Ukraine’s Take on Why East Is East
Published: February 5, 2014 (Issue # 1796)
Азиатчина: Eastern backwardness (derogatory)
I came across an interesting exchange online in comments about a series of dramatic photos of demonstrations in Kiev. Someone, presumably Russian, asked with admiration and a dose of condescension: А чего хотят-то бравые украинцы? (And what do those valiant Ukrainians want?) The answer, presumably from one of those valiant Ukrainians, was dry but to the point: Хотим попрощаться с азиатчиной и совком (We want to break with Eastern culture and the Soviet mentality).
Well, that was the gist of it, but азиатчина required a bit of research.
Like all words ending in the suffix –щина/-чина that denote the characteristics of a place, philosophy or people, азиатчина is derogatory. So you know right away that it means “all the bad stuff connected with Asia.” But what bad stuff and where in Asia?
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One dictionary defines азиатчина neutrally: порядок вещей, образ жизни и способ действий, свойственный азиатам (the way of things, the way of life and behavior characteristic of Asians). But the other dictionaries I consulted are far from neutral and define it as некультурность, культурная отсталость, грубость (lack of culture, cultural backwardness, crudeness). And one dictionary from the turn of the 20th century was extremely clear: противоположные европейским обычаи, т.е. грубые; отсутствие цивилизации (the opposite of European customs — that is, crude; the absence of civilization). Yikes. Makes you appreciate политкорректность (political correctness).
But I still did not know what part of Asia was meant or, more important, what азиатчина connotes to average folks today. So I started asking around. For most people, азиатчина refers to the Eastern parts of the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union — the Caucasus and Central Asia — plus the Eastern cultures surrounding it to the south and west: Turkey and the Middle East. Everyone excludes the Far East (China, Korea, Japan) and Southeast Asia (India, Nepal). Some people exclude Georgia or Armenia, presumably because they are Christian.
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