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Why is the Moskal not a comrade to the Russian?

On the nature of military language and lexical metamorphoses

Recently there was a discussion on Facebook about the use of the slogan “Het, moskali, z ukrainskoi zemli” (“Go away, Moskals, from the Ukrainian land”). One opponent, a very cultured Jew, was insulted by the slogan, mistakenly believing that this meant the expulsion of the entire Russian ethnic group from Ukraine. The attempt to explain to him that the authors of the slogan did not mean all Russians with the word “Moskals”, but only pro-Putin aggressors, led to a widening of the context of the discussion, along with the suggestion to discuss the use of the concepts “Yid” and “goy”, which are considered to be negative and to incite ethnic tension.

This led me to the idea that it was time to shed some light on the situation, and add some constructive discussion.

In Poland, the word “Yid” was the official name for the Jews, derived from the word “yehudi”, where the letter “Y” was transformed in Polish into the letter "Ż”, and was pronounced “żydowska”. When it “moved” to Ukraine, where there was already a word for Jew, “yevrei”, the word “Yid” gained negative connotations.

In the understanding of the majority of Russian-speaking people, a “Jew” is a normal person of Jewish nationality with a healthy feeling of self-identification, who feels positive about belonging to the Jewish people. But a “Yid” is a “Jew with an inferiority complex”, with a number of negative personality traits, such as greed, cunning, impudence and so on.

If we discard emotions, there may be a simple way out of the lexical confusion. To the question “What are you, a Yid?”, it’s sufficient to reply proudly: “No, I’m a Jew!” And conflict will probably be avoided. But because of anti-Semitism and Jews’ own inner complexes, in the USSR a treacherous situation arose, whereby a Soviet Jew understood that he was not a “Yid”, but that it was also shameful and unpleasant to say that he was a “Jew”.

Only when the spiritual and national status of Jewishness is rehabilitated, both from the outside (from the surrounding peoples) and from the inside (from the standpoint of self-identification), does this problem disappear, and post-Soviet Jews will able to feel they are Jews, and call themselves Jews with confidence.

It is interesting that a kind of substitute solution arose because of the term “Israeli”, which allowed the Jews of Israel to get out of a complex situation. It was not possible to solve this problem fully, because instead of rehabilitating the concept of “Jew” and working on it, a new name was introduced, which contains a new pride, while the word “Jew” still causes embarrassment. It is quite possible that this is one of the important keys as to why the situation with Judaism is now less problematic in the diaspora than it is in Israel itself.

Unable to use the new term, Jews in the diaspora re-examine the classical concept of “Jew”, which leads to its rehabilitation, and in turn to the revival of a healthy Jewish self-identification. In Israel, this mechanism does not work.

It is also instructive to investigate the metamorphosis that took place with the word “goy”. In the original text of the Torah, the word meant “people”. Even the Jews, when they called themselves the holy people, said “goy kadosh”, which sounds like an oxymoron to the modern ear. Later in Hebrew, the word “am” was used for the term “people”, and the word “goy” began to be applied to foreigners. Evidently, when civilized Jews encountered the backward culture of medieval Europe, the outmoded word “goy” was revived to designate the savage and aggressive ways of the local peoples, and became an offensive term.

In many ways, because the original meaning of the words “Yid” and “goy” were forgotten, applying these words to another person became an open challenge, provoking insult and leading to an aggressive response.

We may venture the hypothesis that outdated concepts often have the tendency to stick to destructive elements in society.

This situation has manifested itself very strikingly in Israel. Before the creation of the state of Israel, the self-designation of this land was the inoffensive toponym of Palestine. But when the name of Israel began to be used, the term “Palestinians” was discarded by Jews because it was unnecessary, and it was “picked up” by the Arabs living on the “territories”, who behave aggressively, perhaps in part because of the influence of the name, which clearly separates them from the “Israelis”.

So from this we can see that we must be extremely careful with “discarded” terms …

Let’s return to the beginning of the discussion.

Initially, the term “Moskal” was applied to officials and soldiers (people in service) who represented the interests of Moscow. It is interesting that the term “Moskal” does not have a feminine form, which shows that the word does not describe an entire people or ethnic group, but the official representatives of the Moscow state. However, later the term “Moskal” came to be mean all Russians, usually in informal contexts, such as jokes.

After the victory of the Maidan revolution, Putin’s system invented a scenario that was brilliant in its cunning, and one of its trump cards was the “polite little green men”. If in past wars, the enemies clearly showed what side they were on, throwing down an open challenge, in the new scenario Putin allowed his troops to take off their insignia, demonstrating the presence of force with a lack of identification.

But here a dual effect arose. The local separatists, understanding full well who supported them, became bold and committed all kinds of outrages. But it was officially impossible to incriminate the “little men”, and the attempt to accuse Russia and the Russians of inciting war in Donbass led to the natural furious response: “We’ve got nothing to do with this”, and feelings of patriotism in defending the honor of the Russians who were supposedly being insulted unjustly.

Thus, the Kremlin, by inventing the “nameless” little men, created a very treacherous precedent, by unofficially shifting responsibility for the actions of the troops sent into Ukraine on to the entire people of Russia.

The Ukrainians themselves find this situation very uncomfortable, and the majority are unhappy about blaming the “Russians”, however strange this may sound.

It is not easy to reduce tension that has been created between two peoples. One of the possible solutions could be “military language”, the terms of which will be consciously restricted, on the analogy of how this took place with the words “Yid”, “Jew” and Israeli.

Especially since the conflict in East Ukraine is called a “hybrid war”, which means that besides military operations, clashes take place in many different spheres. Language can and should serve as a weapon in this war.

By giving back the word “Moskal” its initial meaning and using it to describe the “little green men” as representatives of Moscow’s interests, we will be able to draw a line officially between “Russians” (residents of Russia who do not support the policy of their nation) and “Moskals” (aggressors). Additionally, the veil of namelessness may be finally removed, as the “foreign soldiers” fighting in the ATO zone will be properly named.

The world should not be fighting the “Russians”, who have been hit by sanctions and are now suffering from an economic crisis in their own country, but the “Moskals”. What’s more, the world should protect the “Russians” from the “Moskals”. Only then will millions of “Russians” be able to stop associating themselves with the decisions that Moscow makes, take a sensible look at the situation and decide for themselves whether they want to be together with the “Moskals”, or to keep their distance from them…

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