Saturday, February 22, 2014

Violence and the pacifist losers

The tragic events in Kyiv threw me back to 1991, when I was doing my masters’ in Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame. We had many heated debates about when and how violence is justified. We came from 12 different countries, and the personal and political contexts were all different. I was always in the non-violent camp, perhaps reflecting the history of my country, overwhelmed by political violence of the 20th century. Others, who came from more recent anti-colonial struggles pointed out that all famous non-violent movements usually had parallel violent campaigns or an explicit threat of violence to aid them. I do understand the argument intellectually, but my every instinct rebels against violence.

In Russia, several people openly called for violent solution to the Maidan crisis. On the conservative side, calls for violence were numerous. Many commentators said or hinted that the Ukrainian president should use military force and/or volunteers from the Eastern provinces and put down the rebellion. The threat of volunteers is especially sinister, because civilians fighting civilians is a recipe for horrendous cruelty, as many recent examples show. The official Kremlin line has always been for a non-violent solution, as far as I can tell. But since the government controls the very channels on which calls for violence are aired, it is hard to know which parts of the government really think what. On the liberal side, the calls for violence are more muted, but for example, Yulia Latynina from Ekho Moskvy quite openly called the Maidan leaders to escalate their violent push. Pragmatically, speaking, she was right – only one day of violence brought victory to the Maidan – most of their demands have been quickly granted by the Rada.

But pragmatism be damned. I just can’t imagine myself calling either side of the conflict for more violence. Those are real people that are dying on the streets. This is the country where we may have “geopolitical interests,” whatever the hell that means, but where many of us have friends and family. Bringing more fuel to the raging fire somehow seems just plain wrong. Maybe this is why I am not a politician.

There were several great losers – politicians who could have used violence and be successful, but they just could not ring themselves to do it, and lost. Gorbachev is probably one of them. Most Russians hate him, but I and few others will always respect him for things he could have done, but did not. Marshall Zhukov may have been another example; he probably could have overthrown Khrushchev if he wanted to. It is hard to say about Yanukovich – did he have enough resources to implement the martial law? If yes, he joins my club of pacifist losers, for his political career is over. If he simply did not have the support of the army, then he is just a loser. I guess we will find out soon, for people will start talking. Right now, it is the “fog of war,” and there are few facts, just two competing streams of propaganda.

Hats off to the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who pushed the compromise with these blunt and very public words: "If you don't support this [deal] you'll have martial law, the army. You will all be dead." That’s my kind of a peacemaker.

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