As the Ukraine crisis began to unfold, I found myself composing messages on my Facebook page, in an effort to gain a bit of clarity in my own mind while staying in contact with my international network of friends. We are experiencing the biggest international security crisis that I can remember from my own lifetime, and one that resonates in various somewhat complicated ways with other concerns about recent cultural and political developments about which I have been writing on this blog. It is perfectly clear to me that the geopolitical map is being redrawn at this very moment (I'm writing this introduction on 9 March), with consequences for all of us that are impossible to predict but will certainly reach very far. As correctly noted by a Dutch specialist, Caroline de Gruyter, 24 February 2022 will go down in history as the beginning of a historical transition comparable to the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As I feel sure that these are times of world-historical importance, I've decided to copy my Facebook messages in this blog, so as to create a record of developments in the form of an ongoing diary.
I do this mainly because in the future I want to create a record of what I was thinking at this time, on a day-to-day basis without the benefit of knowing what was about to happen next. This will be an unedited diary, so it will record any mistake or misjudgment I might commit, along with any assessments that, with hindsight, might turn out to be correct. Because that's what history is all about: you don't know what's going to happen until it does.
This powerful symbol of peace is quasi-omnipresent in Hiroshima, around the place where the bomb was dropped. We’re now in 2022, and I cannot think of a better time to bring it back to memory.
Ukrainians are fighting for Liberalism, not Neoliberalism (15 March)
Another message from Garry Kasparov (15 March)
Was it inevitable? (12 March)
This looks like a solid longer article about how we got to this tragedy. Opinions?
The economic side of Putin's invasion (11 March)
Putin's invasion of Ukraine explained from the perspective of political-economic strategy considerations. I learned a lot, and have to say that this was a very sobering experience.
More about Kirill (10 March)
Following up on my previous message, here on Bitter Winter please find some very useful background information about Patriarch Kirill and his “terrible sermon.”
Dehumanization (10 March)
Sleep (9 March)
Fortunately, there's music on the other side too (with many thanks to Kateryna Zorya).
Corruptio Optimi Pessima (9 March)
In addition to his "spiritual" forethought, Putin also had a huge temple built for his great power fantasies: the "main church of the armed forces of Russia" west of Moscow. It consists of tarnish green facades decorated with military orders, for its steps melted parts of German tanks and fighter jets were used. The main icon inside shows the face of Jesus Christ and was painted on the wood of a cannon car from 1710. Giant archangel are decorating the doors that frame their swords into the heart of "vengeance". Actually thought to commemorate the victory over nazi - Germany in the Second World War, in which the USSR lost 24 million people, the cathedral became increasingly a religious sanctuary of Russian imperialism. Originally, a mosaic of Putin and Stalin should also be hung in it, as well as a praise song on the annexion of Crimea ("The Crime is ours") but after all, it didn't happen after protests of the Orthodox Church. The church also embodies the idea of a sacred Russia ("Russkij Mir") in a form, the conscription of one of the God's chosen "volumous spirits", who bring the Western world back to value such as homeland, family and Christianity. ll. When you see the young soldiers, who are now being heated in Ukraine, caught in the cult building, you can know which religiously-inspired propaganda they are exposed to:
I’ve decided to collect my FB messages about the Ukraine crisis on my blog, so as to create a diary of what I’m thinking on a day-to-day basis. I will not edit it, so it will keep a record of my mistakes and misjudgments along with anything that might turn out to be correct. I’m doing this partly as a personal experiment concerned with historicity and contingency as opposed to story-telling. A large part of “the terror of history” lies in our ignorance: we simply do not know what will happen and how it will end, but are perfectly able to imagine (or rather: cannot help ourselves imagining) what might be about to happen and how it could possibly end. Our attempts to understand what’s happening are attempts to gain some kind of grip on things that are actually beyond our control; but the truth is that whatever we are thinking right now, and anything we claim to “understand,” could turn out to be perfectly mistaken.
Jan van Eijck about the Ukraine Crisis (9 March)
Another article worth reading from Jan van Eijck's excellent Dutch blog "Twijfelen aan de Werkelijkheid" ("Doubting Reality"), this time about the Ukraine crisis. Again and again, Jan puts his finger at the right spot, and he also provides some very good tips for further reading.
[Dutch original:] Weer een bijzonder lezenswaardige aflevering van Jan van Eijck's onvolprezen blog "Twijfelen aan de Werkelijkheid," ditmaal natuurlijk over de Oekraïne-crisis. Jan legt de vinger steeds weer op de juiste plaats en geeft ook zeer goede tips voor verder lezen.
Shame on Aleksandr Dugin (8 March)
Footage from Charkov (7 March)
A Ukrainian friend who comes from Charkov asked me to share these photos and clips: this is what it looks like when your city is under fire. People are being killed on the streets trying to buy groceries. I know that FB and Twitter don’t work in Russia anymore, but her request to anybody who knows other ways to reach people in Russia: please share this information, so that they know what Putin’s government is doing.
[PS. This is just a small selection from the photos I posted on FB; unfortunately, the video footage cannot be shown in this blog]
So what was "the West" all about? (7 March)
I hope that this crisis will lead us to reconsider or rediscover what “the West” was supposed to be all about. It’s deeply depressing to see how many people are presently responding to Putin’s blatant aggression with litanies of all the well-known crimes and hypocrisies of which the West is guilty, suggesting that he is somehow right and his dictatorship is somehow to be preferred. Yes, the West is guilty of all those crimes - I know it all too well, there’s no need to convince me. But think about it: these feelings of disgust about “hypocrisy” come precisely from the fact that those crimes conflict so painfully with the deeply admirable and inspiring dreams and ideals that we know we should be defending but have neglected. We should have every reason to be proud of our traditions of liberalism (*not* its malicious perversion known as neoliberalism) and humanism, the dream of individual and societal freedom, the belief that all human beings without any exception are equally valuable and should have the same basic rights and opportunities, our commitment to the emancipation of minorities, our principled rejection of discrimination of any kind (whether by race, gender, or sexual orientation), the conviction that we should be able to share what is good for the benefit of all. The undeniable fact that we’ve kept making a horrible mess of these ideals should not be a reason for us to keep betraying them now, by cultivating attitudes of tolerance and understanding towards a brutal tyranny that tramples on all of them: such cynicism merely shows that we never took our own ideals seriously in the first place, or even understood what they meant. On the contrary, the fact that we’ve been messing up should inspire us to make a turnaround, to rediscover and embrace all those ideals and values that are the true heart of Western culture, to try what we can to correct the countless mistakes we have made, and make another serious attempt to finally get it right. If there has ever been an opportunity, this is it.
[PS. In the comments, one of my friends expressed some reservations about formulations like "the true heart of Western culture." I understand this reaction, for such language does conflict with the deconstructionist instincts that have become quite standard in academic discourse; and yet I stand by my words, because I believe we need to move on from deconstruction towards re-construction and some form of metamodernism. I explained my formulation as follows: "What I meant to say is that every culture has a heart, or a soul, in the metaphorical sense of its most positive source of life and energy, the force that keeps it going. I’m not making any metaphysical statement about “essences,” as I don’t believe that any culture has an essence; so this is not about any belief in “souls” either. But to continue the metaphor: the deep tragedy of Putin’s offensive is that for all his rhetorics about the “soul” of “holy Russia” and so on, what he is actually doing is killing the soul of his own culture and his own people by perverting what is actually a deeply positive force of inspiration into a instrument of aggression and domination."]
Garry Kasparov (6 March)
"Westsplaining" Ukraine (5 March)
Please ignore the title of this article ("The American Pundits Who Can't Resist 'Westsplaining' Ukraine"). This is not just a cheap attack on those American “pundits” but a thought-provoking analysis neither from a “Western” nor from a Russian but from an Eastern-European perspective. That’s the point. See also the links at the very end of the article, including a passionate article about “the anti-Imperialism of Idiots”, by a Ukrainian author who somehow (I can’t understand how) manages to remain sharp and analytic while actually writing from Kyiv under artillery attack.
On Waking Up from having Woken Up (4 March)
Seems pretty obvious to me that the alternative / spiritual / conspiracy communities have been infiltrated and exposed to the exact same anti-West, anti-liberal, anti-democratic and anti-global fundamentalism of Vladimir Putin. Was this a successful seeding of just enough anti-West sentiment within our own society in order to paralyse our moral compass in the face of his aggression? These supposedly 'enlightened' circles are openly voicing support for what Putin is doing in the Ukraine. Their anti-establishment leanings and loss of faith in society have been fully turned and engaged against our (and their own) institutions... believing that the true force of evil in the world is here in the West, a belief that just so happens to be driving the tanks and missiles into the Ukraine as we speak. Instead of yelling at everyone else to 'wake up'... why don't YOU 'wake up' to the likely possibility that an enemy of your government has successfully turned you against your own society, freeing him to pursue his own agenda while your bought and paid for support cheers him on from the sidelines?
On understanding what's happening (1 March)
I was impressed by these short remarks by DAdam J Malone, a person on my FB friends list whom I don’t personally know (as far as I’m aware) but whose words ring true to me.
Noticing a number of people saying "the war is not what it seems" or "it's just staged theatre" or "part of the plan". The arrogance and ego defence in this position should be clear for everyone to see. It protects whoever claims this from having any emotional engagement with what's happening, whilst maintaining some kind of superior and illusory belief of "I know what's really going on". This position saves a person from truly comprehending the pain of what's happening, the pain of war... protecting them from feeling the call to stand up for peace. This is not a Netflix series that you've worked out the plot for. If the Ukrainians cannot have peace neither can you. Have the courage to face the shadow of the human condition and own it, not pretend it's all part of someone or something else's great plan that you've discovered on Rumble. This belief makes you inhumane and complacent whilst creating the perfect vacuum for such atrocities to occur unhindered as they have throughout history. This is the time to stand up for peace, to own and confront the shadow, not arrogantly say "I told you so".
I recognize the attitudes he criticizes. It is very important that we try to understand what is presently happening in all its depth and complexity, but that is not the same thing as taking the arrogant (and lazy) high ground of claiming that we already know and already have understood. On the contrary, that’s a perfect recipe for delusion. “Understanding” is not some fixed ideological position but always an ongoing learning process (and a painful one, for learning means letting go of what you held to be certainties until you discover that they weren’t), and it’s never narrowly intellectual and distant but always bound up with deep emotion and existential engagement. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain and terror and confusion of what’s happening right now, we will not even begin to understand. And let’s not expect understanding of the world situation to come to us like some flash of certainty either - that’s not going to happen. All we can ever hope to gain from our attempts at understanding the present moment is a bit more wisdom, a bit more humility, a bit more humanity.
An article by Daniel Pinchbeck (28 February)
I recommend this article by Daniel Pinchbeck. Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine should be a huge wake-up call for all those in “the West” who have been falling asleep and have gotten confused, over the past years and decades, about what it really means if your freedom of self-determination is taken away from you. Pinchbeck also has some useful discussion of the partly spiritual-intellectual background traditions that help explain Putin’s view of the world; some of them have to do with right-wing esoteric-Traditionalist currents of thought, with Aleksandr Dugin as probably the most well-known representative.
Putin's health (27 February)
Any input on Putin’s health? He looks like a sick, exhausted man. Of course that could be just stress and lack of sleep, but he’s seventy years old and there have been reports about cancer, Parkinson’s disease and surgery; and during that long one-hour ”history lesson” last week, again and again he seemed out of breath. I was struck by the fact that even on camera in front of the whole world, he didn’t seem to bother trying to conceal it, or perhaps simply wasn’t able to. Dictators who invade another country would typically try to project an image of pure strength, energy and determination, but he was just sitting there slumped back behind the table. How do I read this? Or do I read too much in it?
And So It Begins (24 February)
Years ago, my friends Kateryna Zorya and Birgit Menzel showed me around Moscow and advised me to pay a visit to the Glazunov Museum, financed by Putin’s government, to get an idea of what Russian nationalism could look like. I spent hours in that museum, and it made a lasting impression on me. In a very large room in the midst of the museum, you find these enormous paintings that show how Glazunov pits an idealized “Holy Russia” (Tradition) against its demonized counterpart, “the perverse and decadent West” (Modernity). The large painting “The Market of Our Democracy” must of course be seen against the background of the 1990s’ “shock neoliberalization” of Russia, and really says it all. It’s worth studying the details. And then you have a third painting in which the two cultures confront one another. The representatives of conservative “Tradition” are on the right, with a priest who is stretching out his arms to ward off the danger, while on the left you see an unruly crowd of perverts and revolutionaries entering the holy space from a door that looks like the gate of hell. Believe me, when you’re actually there in that room, facing those enormous paintings, it’s much more impressive than an online picture can possibly show. What we’re seeing here is just one of the many examples of how potent imagery can be used for propaganda, by creating extremely simplified and therefore highly effective either-or oppositions. Dictators cannot accept complexity, nuance, ambivalence, ambiguity: to prepare for war, first you need to reduce reality in people’s minds to stark choices between “good” or “evil” that allow for nothing in between. And of course, you cannot deal with any in-between countries either: it always has to be either “us” or “them.” I’m deeply sad and worried to see how this false logic is once again throwing us into war, with unforeseeable global consequences for the coming years.