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Reckoning with Eastern Europe’s Colonial Trauma

“Decoloniality,” an intellectual framework for critiquing Western institutions, public discourse, and individual behavior, has been unable to confront Russia's genocidal war against Ukraine. That's because Western political and cultural institutions have long disregarded Eastern European perspectives in favor of the view from Moscow.

KYIV – After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR, it was generally believed that Eastern Europe should simply catch up with the West. Liberated from Soviet rule, these states would undergo a natural and spontaneous transformation, smoothly assimilating into the Western economic, political, and social order. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed that it is the West that must catch up with political developments in the East.

Europe’s East is different from what the West expected: its colonial and Soviet legacies complicate the simplistic binary division between the Global North and the Global South. That is why Western postcolonial scholars have traditionally overlooked Eastern Europe. But Russia’s war against Ukraine has thrown the legacy of brutal subjugation into sharp relief, forcing a reframing of the debates on colonialism. A proper debate begins when the colonized start talking about the colonizers, not just about themselves.

“Decoloniality,” an intellectual framework for critiquing perspectives that continue to pervade institutions, public discourse, and individual behavior, has become fashionable in Western culture and politics today. But this project of resistance is, for the most part, being applied internally, where it remains firmly grounded in the history of maritime empires and focused primarily on race.

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