Notes from a lecture by Timothy Snyder on Ukraine

I greatly enjoyed Timothy Snyder’s 2010 book Bloodlands and have followed his commentary on the Maidan Nezelezhnosti demonstrations and the subsequent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

An observation I had not heard before is that Poland experienced a Renaissance. Never part of the classic world, it was not a rebirth of anything they had known, but the same currents ran through Poland as through Western Europe. The Renaissance even affected Ukraine.

Ukraine is located between East and West, and has always suffered on that account. From the mid-1500s it was dominated by the grand Duchy of Lithuania, putting it firmly in Europe. A century later the Cossacks rebelled against their Polish -Lithuanian masters and wound up siding with Muscovy, putting Ukraine firmly in the Russian Empire.

While in the Russian Empire, they tended to look at the Poles as representative of Europe, in Europe as the enemy, although they flirted with European ideas themselves. Ukraine was ready to join Europe before the red Army established its grip in the early 20s.

The Soviets initially attempted to bring that Ukraine into the Soviet Union through a system of inducements. Ukrainian intellectuals were fêted in Moscow, and Ukraine enjoyed a measure of independence. This ended in 1930 with forced collectivization, which Ukraine resisted strongly. After that followed the Holodomor and the great patriotic war, making Ukraine the deadliest place on earth for more than a decade.

Snyder said that the 1970s were the most significant era in recent Ukrainian history. Ukrainian born Brezhnev attempted to integrate all levels of academic, scientific, and commercial activity using the Russian language throughout. Ukrainian was no longer taught in school.

Since independence Ukraine has been pulled alternately east and west, depending on the short-term calculations of the oligarchs in charge.  Only with Maidan did they make a decisive move towards the west, one which impelled Russia to a countermove.

Snyder speaks extensively about a Eurasian union without ever defining it.  A Google search shows something less than grand – the customs union of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia.  Russia was trying to get Yanukovych to get Ukraine to commit to it, but he never succeeded.  Whatever the case, a “Eurasia” composed of such weak parts could never be a counterweight to the west.

Russia’s economy is roughly the size of France. It cannot challenge the European Union in economic terms. He says that Putin’s strategy is to undermine the European Union, bringing it down rather than building Russia up.

The part of the strategy is to support the nationalist parties in Western Europe. He names the United Kingdom Independend party, the national front in France, Jobbik in Hungary and others. He says it is a supreme irony that Russia on one hand rails against fascists in Ukraine, of which there are none, and supports the right-wing parties everywhere else in Europe.

He says that the aim of the right-wing parties in Europe is to fragment, to split their countries. In this I disagree with him. The nationalist parties of France and England are truly conservative in their desire to return to the national character of those places prior to the European Union. The European Union has brought massive levels immigration from the Third World, and massive levels of public debt. The conservatives want to return to the former national character, when the average Frenchman was a Frenchman rather than an African.

My observation is that the European Union and the United States have favored immigrants over the native stock. It is a question of northern European altruism and idealism run amok – turned against itself. In a reversal of classic standards of free speech, it has become impossible to open one’s mouth to question the wisdom of admitting said flood of Africans and Arabs.  President of Finland Matti Vanhanen felt compelled to apologize that his father, intelligence researcher Tatu VanHanen, published a book to the effect that the immigrants simply do not have the intellect required to succeed in Europe.

The immigrants, and the native stock’s lack of fertility, are leading to a demographic and a financial disaster. Government spending is unsupportable and will become more so as the native born workers retire and the immigrants continue to fail to acquire the education and skills that would be needed to take their place.

Snyder observed that Putin that not have any articulated plan. He is simply an opportunist, taking advantage of Europe’s apparent weakness. Snyder is disappointed at how evident that weakness appears. Europe is unable to unite in the face of this threat. Snyder also observed, and I totally agree, that the Russians are masters of propaganda. He calls it postmodern, in the sense that they can continue the propaganda despite glaring contradictions among their claims. As an example, they call the Ukrainian government fascist, while Russia itself supports the most right-wing elements in governments throughout the rest of Europe. While preparing for the lecture I had planned to attend today, I ran across this striking piece of propaganda that includes most of the threads to which Snyder was referring.

I would ask that Snyder answer for himself what is the appeal of the right-wing parties in Europe? They have been growing quite rapidly, and certainly doing so without Putin’s help. My short answer would be that they represent the white man. Putin also represents the white man and traditional values. It’s a pretty powerful, gut level argument.

The European bureaucrats represent unlimited immigration, untraditional sexuality, unsustainable levels of debt, and suppression of free speech by anybody who would question the above. Given the choice, Putin apparently does not look so bad to some large fraction of the citizenry. It may be time for Europe’s leadership to reconsider its own values, and bring them back in line with the common people.

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2 thoughts on “Notes from a lecture by Timothy Snyder on Ukraine

  1. Commenting on your last “spy” blog, the world is mad, but asking which one to pick putin or obama is in many ways what Snyder did in his lecture. He compared the choice between europe or the eurasian union, (odd he kept using the phrase eurasion but not russian). Your choice and his choice is looking at a static world, as if this is perminent. The book “End of History” written in early 90’s after the “perminent” victory of classical liberal democracy over commusnisn, was also a view that says, that;s it, things are always going to be this way.

    Ukraine was the loose cannon in the last few months, (now one knew what was going to happen),
    the current loose cannon is russia, the other less visible loose cannons are some of the problems you mentioned, effects of mass immigration, mass debt, non traditional values, demographics and the emergence of the right in europe with it’s putin lovefest is definately a loose cannon, it may stay with national policies or explode into something very evil. Your son will have other choices and I believe we will have newer choices before we reallize, although with much pain before they appear.

    Snyder’s talk was good, but he was talking in english hesitantly, he had a super fantastic talk at the London school of Economics, on youtube, 1.5 hrs but worth watching all. As a historian he is good, but I think he looks at the near future too staticaly, as I said before. Technology is always a loose cannon, but it’s sad with all the video and info out there, not only russians have strange views of reality but many in the west either believe in total lies, or are completely evil and promote lies, or as most, they obliviously immerse themselves into a virtual reality world of entertatinment. But serious education does not always produce the truth either, I have my doubts about the “evolution” concepts out there.

  2. About your striking piece of propaganda, the world socialist web site is all propaganda. Striking propaganda is when it is in fact not striking but subtle where an average observer does not pick up on it. You have to be brain washed to read that site, but fairly independent people many times mis propaganda. There is also business interest like all the big networks, cnn, bbc etc., they can’t be too explicit in there negative coverage of russian aggression or any other, because they in the future have to get press access to other stories and interviews so the business needs to keeps going. For example, wasn’t it strange that on April 20th the first big deadly incident in east ukraine, one russian and I think a bbc coorespondent were first at the scene. You’d think a uki journalist would be first. Tha was a staged event and they set up the bbc guy to see it first. I’m sure his taxi driver was part of the set up.

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