May 13 — De-Nazifying the Scythians

On April 10th, I wrote about the danger to the museums and monuments of the city of Izyme. Unfortunately, the worst of my grave predictions has come true. One of the town’s landmarks is the collection of kurgan stelae on Mount Kremyanets. These six-thousand-year-old figures are known locally as the “stone women” or “Scythian women.”

Ukraine has rich collections of ancient nomadic sculptures like these, although many of them are not as well known internationally. At the beginning of the 20th Century, these primal female images were the source of inspiration for a generation of avant-garde artists.

The “stone women” survived the ages, but it seems that they will not survive the Russian invasion. Some of them have already been completely ruined; others have “merely” been decapitated.

As if the barbarity of this senseless cultural destruction weren’t enough, some Russian “de-Nazifier” decided to advertise the atrocity by attaching a replica of a Second World War Red Army banner to one of the ruined figures. Perhaps the idea was to create an eye-catching display as a backdrop for the Victory Day parade back home.

Some observers have noted that the behavior of the Russian “liberators” hasn’t really sunk to the level of the Nazi troops during the Second World War. The brutality is perhaps equivalent, they say, but absent is the totalizing ideology of “Ordnung.”

We’re reminded, in cases like this, of the senseless destruction of cultural monuments and property belonging to the “enemy classes” that followed the Russian Revolution. In those tumultuous post-revolution days, many Russian intellectuals fell under the spell of Eurasianism, an idea that has come back into vogue in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The Eurasianists set out to contrast their truly “oriental” country with the decadent West. Aleksandr Blok, the famous Russian poet, wrote “The Scythians” (1918), a poem comparing his contemporaries to warlike nomads:

Millions are you ā€“ and hosts, yea hosts, are we,
And we shall fight if war you want, take heed.
Yes, we are Scythians ā€“ leafs of the Asian tree,
Our slanted eyes are bright aglow with greed.

[Translation by Kurt Dowson, 1961]

One has to think that if actual Scythians were still around to see what their self-proclaimed heirs have done with these sacred statures, that the retribution would be swift, violent, and bloody.