Wednesday, 19 February 2014

How Mongols Saved Russia

Some months ago Pavlo Lapshyn, a Ukrainian studying in England, stabbed an aging Muslim man of South Asian origin to death in an unprovoked incident. Pavlo's blind hatred of the Muslims made no sense to his shattered father: after all, Pavlo's own grandmother, Raziya Halili, was a Tatar Muslim. The father recounted how the grandmother would shower her grandson with love; hence he was at a complete loss as to Pavlo's animosity towards the Muslims.

Pavlo Lapshyn is clearly ashamed of his ancestors, and the different traditions of the world do not have pleasant things to say about men like him. According a proverb, presumably of Native American origin, "the whole universe conspires to destroy the man who is ashamed of his own ancestors." The Bible is perhaps even more candid in regard to this matter: "The eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures" (Proverbs, 30:17). According to the great Confucius, filial piety (hsiao) is a virtue that no honourable man can do without. Indeed, it is my firm view that one of the secrets to the longevity of the Chinese civilisation is its cult of ancestors.

Pavlo Lapshyn's hatred of his own ancestors, for which an innocent immigrant in England had to pay a heavy price, should not be viewed as an isolated incident; rather his revolting conduct is symptomatic of a social disease with which large segments of the Ukrainian society is infected.

The Ukrainian battle against Russia has a vital mythohistorical dimension which is often lost sight of: Ukraine is the custodian of the slavic heritage, whereas Russia is the bastard remnant of the Mongol yoke.

This mythohistorical narrative, hailing from the West, has created much discord in Russia during the last two centuries. Russians are no strangers to blaming the Mongols for a variety of social ills, from the apparent lack of democratic institutions to alcoholism. In the writings of Vissarion Belinsky, a mediocre thinker who had a significant impact on Russian intellectual life in the ninteenth century, the abiding Mongol tyranny was the cause of Russia's misfortunes. In a famous denuciation of the pro-Czarist intellectual Nikolai Gogol, Belinsky accused him of being a lover of the Mongols:

"You [, Nikolai, are a] defender of the [rulers'] whip, you [are a] prophet of ignorance, [...] you [are a] champion of the Mongol way of life. Behold the ground underneath your feet. You are on the verge of perdition."

According to Belinsky, the Russian czardom was a continuation of the Mongol rule. He was partially right. After all, Ivan IV (1530-1584), known as "the Terrible" in the West, was directly related to Gengis Khan, whereas Emperor Boris (1551-1605) hailed from the Golden Horde.

Mongol ancestry amongst the Russians is actually quite commonplace. Lenin, for instance, had two grandparents who were Kalmyks, and by all accounts he was not at all troubled by his Mongol ancestry. Stalin, for his part, was certainly no Mongol, but he clearly liked the idea of being one (cf. picture), much as I do.

The game called Blame-the-Mongol is still considered a worthwhile pastime in Ukraine, whereas this is no longer the case amongst the majority of the Russians. In Russia, "various segments of the elite [...] have started to either directly or indirectly associate themselves with the great Mongolian warrior [Gengis Khan] and his empire."

Russia's tilt toward the East makes sense not only from a strictly geopolitical point of view; it is also a question of embracing your past and who you really are.

According to the narrative of the European historians, the Mongol yoke insulated Russia from the liberating influence of European ideas. This ridiculous claim of the European historians should be treated with utmost contempt by the Russians. Papist absolutism, pigheaded Protestant fideism, Catholics and Protestants slaughtering one another in the millions during the religious wars, the extermination of the natives of America, and pseudoliberal thinkers like John Locke deeming property more valuable than human life are also the products of the Europeans' propensity to the universalisation of their tribal whims.

To this provincialism of the Europeans one should counterpoise the genuine ecumenism and humanism of the Mongols. The Mongols advocated non-interference in religious matters and they were passionate patrons of the arts. In comparison with the openminded and tolerant Mongols, John Locke, ironically considered a great champion of freedom in the West, comes across as the hypocritical and murderous Puritan that he was:

"It is impossible either by indulgence or severity to make papists [...] friends to your government, being enemies to it both in their principles and interests, [...] they ought not to enjoy the benefit of toleration, because toleration can never, but restraint may, lessen their number, or at least not increase it, as it does usually all other opinions which grow and spread by persecution, and recommend themselves to bystanders by the hardships they undergo [...]. But I think it is far otherwise with Catholics, who are less apt to be pitied than others because they receive no other usage than what the [...] cruelty of their own principles and practices they are known to deserve [...]."

These were the perverse European ideas from which Russia was shielded by the Mongols' alleged yoke. The Mongol might was legendary throughout the known world. The Mongol fury would turn Baghdad into ashes within the space of a few hours and it made the whole of Europe tremble in fear.

According to the great Soviet historian Lev Gumilev, the Mongols were no impediment to the blossoming of the Russian civilisation. To the contrary, the Mongols saved Russia from being overrun by the European hordes, whose murderous track record in their colonies is well known to us all. Without the Mongols, the whole of Russia would have become latinised, and the Russians would have been no more than a footnote in the history books of today.

Gumilev's school of thought has given the Russians an indigenous historical narrative that does justice to all those who have contributed to the making of the great Russian civilisation, including the Mongols. And it should surprise no one, that President Putin, who is a great intellectual in his own right, frequently quotes Gumilev in his speeches. The unveiling of Gumilev's bust at MGIMO, Moscow's elite university for aspiring diplomats, is another testimony to his exalted standing amongst the Russian intelligentsia.

Russia has at last come to terms with its past, whereas Ukraine is still beholden to a historical narrative befitting village idiots.

To the Ukrainian who beats his chest over his European grandfather, but who is too ashamed to admit that his grandmother was a Mongol, I have the following to say: a mad dog's death would be too kind a fate for people like you. And it is my ardent hope that at least an iota of your consciousness remains while worms and maggots gnaw away at your decomposing flesh.