2020, Jun 24    

I have probably listened to Drudkh’s entire discography ten times over, except for Anti-Urban which just seems like a completely pointless EP. If you want to hear the best of Drudkh, I recommend the first 10 minutes of Autumn Aurora - but that’s not really what I want to focus on here. Anti-Urban might be a terrible album by Drudkh standards but it does have an interesting name.

Drudkh are hardcore Ukrainian nationalists of the poets-and-folklore type. They are, to me, similar in sentiment to Alphonse Mucha, who left his cushy advertising job in Paris to chronicle the history of all Slavic peoples in the Slav Epic. Czech national identity in the early days consisted of pulling legends and folklore from different parts of the imagined country and performing them in tours around the same imagined country, creating a common social fabric of metaphors drawn from stories. In this way, storytellers have bound regions together from time immemorial - the Icelandic eddas, the Kyrgyz Manas, the bandurists of Ukraine, the list goes on for a while.

The regions that storytellers bind together in this way are often rural. Cities don’t have as much of a need for traveling storytellers and often become the sites of development for a sedentary classical culture, which pulls from a mixture of itinerant folk elements and new methods of production, but distinct from the folk. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 are kind of perfect examples of this. Both composers borrowed heavily from Roma music forms and melodies to construct those pieces. I have a feeling “Hungarian” back in those days was a way of saying “exotic” in the same way that “Oriental” came to be, once Hungary was de-mystified.

Anti-Urban is a way of saying “We are folk, and our culture is important as well” - an assertion of the legitimacy of art and symbolism, stories and metaphor produced at the periphery of wealth and power. To Ukrainian nationalists in particular, who have historically been chased out of cities and had to survive in the wilderness to continue their partisan campaign, Anti-Urban is a sentiment that at some point perhaps became one and the same as Anti-Russian or Anti-Polish or Anti-German or Anti-Austro-Hungarian; Anti-Invader.

I can’t help but see this type of defiance play itself out in politics all over the world. I hear “east coast elite” with the same beleaguered sentiment as “Anti-Urban”. Now, to be clear, Ukrainian nationalists have fought brutally and shed a lot of blood, and many people sacrificed their lives in order to get where they are now. It is not surprising that they are beleaguered and anti-urban. During the course of the past 150 years, Ukraine suffered under the boot of the Russian empire, which sought to homogenize language. Then, under the Austro-Hungarian. Then, as an independent Yiddish-and-Ukrainian state which was demolished by neighboring powers. Ukraine under the Soviets, suffered a brutal forced famine, followed by massive killings at the hands of the Nazis. Then, she provided an enormous bulk of soldiers to fighting off the Nazis. If you want to read more about this, I highly recommend Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands.

The American right-wing re-appropriation of this rural sentiment strikes me as classic snowflakery and settler-colonialism masking itself as salt-of-the-earth goodness. While Ukraine was always self-sufficient in food and provided exports to support the appetites of urban elites in Moscow, Warsaw, Vienna and Berlin, many American rural areas were originally created to expand the influence of the American government and eliminate indigenous people. Those settlements are untenable without government help, and should be left out to dry, with massive incentives for people to leave their rural homes and come to the cities. If you don’t believe me, take it from Dr Sarah Taber - who highlights the geopolitical importance of turning rural land into corn and how local landlords rather than coastal elites are what make rural life hard. You make America better not by leeching off of the massively productive economic centers that cities are and building a separate, and in my opinion, false rural identity around rejection of the coastal elite values. You do it by integrating into the cities. An overall better proposition for the rural underclass than the rural upper class. Anti-urbanism in the US is sort of a re-branded white flight and it doesn’t serve anyone. Immigrants bring fresh blood, perspective, better work ethic and family values that rural America idolizes but doesn’t practice. Come to the cities, rural America, it’s better there.