Politics
How Soviet science fiction shapes the ideology of future Ukraine
November 14, 2022
  • Maria Engström
    Professor of Russian, Uppsala University, Sweden
Maria Engström on how Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has developed a civilizational project for the future Ukraine, which he calls Futuro Sich, and the important ideological role played by Soviet science fiction in it.
Oleksiy Arestovych. Source: Wiki Commons
On October 25, 2019, a new 1,000 hryvnia banknote appeared in Ukraine. The front side of what is the country’s largest banknote depicts the famous Soviet scientist and Stalin Prize laureate Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863-1945), who popularized the concept of the biosphere evolving into the noosphere (the realm of the mind). The reverse side of the new banknote shows the building of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, founded in 1921, the first president of which was Vernadsky.

Oleksiy Arestovych (born in 1975), non-staff presidential adviser and one of the most influential politicians and ideologists of modern Ukraine, sees the appearance of Vernadsky on a banknote as an indication of a noosphere project taking shape – one of the centers of which will be the New Ukraine.

The “Fifth Project"

In this article, I consider the issue of the Soviet legacy in modern Ukrainian political thought, namely the concept of Vernadsky’s noosphere and the appeal to Soviet science fiction – primarily the work of Ivan Yefremov – in Arestovych’s “Fifth Project.”

The "Fifth Project" hasn’t been released in print yet, but the essence of the doctrine is set out in a number of videos that can be found on Arestovych’s YouTube channel (for example, here, here and here). This civilizational project for the future Ukraine was first put forward in 2014. Even today, amid the war, Arestovych continues to develop and popularize it through numerous online lectures and interviews.

He identifies the four main ideological projects that, in his view, are selectively related to the history of the country, and thus are false and dead ends – they are the Euro-optimistic, nationalist, Soviet and Russian projects. Supporters of European integration are ready to give up Ukraine’s sovereignty to the West and build public institutions on the Western model without accounting for national specifics. The nationalist project of "Anti-Russia" and "Ukraine for Ukrainians,” which has become the most popular during the war with Russia, diminishes Ukrainian culture and history, according to Arestovych. The Soviet project entails the revival of the fraternal trinity of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia under the leadership of Russia. The Russian project, which lost its relevance after the start of the war, means the hegemony of Russian over Ukrainian culture and adherence to the Russian ontological project of the Katechon (the Withholder).

Due to their locality and one-dimensionality, all these constructions, in Arestovych’s view, are unsuitable as the ideological basis of a state striving to be a global center of the future. Arestovych proposes an inclusive "Fifth Project," which combines the most constructive aspects of the four mentioned national identity projects:
Combine all four projects, make an integrated one, taking the best from each, and you get the "Fifth Project.” It’s inclusive, i.e. it includes all Ukrainians in all periods of history who we need to take with us on the train of the future. (Arestovych, 2020).
Amid the new industrial revolution and current global crisis, like-minded people such as the philosopher Andrii Baumeister and the political philosopher Pavel Schelin are also working on the civilizational project for the future Ukraine.

Futuro Sich

Arestovych doesn’t accept the concept of Ukraine as a colony of Russia and calls on Ukrainians to get away from the image of Ukraine as a victim, which is imposed by the nationalist and Euro-optimistic projects. He also rejects Ukraine as Russia's "younger brother.” Instead, he argues that the role of Ukrainians in the creation of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union was central, as the key figures were Ukrainians. “We are Rus' and therefore Russian,” says Arestovych. Laying out the correct version of history, coming up with myths and developing a worldview should be entrusted to the future Institute of the Russian Empire and USSR, while the first step should be to rename the country Rus’ Ukraine and to break the monopoly of the Russian Federation on the “Russian” brand:
Now Rus', which is many centuries old, has the historical shape of Ukraine. We must reestablish our state and call it Rus’ Ukraine. (Arestovych, 2020)
Since Rus' Ukraine is the successor to these states, Ukrainians, on the one hand, are obliged to take responsibility for all their crimes (for example, the Holodomor and Stalinist repressions), but on the other, must also lay claim to the best things that were created in the USSR and Russian Empire. Arestovych considers the Soviet space project and science fiction to be their greatest achievements.
"The new Ukraine, which Arestovych calls Futuro Sich, should remain an agrarian power, carrying on the traditions of the military and political order of the Zaporozhian Sich while at the same time being an anti-oligarchic, innovative and high-tech country looking to the future."
Man on the Moon (2018) film poster. Source: Wiki Commons
In the agrarian-space utopia of Arestovych, Rus’ Ukraine consists of technopoles, with 20-25 sichs forming a “United States of Ukraine.” Local governments would have broad powers, though the cultural code would be held together and a strong central authority responsible for foreign policy, military and infrastructure would be preserved.

The most important tasks in front of the Futuro Sich should be raising children, education and the development of a culture and science subordinate to the idea of space exploration. To shape a new symbolic core and the collective and individual unconscious in Rus' Ukraine, Arestovych suggests looking to Soviet cultural policy, with its feature science-fiction films and multi-million prints of books and magazines, where a positive image of a cosmic future was presented.

Getting back to space

According to Arestovych, it was in Soviet science fiction and the Soviet system of education that the noosphere project proposed by Vernadsky was partially embodied, i.e. the idea of expanding the noosphere – filled with emotions, ideas and concepts created by the New Man – beyond the Earth. Arestovych calls himself a “Soviet schoolboy” from whom the “beautiful afar” was stolen in 1991 – the romantic dream of the last Soviet generation about humanity in space and the world of the future to which everyone will be brought along.

Arestovych says that the science-fiction film Per Aspera Ad Astra (USSR, 1980) shaped his worldview, while the most important writers for him are Soviet science-fiction icons like Ivan Yefremov (1908-72), Arkady (1925-91) and Boris (1933-2012) Strugatsky, Sergei Pavlov (1935-2019) and Kir Bulychev (1934-2003). It was these science-fiction writers who managed to create an image of a bright tomorrow, propose a project for the transformation of man and society (the Strugatsky Noon Universe) and show the way to overcome the Era of Disjoint World (Yefremov).

Arestovych believes the space project is needed because only a shared future in space will help overcome the conflict between symbolic systems that underlie modern wars. Today, this strategy, along with a new project for a united humanity amid extraterrestrial life (see the congressional hearing on UFOs in May 2022), can be offered by the US. The reemergence of this vector, in Arestovych’s view, is most visible in the activities of Elon Musk and his project for interplanetary space travel. The new “space” wave in American cinema carries on the traditions of Soviet fiction both in terms of content and aesthetics, as, for example, in the film First Man (2018).
Soviet science fiction writer Ivan Yefremov, 1908-1972. Source: Wiki Commons
The Rus' Ukraine noosphere project

The noosphere project that was abandoned after the collapse of the USSR should be revived and turned into the ideology of the New Ukraine. Arestovych's doctrine consists of three interconnected components: the idea of active evolution (the philosophy of Russian cosmists), Vernadsky’s noosphere concept and the educational project of Ivan Efremov. A new world can be created only by new people who can wield the tools of vertical progress and active evolution, which will make possible changes to human consciousness and biology in particular, and the transition to a new stage of evolution in general.

Ivan Yefremov

Yefremov is important for Arestovych as the creator of the idea of New Antiquity, which combines the principle of kalokagathia (perfection of the body, soul and mind) – formulated in the ancient world – with the idea of cosmic expansion by a united humanity. In the novel Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale (1957), at the heart of the civilization in the Era of the Great Ring is the upbringing of a new person, while its elite are teachers, psychologists and historians of ideas. To jump to a new stage of development, the best mentors bring up children in boarding schools away from their parents. The study of ideas, along with the purification of the noosphere from harmful concepts and ideas, represents the core activity. The humanity of the future struggles with dark ideas, just as we fight diseases today, since such ideas (selfishness, pride, greed, the destruction of nature and the earth) spread like viruses, polluting the noosphere.
"Museums of Harmful Ideas are aimed at cleansing the noosphere, while the Island of Oblivion is where carriers of dangerous and contagious ideas are exiled."
The Andromeda Nebula (1967) film poster.
Source: Wiki Commons
Arestovych is guided by Yefremovian principles about educating and bringing up the New Man at the Apeiron School for Leadership Development, which he founded, where seminars are regularly held (even during the war) aimed at liberating students from harmful ideas and concepts, as well as shaping a new type of consciousness and worldview without which the construction of Rus' Ukraine is impossible. Besides the seminars, Arestovych hosts a steam called Philosophy, Psychology on his YouTube channel (1.67 million subscribers).

Arestovych believes Ukraine should defeat resentment and start studying the Soviet legacy – in particular, its noosphere dimension, which is needed to break through into the future. In an interview with the writer Dmitri Bykov dated July 10, 2022, Arestovych says that “we haven’t yet come up with anything better than the Soviet Union on this territory.” He calls himself an "anti-Soviet Soviet person," i.e. someone who chose the noosphere line and resisted the state capitalism line, which eventually won out in the USSR.

In the global context, the "Fifth Project,” in Arestovych's utopia, represents a "third way," opposing both the Western discipline-based social order with its impersonal institutions and biopolitics of security that kills everything living, and the society of tyranny and the Russian-style cult of power. The civilization of discipline and fear, like the society of modernity, which today is experiencing a cyclical crisis, should be replaced by a "civilization of curiosity and joy." The future promised by Yefremov and the Strugatskys will return, and Rus' Ukraine can and should become the center of this new world.

The article was written as part of the research project called No(w)stalgia of Modernity: Neo-Soviet Myth in Contemporary Russian Culture and Politics, funded by a Swedish Research Council grant

(project No. 2020-02479).

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