Panel 1: Russia, Ukraine and 'the West': Rethinking our mental cartography?

Since the Russian-Ukrainian-conflict we have witnessed a half-forgotten antagonism in Europe: "The West" vs. Russia is becoming a more and more common perception in European societies. So in Panel 1 the necessity to rethink our mental cartography of the alleged irreconcilable Russia, Ukraine and "The West" was obvious.

When we speak about mental cartography, as Alona Karavai of 'MitOst e.V.' (an association for cultural exchange in Middle-, East- and Southeast-Europe) pointed out, we have to focus on the language: "Words and wording is something which creates or impacts a lot our mental models and our mental cartography." Against this background one should not classify the current situation between Russia and the Ukraine as a conflict or the like – but rather as a war! And accepting it as a war makes it easier to understand that the phenomenon and process of othering is, unfortunately, almost natural in war-times.

Affirming these thoughts, Stanislav Kuvaldin, a Russian journalist, pointed out that even though one could speak of a war-like situation, this kind of conflict seems to be unique in a way – considering the interrelations and multiple actors with their various interests in this conflict. The very same thing makes our possible solutions even more difficult. Seen from this angle it must be feared that a new "iron curtain between Russian and Ukrainian society" arises. But agreeing with Alona Karavai, he put an emphasis on the perception and mindset in order to break the vicious cycle of othering the parties involved: "If we want to change our mental cartography we have to accept that Russia and Ukraine are neighbours, similar cultures, and that both countries have a pretty complex social structure."

Nevertheless Tatiana Zhurzhenko – who works for the Austrian Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna – insisted on the crucial role of Russia in this conflict: In particular the active agitation in terms of othering and demonizing "the enemies" with a clear post-imperial, national-fascist language. Therefore the results we can see today are antagonisms and hostile attitudes in both societies – for obvious reasons: when the physical cartography is changing, it also effects our mental cartography. But yet, at least for Alona Karavai, the question whether the mental differences are the reason for the current situation or rather the consequences of it, remains an unanswered question.

Another perspective


So far for the inner-Russian- respectively inner-Ukrainian perspective. The Dutch journalist Ivo Pertijs gave an outline of "the Western" perspective on this conflict, putting it in a nutshell: "From the beginning, the conflict has been framed: the 'democratic' Ukraine vs. 'evil' Russia." According to him, old reflexes have been retrieved, namely a new and at the same time well-known: Russophobia. "But one cannot blame a whole population for misconducts made by its government." Ultimately one could observe an information war, where "the other" in question was always the threat – while the Western journalists and societies never knew and still don't know anything about the Russian and/or Ukrainian people.

Right here, if we talk about Civic Education at NECE 2015, the question what to do was vaguely answered but still of great relevance: In order to change mutual perspectives Civic Education has to intensify exchange, organize encounters, foster dialogue; inform the Western, the Russian and Ukrainian people about the complex social structures of each societies; and, eversince the discourse is still influenced by stereotypes on both sides, Civic Educators would have to spotlight and deconstruct those stereotypes; train teachers, in order to burst through the ongoing reproduction of stereotype-thinking about "the other".

But, as Tatiana Zhurzhenko pointed out, practical solutions will take long. It will still take a lot effort to forge ahead mental stereotypical perceptions.



Citizenship Education
Conference Day: 

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.