Thursday, 27 March 2014

Politics and Fairytales - Lily Hyde

 At the moment I’m in Crimea: occupied Ukrainian territory/annexed state/proud and permanent part of Russia (delete as your politics deem appropriate).

I’m witnessing Crimea become more and more polarised, closer to breakdown, as everything – food, money, language, family, friends, conscience – is informed by politics. Even children’s stories – perhaps stories first of all. Even fairytales.

Russian fairytales, someone told me today, are characterised by heroes who never do anything to help themselves. It’s all done for them. The stove they lie on gets up and carries them off to fame and fortune, and they win by virtue of being lazy.  

I’ve heard this before, and to a certain extent, in some tales, it’s true. As someone who’s quite lazy herself, maybe it’s one reason I’m very fond of Russian fairytales

And that’s the Russian character, this person went on to say. Always expecting something for nothing, unable to act or think for themselves, just thinking they’re entitled. Like all the Russians in Crimea who voted to become part of Russia last week, because they think they’ll get something for nothing, they think they’re entitled to higher pensions and better salaries without putting in any effort, they think they’re entitled to Crimea. Just like in 1944. Just like in 1783…

There is so much propaganda on all sides of this conflict now, no one can begin to see clearly anymore. Even fairytales are press-ganged into the service of politics. So in Crimea now we have the stupid Ukrainians of fairytales, the cunning dishonest Tatars, the lazy entitled Russians… all beginning to hate each other. 

I’m fascinated by the universality of fairytales, the way the same paradigms crop up in stories from Central America to the Middle East to Siberia. Desite the cultural differences they represent, I think they grew out of parallel imagination, from common human experience. Fairytales can cross borders and languages and bring people together.

Or they can be used to drive people further and further apart.

Dream Land by Lily Hyde - a novel about the Crimean Tatars





Sue Purkiss said...

Oh dear. Worrying thoughts, though very interesting ones.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Fascinating! I think you should write more on this, Lily. I'd love to know more about how those stereotypes of racial characteristics are there in the tales. Perhaps an article for a national paper?

Anonymous said...

I second Pippa - a larger study would be fascinating if disturbing. I still remember coming across the WW2 era Tom and Jerry cartoons - think Tom in a toothbrush moustache and you're on the money. I do wonder if fairy tales though are retroactively 'tweaked' to be more in line with general feeling (like the modified versions compared to the original Grimms, for example), or if because fairy tales are still partly oral whether they just act like a sponge and pick up the general mood?

Lily said...

thanks for comments - would love to write more for a national paper if i could get one interested... interesting question there, bookauhu - I think the oral flexibility of fairytales does mean they can reflect a general mood, and their very universality allows them to be tweaked, if that makes sense

roksi said...

Dear Lily, thank you for your opinion. I am from Ukraine (I currently live in Athens, Georgia, USA; I am a PhD student at the UGA and I study children’s literature), so I am following the situation really actively with all the possible actions. It is an interesting thought that you put here. I completely agree!
I thought that you might be interested to see two children’s books that were published in Ukraine – the Crimean Tatars’ folktales and fairytales. This is a link to a website in Ukrainian:
I am running this website together with my friend, who lives in Ukraine.