The War Over Borscht

Important Note! This post does not intend to provoke or suggest whatever attitude toward either side of the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict. Nor to insult or impugn the national dignity of the Russian and Ukrainian people.

The war between Ukraine and Russia has long gone beyond the military frontline. This conflict illuminated long-standing disputes between the two countries concerning cultural and culinary heritage.

Shortly after the outbreak of the conflict, London’s National Gallery renamed the theme series of pastels by Edgar Degas depicting women performing ethnic dances from Russian Dancers to Ukrainian Dancers

Degas created the series in the 1890s and early 1900s since he was fascinated by the beautiful dancers performing in Paris. The dancing women came from the Russian Empire, so throughout the twentieth century, these paintings were referred to as Russian Dancers in English and French sources, despite extensive ethnographic and art historical discussions about the Ukrainian origins of the women.

Several voices have emerged calling for the misleading Russian name to be changed, criticizing it as a deliberate or simply lazy misinterpretation of Ukraine. After all, London’s National Gallery renamed the series to Ukrainian Dancers in response to the military conflict.

Notwithstanding, the question remains if it would be decent to rename titles of classical artworks whenever the political context changes. Not only regarding this particular conflict but in general. Presumably, the tables could always turn in favor of the other side.

Apart from all other battlefields, Kyiv and Moscow are also arguing over Borscht Soup. Ukraine considers the thick, nutritious soup, usually cooked with red beets, a national dish, although it is popular in Russia, other former Soviet republics, and Poland.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, recently included Ukrainian Borscht on its list of intangible cultural heritage in danger.

However, the Organization noted that Ukrainian Borscht is only a variant of a regional soup. And since it is essential to everyday life in the country should be protected from the negative impact of the war.

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