Saturday, February 18, 2023

One Year of War

In a few days it will be one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. That heroic nation has been at war now for a full year (actually longer). Europe and the U.S. are not at war in the same sense. We are not in daily danger of Russian terror bombings and wars crimes. In a deeper, profounder sense, however we are at war. For in this war, Ukraine has recalled Europe and the U.S. to what the "West" is about, to the true values of the West, which Ukraine has increasingly embraced, progressively leaving behind its centuries of entanglement in the anti-Western Russkiy mir. Decolonizing itself, disentangling itself from Russian culture, including the historic caesarism of the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukraine, personified by its once Russian-speaking president, is aligning itself with Europe and the West. Hence the symbolic (as well as strategic) significance of President Zelensky's pre-Christmas visit to the United States and his more recent visits to the United Kingdom (photo) and the EU. Ukraine really wants to be part of Europe, and seems to want it more and more the longer this war lasts.

Of course, Western Ukraine has always been more European than Russian. Western Ukraine's largest city, Lviv, once capital of the Kingdom of Ruthenia, became part of Poland (as Lwów) in the 14th century. Following the partition of Poland in 1772, it became part the Austrian Hapsburg empire and became known by its German name Lemberg. On the eve of the First World War, the city was 51% Roman Catholic, 19% Greek Catholic, and 28% Jewish. So much for the claim that Ukraine is historically, culturally, and religiously Russian!

No Ukraine does not need Russia! On the other hand, it is hard to imagine a revived Russian Empire that didn't incorporate much of Ukraine, particularly at least the non-Hapsburg parts that, after the partitions of Poland, came under Russian rule. And, of course, the caesarist Russian Orthodox Church famously traces its own institutional origin back to Kiev and the conversion of Kiev's Grand Prince Saint Volodymyr I (Vladymir in Russian) in 788. Had Germany and Austria won the First World War, an independent Ukrainian Kingdom would likely have been born out of the fragmentation of the Tsar's empire. Instead, western Ukraine became part of the newly reconstituted Poland, while the rest of the country fell under Soviet control. And, under Stalin, Ukraine paid a heavy price for its absorption into the Soviet version of the old Russian Empire. At least 3.9 million Ukrainians starved to death in Stalin's genocidal Holodomor, "the "Great Famine." Stalin also purged the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, of his supposed political enemies, resulting in the loss of a generation of Ukrainian intelligentsia. 

The entire Ukraine was reunited under Russian rule thanks to the German-Soviet partition of Poland in 1939 and the decisive Soviet victory over Germany in 1945. (Conquered for Russia by Catherine the Great, Crimea was transferred to Soviet Ukraine in 1954. Thus, that largely Russian-speaking peninsula found itself part of the new Ukrainian state in the aftermath of the latter's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, where it remained until Putin reconquered it for his renewed Russian Empire in 2014.)

An independent, pro-Western, European-oriented Ukraine both strategically and symbolically will threaten any prospect of a truly renewed Russian Empire, bringing Western European civilization's borders that much further into the old imperial domain, while fatally undermining imperial Russia mystical self-understanding that is being promoted by Putin and supported by his Russian Orthodox Church. What that might mean long-term for Russia remains one of the major unknowns of this conflict.

Less unknown, Ukraine's valiant struggle against Russian imperialism has inspired a renewed enthusiasm within the Western alliance. While internal cultural conflicts continue to undermine the West's social, political, and religious historical heritage, a recovery of historical memory may be in process as the West rediscovers the difference between it and the horror of Russkiy mir.

No comments:

Post a Comment