Did Eastern European Science Fiction Novels Predict The Russian Invasion of Ukraine?
Science Fiction is often credited with making bold predictions about the future, but every now and then certain predictions come along that feel a little bit too close to the mark. One such example is that of the current conflict that is blighting the Russian/Ukrainian border. In fact, the convergence between recent science fiction works from the area and the conflict itself is so striking that one Russian commentator and novelist, Dmitry Bykovto, has gone as far as to dubbing it "The Writers' War."
About 10 years ago, right around the eve of the so-called 'Orange Revolution' of 2004, a new sub-genre of Russio-Ukranian science fiction was born. Ever since, the region has experienced a long stream of scifi/fantasy material which Slate's Cathy Young elegantly summarizes as novels "depicting a near future in which Ukraine becomes a battleground in a larger East-West confrontation."
Typically pro-Russian in nature, novel's like Gleb Bobrov's 'The Age of the Stillborn' — set in a post apocolyptic "near future in which a brutal Kiev regime seeks to quash rebellion in the East with NATO help,"— and Grigory Savitsky's 2009 'Battlefield Ukraine: The Broken Trident' — about 'Orange' Nazis' "who provoke a civil war in Ukraine and unleash genocide against the Russian-speaking population 'wiping entire cities off the face of the earth' aided by NATO 'peacekeeping' troops and American air power"— became commonplace pocketbooks across Russia and Ukraine.
Alarmed by the proliferation of this sub-genre, and worried about the Russian nationalistic repercussions it could have, Ukrainian politician Arsen Avakov published a post in 'Ukrainska Pravda' entitled "Do the Russians want war?" In it, "Avakov suggested that the books were part of a deliberate Kremlin strategy to build up popular support for war against Ukraine by playing to Soviet nostalgia among older readers and ignorance among younger ones."
We now know that Avakov, a sci-fi enthusiast himself (and founder of an annual sci-fi convention known as 'Star Bridge') was right to worry. The cultural wave that this sub-genre provoked certainly didn't help the Russian and Ukrainian Pro-Russian audience's paranoia about the Western-leaning Ukranians. If anything, the phenomenon reinforced the common miscommunication around the issue, materializing the "other"ness of one side to the other.
Fyodor Berezin, a formerly popular Ukrainian science fiction writer turned pro-Russian separatist figure serves as a striking example of this odd convergence. The ethnically-Russian Ukrainian who now serves as deputy to Igor Strelkov of the pro-Russian separatist 'People's Republic of Donetsk', penned several slanted Sci-fi series back in the early 2000s, depicting Ukraine as a battlefield for the glorious Russian separatist fight against the Ukrainian nationals backed by NATO and the EU.
The first volume in his saga 'War 2010: The Ukrainian Front', written years before the current conflict, ends with a gruesome scene in which a Ukrainian officer captured by the "good guy" insurgents is tortured and hanged for collaboration with the occupiers. "It would be good to hang him in front of a big crowd, right in the middle of Lenin Square … and leave him up for a week or so-let the crows have some fun and peck out his peepers," says one of the good guys, while another adds that "various supporters of Atlantic blocs ought to be marched to the spot every day so they can get a whiff of what treason smells like."
It seems that 'defense minister' Strelkov, himself a scifi fan, chose Berezin as 'deputy' partly because of these worlds of fiction. Strelkov "openly gushed about his deputy's sci-fi connections." "Considering that [Strelkov] is a historian and battle reenactor, it boggles the mind to think what we can do with a science fiction writer who is an anti-aircraft defense officer to boot!" Strelkov announced.
Berezin, on his side, seems unable to separate his fantasy from his current unofficial political role. "I have found myself in an alternate reality" Berezin wrote about being chosen as deputy for Strelkov. In an >awkward youtube video address, Berezin "urges the men of Donetsk to take up arms and defend their homeland against the enemy at the gates." He reinforced this sentiment at a demonstration a few weeks ago, rallying up the crowd with his fantasy-based statement that the Kiev government's obvious goal is "to blatantly steal our land and give it to the Americans and the Europeans."
credit: Denis Kornilov
It's figures like Berezin that have prompted Bykov, in a moment of hyperbole, to "go so far as to say that the conflict in Ukraine was 'predicted, meticulously planned, and finally executed" by sci-fi and fantasy writers."
As much as it is an oversimplification, as Young so daftly puts it, this "exaggeration has an element of truth: The quasi-futuristic thrillers in which pro-Western Ukrainian "Nazis" seek to slaughter or enslave Eastern Ukraine's Russian population certainly helped prepare a fertile ground for the most paranoid charges against the current government in Kiev. And many of the people involved in the armed conflict probably do see it, on some level, as a chance to act out their fiction-driven war fantasies."
To dive deeper into this interesting concept, be sure to check out Cathy Young's work over at Slate.