Is The Treatment Of Ukrainian Refugees In Europe Racist?


Zakhar Popovych

May 2, 2022

This is not the first time that the victims of the war in Ukraine have received relatively more attention than the victims of the wars in Asia, Africa and Latin America. How can such an exclusive attitude of the West be explained? Geopolitical factors provide only a partial explanation. A significant role is played by the role of Ukraine in the international division of labor due to historical reasons. Zakhar Popovych’s material discusses how to react to manifestations of systemic racism

Many rightly point out that the victims of today’s war in Ukraine receive much more attention in the world media than the victims of the wars in Yemen, Syria and other countries , and Europe welcomes refugees from Ukraine more than anyone else. In this context, the Pope recently also warned against the division of refugees into classes and categories, condemning it as a manifestation of racism .

The reason for such an exclusive attitude towards Ukrainians is, in particular, the pragmatism of European and American elites, for whom the war in Ukraine is much more important from a geopolitical point of view, as Europe takes place close to the borders of key NATO members.

But then why was the war in Syria less important to NATO than the war in Ukraine? Let me remind you that Aleppo is 50 km from the border with Turkey, which has been a member of NATO since 1952. Why is the war in Europe more important than the war in Asia, Africa or Latin America?

The fact is that the role of European countries and the “Global North” in general in the world capitalist system is very different from the role of peripheral countries or the “Global South”. The wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Africa have been and remain colonial wars , where large industrialized nations address local issues of redistribution of spheres of influence at the cost of thousands and sometimes millions of lives. Such wars, which are almost a major component of modern geopolitics, determine the current balance of power between the major imperialist powers, but are localized and do not mean the emergence of a global world inter-imperialist war.

The attitude of Europeans towards aborigines from Ukraine is also often superior. In the European Union, we Ukrainians are often perceived as second-class people. But there is a significant difference. Both Russians and Western Europeans symbolically include us (unlike, say, Syrians) in their own symbolic community. The President of Russia claims that we Russians are “one people”, and the President of the European Parliament constantly emphasizes that we are Europeans and will one day join the EU.

Thus, despite our economic indicators close to the “Third World”, the attitude towards us as a part of, so to speak, the “First World” is declared. Why is this happening? In particular, because historically Ukraine was not actually a remote overseas colony, part of the “Third World” or, as they now say, the “Global South”, but rather part of the metropolis of European empires - Austria-Hungary and Russia. Moreover, in the Russian Empire it was among the most industrially developed regions, and in Soviet times in general in all respects became an industrialized country, which was seriously compared in the late 1980s with France and Germany. Again, the ability to defend effectively against Russia has proven that our military-industrial and scientific-technical potential still remains significant.. Although Ukraine, despite the wishes of our oligarchs, did not become an imperialist, and has not yet fully joined any imperialist bloc, it has not become a classic neo-colonial territory either. The Ukrainian oligarchic class largely retained its economic independence from foreign capital and did not have time to completely destroy the country’s industrial and human potential, which allowed to maintain the defense and stability of the country’s institutions.

At the same time, Russian imperialism needs Ukraine not so much as a raw material appendage, but as an industrial, technological and human base, without which the revival of the Russian imperial project looks very problematic . The new Russian Empire needs Ukrainian technological enterprises, Ukrainian scientific institutes and universities, engineers and scientists. Ukraine’s incorporation back into the Russian Empire seemed almost the last chance for this imperial project.

At the same time, the intensification of inter-imperialist contradictions encourages Western imperialists to solve their problems by destroying Russian imperialism as the world’s weakest imperialist player and restarting the world economy (ie, economic growth in key imperialist countries).

Accordingly, the war in Ukraine, although not inter-imperialist, but an imperialist aggression against Ukraine, is at the same time much more geopolitical than imperialist aggression in other parts of the world. This war is much closer to a direct inter-imperialist clash than anything that has happened in the world in recent decades, and possibly since World War II, and it has a great chance of escalating into an armed conflict that could indeed provoke the use of nuclear weapons and global warfare. war.

At the same time, the longer this war lasts, the more likely it is to grow into a global one right here and now. The sooner Russia is defeated, which will make it impossible for it to continue the war of aggression - the greater the chances of at least partial restoration of a certain security balance in the region.

The fact that the lives of Ukrainians have proved more important to Western Europeans and North Americans than the lives of Syrians or Yemenis is undoubtedly racism. But this racism is embedded in the world economic system and cannot simply be abolished in an instant because of our sincere reluctance to be racists. As Immanuel Wallerstein rightly pointed out : “The concept of race is connected with the axial division of labor, according to the fundamental division of the world capitalist system into center and periphery .” Ukraine, with its nuclear power plants and remnants of engineering and aircraft construction, despite the destruction of Ukrainian industry and much of its scientific and technological potential, still ranks much higher in the global capitalist hierarchy than most Arab countries.

Systemic racism against (say, the Syrians) can only be finally overcome by overcoming the global system of imperialist capitalism with its inherent hierarchy of division of labor. It is important that Syrian and Arab progressive authors do not pay disproportionately high attention to Ukraine like their Western counterparts, but, despite disproportionately high attention to Ukraine, tend to sympathize with the struggle of Ukrainians against Russian imperialism, because they see the possibility of national liberation of the peoples of the Middle East .

At the same time, remarks about the racist logic that makes the war in Ukraine so widely covered in the world media are often cynically used to at least mitigate the danger of Russian aggression, to normalize war crimes, because this seems to be happening everywhere. time. In other words, the criticism of the alleged excessive attention to Ukraine also sounds entirely within the framework of systemic racism about everything that happens outside the richest countries in the world. In fact, the Western media systematically pays little attention to imperialist atrocities around the world.

What is needed is not to shift the focus from Ukraine to Yemen, but to pay more attention to both Ukraine and Yemen, and pay even more attention to the causes of these humanitarian catastrophes.