I am shocked by what’s happened in Ukraine this week.
I am watching with horror what’s going on there.
For the last 14 days, work’s seemed trivial.
I am coming to the view that if you aren’t doing something, however small, to actively support Ukraine, then you are doing something, however small, to passively support Russia’s invasion.
Yet most actions available to us feel impotent.
What happens if you change your social media profile to blue and yellow?
It can persuade someone else to pay attention.
If you donate £1 to the Red Cross, will it be effective?
A lot more effective than sending nothing at all.
Do you wonder if it’s a good idea to write to your MP?
It’s a better idea than writing to no one.
I wish that right now, I had a greater skill than just being able to write.
But I know language is powerful.
It makes your beliefs clear.
It binds people together.
So, a story about words that have inspired me.
(Perhaps the only time writing by committee has produced something memorable.)
In the 17th Century, the beleaguered Zaporizhian Cossacks were ordered to stop their resistance to the far more powerful Ottoman empire. The Sultan’s letter read:
Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporizhian Cossacks: As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians – I command you, the Zaporizhian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
How do you reply to that?
Zaporizhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!
O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are thou, that canst not slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil shits, and your army eats. Thou shalt not, thou son of a whore, make subjects of Christian sons. We have no fear of your army; by land and by sea we will battle with thee. Fuck thy mother.
Thou Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow. Screw thine own mother!
So the Zaporizhians declare, you lowlife. You won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord. The day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
The defiant language inspired, 200 years later, the painting by Ilya Repin called “Reply of the Zaporizhian Cossacks”. You can see the painting below.
And underneath it, you can see how that in turn inspired defiance in their ancestors, after almost another 200 years.