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13 November, 2014

An Imagined Dialogue on Several Clichés

Western misperceptions on the Russo-Ukrainian war

In the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian war disguised as an internal conflict in Eastern Ukraine, several clichés and misperceptions of reality widespread in the West have reappeared. In this light, the following questions could and should quite legitimately be raised. I will try to formulate them in such a way so the reader can feel a trajectory of thought. Everything is based on my own fairly recent interviews and discussions on Ukraine and Europe.

What makes us more responsive to the deaths or misfortunes caused by war than the others that are closer to our reality, like the ones caused by urban violence or poverty? Two things: fear of a possible chain reaction that would hit us ourselves, and anxiety of physical destruction which is a tragic lot of boundary regions and endemically unsafe places like Eastern Europe or the Middle East. We are tempted to think that death caused by urban violence or poverty would bypass us somehow, yet a big war, once waged somewhere nearby, is easy to start and almost impossible to end – therefore, we fear that death is on the way to us. Never ask for whom the bell tolls... 

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Are we, the modern society, losing compassion? Yes, we undoubtedly are. We are swamped and washed out by the unmanageable wave of information via the internet and social networks, yet we are constantly behind all major and genuine dramas of humanity. They happen just before our eyes. Hence, the misery of young and precarious people – jobless and devoid of any brighter future only due to their being part of the new global precariat or austeriat. We are not in a position to freely choose our time – wars and crises never ask if we want them. Silent tragedies of millions of people who move from relative visibility and social connections in their country to the anonymity and forsakenness of their existence in a foreign country they move to find a job and to support their families go unnoticed.

A story of adultery of a movie star moves and drives crazy millions of consumers of global news, yet nobody really reacts to the danger of a possible world war in Ukraine or sufferings of Ukrainians only because it happens in No Man’s Land – somewhere in Eastern Europe which is tantamount to the middle of nowhere. It was only after the Malaysian aircraft was downed by terrorists supported by Russia that Western Europe, Australia, and the USA started reacting. We listen to moral panic-mongers and inciters of collective or even global hysterias, yet we refuse to listen to ordinary citizens or sound people who would lower their voices instead of yelling at us – this happens because we choose to believe figures and statistics whether financial or political. Tell me how much population you have or what is the GDP in your country if you want to win my attention – this is the logic behind our political and moral reasoning nowadays. Zygmunt Bauman has spoken about the phenomenon of adiaphorization of our consciousness which means the abandoning of the ethical dimension in our choices and actions. I would define this phenomenon as the withdrawal-and-return mechanism which facilitates leaving and abandoning our sensibilities with the possibility to return to them, as soon as evil actions committed to those whom we consider a collective nobody or nonpersons or nonentity are finished, and we are back to those whose first and last names we know. 

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Who are modern barbarians? People devoid of sensitivity to those who are different from them. Or human individuals abandoning and denying their own individual responsibility for their choices and actions as well as for the rights of other individuals whom they wish to strip of their uniqueness, individuality, and dignity.  

Some say Vladimir Putin is something like a 21st century Napoleon. Do you agree with that? As we know, Napoleon was instrumental in introducing modern and progressive legislation in France and elsewhere, which allowed him to grant citizenship to the Jews in France and Italy. Putting aside his militarism and imperialism, Napoleon played a role in the saga of Europe’s modernization. Vladimir Putin cannot be credited for anything like this. He is a sinister and dangerous figure, and also a threat to Europe and civilized humanity. If the world will not stop him, he may lead us to the nuclear apocalypse. He is a political gangster and a war criminal with nuclear weapons. In addition, he is backed and supported by forces in Russia which are impossible to describe otherwise than overtly fascist. This is why Napoleon does not invite any comparison with Putin. Things are much worse than that. I am not a pessimist, though. The world is fed up with dictators and thugs, and it is unlikely that Putin would have a strong footing or would win respect in the world. He will be isolated, condemned, and relegated to the margins of history. However, this does not absolve us from the necessity to watch out and fight evil.

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What do you think about Obama’s policy about ISIS? Obama is president of peace, rather than war. In fact, he is reluctant to go to war. However, he is forced to react to evil forces. I am afraid he does not have many options at hand. Sometimes it is crucial to strike on time when evil is on the rise, instead of waiting until thousands or millions of people are killed. But we cannot eradicate all forms of evil. Hence our curse to be selective and tragically inconsistent. For nobody fights or tolerates evil in its entirety. 


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