Viktor Kogan-Yasny: A Personal view on Ukraine, Nato, the trajectory of Russia and contemporary liberalism

posted 23 Oct 2017, 04:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Oct 2017, 04:10 ]
23 October 2017

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and is a political adviser to the Yabloko party

Ukraine and Nato

Nato establishes a framework. It represents a rejection of the idea and the ideology of revenge, of “counter-imperialism,” nationalism, of the humiliation of the citizens of neighbouring countries. That is why the official decision of Ukraine to join Nato, and not to take revenge on some other party and fight to the victorious end, provides an opportunity for the development of the country and its neighbours, for the advancement of peace and the rule of law, for “learning civilisation” (about which N. A. Struve wrote). Perhaps in ten years’ time in Ukraine there will be more competent citizens and military specialists and fewer streets named after nationalists.

The question remains whether this opportunity will be seized, or whether the post-Soviet environment will gain the upper hand and once again bring about events that will “astonish the world.”

We shall have to wait to see what happens, but we must not lose hope, even if new difficulties arise...

Nato and the roots of Orthodox culture

If we are talking about Orthodox culture and its relationship to politics and public life, then it must be said, despite the plethora of official statements about contrasting positions and civilizational conflicts, that it transpires that all those countries which traditionally form part of the realm of Orthodox Christianity except Russia and Belarus (not counting, of course, countries in the Middle East) are joining Nato, and European countries are joining the EU. Finland is not formally joining Nato, following a very old approach, but few even comment on this. It is the same with Cyprus. Serbia institutionally keeps its distance as a result of the historical conflict of 1999, when the actions of Nato were ill thought-out and ethically highly dubious. But this does not hinder Serbia from joining the EU or collaborating with Nato, since we are now in another epoch and a new set of problems has appeared. As for the situation of Japan, nothing needs to be said.

No country that has cultural roots in Orthodoxy – except Russia and Belarus – bases its ideology and daily practice on confrontation with Nato and the EU. And this confrontation will either come to nothing, or it will result once again in the cultural collapse of Russia, similar to what occurred under the Bolsheviks, based on a rejection of its own roots…

These are no doubt schematic points and observations. In reality, everything is much more complicated…The logic of history can be destroyed by stupidity, envy, provocative actions or simple boorishness, and these can arise as if out of nowhere. But nonetheless it is probably worth paying attention to the logic of history, to have a sense of it and seek to understand it …

A Troubling Observation

Liberals in the widest sense of the word - people who think about politics and were educated in the traditions of the second half of the last century - frequently lose sight of the fact that their ideas, seemingly unquestionable from the point of view of rational public conduct, run up against the egocentrism of a very large social group. This social group consists of people who simply do not consider themselves obliged to respect either themselves or anybody else. A very great number of people adopt the simple and egocentric view, “Leave me (and us) alone”, on the basis of simplistic slogans. To this end they are perfectly ready to sacrifice social development, personal success and material well-being, let alone things such as education and freedom of movement. These people see no fundamental purpose in the rule of law or honesty in personal behaviour, in moral solidarity with others, in mutual assistance, and so on. Maintaining the habitual and straightforward order of things for oneself and one’s immediate environment assumes, for them, priority over every other purpose.

This is why a majority of people in relatively poor Wales, a region that receives huge agricultural subsidies from the EU, voted against membership of the EU. This is why the “beneficiaries” of liberal movements against authoritarian and military-police regimes are in many cases not those who are committed to peace and freedom, but new dictators or people with a criminal background. And this, incidentally, is also why American “rednecks” (in particular, but not only them) voted for Trump.

But the social milieu that bears with it the liberal agenda of the past does not have the potential to react and renew itself. It resembles a club to which various people want to gain entrance because there is a fire outside, but in response the bouncers calmly stop them and push them back with the words: “You can’t come in, you’re not dressed appropriately.”
And looking at the question from a different angle, it is in the character of today’s neo-Bolsheviks, as it was in that of their historical predecessors, to seize the historical opportunity if it falls into their hands and adapt it to their own needs in such a way that all those who “wished for the best” are utterly shocked and disappointed (and there are all kinds of examples, including the behaviour of the leading figures of Ukraine on many issues).

Crimea, Russia, Ukraine

Europe’s post-war borders as they arose in 1945-46 must be inviolable. You can bewail as much as you want that such an approach, while on the one hand giving relative freedom to separatists, who insist on the independence of parts of states from the larger whole or even on the break-up of ethnically and historically complex states, on the other hand enables the peremptory blocking of perfectly justifiable attempts to unify closely-related populations, territories populated by the same ethnic group, or the transfer of territories from one jurisdiction to another. But there is no other means to preserve peace in Europe for the long-term future. Once a review of borders gets under way, the risk of a domino effect arises, with the consequent overwhelming victory of the instincts of the person-in-the-street over legal consciousness.

(The reunification of Germany is a special topic. Firstly, because what was at issue was the reunification of two historical parts of one and the same country. Secondly, because the decision to unify was in the hands of external forces and overseen by them. But even then, let’s recall, there were significant disagreements about the issue.)

This is why Northern Cyprus, Pridnestrovie, Kosovo, Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia (and also to some extent, Donetsk and Lugansk) are one thing, while Crimea is essentially a matter of a different kind. If there had not been formal annexation, the problem would not have arisen, nor the need for a solution. It is quite wrong to create such ambiguous situations, where furthermore it is impossible to maintain the consequent state of indeterminacy over a long period of time. The creation of “frozen conflicts” is an unpleasant and very unsatisfactory, but quite common world practice. Such developments can only be brought about without extremely serious consequences, in a “calm” manner, when disrespect for the rule of law and established legal traditions has reached such a pitch that they result in a radical lowering of legal standards. This is exactly what happened in the case of Crimea.

This is not a question of historical justice, of the protection of one group of people from another, of ethnic and cultural proximity, or of what people want. While all these matters are important, they must be resolved by means.

Law and international relations are incompatible with illogical thinking and with the emotions characteristic of household conflicts. It is precisely from confused logic and hysterical self-assertion that crises and wars begin. Wherever the “view of the ordinary person” gets the upper hand over rationality and transparency in decision-making, where the notion that “if they’re allowed to, why can’t we?” rules, then disaster is to be expected. It remains only to observe what is happening, as one might watch a powder keg inside which processes are taking place that are already beyond anyone’s control.

And this concerns in equal measure both the issue of Crimea and other, very different situations. It concerns the political mindset of the Russian Federation, and of other countries as well.

In general, it is a major mistake not to be able to see the far-reaching consequences of one’s own actions, no matter what the issue.

Mistakes can be of varying importance, but a real comparative assessment of potential outcomes is not always immediately possible, and the potential outcomes not immediately understood.

If the annexation of Crimea creates an enormous problem for the legitimate development of Russia, the failure to investigate the deaths of people creates an enormous legal problem, and a moral problem that exceeds all limits, both for Russian and for Ukrainian statehood, as well as for all major and minor Europe-wide institutions.