Is the past really a foreign country? Did they do things so differently then? Or is it that the past isn’t dead after all—and isn’t even past?
In Washington, it is always 1939. But the Crimea isn’t the Sudetenland, and Vladimir Putin isn’t Hitler. No Blitzkrieg threatens Europe, or even Kiev. Then it’s the 1950’s, perhaps, and the Cold War relived. But Putin is no Stalin or even Khrushchev. The Kiev opposition leaders who became the new powers that be in Ukraine aren’t necessarily brave dissidents or heroic national leaders whiplashed by the ideological currents of the Cold War, but largely the corrupt and distrusted minions of various Ukrainian oligarchs, like the last regime in Kiev. And the one before that, and so on . . .
At one point, yours truly suggested that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the Crimea went to Russia. Ukraine might be all the more stable in the long run without it. A phone call from Washington: But where will Putin stop? There’s the Trans-Dniester region, which could be used to threaten Moldova—and what of Rumania? Georgia? The “dominoes” will fall . . . and if Putin can threaten Ukraine over the Russian speakers there, what of the Baltic states?
Well, what of them? Did the West’s expansion of NATO eastward after giving assurances it would not do so have anything to do with Moscow’s sharp reaction to the Ukrainian crisis? Did U.S. and E.U. support of a rebellion against a government Brussels and Washington recognized as legitimate have anything to do with Russian charges of Western hypocrisy?
But we are the good guys!
Afterward, I wondered just who the we the caller spoke of might be.
True, Moscow was partly responsible for the bloody Kiev crackdown that ended with over a hundred dead and hundreds more injured. As the “protestors” seized administrative buildings, occupying the center of the Ukrainian capital, Moscow grew reluctant to send more financial aid to Kiev and pressured the Yanukovych administration to take action. Moscow got what it called for. For the anti-Yanukovych forces, and perhaps our own retro-Cold Warriors, the crackdown by the “occupation regime” was much like the events of 1956 in Hungary or 1968 in Czechoslovakia.
Another phone call: We should alert the 82nd Airborne to show the butchers we are serious! More of the same followed as Russia eyed the Crimea . . . Yet the peninsula is strongly pro-Russian. Who would we be defending? The Crimean Tatars? Turkey, a NATO member, has stepped to the plate to do that for us. Our armchair warriors forget that Washington did not seriously respond in either 1956 or 1968, declining to risk nuclear war over positions that were in any case indefensible. Life went on tolerably enough in Dayton and Biloxi in ’56 and ’68 and will likely be tolerable even today without American intervention in the Ukrainian crisis.
Ukrainians who supported Maidan, the rebellious square, the Ukrainian street, understandably dreamed of many things: of an independent Ukraine, no longer under Moscow’s thumb, and, perhaps unrealistically, of the E.U. promised land’s milk and honey, instead of likely austerity programs, which none envisioned. The street dreamed of striking a blow against the oligarchs, the thugs, the new apparatchiks who were in many cases the same as the old. Yanukovych chose Moscow over Brussels, as it turns out, because Moscow offered needed cash and cheap energy as the country teetered on the brink of economic collapse. Yanukovych, a shrewd old thief, skillfully played the European Union and Russia off against each other. He knew that when the pro-West Ukrainians spoke of “the E.U.,” Moscow’s collective ear heard “NATO,” while the Muscovite reptilian brain conjured up nightmares of Western missile defense neutralizing the Russian nuclear deterrent from bases in Eastern Europe. Besides, being a devoted father, Yanukovych had a billionaire son to support, along with his cronies, which, unfortunately for Yanukovych, made the other oligarchs very unhappy, inducing in them a heretofore alien sense of patriotism, but that’s an untold story for another time. For a segment of Maidan, it was the 1970’s and the time of “stagnation” all over again: Yanukovych was Brezhnev, and they the suffering masses standing in long Soviet queues, waiting for hard bread and bad sausage. They had their reasons.
As the crisis festered, the pro-Maidan forces toppled and desecrated Soviet monuments, mostly dedicated to Lenin, but sometimes to the millions who died in the “Great Patriotic War” (World War II to us)—a conflict viewed very differently in various regions of Ukraine, either as the Victory Over Fascism or the Lost Opportunity. That is, a lost opportunity to liberate Ukraine from Soviet (feel free to read “Russian” or “Muscovite”) rule. The west is quite different culturally from the largely Russian-speaking east, and especially the mostly Russian Crimea. One must acknowledge the complexities of identity in Ukraine: There are those living in the east, which is economically tied to Russia and more “Soviet” in its mentality, who prefer the Ukrainian language over Russian, and there was support for the E.U. “choice” there as well. The common people, not being privy to the Western-media narrative, did not necessarily see the E.U./Russia “choice” as an “either/or” proposition. At the same time, eastern support for ties to Russia does not necessarily translate into a desire to be annexed by Moscow. Should Russia intervene militarily, those in the east and south who have not yet done so may be forced to make a serious—and much more difficult—choice. The Maidan fighters came predominantly from the west, and the monuments came down mainly in Ukraine’s western and central oblasts.
The nationalists of Right Sector provided much of the muscle backing Maidan, and, no matter how sympathetic one might be to the aspirations of ordinary Ukrainians, one has to (and we should) acknowledge that the term fascist or radical is not too strong a label for some of the more motivated and passionate members of the Maidan contingent. The Russian speakers’ and Moscow’s fears of the radicals are not unfounded: Dmytro Yarosh of Right Sector, for example, now a presidential candidate, has called on the Islamic terrorists of the Russian North Caucasus to aid his people in the way that terrorists do. Yarosh, by the way, was born in Dniprodzerzhynsk in East-Central Ukraine.
For the anti-Russian contingent in Ukraine, it is always (understandably) 1932—the time of the Stalin-induced terror famine or “Holodomor” that killed millions of Ukrainians—or 1939, the time of the Soviet annexation of Western Ukraine. There are enough atrocities to go around on either side of the struggle over Ukraine. How one views the Lost Opportunity or the Great Patriotic War partly depends on whether one’s ancestors served in the Red Army or were sympathetic to the “Banderaites.” And so it is today: The pro-Russian segment of Ukrainian society sees the “Banderovsty” coming for them—not without reason—and Ukrainians who retain an historical memory of the Soviet Russian jackboot are hailing the “heroes of Maidan” as liberators. Thus are national myths and identities forged.
We (as opposed to we) should not try to sort this out or take sides in a struggle in which America has no stake.
Then why has Washington, usually quite sensitive regarding any signs of nationalism or deviation from the egalitarian agenda (attitudes toward the “LGBT community” in Ukraine are little different from those in Russia, and—gasp!—there is no provision for “gay marriage” in Ukrainian law), sided with a significantly nationalist Maidan in overthrowing a government the global capital recognized as legitimate? It’s very simple, really: The postmodern we currently possessing the American body is but the center of a larger, global we that has taken the place of the now defunct communist block as the driving force of world revolution. The ages-old evil spirit that possessed the East has taken on a new shape by possessing a new form. And the Ukrainian body, however nationalist in its intent or “intolerant” in its attitudes, was preparing to slide bit by bit into the camp of the revolution, where it is always Year Zero and the aim is not restoration but godlike transformation. The past was being harnessed to serve the Bright Future. The energy and zeal of Maidan could thus be directed to the purposes of the revolution. Flag-waving has proved an effective means of rousing normal Americans collectively to become a self-righteous and arrogant we.
There is one complication: Many of the nationalists who fought for Maidan are also anti-European Union, as suspicious of Western interference in their country’s affairs as they are resentful of Moscow’s, but the globalists will have to tend to that problem later. For now, their problem is Russia. Postcommunist Russia, despite her “antigay” law, is hardly a paragon of social conservatism, but she has shown some resistance to globalism. Putin, for instance, has attempted to cast Moscow as an alternative power center to Washington, harnessing distaste in some corners of the globe for “human rights,” of which promotion of the “LGBT community” is but one. What’s more, Russians are, unlike the also-resistant Chinese and Ugandans, white people. And we know what they are like.