The Slavic Battle of the Books

The Slavic Battle of the Books

John G. Rodden writes on the website American Purpose about the educational struggle between Ukrainians and Russiand. Ukrainians want their children to learn the Ukrainian language and literature. Wherever Russia has captured tos, cities, or villages, it switches the curriculum to Russian language and literature. Rodden is a scholar who has written several books about George Orwell.

Rodden writes:

The 2022–23 school year in war-torn Ukraine began this fall under conditions that Americans—and even Europeans old enough to remember World War II—can barely fathom. Three-quarters of the schools have been unable to open at all because they lack bomb shelters, air raid sirens nearby, or underground classrooms and lavatories. Russian bombing campaigns can last for several hours; all classes are therefore held remotely, insofar as children have access to computers and Wi-Fi.

Understandably, the attention of the world, including that of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his advisors in Kyiv, is focused on battlefield advances and reversals. And yet a parallel war is under way, one that has received only spotty attention in the English-language media, though the German and French presses have covered it more extensively. It is a culture war, a Slavic “Battle of the Books” that goes far beyond the imaginary world in Jonathan Swift’s 1704 book. In Swift’s Battle of the Books, he imagined an epic battle in a library—a so-called “quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns”—where books come alive, with authors both classical (e.g., Homer, Pindar, Plato, Aristotle, Vergil) and contemporary (e.g., Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Dryden, Aphra Benn) duking it out.

The twenty-first century Eurasian counterpart is no mere entry in a game of literary fisticuffs conducted with courtly fellow men of letters. It is a deadly serious affair that Ukrainian officials regard as a retaliatory counteroffensive. For the Ukrainians this isn’t just a Battle of Books–this is a deep, visceral, and emotional reaction to their country being eviscerated and destroyed by Russian forces.

In their view, they have been forced into it by the ruthless “reeducation” policy that Russia has undertaken in occupied Ukraine. The Slavic Battle of the Books is about which authors Ukrainians will read and study. It is a war to “win the minds of men,” as the old Stalinist slogan phrased it. Wherever it leads, it has already validated one venerable contention about which both the Ancients and the Moderns were in full agreement: Ideas have consequences.

The rest of the article is behind a paywall.