Ukrainian Diary



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.


Who is to blame for the Ukrainian Anschluss? (20 March)

And still we are being flooded by articles and commentaries to the effect that not Putin but “we” are really to blame for this crisis…
It’s true that we are watching not just a horrific war but a big geostrategic game in which the big powers are all busy calculating their risks and chances. It’s also true that “the West” has accumulated many sins and hypocrisies to which it should answer before the tribunal of history. We know that. If we don’t know it, we haven’t been paying attention. There will (hopefully) be plenty of time for academic and historical discussions about how we ever got to this point and where “we” could have acted differently.
BUT please get this. There’s a very clear difference between a country that’s on its way towards embracing freedom and democracy and human rights, imperfect as the realities may often be, and a brutal dictatorship that tramples on freedom, democracy and human rights. All those self-blaming articles are exactly what Putin needs (and by now, we should really know that he has been actively promoting them for many years), because they sow doubt and division among his enemies by tempting us into thinking that perhaps the aggressor is really the victim and it’s really “us” who are to blame.

Austria after the Anschluss. "[Those of the] same blood belong in one and the same empire."

At the time when Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, and then invaded Poland two years later, it was technically correct to say that the countries that won WWI should not have humiliated Germany through the Versailles treaty. Sure thing. But all those self-blaming articles we’re reading now are the exact equivalent of arguing “it’s really the fault of France, England and their allies that Hitler started WWII”.
Why is that so hard to get? History will judge us.

Hiroshima Paper Cranes (19 March)


In 2005 I visited the memorial museum in Hiroshima, near the epicenter of the first atomic bomb. It left an indelible impression. Among many other things, I learned about the story of Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old in 1945 and decided to fold a thousand paper cranes before her death by leukemia caused by the nuclear radiation. Here's an article about.

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)

It’s clear by now that many people respond to the Ukrainian war with observations to the effect that “Western” liberalism isn’t exactly so benevolent either. That it’s politically sensitive to make that point in the middle of a brutal war is rather obvious; and all the more so if one sees how busy pro-Putin ideologists like Aleksandr Dugin are (right now - I’ve been following him over the past days) in presenting “liberalism” quite literally as a satanic evil that must be eliminated from the planet by all possible means, “conventional” or even nuclear. These manichaean fantasies of total apocalyptic warfare against “liberalism” are sickening to read, as these people are enthusiastically cheering genocidal atrocities at the largest scale and call it a fight of “good” against “evil.” Hard to believe perhaps? But it’s true.
So what’s my view? I have always been deeply critical (as anybody can see on my blog, various items from 2015 on) of the “Hayekian” neoliberal/global system that I saw emerging in Western society since the 1980s (Thatcher/Reagan) and that definitely took over since the 1990s (Blair/Clinton), at the expense of the moderate “Keynesian” liberalism grounded in a balance of state and market. As I was born in the Netherlands in 1961, I’ve had the advantage (contrary to younger generations, and also contrary to Americans) of consciously experiencing at least a few decades of such “embedded liberalism,” a moderate-leftleaning liberalism sometimes referred to as “social democracy.” So I can tell the difference. It was not ideal, but much better than anything that came after.
I have been arguing for many years now that the neoliberal "silent takeover" of the 1990s is at the heart of most of our problems, as it actually corrupts freedom, equal rights, humanitarian values, and democracy (not to mention the environment). Among other things, the “shock neoliberalization” of the former Soviet countries was supposed to “bring freedom and democracy” but actually brought neoliberalism, and had profoundly destructive effects (for instance, just last week I read Lea Ypri’s excellent first-hand account of what happened to her country Albania). The ever-repeated article of blind faith according to which “capitalism equals democracy” (and hence radical capitalism/neoliberalism should equal democracy even more) has been proven utterly false. Much of the deep social unrest and grassroots protests that we have seen emerging over the past twenty years is grounded in that realization. General populations feel in their guts how freedom has been taken away from them and democracy has been corrupted (but unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to manipulation and propaganda by rightwing populists, who mislead them into thinking that “leftwing liberalism” is the enemy, whereas the true enemy is neoliberal capitalism - an entirely differen animal).
So in my opinion, we need to wake up from the neoliberal delusion and rediscover what liberalism was really all about. It’s not what its enemies make it out to be; it’s a profound moral tradition with long and deep historical roots (e.g. I recommend Larry Siedentop’s classic study), but we have largely lost touch with what it is or was supposed to be.
I hardly dare to say it, but there’s perhaps just that tiny shimmer of hope right now that this horrible conflict we’re experiencing might help waking “the West” up from its self-delusions in this regard. Seeing the courage with which the Ukrainians are fighting for their country and for their lives, this should make us realize that “liberalism” for them is clearly not about “markets and business” but about freedom and the sanctity of human values and human lives. What I’m saying is that the genuinely liberal values and traditions of “Western society” that give them inspiration are wholly incompatible with the neoliberalism that has been taking over for about 3-4 decades now; but needless to add, they are utterly incompatible also with the brutal authoritarianism represented by Putin - along with so many other bullies (from Xi or Erdogan or Orbán to Trump or Bolsonaro, and the list goes on) that took power over the past years by riding a wave of “anti-liberal” sentiments that should actually be directed, as I argued above, not against liberalism but against neoliberalism. The difference is that dictatorship is utterly unredeemable: no road leads from there towards a humane society. By contrast, neoliberalism is a perversion of liberalism (corruptio optimi pessima: the corruption of the best is the worst), and this means that it should still be able to cure and reform itself. I'm not ready to give up hopes that it might.

Another message from Garry Kasparov (15 March)

A Message from Garry
Dear Friends,
For years, I’ve darkly joked that if I ever wrote a sequel to my 2015 book on Putin, Winter is Coming, I’d have to subtitle it: “I f—ing told you so.” Now, winter is here and war has come. Most authors want their books to be popular, but it’s bad news when I see Winter Is Coming quoted everywhere and zooming up the sales charts. I had hoped it would be a history book by now, but thanks to Putin’s bloody, second invasion of Ukraine, it’s still current events.
The most cited parts of the book are those predicting that Putin would not stop with occupying Eastern Ukraine and Crimea because, as I tire of saying, dictators do not stop until they are stopped. Show strength and Putin stops. Show weakness and he advances. After paying no serious consequences for his 2014 invasion of Ukraine––even being rewarded with new pipeline deals and summits––Putin was ready for more conflict. Now he is razing Ukraine to the ground, as he did Grozny and Aleppo, with no regard for civilian casualties. Russian military incompetence and Ukrainian heroism don’t refute the deadly physics of tons of high explosives applied to buildings and flesh.
Since Putin’s launched his new war, I have made probably over a hundred media appearances all over the world, from every major news show in the US to beleaguered Kyiv radio stations and all over Europe in between. My message is that Ukraine must be defended, its people saved, that it is the front line of a war Putin declared a decade ago while the West pretended it didn’t exist. The heroes of Ukraine bleed and die for a war they did not choose, fighting a villain they did not create. They are being sacrificed by the wealthy nations that funded Putin’s war machine for years with their energy purchases. Kyiv and Kharkiv burn today because Brussels and Washington spent too long cozying up to the criminal in the Kremlin, instead of arming those willing to fight and die for democracy.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy shows more courage today than any Western politician did for the last 20 years when they told us, over and over, that there was nothing to be done. Now they are finally acting, with strong sanctions that might have deterred Putin eight years ago, or even eight weeks ago, but that cannot stop missiles and tanks. The price for stopping a dictator always goes up, and now the price must be paid in risk and action. NATO is not obliged by treaty to defend Ukraine, as people do not cease to remind us, although the US and UK agreed in principle to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty when it gave up its nuclear weapons according to the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. But a lack of obligation is not a prohibition. If saving a besieged democracy from a murderous dictator isn’t worthy of action by NATO or any of its individual member states, the greatest military force in history may as well not exist.
Given the events of the world today, the newsletter will look a little different this month, focusing exclusively on what we can do to stop the Russian war against Ukraine. There is one story in the world, and it is the fight between the free world and the forces of authoritarianism. Ukraine is the front line today. If we do not support Ukraine today, we may pay the price in Taiwan tomorrow, and then what next after that?
We are in a fight for the survival of democracy and the modern world order. The people of Ukraine show us what consequences we face when we allow authoritarianism to spread undeterred. It’s time to pick a side, and stand with the Ukrainian people as they stand in the line of fire.
Slava Ukraini. Glory to the heroes.
Sincerely,
Garry Kasparov

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.

See the video here.

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)



This is a follow-up to yesterday’s posting (Corruptio optimi pessima) and my earlier one from 24 February (about Ilya Glazunov’s paintings). The common thread is how “the West” and all its “liberal” traditions are being demonized as a satanic perversion pitted against an idealized image of “true” religion, with Putin as the heroic God-sent defender of all that is sacred. As a result, the Ukrainian war is imagined not as a political conflict but as a metaphysical battle. Once you really think in such terms, there is no limit to what you are allowed to do, because you’re not fighting a human battle against human enemies but imagine that you’re on the side of God, the angels, or the Light against satan, demons, and darkness. This is no different from how, just a few years ago, ISIS was picturing “the West”: the same heroic story-telling, the same litany of Western perversions, the same argument that even the worst atrocities are justified in light of the greater good. The logic is no different either from how Catholics and Protestants were justifying the burning of witches and magicians just a few centuries ago. It’s no different from how the Nazis were waging their own “holy war” against “cosmopolitan, rootless, money-grabbing Jews”. It’s also no different from how QAnon believers imagine they are waging a battle against satanic pedophiles (while using those same antisemitic tropes about Soros, the Rothschilds etc). It’s always the same perverse attraction of imagining yourself as being involved in a manichaean battle of light against darkness, with a storyline that allows you to dehumanize your opponents while casting yourself in the role of the hero with a god-given license to kill.
Let’s not fool ourselves though: we are by no means immune from falling into the same trap. This conflict is not metaphysical, it is human, all too human, and these temptations are human too. We are all vulnerable to the temptation of demonizing those on “the other side,” instead of remembering that they are human beings like ourselves, whose imagination has been poisoned by dangerous stories. By dehumanizing our enemies we dehumanize ourselves. By imagining them as monsters we become monsters ourselves.

Sleep (9 March)

Fortunately, there's music on the other side too (with many thanks to Kateryna Zorya).

Please listen to this clip.

Corruptio Optimi Pessima (9 March)


See this description, by Rüdiger Sünner, and this link to a Youtube video

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 find this heart-wrenchingly painful to watch and listen to, precisely because of the incredible beauty of the Russian-Orthodox music that is being used here for mass manipulation in the service of imperialist dreams (or nightmares). On February 24, I wrote something about Ilya Glazunov's paintings about "Holy Russia," pitted against the so-called "perversions of Western liberalism," and here we see a ritualization of the same idea. This is all about the incredible power that myth and symbolism can be made to exert over the human emotions. In "the West" we have largely forgotten how this works, but Putin knows it very well.
On a personal level I'm reminded of how, when I was a child, my father took me on a visit to the Orthodox monastery in Chevetogne. We spent hours sitting in its church during the service, and the incredible beauty of the music (those low voices coming out of the mysterious darkness next to the altar) made an indelible impression. I still remember how it was to sit there, to listen, and to watch. It was a thoroughly positive "spiritual" experience, one of the strongest of my childhood.
And then to watch this. The same music, the same visual imagery, the same kind of ritual. And to know what it is doing to the minds of those young people in their uniforms. Because it is so effective.

PS. Just to avoid any misunderstanding among hasty FB readers: this is obviously not an attack on Orthodoxy. On the contrary, one point I'm trying to make here concerns the profound beauty and the thoroughly positive dimensions of Orthodoxy as religion, which impressed me deeply when I first came into contact with it. It's precisely this that makes the nationalistic appropriation and perversion of it (and, one might add, any active support of such by its spiritual leaders) so painful: corruptio optimi pessima. Furthermore, never forget that Orthodoxy is anything but monolithic. It's an extremely complex phenomenon that takes many different shapes in different countries and cultural contexts: Russian, Greek, etcetera.

The Terror of History (9 March)

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)

Chilling words by Aleksandr Dugin, who is busily cheering Putin on and clearly believes that all means are justified. This is what he writes on his FB page:
"There is a little misunderstanding in US analysis of possible Russian answer to eventual direct participation of NATO in conflict - through Poland or elsewhere. US most clever experts exclude preventive nuclear strike being sure that Russia uses this ultimate weapon only in the response to previous nuclear strike of the West. They are wrong in that. We are already in different stage of conflict. For Russia it means to be or not to be. For the US certainly it is highly important but not existential. So be not so sure. We’ve crossed the border.
I remind: I am (almost) always right in my analysis. Don’t try to find how. You’ll never know."
Dugin has certainly crossed the border - of sanity and of humanity. This is what ideological blindness looks like. Shame on him.

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)


Garry Kasparov op Twitter. Don’t forget: he’s a chess champion.
“Putin's war on Ukraine has entered its next phase, one of destruction and slaughter of civilians. It is also a part of Putin's World War, a war on the civilized world of international law, democracy, and any threat to his power, which he declared long ago.
The free world's denial of this war and decades of appeasement allowed Putin to threaten and conquer abroad while turning Russia into a police state. The price to stop him has gone up every time he has advanced unchallenged. Ukrainians are paying that price in blood.
If Putin is not stopped now, not prevented from destroying Ukraine and committing genocide against its people, there will be a next time and it will be in NATO, with an unprecedented nuclear threat. Do not let Putin escalate again in a time and place of his choosing.
Everyone is quoting my 2015 book Winter Is Coming and saying I was right & "listen to Kasparov". But will you still listen when I say this will take sacrifice and risk? Not just wheat and gas prices, not just empty chalets and unemployed lobbyists. Easy is over.
Or will you say that I am irrational, blinded by hate, as I heard in 2015? I hope not. Putin must be stopped because the unthinkable is now the possible. The world has awoken, at long last, and many steps I recommended last week are happening. It's not enough.
My recommendations:
1 I cannot demand NATO attack Russian forces directly, but I can speak from history & knowledge of Putin. A dictator who has already crossed every line cannot be prevented from escalating with restraint. If he destroys Ukraine, he won't stop.
2 We are not trying to appeal to the murderer in his bunker in the Urals. The message is to those who carry out his orders. Will they? Do they all wish to die? Putin will escalate anyway if he is not stopped now. He will, as he always has before, & the price will be higher.
3 Send Russia to the technological stone age. No support, no parts, no services. Oil boycotts aren't necessary if oil tech is unavailable. The industry will grind to a halt. This means a war footing in sacrificing, retooling & increasing production to substitute. It's war.
4 It's always tragic that ordinary people suffer, but they are not being bombed in their homes like Ukrainians. Every element of Russian society that can pressure Putin must know they have to choose between him & everything else. Some will cling to him, but for how long?
5 Clear message to Russian generals that they will suffer annihilation if one inch of NATO is touched. Send UKR every weapon, including the jets that have been blocked, as if Putin cares about the difference. Stop guessing about his thoughts and do what is needed.
6 Every day Ukraine endures gives opportunity to communicate this catastrophe to the only people who can really stop Putin, the Russian people, from oligarchs to commanders to protestors. Let all in the power vertical know they will be treated as war criminals. They are.
7 Leave nothing in reserve. Speed is of the essence to stop payments and catch them and their assets before they hide. Threats like "he doesn't know what's coming" don't work if Putin doesn't believe you. Show him. And show Russians there is no way back with Putin. Never.
8 Root out the corrupt politicians, businessmen & dark money that corrupted a generation to turn a blind eye or serve authoritarian regimes. Follow the donations, payments, gifts, influence. Hold them accountable. Down with Putin & his appeasers, glory to Ukraine.”

"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)

Again DAdam J Malone formulates it perfectly. I quote:
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?

 

I’m afraid that the same people and communities who were shouting so loudly that our governments were using vaccines and QR codes to “take away our freedom” are now cheering the dictator who has been taking away the freedom of his own people over the past twenty years and is trying to expand his reign of suppression to the Ukraine, Belarus, and as much farther as he possibly can, including our own societies. I have many friends in the alternative / spiritual communities, and it’s heartbreaking to see how many of them have become the victims of systematic campaigns of conspirational disinformation and propaganda, so that they honestly believe now that they are defending freedom while in fact they are doing everything to undermine it.
To prevent any misunderstandings: I take it that everybody in their right mind and with a bit of historical knowledge should be aware of the many hypocrisies of “the West.” But those who immediately jump to that Whataboutist argument don’t seem to realize or appreciate that they are living in a society in which they can give free expression to those critiques without being punished for it, contrary to what happens to anyone who dares to criticize anti-liberal and anti-democratic regimes such as Putin’s. The problem is partly generational and partly educational: this anti-liberal/anti-democracy movement that confuses its own sentiments with a defense of freedom is dominated by people who have never experienced war and whose parents haven’t experienced it either, so that they couldn’t pass the memories on; and this is combined with the fact that our educational systems have neglected the teaching of history for decades now, leading to widespread ignorance and blissful naïvety about how wars happen and how propaganda works. My friends in the alternative / spiritual communities have been telling us for decades now to “wake up,” and it’s time to return the advice: wake up, friends, you have been fooled and you’re being played.

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?

Saint Vladimir the Great II (25 February)

I find this a thought-provoking piece, as it looks at the Ukraine crisis from the point of view of religion. It shows a dimension that is seldom highlighted, because it seems too alien and bizarre to secular audiences and intellectuals who have been trained to think that ultimately everything is about economics, and not about deeply-felt ideas and spiritual convictions. But in fact there are deeper reasons for the alliance, which is now becoming more evident than ever, between the Trumpian revolution in the US and Putin’s Russian expansionism: with Steve Bannon as a key figure, an important part of what is going on here has to do with the geopolitical dream of a grand global Christian-traditionalist alliance of Evangelicalism, Roman Catholicism (but not the one promoted by Pope Francis - see the article) and Orthodoxy against their enemies: the “soulless secularism” of the West, neo-communist/atheist China, and Islam. Just look at my post of yesterday (Ilya Glazunov), read or watch Steven Bannon (I recommend Errol Morris’s documentary American Dharma), and connect the dots.
This is not a fantasy. We need to understand the incredible power of myth and imagination. I found it deeply annoying yesterday to hear so many commentators express their sheer puzzlement over Putin’s “madness” or “irrationality” - it’s extremely ignorant and irresponsible to dismiss him in those terms, as just another crazy man hungry for power, instead of realizing that what drives these people is never just pure economic or military calculation (the only dimension that most secular critics are able to see at all), but grand dreams of a world-historical mission that are painted on the screen of the geopolitical imagination.


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.




Don't Look Up to Putin? (22 February)

It seems that my friends on FB are perfectly at peace about the Ukraine at this moment, as though this is not really of our concern and we do have more important things to get upset about. QR codes for instance, or Ajax and The Voice of Holland. Perhaps the term "boundary-crossing behaviour" should make us think rather about Putin. The speech he just give makes it perfectly clear that we are very close to the biggest war in Europe since 1945, and this is going to affect all of us. Have we really lost touch with reality? Look up.

[Dutch original, with some explanations below] Onder mijn vrienden op FB lijkt grote rust te heersen over de Oekraïne, alsof het ons niet echt aangaat en we toch echt wel belangrijkere dingen hebben om druk over te maken. QR codes bijvoorbeeld, of Ajax en The Voice. Misschien zouden we er goed aan doen bij "grensoverschrijdend gedrag" toch eerst eens aan Poetin te denken. De toespraak van zojuist maakt geheel duidelijk dat we echt aan de rand staan van de grootste oorlog in Europa sinds 1945, en dat gaat ons allemaal raken. Zijn we het contact met de werkelijkheid echt kwijt aan het raken? Look Up.

* The Voice of Holland is the Dutch equivalent of shows like "Britain's Got Talent." In the previous week, the Dutch media were dominated by sexual misconduct accusations against some well-known artists who played a leading role in the show. Soon afterwards, a no less well-known ex-soccer-player connected to Ajax became the focus of a similar media storm. All of this, of course, came right after all the turmoil among anti-vaccin activists about mandatory QR codes and so on. "Boundary-crossing behaviour" is the literal translation of the standard Dutch expression for sexual misconduct, i.e. grensoverschrijdend gedrag. Of course, I was drawing a parallel with Putin's threat of boundary-crossing. Finally, of course I'm also drawing a parallel here with the recent Netflix movie Don't Look Up: a brilliant satire about how we seem to be losing touch with reality in our mediated world, even if it threatens our very existence.

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