Monday, March 3, 2014

The Sorrow Of The Ukraine

In America we have a saying "that once a bully, always a bully." Well, until you get the crap beat of you that is. History is replete with examples. I would have to say that the fall of the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern Bloc came about because the bully didn't scare anyone any more. The glorious revolution of 1917 (for some) collapsed under its own weight. Can you design a government without the consent of its people?

Henry Kissinger observed in his book about European diplomacy that France played the role of the great spoiler making sure no one, including Russia or Germany became too dominate. Yet as long as Russia kept out of European affairs they were allowed to gobble up countries in the east and they did. He noted though that was the way Russia held together. Grow or die.

Ukraine may have been the motherland of modern Russia, after all Slavic Rus captured Kiev in the 800's, but the one never truly accepted the other. Language, culture, customs were different. Russians however, Putin among them, never accepted the collapse of the Soviet Union not understanding that it didn't work. Corruption permeated every level of their society. Refusing to learn from their Chinese neighbors their Communist Party stifled rather than encouraged business.

I feel what Russians like Putin don't like and moreover do not understand and envy is that the pieces of the corrupt Soviet Republics have formed successful governments and have generally thrived, at least better than Russia. Today's Russia with it's few immensely wealthy oligarch's and struggling masses is little different from Russia of the Czars. Well, is it? Putin is more like Czar Nicholas in sweats! Is Peter The Greats founding of St. Petersburg any different than what occurred in Sochi? A divine king decreed that it would be built as a window to the west. Sochi not only hosted the west but much of the known world. However, many of the old republics and everyone of the old eastern bloc has cast their lot with the west. They see the future. They don't want the past. Not any part of it.

Democracy cannot be given. We can try, we can lead, we can set an example but people, the people must find a way to govern themselves. They have to want and earn it. Americans have a rather limited view of others thinking often believing that everyone wants to live like us. President Johnson never understood that many Viet Namese didn't want to be Americans. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the late 60's in West Africa I got to see first hand how other governments worked. Many talked a good line but like the original 13 colonies, their tribes, 28 in Liberia alone, had yet to sit down and truly talk to each other. Within a year coming home the Liberian President was assassinated and 25 years of civil war raged led by Americo-Liberians, repatriated slaves, who became the elite. Several A-L factions fought for power enlisting tribal hatreds to wage their long, bloody civil war.

African wars continue because boundaries set by grasping Europeans in the 19th Century live on.  Tribal areas were split, trade routes destroyed with culture and polity ignored. Other areas of  the world were similarly divided. Similar wars were fought there as well.

Yes, most of mankind wants freedom but in each culture the definition is oftentimes different. There are always dissidents but do they represent the masses? Is the Chinese communist party much different from 5,000 years of dynasties and emperors? Is the democracy of Germany the same as the one in South Africa? Even the United States and England, some say our "mother" country, have differing political systems. Is one better than than other? Are they both Democracies?

So, are we on the brink? Is this August 1914 all over again? Stupidity and alliances caused that war. It was really a family war. Every head of state was related. Wilhelm II was the grandson of Queen Victoria as was Alexandra, Empress of Russia. The British royal family were Germans.  They only adopted the name House of Windsor in 1917 to hide that fact. The House of Hollenzollern just didn't cut it.

So a country with the largest landmass boundary on earth, one it cannot manage, picks on a smaller nation because past rulers moved Russians en mass to ensure loyalty. Today they cry for protection. Maybe it's time for Russia to do what what all of Europe did after WWII, when nearly 50 million people moved back to where those newly liberated countries thought they belonged. In retrospect it's a win win for Russia. With a population dropping like a stone, a few million repatriated Russians sounds like just what the doctor ordered. They sure have the land and maybe those returning will stimulate the economy like never before. South Korea with a third of Russia's population in a space not much bigger than the Crimea, has half the GDP of Russia.

The world is tired of war. Putin counts on that. Yet, a close reading of Gladstone's meeting with Hitler is sobering. Putin, like Hitler, is sure the west being so eager to avoid war would let him get away with what he did. We will see. The biggest difference this time though is the world in inter-connected in ways that were unimaginable in 1938. Sanctions could become crippling. Germany, so dependent on energy from Russia will be reluctant to do anything. Yet, with the US fast approaching the leading exporter of oil in the world, that is something that can be remedied. Marie Antionette incautiously said "let them eat cake." Maybe we can tell the Russians, let them drink oil!

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