Review of Taras Bulba; thoughts on Russia and Empire

Part of this will review Gogol’s “Taras Bulba.”  In doing so it will address the nature of empire and how stronger countries can relate to weaker countries in non-coercive ways.

Where Russian authors are concerned Gogol often is overshadowed by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. While Dostoevsky is still the Master, Gogol is a better storyteller. While Tolstoy powerfully captures the human dimension, Gogol has a tighter grip on his narrative. Gogol’s outlook is tough to pin down. While he is a Petersburg urbanite, he knows that the Masonic civilization a la Peter the Great is an imposition of matter upon reality. The true life is found in hearth, home, and (as in the case of the Cossacks) on horse.

In “Diary of a Madman” Gogol exposes our vain pretensions. Yes, the story is silly and absurd. The man is a bureacrat (and note how similar government workers are in every society). His job is a joke. He does nothing but drain the resources of society (like the US Congress). And he knows it. And the audience knows it.

The book climaxes in “Taras Bulba.” This makes readers uncomfortable on many levels. 1) Gogol praises Russian Orthodoxy. 2) Gogol describes the brutalities commited by the Cossacks. 3) Gogol has the Cossacks as the good guys. What do we make of this? Gogol does not justify the Cossacks’ brutality, but the question looms in the background: which is worse–waging a defensive (albeit very brutal) war in defense of your home and to keep your churches from being desecrated OR to destroy the lives of thousands from a government office in the capital city, divorced from the hard and painful realities of human life? Gogol is not merely writing a short story about Ukrainian nationalism, but he is showing two types of barbarity–cold, heartless bureacracy and heated, contextualized warfare. Which is worse, then? That question is getting harder to answer (the situation could easily be the NATO officials in the Balkans in 1999 and the Serbs fighting a savage war defending their people against Muslims, but I digress).

Given the question, the Cossacks’ actions take on a more meaningful role (and accordingly, the government bureacracy is delegitimized). On another level, Gogol may very well have solved the problem of different types of nationalisms working together despite themselves. These Cossacks are not Russian, but Ukrainian, but as Bulba is burned alive he shouts his faith in Christ and in the Russian Tsar.

One realizes that a stronger country like Russia should protect and nurture Ukrainian nationalism but never force the Ukrainians to become Russians. In short, Gogol is hinting at a Slavic federation which sees Russia as its leader (simply out of necessity)

It is true that sometimes Russia plays “heavy hand” with Ukraine, and if Russia tries to overwhelm Ukrainian and Belarussian culture, then Russia is in the wrong.  However, it must also be said that Ukraine has been hijacked by Western imperialists who want to use Ukraine for possible nuclear action on Russia.  Therefore, Russia has to play a strong hand.

But the day is coming, many believe, when Russia and Ukraine will unite.  Obama’s anti-Christ adviser Zbig Brenzski said that if Russia and Ukraine unite, then nothing on earth will stop Russia (or more precisely, Russia could easily then stop the Anglo-American banking cartels).

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