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