Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Ukrainian Film Club: The Long Breakup

Historically, Ukraine has been in a precarious geographical position, bordering the Russian, Austrian, and Ottoman Empires. They decided to lean towards Russia. In retrospect, that was a mistake, because Russia never wanted to let them go. This is especially true for Czar Vlad, the Worst. Ukrainian-American journalist Katya Soldak examines the history of Ukraine and its relationship with Russia through the eyes of her friends and family in The Long Breakup, which screens virtually with a special online discussion tomorrow, sponsored by the Ukrainian Film Club and the Harriman Institute.

Soldak grew-up as an ardent member of the Young Pioneers, since she really didn’t have any choice or outside perspective. The USSR was a closed society that only allowed the population to get their news through state propaganda. Soldak’s family were Russian speakers and even maintained a summer cottage in Russia, so they traditionally identified as Russians just as much or more than Ukrainians.

Eventually, Soldak and most of her school friends turned against Communism when they learned how profoundly they had been misled by the state. Some Ukrainians, like her step-father, maintained pro-Russian biases, largely since they associated Russia with stability. Others, like her mother, remained apolitical, simply focusing on survival.

If you think recent American history has been chaotic, try living through the fall of Communism, two revolutions, and a war with Russia. Plus, Ukrainians also have a knack for electing terrible presidents, very much like the United States over the past twelve years. Soldak gives us a citizen-on-the-street’s perspective on the successive crises, which is interesting. However, the most significant aspect of the film is the way it tracks the influence of events and propaganda on popular opinion over time. We can watch her mother shift from her Russian leanings to finally embrace Ukraine as her nation. Yet, a minority of her college comrades remain so hardened in the Russian partisanship, it effectively ends their friendship.

In many ways, it is like Soldak had a personal focus group at her disposal, through whom she tracks responses to propaganda stories and political candidates over decades. You will hear a wide variety of opinions expressed in the films, including the denial of clearly established facts (both sides of the spectrum are guilty of this here too).
Breakup could be a timely warning for us regarding the insidious power of propaganda and groupthink, but its probably too late for that.

It still represents a valuable corrective to the wildly specious disinformation coming out of the Putin regime (that would co-program nicely with Dmitry Khavin’s
Quiet in Odessa, which sharply contradicted the phony narrative claiming Maidan was a Neo-Nazi coup.) Very highly recommended, The Long Breakup screens virtually, with a special Q&A tomorrow (10/21)—register here.