Hutus and Tutsis of Eastern Europe: Does the Rwandan Scenario Threaten Ukraine?

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The spat on the air of the ZIK TV channel, when the leader of the talk-show Ostap Drozdov expelled from the studio one of the guests of the “Directly” program, blogger Yury Romanenko because he refused to speak in Ukrainian again aggravated the dispute between supporters of the total Ukrainization of the country and defenders of the rights of Russian-speaking citizens.

Will the line of split become deeper, and what it can lead to, “Strana” found out.

Incident on the air

The incident on the ZIK TV channel had the effect of an exploded bomb and provoked a rough reaction in the public. The political scientist and blogger Yury Romanenko was not the only Russian-speaking guest on the air. He sat near the editor-in-chief of informational website “Ukraine in Arabic” Mohammad Faradjallah, who, besides his native Arabic language, speaks Russian.

But the host didn’t voice any complaints towards this guest. While as soon as the dialogue with Romanenko began, who managed to literally say a few words: “Well, I consider that …” Ostap Drozdov immediately interrupted and asked him to continue in Ukrainian. “But I asked you to speak Ukrainian”.

To which Romanenko already in Ukrainian objected: “But I don’t want to”. “Then leave the studio, please”. “Okay, no problem”. After this skirmish Mohammad Faradjallah re-asked Drozdov if he should also leave the studio. “And me? I also …”. “You can stay, you are a different case”.

Later Ostap Drozdov on Facebook explained his actions, stating in rigid form that it is precisely Russian-speaking Ukrainians that cause war.

“You, essentially monolingual Russian-speaking people, can be remarkable people, to hand over money for the army, your sons can serve in the ranks of the UAF – but you, without understanding it yourself, are the cause of war. Because you, native speakers of the Russian language, ignore Ukrainian, you mark my country as a country of the Russian world,” wrote the journalist.

Yury Romanenko in response to this statement accused Drozdov of inciting ethnic strife and provoking civil war.

Moreover, he drew frightening parallels between our country and Rwanda, where in 1994 representatives of the people of the Hutu killed thousands of representatives of the people of the Tutsi.

“Cut down the tall trees”

The events in Rwanda are one of the most terrible genocides in the history of mankind, during which in 100 days more than 800,000 people (300 people per hour) were killed. The speed of murders five times exceeded the speed of murders in nazi concentration camps during World War II.

In the middle of the 20th century in Rwanda passports with the indication of nationality were issued to the population of the Hutu or the Tutsi, who had one language, one common history, almost identical appearance, and approximately equal social status, but at this time Hutus were considered as the ethnic majority with primordially Rwandan roots, and the Tutsi – foreign invaders.

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In 1960 the country gained independence under the power of the Hutu, which immediately started to discriminate against the Tutsi. In particular, mixed marriages were forbidden, the right to study mainly applied to the Hutu, political parties of the Tutsi also fell under a ban.

Relations were gradually heated. Ethnic hatred was kindled by “Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television”, inciting the Hutu against the Tutsi, calling the latter “inyenzi” (“cockroaches”).

The trigger of genocide became the plane that was shot down at the beginning of April, 1994, with the President Habyarimana while approaching the capital of Rwanda Kigali. The Hutu accused the Tutsi of murdering the President, after which on “Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television” the order was “cut down the tall trees!” Clear everything in the neighbourhood! Fulfil your duty!”

On the air names and addresses of the Tutsi which are subject to destruction literally sounded.

“Take up the arms that you have: whoever has arrows – take arrows, spears – take a spear … Grab ordinary tools. All of us must be at war with the Tutsi. We must crush them, destroy them, wipe them off the face of the Earth. There shouldn’t be any shelter for them, they shouldn’t escape anywhere,” it sounded from the radio receivers.

The massacre stopped only in the middle of July, 1994, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front created in the neighbouring Uganda from the Tutsi and moderate Hutus took all the territory of Rwanda under their control, and for the Hutu responsible for genocide it was already necessary to run from the country.

“There are no doubts that we are dealing with a scheme of inflating the ‘language problem’ for the autumn, where Drozdov is simply an implementer… In this scheme Russian-speakers are ‘cockroaches’ who prevent the Ukrainian-speakers from living,” noted Yury Romanenko in the article Hotel Ukraine. Drawing parallels with Rwanda. Why civil war is closer than you think (by analogy with the known movie “Hotel Rwanda”), illustrating his appeal with hundreds of skulls of the Tutsi.

“In these fine summer evenings, when it seems that you live in Europe and that the horrible things described in this text are impossible, don’t be lazy, watch during the evening one of these movies, and everything is better: Hotel Rwanda’, ‘Shooting Dogs’, ‘Sometimes in April’, ‘God Sleeps in Rwanda’, ‘100 days’. It is quite possible that in them you will see the near future of our careless Ukraine. Whether we will run like a herd to the cliff depends only on us and the responsibility of political and public leaders. Such people as Drozdov must be pariahs in any civilized country. Or in a country that intends to become civilized. Such people open doors to hatred, as a result, to war. Civil war begins when once, in the head of someone who considers themselves to be offended, the ‘cockroaches’ appear, which impeach living,” summarised Yury Romanenko.

Language became a marker of “ours – theirs”

“Strana” asked experts – to what extent is such a very frightening scenario possible in our country?

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Opinions were divided. Some of the political scientists agree with Romanenko. They pay attention to the fact that Drozdov’s position concerning Russian-speakers was supported by a considerable number of people, moreover, it corresponds to the ideology of a part of the authorities, and it means, alas, the threat is quite real that it can become the dominating idea in society.

Especially as the situation is being escalated and, recently, on the language base indeed there were many conflicts in Ukraine.

At the beginning of the year the children’s writer and public figure Larisa Nitsoy descended upon with anger the cashier in a shop because she wasn’t served in Ukrainian. Because of this Nitsoy even threw coins at the cashier. Earlier the writer demanded to change the name of the small fish “Zina” on the picture with which the artist Svetlana Rudikova decorated the walls of the children’s hospital “Okhmatdet”.

Ukrainian rock musician Oleg Skripka also distinguished himself in a language scandal by suggesting to banish Russian-speaking Ukrainians to a ghetto.

So far all of this seems to be minutia and harmless incidents, but they happen more and more often.

“We already have a Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television,” said the political scientist Andrey Zolotarev. “By the end of the year we can easily receive a new line of split in Ukraine. In conditions when in society fatigue accumulates, people can’t escape from poverty, the main threat comes from not the authorities, which stages economic genocide, but precisely from ethno-anxious radical nationalists whose hands already ask for compasses in order to measure whether the shape of the skull is correct, as it was with the Hutu and the Tutsi. And it is precisely language, a language question that is the most powerful cursor that can inflate any blogger or any children’s writer to the level of a leader of public opinion among those same ethno-anxious persons. Unfortunately, history knows many examples when everything that looks unreal today becomes a practice tomorrow. The State could avoid the transformation of Ukraine into Rwanda if it began to carry out not violent Ukrainization and to divide Ukrainians into ‘Ukrainian-speaking patriot’ and ‘Russian-speaking betrayer’, but rigidly stopped any attempts to kindle hatred between Russian-speakers and Ukrainian-speakers. But the authorities, alas, conducts an absolutely contrary policy”.

According to the expert, the result of the imposition of such ideas can become the deepening of the split in Ukraine.

“If someone didn’t learn a lesson from Crimea and Donbass, then they are either a fool or a traitor. The everyday use of language didn’t dismantle any country, but extremism did, and not only once,” stated Andrey Zolotarev.

“Already three years ago in Ukraine the rudiments of the institute of ‘non-citizens’ appeared. It concerns the Ukrainians of Donbass and Crimea. They couldn’t vote in elections. They don’t receive a pension or benefits. They can’t receive or receive with big problems biometric passports. I.e., the quasi-conditions are already systematical created in order to ignore their rights. And in these conditions linguistic discord is being very seriously and regularly kindled. All these definitions – ‘vatnik’ and ‘kolorad’ – are very similar to nicknames that the Hutu gave to the Tutsi (‘cockroaches’). The aim of such nicknames is to dehumanize other people, to facilitate the commission of crimes against them. In the country the conditions for conflict are already created, and language through the efforts of nationalists becomes the key marker ‘ours – theirs’. Thus, unfortunately, the authorities not only don’t stop mongers of hostility, but also indulge in them, forcing hysteria on the search for internal enemies, the fifth column, ‘shakers’, agents of the FSB. But in parallel pursuing a policy of violent Ukrainization,” the political expert Ruslan Bortnik told “Strana”.

However, other experts believe that the Rwandan events can’t be repeated in Ukraine under any circumstances.

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“Firstly, it is nevertheless necessary to recognize that hostile statements towards Russian-speakers come not from the authorities, but from the radical part of society,” said the political scientist Vadim Karasev. “It is children’s writers, TV hosts, rock musicians who speak in this way. They want to Ukrainize the country completely. But neither Poroshenko nor Avakov obviously are supporters of such… forgive me for the word… ‘scything’. Secondly, the Russian-speaking part of the population meanwhile tries to react peacefully and quietly to all these provocations, considering that ultra-radical ideas won’t be realized. As soon as danger amplifies – resistance will also amplify. Thirdly, after all, we are close to Europe. The resolutions of PACE, the opinion of the Council of Europe, the meetings in the Normandy Format, the benevolence of Brussels, Berlin, Paris, and Washington are still important for Ukraine. Fourthly, the stockpile of civilizationalism is sufficient not to allow such scenarios. We see that despite the fact that the screws are being turned, there are still courts that make objective decisions – close the cases against oppositional politicians, release oppositional activists. It means that in society there are antidotes. These attempts to radicalize the country is more of a trend of representatives of certain regions and radical circles that still don’t understand that it is impossible to Ukrainize all the territory. But the southern and eastern regions disagree with them. Yes, there is a danger that as time passes the situation will further worsen. But under these authorities, I hope it won’t reach such things”.

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