Bioethics Blogs

Where are you from? What is it worth?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a New York Times article on Facebook, where the author, Lev Golinklin, shared his difficulties with coming to terms with where he was from: “Well, technically I’m from the Russian-speaking region of a Soviet Socialist republic [Ukraine] that used to be part of a country that isn’t there anymore. It was called the Soviet Union, and you can still find it on old maps. “It’s complicated.”

My friend, who works on international law, added the following comment: “Thought provoking story but certainly the author should know that history is full of different peoples being shuffled around from one legal entity or country to the next. Lev Golinkin is from Ukraine. It’s not a hard question.”

Perhaps this is not a hard question from certain (maybe legal) perspectives. However, I believe that there is more to it than this.

The question – where are you from? – is a descriptive question. Yet, there seems to, in situations where peoples are, so to speak, shuffled around, no way of settling the issue of where someone is from in a non-evaluative manner.

Sometimes, it seems to me as if peoples that get shuffled around might have justified complaints about the descriptive validity of the re-definition of where they are from. Sometimes there can be justified complaints about the accuracy of the new order. A person born to Russian-speaking parents in current Estonia who lost her citizenship when Estonia became independent might, justifiably, object to the idea that she is from Estonia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.