The recent turn of events, in the Middle East, and now in Eastern Europe, appears to signal a resurgence of what used to be called the Cold War (not everybody agrees). This is not the only blast from the past. Looking further back, the reappearance of armed neo-fascists thugs, with appropriate logos, in the streets of Kiev, like that of similar ghosts in the wake of the destruction of the Yugoslav Federation, is a reminder that those forces are far from dead. For many of us, convinced “old Europeans” – with still a good memory and some knowledge and respect for history – our concerns are exacerbated by the apparently irresponsible rhetoric proffered by the European Commission/Nato/US White House nexus. If it is true that the right-wing “revolutionaries” in Kiev are funded by a mix of shadowy – as ever – US agencies, and right-wing US billionaires, then what on earth is the EU doing blowing on the fire? What is the strategy of the German government towards those events? Who are the proxies? And in whose interests is the legitimate government of the Ukraine toppled?
I mentioned the Middle East. There, from Algeria to Syria and Iraq, from Egypt to Bahrain, the nefarious combination of US intervention – assassination by drones and shipments of arms to the local dictatorships – and Saudi funding (and even direct armed intervention as in Bahrain) can only be described as counterrevolution. Thus we have been witnessing the funeral of the Arab Spring, that never was.
What is the common thread through these events? Is it sufficient to invoke the on-march of neo-liberalism and CIA plots? In a recent article on the LRB blog James Meek evokes the steady progress of “Russian-sponsored territories” from Georgia to the Crimea. Writes Meek:
“The territories contain large populations who, with varying degrees of justification, objected to the governments handed them in the post-Soviet order of newly independent states. The Slavs of Transdniestria feared Moldova would force them to speak Moldovan, and would unite with Romania. The Abkhazians wanted greater autonomy within, or independence from, Georgia. The South Ossetians, historically close to Russia, feared being cut off, within Georgia, from their northern kin in Russia, on the other side of the mountains.”
Is a similar process about to take place in Crimea? Evidently Russia did not sponsor the Kiev uprising, but what about the fears and concerns of the mainly Russian population of the Crimea? Those thoughts bring us back to what preceded WWI: 1913. What happened then? Is it wild extrapolation to compare the present situation to that created for Austria-Germany-Russia-Serbia, and the others, before 1914?
In “The Sleepwalkers, How Europe went to war in 1914”, Christopher Clark asks: “… we need to do more than simply revisit the sequence of international ‘crises’ that preceded the outbreak of war – we need to understand how those events were experienced and woven into narratives that structured perceptions and motivated behaviour. Why did the men whose decisions took Europe to war behave and see things as they did? How did the sense of fearfulness and foreboding that one finds in so many sources connect with the arrogance and swaggering we encounter – often in the very same individuals?”
Should we be asking those questions now?