Monday, 5 May 2014

ODESSA OR DISHONOUR

Death in Odessa: the burning Trade Unions House in which 39 pro-Russian activists perished.

by Colin Liddell

One reason why I supported the Ukrainian uprising earlier this year was because, despite rumours of various kinds of "special operations" and skulduggery (on both sides), my perception was and still is that a great many of the people involved in the Maidan, including many of the members of Right Sector who spearheaded the action, were acting sincerely and with honour.

Honour includes a variety of qualities, but the essence of it is to behave in such a way that those not involved in your struggle will feel admiration and thus sympathy.

For example, the courage, steadfastness, and resolve shown by the Maidan demonstrators in the face of heavily armed police and attempts at state repression could be cited as honourable. But honour also includes other virtues, such as respecting innocent lives, showing magnanimity, and an awareness of things beyond your immediate selfish interests.

A man who acts with honour has to have a motive for his actions, and this of course brings in the idea of interests, and where these conflict with those of others then there is scope for justice. A respect for justice is also part of honour.

As a third-party to this conflict, I am exterior to these interests, although I feel I have other interests which stem from this conflict:

On the one hand I wish to see Russia successfully defying the unipolaritry of the West and thereby humiliating the evil and fading power of the United States and its crony empire. But on the other hand, I also wish to see the post-democratic Maidan movement serve as a template for a "European Spring" in what could be an especially transformative year for Europe, with the EU heading towards stormy waters and the UK facing the prospect of finally breaking up after 300 years.

These are my interests, which I admit I have little right to graft onto the more organic concerns, passions, and struggles of those involved in the tragic struggle in the Ukraine, but which inevitably continue to colour my perceptions of events.

As for the justice of the situation, this is a complex question that involves many factors that would require deep study and much data that is not readily available, and which can probably only be procured from sources that may have their own strongly biased agenda.

A victim of the Soviet Holodomor.
My own view of the justice of the situation, such as it is, is that people have a right to historical self-determination, which means that I should support the Russians, where they are in the majority, in the Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine – especially if as seems increasingly probable that union is simply unworkable – but this is partially offset by the crimes that the Ukrainian people suffered at the hands of Soviet communism and the fact that Russia has its own ethnic minorities who are being frustrated in their desire for historical self-determination.

Among the crimes I am referring to the most notable is the Holodomor, which partially created the conditions for the influx of ethnic Russians into Ukrainian territory in the first place, by removing as many as 7 million people from the Ukrainian population.

If we could search enough there is justice here somewhere between all these different points and interests, but the problem is that even if you find that magic point of equilibrium, it may be politically unworkable and thus act merely as an irritant causing further conflict.

But while interests and justice are extremely important in eliciting sympathy or support for one side or the other, for outsiders like me, a greater part is played by honour – the side that seems to conduct itself with the greater courage, nobility, magnanimity, and largeness of spirit will be the one that I gravitate towards.

Russian nationalist in the Eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk.
In an existential war of survival, brutal acts are required and may sometimes be condoned by the cruel dictates of necessity, but the conflict in the Ukraine can in no sense be compared to that. After all, as I and others have maintained all along, regardless of what happened in the past under the evil auspices of Communism or the duress of WWII, these are brother peoples, racially and culturally alike, who should be allies rather than enemies.

Yes, I admit that that sounds somewhat utopian when we are this far beyond the gates of Realpolitik, and, yes, there is a basis of conflict between the two sides that partly stems from the past and partly from differing interests in the present and probably diverging views of the future, but this is a conflict whether in Kiev, Crimea, the Eastern Ukraine, or Odessa, that should be fought out with honour and a modicum of respect for those enemies who so resemble each other.

The events that have transpired in Slovyansk and in Odessa, where 39 pro-Russian demonstrators were cruelly burned to death in a needless act of mob triumphalism, has greatly compromised the honour of Ukrainian nationalism. We can only hope that the pro-Russian side does not stoop to that level of callous brutality in retaliation, although retaliation of some sort there is sure to be.

Honour should never be followed for ulterior ends, but I make one prediction: the side that acts with the greatest honour in this conflict will be the one that ultimately triumphs.




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