Me—The Non-Beneficiary | Conversation with Madina Tlostanova19.09.2022 | 12 Min to read
Learning to unlearn in order to relearn – A conversation with Madina Tlostanova, decolonial thinker and writer, Professor of Postcolonial Feminism at the Department of Thematic Studies (Gender Studies) at Linköping University (Sweden).
Participants: Madina Tlostanova, Nino Lomadze, Tamar Babuadze
Fragments from the Essay:
…Some decolonial theorists had decidedly Marxist origins and refused to
see the Soviet Union as a colonial empire, while others tended to see Russia and the
Soviet Union as a blurred zone of semi-periphery or even a colonial zone comparable to India and Latin America and not to Britain or Spain.
…So I started investigating the external imperial differences as opposed to the internal ones
represented by the South of Europe (Dainotto, 2000) and its versions of coloniality of
knowledge, being, perception, and gender, as well as its secondary and distorted forms of Orientalism, Eurocentrism, and mental and cultural dependency of which Russia and its multiple colonies are a paradigmatic example: rich yet poor, providential yet failed. Russia has never been seen by Western Europe as its part, remaining a racialized empire, which feels itself a colony in the presence of the West and is based on a catching-up logic, a myriad of schizophrenic collective complexes, ideologies of a besieged camp, or alternatively, victory in defeat. The imperial difference generated Russia’s secondary status in European eyes and consequently, an open or hidden Orientalisation…
As a result of my investigations, I came to the conclusion that Russian secondary Orientalism and Eurocentrism reflect and distort the Western originals as Orientalist constructs. In this case, they turn out to be not only more complex but also built on the principle of double mirror reflections, on the copying of Western Orientalism with a slight deviation and necessarily, with a carefully hidden, often unconscious sensibility that Russia itself is a form of a mystic and mythic Orient for the West. Western Orientalist discourses have been transmuted in secular modernity as specific ways of representation and interpretation of Russian non-European colonies, which were used as replacements of the missing Orient and coded as such. As a result, both mirrors—the one turned in the direction of the colonies and the one turned by Europe in the direction of Russia—appear to be distorting mirrors that create a specific, unstable sensibility of Russian intellectuals,
writers, and artists.
…On the global scale, this imperial difference mutates into a colonial one, as Russia becomes a country that allows Western philosophy, knowledge, and culture to colonize itself without any bloodshed, the Janus-faced empire that felt itself a colony in the presence of the West and, at the same time, half-heartedly played the part of the caricature “civilizer” on its own non-European colonies. Russia projects its own inferiority complexes onto its colonies through its self-proclaimed role as modernizer and civilizer. This refers specifically to Muslim colonies that are becoming the South of the poor North of today, the multiple colonized others of the defeated Russia. In the case of the Ottoman Sultanate, this complex gave birth to self-racializing and efforts to whiten the elites, while in the case of Russia it generated a complex of a secondary Europeanism. In Central Asia, it led to self-orientalisation, self-racializing, multiple inferiority complexes, tricksterism, and in the Caucasus, to a symbolic self-whitening, and mimicry, resulting in a stagnation of any alternative political and social movements and actors (Tlostanova, 2011b).
…Russia strove to build, however unsuccessfully, its own global model, its own modernity, sharing the main vices of the Western original but positioning itself as an independent, alternative project.
– This is a short fragment of the article, “Between the Russian/Soviet dependencies, neoliberal delusions, de-westernizing options, and decolonial drives” by Madina Tlostanova (Cultural Dynamics 2015, Vol. 27(2) 267–283 © The Author(s) 2015). Madina is a decolonial researcher. She is involved in many projects inside and outside academia related to political art, decolonizing universities and museums, and feminisms of the Global South. Since 2015, Madina is a Professor of Postcolonial Feminisms at the Department of Thematic Studies (Gender Studies unit) at Linköping University, Sweden.
This conversation with Madina, mostly conceived as an extension and continuation of the thinking process in her 2015 paper, was recorded in April 2022.
INDIGO: What turned out to be a marking point for you to analyse your personal experience and the biography of your parents in postcolonial terms?M.T.: For the last 25 years, these topics have been with me. I have been constantly writing about them, what it means to be a post-Soviet human being—but also what it means to be the one who does not belong to the majority, the so-called titular nation (Russians), being a minority combining one’s experience of the post-Soviet and the postcolonial human conditions, always remaining on the darker side of history. An important part of this secondary status in Russia and in the Soviet Union was and is a special mechanism of dehumanization, of othering, of exclusion, always measured in relation to one’s proximity to ethnic Russians.
I have never belonged in Russia; I have never connected to Russian culture or literature; I have never felt at home there. I can say that it was my misfortune to be born in Moscow. Both of my parents were from ‘colonies’—my father was from the Northern Caucasus, he was Kabardian (in the Soviet nomenclature of nationalities) or Circassian as our people are known worldwide. And my mother was Uzbek. At home we spoke Russian because of this unusual transcultural mix, but I’ve never felt that Russian should be my native language. It just happened to be because it was not possible for me to study my parents’ native languages in school at that time. We lived in the North Caucasus and my mother wanted me to learn my father’s language because she knew from her own experience growing up in Uzbekistan how hard it is not being able to connect with your people through language.
Today, I use Russian exclusively to write fiction and I do it very much like postcolonial writers do with English—to subvert it from within, to destabilize its imperial self-confidence. So, my story in this linguistic and cultural sense was very different from Georgia’s. Even during Soviet times, you managed to preserve your alphabet, language, and culture. It was not the case with some other minorities within the Soviet Union, particularly those who were placed into autonomous republics within the Russian Federation, like where I grew up in Kabardino-Balkaria. So in that sense, I was already alienated even from my own culture(s)—as a child of two different ethnic minorities who grew up in the Caucasus but then moved to Moscow at 16 only to learn that I was worse than the Russians, that I was actually a ‘Black’ as all people from the Caucasus are addressed in Moscow, and also a ‘backwards woman of the East’ that needed to be liberated by her big brothers and sisters. In this sense my experience was probably a very different ‘Soviet experience’ than yours. All my life I have been moving from one condition of otherness to another and I even find this positionality enriching as it gives me additional angles of looking at things.
I have spent more than thirty years of my life in Moscow, but no matter what I did, how successful I was as a researcher or professor of philosophy at different universities in Moscow, I was always reminded of my colonial status and I had to work five times more and better than the Russians around me to gain a place in their closed circles. The stigma of being a ‘Black’—a ‘chornii’—has stuck to me until my leaving for Sweden which has erased my racial difference but enhanced the geopolitical one.
I like to tell a story of how when I was twenty years old I was an exchange student in the US. Returning home after my year abroad I was apprehensive at the passport control holding out a passport of a non-existent state. When I got back, the country had already gone into a complex and chaotic process of transition from the Soviet empire (however unconventional it was and dissimilar to classical Capitalist empires of modernity) to some version of a nation-state which in reality was the hiddenly neo-imperial repressive construction that is finally collapsing today. For many people, it was a serious crisis, because they had internalized the Soviet empire as their ideal together with the human taxonomy it created.
There were different theories in the 1990s of how one could change an empire into a nation-state. One of them was an attempt to create a political and civic idea of the nation as opposed to the biological and blood-based one that was prevalent during the Soviet times. This is how the word ‘Russky’ was cautiously replaced with ‘Rossiisky’ and ‘Rossiyanin’, which is about political and not racial or ethnic allegiance. But none of these clumsy efforts to differentiate ethnic identity, civic identity, and political identity have ever worked. I don't think Russia has managed to create a modern political civic identity or will manage in the near future as there is nothing that can actually hold its population together.
Russia as a nation state has never materialized. And today we are facing the second act of its collapse as an empire or perhaps a quasi-empire. In 1991, whilst crossing the US border with the passport of a non-existent state, I still had some hopes that the future would bring some positive changes, and the besieged camp mentality of the Soviet Union would become a thing of the past. But even then, it was clear that the Russian political elites were unable to offer anything alternative, any original third way, transcending the dilemma of the reckless Westernization versus going back to the Soviet Union or even to the Czarist empire.
Hence this agitated flouncing about, this inescapable binarity, that is such a typical sign of the second-rate Janus-faced Russian Empire then and now. It is unable to delink and therefore it gets caught into the endless catching up game which it can never win. And this is how gradually, and imperceptibly at first, Russia has come to this authoritarian regime, if not totalitarian even—also very nationalistic, very much based on the biological national identity—which translates into an approach: If you're not ethnically Russian, you don't belong. One of the favourite phrases of Russian chauvinists is: “You're not Russian by blood, you should go back”, but go back where if we take into account 160 or so non-Russian ethnic groups still under the Russian rule today and have nowhere else to go?
I think it is a serious problem that in these 30 years, Russia has never managed to come up with a coherent theory or idea of what its national identity is, who belongs and who doesn't, and on what terms, and most importantly, what sort of mutual future can be constructed or offered to this extremely diverse and mismatched group of people that had the misfortune of being born in Russia. The slow cancelation of the future has started already in the 1960s but now, under Putin’s regime, it has reached its peak when people are not promised a happy future anymore or their happiness is moved almost to the other world for when they die, and the only condition of their salvation and belonging is their loyalty to one person, and to an extremely confusing and shallow ideological motley that cannot serve as a societal glue.
These internal problems are what makes it possible that this empire will finally soon collapse while the Russian invasion of Ukraine has only significantly accelerated these processes that have already been at work. This will not be easy and will create a lot of problems and risks for people who live in the Russian Federation. It might come out to be very bloody, but empires have to collapse. This is what has happened historically, and especially with empires like Russia.
Fragment from the Essay:
Having lost its quasi-theocratic element in the form of the Soviet myth, Russia first unsuccessfully attempted to change it into a nationalist ideal. However, the narrow skin of the nation-state interpreted in an essentialist way turned out to be too small to cover the enormous rotting corpse of the Soviet empire whose ideological clichés are still quite alive in the minds of many people. The Putin administration is now manipulatively exploiting this sensibility with their recent move to reanimate the empire appealing to the deepest archetypes of the Russian collective unconscious, grounded in the deification of the Tsar and power. Hence, today’s fitful quests for and inventions of non-existent or totally destroyed authentic local intellectual traditions that are artificially linked with Putin’s personality cult.
A graphic example is the exhibition in the Manege (the pompous exhibition hall across from the Kremlin) which was taking place while I was writing this article. This exhibition formally was devoted to the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. However, in reality, it conveyed the single simple idea of the deification of power in its personalized forms and the equation of the ruler, the state, and the country, pedalling patriotism in the form of personal loyalty to the ruler. The exhibition consisted mostly of icon-like schmaltzy pictures of canonized Putin surrounded by the luminaries of Russian and even Western philosophy, whose works were scoured for the most ‘appropriate’ (and odious) quotations for the legitimisation of today’s power.
INDIGO: How did you start to think about decolonisation from a post-Soviet postcolonial perspective (in this you mean your own biography and the story of your non-Russian parents, too, right?)
M.T.: I was writing my second doctoral dissertation about multiculturalism in American fiction when I learned about postcolonial discourses, because it was something vigorously discussed at that point in the United States, while it was almost non-existent in Russia. This whole topic was booming in the States and there was a diversity of voices coming from India, China, Latin America and many other places. And actually, it’s from the West that I learned the postcolonial anti-Western critique—you read these critical postcolonial books and they are openly critical and self-critical; they’re questioning democracy and discussing how it can be made more open and inclusive.
The western postcolonial critique made me first question my own positionality as a postcolonial other inside the Russian Federation and reflect on diversity, equality, egalitarianism, human rights, and the fact that all of these models had to be open, relational, self-critical and always ready to be changed. There is no ideal political or social model of any society that can be learned once and for all. This is true also about anticolonial nationalisms and liberation movements that often tend to be open and inclusive at their first stages but, after gaining independence, develop exclusionary, essentialist, and conservative stances. Postcolonial critique allowed me to start thinking of all the non-Russian minorities and their (mis)treatment in the Soviet Union and in the Russian Federation, but this model was too focused on the British empire and its colonies. In the Russian case things are different, not least because of the Soviet attempt to present recolonization as decolonisation.
I discovered decolonial thinking for myself around 2000, along with its idea of coloniality as a long trace of colonialism in being, thinking, and perception, which helped me to go deeper into the specific and changing features of Russian imperial agendas and diverse colonizing efforts. That made sense of my own positionality and that of millions of others like me that were faced with the dilemma of being internal others and second rate citizens whose history and lives did not matter.
Fragment from the Essay:
My interest was not purely theoretical, but closely linked with my own geopolitics and body-politics of knowledge, being, and perception—the difficult existential positioning of an internal, ethnically mixed, and always alienated non-Russian other of the Soviet Union/post-Soviet Russia. Reading postcolonial theorists and novelists, I recognized many similar complexes and deadlocks but also creative possibilities with which not only I, also other non-Russian postcolonial Russian citizens were struggling.
However, there was always something untranslatable in our experience which postcolonial theory, for all its post-structuralist stance and the traditional focusing on Anglophone British commonwealth material, was unable to grasp and recreate. So I started reflecting on the post-Soviet culture and literature vis-à-vis the postcolonial theory constantly adjusting its concepts and assumptions to the completely different local history and trajectory. What I already missed in postcolonial studies at that point was precisely a number of truly overall conceptual categories that would not simply describe a postcolonial situation or attempt to hide their locality and pretend to be universal, but would really be able to grasp certain mechanisms, logic, and directions of the evolving modernity seen from the position of the colonized people, not necessarily coming from the ex-British or French colonies.1 It was then, in 2000, that I read Walter Mignolo’s Local Histories/Global Designs (2000) and started my journey toward the decolonial option.
The most powerful decolonial conceptual metaphor for me was and certainly still is that of global coloniality (of power, being, perception, gender, and knowledge). It is always manifested in particular local forms and conditions, remaining at the same time the recognizable connecting thread for a wholesome perception and understanding of otherwise often meaningless and cruel dissociated manifestations of modernity.
INDIGO: In one of your lectures, you talk about the ‘border existence’? Post-socialist countries exist ‘in between conditions’ when we talk about Europe and Asia. Would you put Ukraine in this group of countries beforehand and would you still do so? Or maybe Ukraine is much more than this ‘border existence’ today for the world? Can we say that this is a first precedent when in this post-modern world one country from the Global South steps out of its dimension and becomes much more? Can we say that this is the moment of equalization, when the vertical is dysfunctional and Ukraine talks to the West not as a beneficiary, but as an equal part? Can we say that this shift might also work as an impulse for creating a new paradigm?
M.T.: Ukraine is indeed a paradigmatic borderland, has been for several centuries, and there are several good books written on this specific positionality by Ukrainian thinkers themselves. I would like to stress that being a borderland, an intersection, is not negative at all, in fact in my decolonial view it is an asset as it gives you additional perspectives and angles. And as all borderlands, it has to be multiple and play simultaneously on several boards all at once taking into account various often conflicting influences. Certainly, those who are in power today are not interested in any genuine equality and it would have to be gained by the people, by the countries themselves who might choose not to play the game of rivalry anymore and start building some alternative world models instead.
In my opinion, the end of Russian influence is already visible. Putin with his short-sighted policies has put the country into an agony and has deprived it of any future. But the collective West is also in a state of flux that shows once again new coalitions and new divisions are in the making; a new political order is about to arrive with different regional alliances. One interesting example is the Caucasus, which is artificially divided into arbitrarily mapped out countries which do not have to stay in the current conditions of hostilities and tensions triggered by their links to various neo-imperial, global, and local geopolitical centres. I can easily imagine a reunited Caucasus, in which for instance, Georgia can be a cultural centre of the Caucasian region as it used to be before. What I mean is that a borderland positionality of the arbitrarily divided Caucasus does not have to be its ultimate final destiny. In the future we can collectively try to imagine a different situation in which the borderlands do not always have to be pawns in someone else’s chess games.
Fragment from the Essay:
Because we cannot remain blind or insensitive to the internal impulses and metamorphosis mechanisms of too easy shifts from the struggles for independence, national self-assertion against the demonized West, or more global de-westernizing tendencies, to maybe even more dangerous local variants of ‘banana republics’, miserable kinglets, and slack-baked dictators seeing their people as slaves and dispensable lives.
Decolonial thinkers cannot allow themselves to be deceived by such populist anti-Western rhetoric and the calls for sacrificing anyone’s lives for the sake of some distant happiness or global justice. This is precisely what happened in many socialist countries and we—the heirs of this collapsed world—have a better immunity against this looming danger. This is what we see today in the post-Soviet space in full swing, and particularly in Russia. This is also seen in several Latin American countries, Asia, and Africa, and even (to turn the conversation into a self-reflective mode) within the decolonial option itself where not all members share a simple but absolutely necessary ethical principle of living and acting in accordance with the philosophy that we proclaim.
INDIGO: In your essay, you write:
This “learning to unlearn in order to relearn” (Tlostanova and Mignolo, 2012) is an explosion, leaving no stone unturned in the realm of modernity/coloniality and often leaving the scholar with very meagre theoretical and conceptual tools after the decolonisation of most contaminated concepts and notions in circulation. Not too many scholars are ready for this complete rejection of the master’s tools and starting from scratch. This urge leads to the necessity of elaborating new concepts or digging out the marginalized and forgotten ones through reconstructing and tracing alternative genealogies and trajectories which have remained crucial tasks of the decolonial option.
However, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into a trap of writing entirely for ourselves, in a decolonial jargon impenetrable for those uninitiated, and as long as the coloniality of knowledge persists in this world, we must organize our discourse in such a critical and provocative way as to demonstrate the locality and provinciality of universalized Western concepts by destabilizing and juxtaposing them with their multiple non-Western equivalents, opposites, or voids.
How can we decipher this in today’s context? I guess that’s like the continuation of this idea that you stated that you must gain strength, to go beyond these choices, either Russia or the West. Of course, we are not discussing the political realm now…
M.T.: It is very important to start this process of decolonisation of our complex relational memories instead of just putting tags on them and discussing them in a dichotomous way or the logic of the either/or: this is European, this is Russian, this is Asiatic… this is the Ottoman influence, the Iranian influence, the Soviet influence, this influence or that influence.
What is important is that all these cultural elements coexist, melt together, merge, intertwine and are reworked by your own distinct culture, which does not have to make these binary choices to be either Westernizing or clinging to some artificial set of conservative reactionary values associated with the tradition that is usually seen in negative terms in modernity. So, it is important to get rid of this modern/colonial binary and the simplified notion that one is either modern and Western(ized) or traditional and backwards. We are “both/and”, rather than “either/or”.
And indeed, it should not be about either going under Russia or the European Union. This would be too simplified. The question is how to be skilful and sagacious politically to manage this difficult situation and to play simultaneously on different boards, but it’s a difficult task for politics and politicians. If we speak about the people, it’s very important not to let this kind of brainwashing happen again, when people are led to believe that they must make a choice of one particular ideology, be it Putinism, or Eurocentrism. This is dangerous, because then people don’t see the shades, the complexity, they just see frozen black and white pictures. It is a very long process of how you work with these memories, with these traumas, with these dependencies and relationalities.
For the post-Soviet countries, it is highly important to include a critical reflection and public discussion of the past that has unfortunately almost never taken place. When I teach, I always include this old film, made in the early 1980s, by Tengiz Abuladze, Repentance, and the students are shocked all the time. This is something that has never happened in Russia, there has never been any repentance for Soviet crimes or for anything else, like previous imperial crimes; it means people never, as a society, critically thought about what has happened and why. So, it’s important to reflect on one’s own national history against the larger context and from positions other than the dominant imperial one or the Euromodern one that pretends it is universal.
There are people who were persecuted politically, whose memories were erased, and all of this is still not publicly discussed that much. If we hope to build an alternative world that would be more inclusive and allowing people to follow their alternative paths, their third ways, their contemporary versions of non-alliance, we must properly critically work with these memories. Putinism and other such regimes try to replace this important work with ready-made substitutes of collective and personal memories that one must swallow and never question. Decolonizing this rule is crucial and difficult too.
Some of them were luckier, like the Baltic countries, for instance, who are already NATO and EU members. But even they are not happy, because there are a lot of voices there now who say, “No, we don’t like our part of being the poor relatives, European, oh, like we’re treated, and that we’re constantly told that you have to follow certain rules and behave like you are very good, proper members of European Union.” So, they have to out-West, the West, and be even more Western than the Westerners are. And at the same time, again, as in other countries, and maybe in Georgia to some extent, there are internal divisions.
Recently, I was reading a very interesting article by an Estonian scholar who says that neoliberalism is very powerful economically now in Estonia, and it is very devastating for its economy. It marries very well with nationalism, but it does not fit, for example, gender with feminism without LGBTQ issues—that many want to selectively accept certain European things in order to be part of it but they are against LGBT, because this is something that doesn't connect with nationalism. And I think that is a really interesting thing that you find in Eastern Europe a lot. And also maybe in Georgia too. So, at some point, there comes this more critical attitude towards being part of it, and what it entails and what it brings to you and what kind of limitations it can also bring.
When people discuss de-Westernization, they mean big countries like India, China, or Russia, but on the other hand, if we rethink the meaning of ‘Westernization’, and if we give it a new meaning, then we can think of other countries. Georgia can be one of them, not in the sense of power, imposing your power, or taking territories from other people, but in the sense of saying, “Okay, we accept certain things from the West or that are supposedly created by democracy or human rights or something else, and transparency, which is also important. But we also think that there are certain things in our own culture that do not connect, and we want to keep this axiological sphere, the values, whatever it can be.”
This is what many European countries also do. If you look at many European countries, they are also protecting their national cinema, and nobody says that it is extremism. If you take a place like Georgia, why should it be more Europeanized in terms of culture? The beauty of it is precisely in its difference. But it requires politicians to be very skilful. And unfortunately, it’s not about Georgia only, but it’s generally about how world politics has failed.
INDIGO: In the essay you quote Kishore Mahbubani, as an active proponent of the de-Westernising model, who questions the very right of the West to impose its values and laws onto the rest of the world, whereas the West itself systematically ignores these rules and therefore cannot serve as the absolute point of reference anymore. Mahbubani (2008) problematizes the universal applicability of Western social and political principles—such as democracy, political openness, abstract social justice, and human rights—demonstrating that they are successful in Westernising countries such as India or China, which are not democratic or open in the Western sense yet have successfully joined modernity and more and more often raise their voices in the global dialogue. You write, “This scholar is not questioning the rhetoric of modernity though he is honestly trying to divide it from the logic of coloniality.” But is this really possible?
Do you expect that the war in Ukraine will provoke this question once again and intensify and sharpen criticism among Western societies?
M.T.: As you know, there were so many postcolonial post-Soviet wars mostly triggered by Russia who has never managed to properly change itself from an empire into a nation-state. Think about all the Chechen Wars, the Abkhazian and South Ossetian wars, the Transnistrian frozen conflict, the war in Ukraine—that actually started a few years before—and several cases of serious turmoil and uprisings in Central Asia. All these cases when Russia tried to nibble off small and large pieces of the newly independent states or make sure it continues controlling them.
The collective West was not paying that much attention to all this before. It let Russia do it. They were criticizing Russia for sure, but sanctions were not that serious, basically letting Russians do what they wanted and agreeing to a status quo due to many factors from the nuclear threat to banal graft and oil and gas blackmailing.
Now, all of a sudden, the reaction is very different. I do see it as a positive shift, although I am not sure it will last long or that the privileged Europe is ready to sacrifice some of its privileges. Living in Europe I am used to its double standards, I am used to the fact that they are not interested in other people’s lives, particularly if it is far from Europe and it is easy to see the people as emblems of suffering, as others, as not quite humans.
Even the Ukrainian tragedy, I have to say, has been gradually pushed away from the front lines of major European newspapers and news portals in the last month. I was here in 2015 when lots of Syrian refugees were coming to Europe and their acceptance was not similar to how Europeans receive Ukrainians now. It’s good that this different treatment is actually discussed in Europe at the moment and this disinterest or hostility towards Syrians is called racist now by European critical thinkers along with refugee communities themselves.
The fact is that on the outskirts of Europe, politically speaking, Ukraine is the biggest European country and it’s right here, it’s reachable, it is next door, so to say, and maybe that was what Europeans were initially triggered by. But then it grew into a bigger public discussion. It used to be the main thing in the news for the first two months, which is something different from what Putin expected as he has worked so hard for all these years to disunite the European Union, but the war has managed to reverse it, at least initially and now it is important not to lose this momentum.
INDIGO: Can we assume that after the invasion, the process of ‘self-examining’ was triggered on this vast site, known to us as ‘the Global South’? Can we assume that now the whole palette of various people can be distinguished there with their distinctive identities, with their unique pasts and with their separate memory? In short, after the war in Ukraine (or can we say that due to the Ukrainian response to the invasion) should the ‘Global South’ be re-evaluated and re-examined, is it the moment for these sorts of changes? Because this is a very dangerous and brave thing to do, putting it all aside and starting from scratch. Is it now the moment when nations can take this risk to finally start this process?
M.T.: The process of self-examining in the Global South actually started much before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In fact, it has never stopped since the 16th century onwards and certainly in the latest post-Cold War period when the Global South was launched as a concept replacing the former “third world”. The problem is that this critical thinking has always been neglected and discarded by the Global North, who has continued to define the agendas for humanity as a whole. To question this set of rules is indeed very risky, it is easier to follow some conventional canon which in this case would be agreeing to follow the main logic and hierarchy of modernity/coloniality and, in the case we are speaking of, for a peripheric or semi-peripheric country, to aspire to take a better or higher place in this hierarchy at most.
But this dangerous and brave step is indeed necessary, though in different ways for different nations. For those who cannot join either the Global North or the Global South as the majority of former Soviet republics today, this dilemma becomes even more difficult to solve because they are stuck between different forms of coloniality, such as the Russian and the Western. One of the slogans that the Russian Empire/Soviet Union/Russian Federation have insisted upon is that they have never colonized anyone. They refuse to admit that they were actually taking other peoples’ territories and often annihilating their original populations.
For Russia it is necessary to admit and criticize its own imperial past and present, instead of hijacking anticolonial arguments to justify its status as a victim of the West as it is happening now, when in the kindergartens and schools children are forced to learn Putin’s speeches as the only correct interpretation of history. But if we go back to the border spaces that are neither the North nor the South, such as Ukraine or Georgia undoubtedly are in, who are torn between these different forms of coloniality with even more actors entering the game, it is obvious that delinking from the top down (neo)colonial control is ultimately the way to go.
However, preferably not in any blatant and bloody form, but rather through a complex relational transversal and horizontal networking, recreating, and revamping social, political, economic, and cultural links bypassing the deadening imperial grips of, such as, the West or Russia. This is much more difficult than to follow the rules of the game invented by the West. But it is becoming strangely more possible as the system of modernity is clearly demonstrating its weakness and failure particularly in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And this shift in the midst of which we all are now, is also something that can give a hope for the future.