Reading the dispatches covering the crisis in Ukraine I think that we’re living again the nightmares of 1914 or 1939. I do not suggest, dear reader, that today’s mourning events in that country foreshadow another major war or an awful sequel a quarter century later. One important difference is that the cynicism and hypocrisy that permeate alike the acts of democracies and autocracies leave no place to the romantic Élan that captivated the imagination of millions, who later were killed in the trenches. Another difference is that Putin’s Russia does not have the power to swallow an entire country like Hitler did with Czechoslovakia, and Poland afterwards, nor the West have the means or the will to stop it. I mean, rather, that the moral bankruptcy and imbecility of the leaders of the powers involved is the same old, that their behavior reflects the same insane selfishness and ignorance of history. And also something much worse: their inability to recognize the humanity of the “other”, which, in a trice, mutates in his demonization.
I rely in Melville to understand the situation. In Moby Dick, the writer tells us that the soul is like Tahiti, a small island surrounded by a vast ocean in which there are floating debris, wreckage, rubbish, and rubble shed by greed, selfishness, cruelty and violence, ie., the distinctive features of human behavior defined by the unreflecting thought, the preeminence of ego and the penchant for insanity. This ocean is the world of tangible reality. Its polluted waters do not purify because they don’t find solace in that other world which is no less real: Tahiti, the greenery where flourishes splendor, beauty and peace of mind. It is in this ocean that leaders of yesterday and today have taught us to navigate our lives, whilst distracting us with games that separate us from each other and, as recorded by history, sometimes unleashing storms that plague human existence with pain and death. Our leaders do not learn and neither do us because, despite we intuit they do not inspire confidence, we follow and observe their behavior with sloth. Even less, we learn with games that look like dramas, highlighting the struggles that raise up the strong over the weak, dramas that dazzle us because they awaken in us outbursts of superiority, or ghosts of inferiority. Far from Tahiti, we can not realize, what a shame, they only feed irrationality as well as ephemeral and illusory feelings.
Well, now we are spectators of this game called Ukraine, which is confronting the new government of Kiev, in alliance with the West, with “Putin the bad”. Sure, it’s true that in a confrontation halftones are not allowed, but still it’s surprising how easily the official discourse, convenient and thoughtlessly propagated by the important and influent media, is adapted to make up the events that could annoy us and blur the profile’s opponent of the moment. Let’s acknowledge unequivocally that Putin’s Russia is the ultra imperfect democracy or the perfect autocracy, that his government is no stranger to bullying, that Tsarist and Stalinist’s abuse of the neighborhood survives in the historical memory. But some indisputable facts are not mentioned: survey after survey, there has never been a clear majority of Ukrainians who has expressed a preference to join the European Union and NATO; the outgoing government, incompetent and corrupt but democratically elected, suffered the undue interference from abroad that contributed to its overthrow; protesters, like government, also resorted to violence and vandalism; and the perched now in power, with the support of Europe and the United States, denote the same disposition to abuse and tolerance of corruption. In this regard, the appointment of Ukrainian oligarchs to the headquarters of the country’s eastern provinces is revealing.
Floating in that polluted ocean that Melville regretted, our leaders develop a message that is telling half truths, which is eloquent both for its exclusionary spirit and for the mental condition that gives way. The issue, they seem to mean, is simple: with taking Crimea, Russia has violated international law, violated the sovereignty of another country and showed disrespect to civilized standards of conduct governing relations between nations. Then they must suffer sanctions and much more if they don’t reverse on it. But what a shame they do not remember or know of Tahiti, where only a moment of deep reflection teaches us that there is not persuasion by imposing, that life is enriched by a genuine willingness to examine and understand the “others”. You see, my dear reader, it saddens me to see that from Washington or the European capitals no strong complaints were issued on the presence, among the opponents of the deposed regime, of thousands of sympathizers with openly fascist and anti-Semitic ideologies. The reality in the new Kiev is that far-right parties have important representation in government. Where the voices of dismay are heard? In truth, our leaders and media analysts have been much quicker to find in the arrogance of Putin’s Russia the ghosts of Sarajevo and the Sudetenland than to easily discount the historical memory, the recollection, for example, of the many Ukrainians who enthusiastically supported the Nazis in the extermination of millions during World War II.
We can attribute this blatant insensitivity to ignorance, lack of foresight or simply disdain, but I find that it’s best explained by the absolute conviction that we are superior to the “other”. Navigating without a compass, lost in the fog, we do not distinguish that there is much more that unites us than divides us. We are not able to see ourselves by recognizing that “other” —his joys and sorrows, his happiness and bitterness, his fears and assurances, his humanity. When no Tahiti in sight, looking at ourselves can cause much fear, and therefore we turn to the gods of the time that shall bring back quietude while reaffirming the feeling of superiority: a supreme god, free markets, and a goddess, political democracy, which from not less than the last thirty years we have prostituted and subjected to taste. The former, sets the standards that matter in real life, and the latter, at this time in which everything is trivialized, chairs the ritual of entertainment. This is the package we offer the new Kiev, no matter it is pathetically devalued. Confused? Pay attention, dear reader, to the visits announced by higher authorities of the International Monetary Fund and bet that, in exchange for a few dollars of relief, the country will implement the policies of economic austerity. Precisely the same that have sown desolation and misery in the Mediterranean countries.
Possibly the Ukraine’s game will get more dramatic yet, but it is difficult its final would delay much longer because what is at stake costs too much, and will cost much more if financial markets start reeling. At the end, countries that matter will find a solution that allows declaring themselves, at least, not defeated. That does not serve you of any consolation though, because I still don’t see in their leaders willingness to learn the lesson that really matters. It is not to pretend firmness against an opponent who is consciously and unconsciously demonized, nor to search for demolishing arguments that emphasize a supposed moral superiority which, viewed in the light of the havoc we have caused in the Middle East, do not resist any evidence of validity. No, the only lesson that really pays starts out a thoughtful reading of Melville, by the recognition that we sail without rhumb, without realizing that our fidelity to the mindsets of 1914 or 1939 leads to madness. What is needed, dear reader, is that leaders in Washington, Berlin, Paris, London, Kiev and Moscow take their personal journey to Tahiti.
Ukraine – By Jorge L. Daly