of irredentist SF writers. There are a number of complex reasons for this, for why Russia covets Ukraine and why an independent Ukraine offends Russian amour-propre.

One reason is easily grasped by looking at the map. Possession of Ukraine not only gives Russia control over the second-largest country in Europe (Russia being the first), but also control over extremely fertile black earth regions of Central Ukraine as well as strategically important minerals such as titanium, magnesium, bauxite and nickel.

Control over Ukraine would increase Russia’s population, which is projected to fall to 121 million in 2050 from the present 144 million, by 44 million.

Control of Ukraine would push Russia’s western border almost a thousand miles to the Polish border but also to the borders of Slovakia and Hungary, thus weakening these NATO members’ security, not to mention making Moldova extremely vulnerable. At one and the same time, as Suslov put it, Ukraine is “an important land bridge or a bastion against the West”.

Imperial narrative

Equally important to these geopolitical facts are two others. The first is the place Ukraine holds both in the Russian Orthodox Church and in respect of important minerals; the second in what Chernetsky calls “the official Russian imperial narrative”.

Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has repeatedly said that Kyiv is the centre of Eastern Christianity. Kirill, who is strongly allied with Putin, has referred to the conflict in Ukraine as a “struggle for East European [re Russian and Russian Orthodox Church] space” (quoted in Suslov’s chapter “The Russian Orthodox Church and the Crisis in Ukraine” in Churches in the Ukrainian Crisis, A Krawchuk and T Bremer, eds, 2016).

Accordingly, notes Suslov, “for him, it is unthinkable to separate Moscow from Kyiv”.

Further cementing the view that all of Ukraine is one with Russia, Suslov told me, is the Russian Orthodox Church’s origin story (until 2019, when it achieved autocephaly or independence, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church owed obedience to the Russian Orthodox Church).

Legend has it that the missionaries (and future saints) Cyril (d 869) and Methodius (d 885) started their mission to evangelise the East in Crimea, where it is believed they began to baptise this part of the world. One century later, the Rus’ king, Vladimir I, together with his retinue, was baptised in Khersonesus in Crimea in 988 and soon thereafter converted his whole kingdom to Christianity.

Though little known in the West, the legend forms the backstory to Aleksandr Mazin’s The Varangian, one of the time-travelling SF novels singled out by Galina.

Published in 2001, it tells the story of a former commando who is transported to 10th-century Kyiv where he fights in the service of Vladmir I’s great-grandfather, Igor, the first Kievan Rus’ ruler. Russians would recognise in the book’s title past military glory, for beginning in the late 9th century, the Varangian Guard, the personal bodyguard of the emperor in Constantinople, was made up of Kievan Rus’ warriors; after his baptism, Vladimir I sent the emperor 6,000 men.

The Russian imperial narrative incorporates this religious background, mediaeval stories about the Rus’ principalities that existed before the Mongol invasions of the 1220s to 1240s, ethnographic arguments drawn from the similarities between the Russian and Ukrainian languages, and, Chernetsky explains, radically different understandings of the Pereyaslav Agreement of 1654, which placed Ukraine nominally under the protection of Russia.

Open to Western thought

What Chernetsky calls “cognitive dissonance” came from the fact that unlike Russia, Ukraine, through its relationship with the Lithuanian and Polish kingdoms between the 14th and 17th centuries, had been open to Western European thought.

“Ukraine had access to the humanist Renaissance explosion of European culture, all the way from Madrid to Stockholm. Muscovy never had it, making them “culturally speaking, poor cousins”, says George Grabowicz, Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyj Professor of Ukrainian Literature (Harvard University).

Knowledge of this humanist tradition, says Chernetsky, led part of the Polish nobility (which included Ukrainians) to reject Moscow’s interpretation that by signing the Pereyaslav Agreement, they had accepted the tsar and his autocratic governance.

The clash of political cultures continued during the reigns of Peter the Great and then Catherine the Great, both of whom oversaw intense efforts at Russification of the parts of Ukraine in Russian hands.

Following the Third Partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century, the largest part of Ukraine was gathered within the Russian Empire, and a smaller part ended up in the Habsburg Empire. Ukraine reappeared on the map after the end of the First World War before being divided among Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and, in 1921, the Soviet Union.

After the end of the Second World War, present day Ukraine’s borders were set. As one of the 15 constituent republics of the USSR, Ukraine had a seat at the United Nations though in reality it was ruled by Moscow.

Ukraine as an artificial construct

When I ask Suslov how this tangled history informs the irredentist novels, he says it leads to the belief that Ukraine is not an organic state but rather an artificial construct. Or as Kalashnikov put it in the language of political scientists and bureaucrats, to speak of an independent Ukraine is, in fact, to speak of a “collaps[ing] project”.

Using terms derived from German philosophy, Suslov says that both in history and SF, Ukraine is not seen as a Subject but as an Object to be acted upon. Russia’s dismissal of Ukraine’s developing “civic nationalism” that has seen the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jew, by a populace that is 85% Christian and 70% identifying as belonging to an Eastern Orthodox rite, is part and parcel of Putin’s Russia’s rejection of Ukraine as an independent Subject.

“Ukraine is not viewed as a Subject in international relations. Rather, it is an Object. So, if you are strong enough, you can do what you want in this part of the world,” says Suslov. “The natural corollary of this is that if Russia wants to be strong – and to be seen as being strong – and if it is a great power, it has to do something with Ukraine.”

For, as former US president Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor wrote in Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (2012), “[w]ithout Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine, suborned and then subordinate, Russia automatically becomes an empire”.

The rise of irredentist fiction

Although the number of irredentist SF novels increased in time with Putin’s increasingly belligerent comments about Ukraine and even more so after the invasion of Crimea, as Galina shows, the subgenre actually began in 1997, three years before Putin’s ascension to power, but, perhaps not so coincidentally, the same year Russia’s largest gas company, Gazprom, formed a joint company, North Transgas Oy, to build the pipeline.

In these last years of Boris Yeltsin’s tenure as president, when Western financial and other experts working for Yeltsin’s government oversaw the sale of Russia’s state assets, many to the men who are today’s oligarchs, according to Galina, there were at least two novels with the “theme of ‘bringing back’ the peninsula [Crimea and, hence, Ukraine] into the maternal womb of Russia” that are worthy of note.

One is Andrei Stoliarov’s The Skylark, which tells of Zhanna, a modern-day Russo-Jeanne d’Arc, who uses her almost superhuman faculty of persuasion to foment antigovernment – ie anti-the government in Kyiv – protests in Crimea.

Later, she convinces the Crimeans to “vote for independence with the subsequent accession to Russia”, says Suslov, an eerie foreshadowing of the supposedly free votes to secede from Ukraine in the Donbas and Luhansk, cast while Putin’s irregular militias, the so-called “little green men”, were waging an insurgency against the duly elected government in Kyiv.

Reunion with Mother Russia reverses the national and emotional humiliation Stoliarov describes at the beginning of this nationalist novel: “Bitter is the taste of national humiliation and disturbing is the drone of military machines of NATO, moving eastwards ...”.

The less-than-subtle titles Galina catalogues in the early 2000s show the popular staying power of anti-NATO and revanchist attitudes towards Ukraine: A Field of Battle – Ukraine (2005); A Nobody’s Land (2008), in which Ukraine is devastated by battles between narcomafia and missile barons; Second Front Ukraine (2009); The Pentagon Must be Destroyed! (2009); and Field of Battle – Sebastopol: A Hero City Against NATO (2010).

Revealing blurbs

Galina’s analysis of these types of novels’ blurbs is revealing, both of the Russian view of NATO and its machinations in Ukraine, what Russia calls its “near abroad”, a term that replaced the old phrase “sphere of interest”.

One blurb uncannily focuses on the Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, made famous in the first hours of the war on 24 February when a Ukrainian sailor responded to the message from a Russian warship – “This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed” – with the now famous (translated) words: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself”, which Shuvalova told me had an even more crude meaning in Ukrainian.

The blurb reads as follows, translated by Galina: “Near future. Betrayed by its own ‘elite’, Ukraine is occupied by American troops. The airforces of NATO patrol the sky. The Island Zmeiny [Zmiinyi] is occupied by Romania; Turkish troops are landing in Crimea [both Romania and Turkey NATO members]. The ‘Democratic’ West deliberately doesn’t pay attention to the aggression; Kiev keeps silent and doesn’t resist the occupation – and NATO’s hawks are in the fire!”

Galina’s analysis of the rhetoric of such blurbs is especially relevant today, when official Russian government organs and Russian media use the same terms to denigrate Ukrainians as was the case when she wrote her article published in 2019.

The rhetoric in the blurbs, she writes, “is very similar to that of official Russian media commenting on the Ukrainian conflict [in the Donbas and Luhansk prior to 2019, the date of the essay’s publication]”.

The rhetoric “labelled opponents as Banderites, Nazis, junta, fascists, West-Ukrainian butchers, liberal traitors and so on”. Further, she identified in the blurbs “the USA intervention theme, reborn ‘Nazis’” and the “revival of the historical term ‘Novorossiya’ and its struggle with the ‘West-Ukrainian butchers’”.

As Suslov explains, the term ‘Novorossiya’ is freighted with much more than its literal meaning: New Russia. It dates back to the spring of 2014, after the anti-Ukrainian rebellion in the Donbas region. The term emphasises this geopolitical region and its identity as being different from the rest of Ukraine, he says.

“The purpose was to dissociate the region, to draw a line, so to speak, between the Donbas as part of Ukraine and draw the region as part of the ‘Russian World’ and potentially the Russian Federation.”

Further, Suslov says, “you have to remember that as is the case today, the separatists were supported by Putin”. Accordingly, the blurbs set out what became the Kremlin’s official attitude towards Ukraine and what must be done about it or, to be more precise, to its 44 million people.

Other art forms – Opera

What Suslov, Galina and Shuvalova chart in the SF novels, which, incidentally, both Shuvalova and Suslov told me were poorly written and poorly plotted, is present in the more highbrow, though still popular, art form opera.

According to Amelia Glaser, who teaches Russian and comparative literature at the University of California, San Diego, the acclaimed director Yuri Alexandrov didn’t lack Wagnerian ambitions when he staged Crimea in 2014 after Russia annexed the peninsula.

He originally planned for singers and audience to interact in a large, visible forum such as St Peterburg’s Palace Square, which Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet film October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928) had used as its setting, filled by 100,000 extras to simulate the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917.

Neither this, nor a hoped-for appearance by Putin, occurred. In Putin’s place, a proxy chief executive provided “the spoken commentary on Russia’s love for Crimea between musical numbers”, writes Glaser in her article, “Theatre of war: new-found patriotism meets old-school propaganda in a Russian opera about Crimea,” published in The Calvert Journal in September 2014.

To provide a “coherent way of understanding the struggle over Crimea'', Alexandrov divides the “opera-demonstration” into three parts, says Glaser.

Imperial Russia’s defeat by the British in 1854 was symbolised by nurses handing blood-soaked bandages to the audience; the 1941-42 siege of Sevastopol by the Luftwaffe was symbolised by sailors departing and girls with enormous ribbons in their hair; and Russia’s months-old takeover of Crimea was characterised as the hard struggle against what Alexandrov called “Maidan and today’s Banderite bastardy”.

‘Maidan’ refers to the square in Kyiv where protests drove President Viktor Yanukovych from office in February 2014 after he succumbed to pressure from Putin and moved to withdraw Ukraine’s application to join the European Union, while ‘Banderite bastardy’ means ‘Ukrainian nationalist bastards’.

(Alexandrov’s use of the word ‘struggle,’ incidentally, may give away more than was intended, since it means an ongoing action, while Putin’s coup de main that delivered Crimea into his hands had been over for months; the director presciently points to a second act of Putin’s efforts to reconquer Ukraine, the one that began on 24 February 2021.)

Crimea ends with a man in a grey suit embracing a child and asks the audience a series of questions which, Glaser argues, essentially constitute a ‘referendum’ answered in ‘yes’ (da) or ‘no’ (nyet); the questions’ rhyme scheme helps the audience provide the correct answer.

“Our brother nation [Ukraine] has met with unexpected trouble. Does this tear at our soul?” “Da.”

“The fate of Russia through the ages should be in our firm hands, and this should be our answer to everyone. Should it be left to foreign meddling?” “Nyet.”

The opera was, as Glaser notes, a flop. However, one critic, Natalia Blinnikova, called the opera “an original patriotic manifesto”.

As indicated by this interactive ending, like the video games based on revanchist SF novels and the novels themselves, Crimea was meant to do important cultural work. Glaser shows that at one and the same time Crimea represents to the opera’s viewers, who are assumed to be Russians, both the Kremlin’s views towards Ukraine as well as the public’s own views about Ukraine (demonstrated by their, albeit prompted, answers) – and to whom it belongs: the Russian audience.

The social imaginary

On 31 March, the day before I started writing this article, the Levada Center, considered to be the only independent polling organisation in Russia, reported that Putin’s popularity had reached 85%.

Two days later, a member of the Duma said on television that Ukraine should not be allowed to exist. “It’s a cancerous growth that needs to be eliminated all the way to the border with Poland. We can’t allow even a small part of it to remain.”

On 12 April, US President Joe Biden called Russia’s war aims in Ukraine a “genocide, because it’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian”.

A few hours later, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the same word, “genocide”, to describe the Russians’ “use of targeted attacks against civilians, against hospitals, against maternity wards, against train stations filled with people fleeing, the deliberate use of sexual violence against the Ukrainian population as a way of creating horrific scenes, the way that they’re attacking Ukrainian identity and culture”.

The day after Ukrainian missiles sank the Russian guided missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, speaking on Russia’s state TV, one of Vladimir Solovyov’s guest pundits didn’t even try to hide his support for genocide: After quoting US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, who said that “Putin’s goal is evident: To erase the idea of being a Ukrainain”, he said: “I agree with Victoria Nuland. You’re a genius. This idea has to be erased from start to finish. It’s been poisoning the lives of Slavic people for 100s of years ... Even the name itself [Ukrainian] is insulting.”

Both the polling statistics and the televised comments could have come from and are real manifestations of the works that Suslov, Galina, Shuvalova and Glaser have studied.

“This literature,” Suslov told University World News, “produces a social imaginary, a social mentality, if you want, to accept and think that something usually unthinkable [ie killing fellow Slavs who speak a language similar to yours and the majority of whom belong to the same Orthodox faith] is not just good but necessary for your own survival.”