It is, being an inhabitant of the Free World, very easy to shake your head in surprise, incomprehension and contempt, when reading the arguments, the thoughts and the opinions from Russians about the war (or whatever they call it) in Ukraine. Their point of view is, as is well known, not quite a bit but very different. What is the truth for us, is a lie for them, and so is the other way around. But have you ever tried to understand why? Well, here it is.
If you’d stop a random man, woman or non-binary on a street in London, and ask how he/she/they would describe in a few words, what is going on between Russia and Ukraine, you’d probably hear the word “war”. If you should do the same in St. Petersburg, you probably would hear the term “special military operation”. Now, that is not something new. But have you ever considered, the one you ask in St. Petersburg believes, it is not a war?
It would not be difficult to convince an ordinary Russian, that the conflict has a few aspects of a war: two parties who both have armies, shoot at each other, and try to conquer land. But really a war — no, that is not what Russian people believe. It’s more a dispute that obviously could not be discussed around a table, seen from the Russian perspective. But that is not necessarily “a Russian thing”.
Let me elaborate this. I will use an example, but need to tell a little history lesson: I am born and raised (somehow, but that’s besides the point) in The Netherlands. If you know your history, you might have heard, that Holland was neutral during World War I. Despite the Dutch army was mobilized the four years, World War I raged, no soldier from Holland ever shot at other soldiers: neither German or Belgian or France, or the United States or Serbia. The military in Holland was neutral.
Due to The Law of Neutrality, Chapter 15, a part of The Law of War, can a state or country support another country, that has been attacked illegally. But World War I was a very complex situation: Austria and Germany were fighting side by side against Serbia, which got support from Russia. But Russia was supported by France, while France was backed by Great Britain and Belgium. Great Britain, on it’s turn, got the blessing of Japan. Later, Italy and the United States took side of the multilink allies, and thus against Germany and Austria. Little Holland never took a party. And that was very welcome to Germany and Austria: life necessities, that Germany and Austria were able to import before the war, were now difficult to obtain. A neutral state in the west, that still had access to other countries, was therefore very welcome.
World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. Austria took is as an illegal attack, and Germany agreed on that thesis. That allowed The Netherlands to help Germany and Austria with everything. And that is what was happening: The Netherlands supported the Germans and Austrians on every level but military, and only indirectly. But that is something most Dutchmen won’t admit. And that is exactly my point: it’s one of the black pages in the Dutch history. I attended Elementary School in The Netherlands, and always learned, that Holland was neutral. Like they had a halo over their head: they did not.
Something similar is going on in Russia. I assume that is nothing special, every country, every culture is suffering from the same selective memory disease. In Russia, however, it is obvious: Putin has nearly been shouting his messages from the roofs: Ukraine belongs to Russia. Ukrainians and Russians are one people. Putin himself even wrote an article about it, to express his urge why he felt that Ukraine and Russia (and Belarus, by the way) are one. Based on the history they share (Kyivan Rus), the religion they have in common (Orthodox churches in several shapes), the language (even though there are differences, the languages have a lot of similarities, just like Norwegian is very similar Danish, while French and Spanish aren’t that far from each other), and, to use Putin’s own words: the misfortune and tragedies both Ukraine and Russia (and Belarus) have experienced apart together.
No matter how much you try to restate it, it is impossible to decline, without lying, that Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus share a history, culture and language, and have experienced a lot together: all citizens of these three countries are descendants of The Ancient Rus.
In the beforementioned article by Vladimir Putin, he resembles the warfare history of the different parts that became the Soviet Union in 1917 — both the wars the countries were involved in before Lenin rose to power, and what happened until now. As far as I can see, he does not make any mistake: the facts are true.
Putin’s article is not so much meant as propaganda, however it is a heck of a chronicle, that seamlessly can be used in history lessons, to glorify the greatness of The Rus. The way I see it, this article is just a written essay about how most Russian people see it. And since the facts are correct (again: as far as I can judge, I am open for any correction), I can understand the pain, many Russian people feel: Ukraine became pro-Western, and is on it’s way to throw away their culture.
Let me tell a little anecdote from my life: When I was about eighteen, perhaps nineteen, I was still very convinced of my Christian faith. My brother had other thoughts: we did not believe in God. My dad found that not only astonishing, he found it simply inacceptable. Especially because my brother still lived at home with my parents and me. One Sunday morning, my parents found out, my brother hadn’t come home that night: he had spend the night at home with a girl, he met at a bar (I might have told my parents some information, they didn’t have in advance — oops). My father drove to the girl’s house and fetched my brother: my father’s will was the law. I can’t remember if we were late for church by then and therefore drove home, or if we actually ended up in church. But eventually, my brother would move, to live with himself, and as I understood, he never saw a church from the inside after that, except for some family events, like weddings and funerals.
Why am I telling this anecdote? Well, at that time, I totally agreed with my parents: Of course, my brother should not do such a godless thing such as sleeping with a girl without being married! Of course, my brother should not skip church. Of course, my daddy was in his full right to drag my brother out of that ungodly environment and in particular the house of that godless girl.
There is a little thing, I did not mention in the above anecdote. I wrote, I was about eighteen years old. My brother is one year older. Both he and I were at that time already of legal age. Sure: we (my parents, my brother and I) shared the language, we shared the history, we shared our Christian upbringing, we shared our origin, we shared the culture. But that does not mean, anyone could decide about my brother’s doings and lettings: he was and is in his own right to choose the direction and write his own manuscript for his future, whatever it is in detail or just very casual. But that does not take away, I felt the pain, when I found out he chose not to be a Christian (fun fact, but not relevant: I am not a Christian anymore).
This is what is happening In Russia: Russian people are in agony when they see how Ukrainian people are leaving their culture, and switch to another culture. They feel it like Ukrainians are fraternizing with the enemy. They’ve been told in many years, since 1917 (except for a relative short period just before 2000) that USA and Europe together resemble The Great Satan. And it seems (to Russians), Ukrainian people are willing to exchange their history, culture, politics and economy to a total new system: the system that has been trying to defeat Russia. The system of the Russophobes. The system of inferior people.
From the Russian point of view, Ukraine is just The Prodigal Brother, who needs to be saved. And Putin is not the first one to do so: all of his predecessors have more or less done the same, at least since 1917. From around 1800 until 1917, the Russian Empire was a very, very large country: stretching from Poland in the west to Alaska in the East, and from Belarus in the north to Moldova in the south (even though Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867). Such a large country is very difficult to govern, and that’s why it wasn’t that difficult for Lenin to gain power: In February 1917, the Imperial government was overthrown, and 9 months later Lenin gained power: the Soviet Union was founded. The Bolsheviks had one trump: they could refer to a large areal, which inhabitants once have been one nation, one people. And that is the one card, Putin is playing. And because there is no living people in the current area that is under Russian influence that have been taught different, it is exactly what they believe. Whether you like it or not: the countries that once were part of the Russian Empire do share the historical, cultural, lingual, and even religious similarities.
And this is where it goes wrong for Putin and the Russians: these similarities are true, but irrelevant. And why is this irrelevant? Because any human being is defined by its choice, not by its past. And that is why Russia (not just Putin, but every Russian who supports this war) should back off: any Ukrainian is free to decide what to do!
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