At the time of religious and murderous sectarian upheavals, in sixteenth century France, Michel de Montaigne retired to his estate in the Aquitaine to write his Essays. His reflections would take him on a personal journey of introspection, rather than an exploration of the historical reasons for the events of his time. In many ways we can be grateful for his decision: Montaigne legated to us a monument of European literature, and there were others, perhaps better placed, to chronicle the turmoil of his time.
Listening to some inept “bavardage” from French fashionably conservative commentators, on one of France main TV news channels, who were describing Russian concerns with the apparent take-over by fascists in the capital of the Ukraine, as “anachronism“, I wondered who was in fact living in the real world: them, evidently convinced of the justification of their statement (“fascism? Where? What?”), or myself, and no doubt thousands of other Europeans trying to make sense of the tragedy in Kiev and its consequences for the people of the Ukraine, and the whole of Europe.
I was also reminded of Robert Gates’ scathing observations on the posturing of the British and French governments during the bombings of Libya. Germany, who refused to participate in the bombings, saved the day nonetheless and procured the missing ordnance!
“The blunt reality,” Mr. Gates said, “is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
The British and French media conveniently chose to forget those remarks, as, today, the mainstream, inclusive of Le Monde and the liberal press (Guardian etc.), and the same governments, hide behind the John Kerry’s creed about those “brave democrats in the Ukraine”, at no risk to themselves. Should the present crisis degenerate into a bloody conflict in Central Europe who will be paying the price?
That there are, of course, good reasons for Russian anxiety – meaning both for the government of the Russian Federation, and the large Russian minorities, and majority in the Crimean autonomous region, is beyond doubts. Those reasons, far from being anachronisms, are rooted in the painful memory of recent history, the realities of the last decades, the role of successive US administrations in fostering violent régime changes in countries deemed to be of strategic interest, from Chile in the 70’s to Afghanistan and Syria, and the betrayal of promises made to Russia and her reformist government at the time of the implosion of the USSR.
On the events that led to the ousting of the elected administration of the Ukraine, the tug of war between factions in favour of and against EU influence, and the nefarious consequences of IMF/ECB – driven austerity policies as experienced in many European countries, was a decisive confrontation. Some of us, in “old Europe”, are troubled as to why the “opposition” now in power in Kiev appears to consist solely of right-wing groups and a party whose claimed European aspirations are weirdly mixed with a nostalgia for an ignoble fascist past.
For sure, this is a complex situation, and that very complexity, may drive some of us toward retiring and writing fiction, if not “essays”, rather than trying to unravel the complexity. This would be a mistake. Many times in history, Europe, that is the community of people, and since the sixteenth century, states, had to pull back from the brink of annihilation. This was the case after the Thirty Years’ War that destroyed half the population of the German speaking lands. It was the case after WWII, when the USSR’s heroic sacrifices and US power rescued Europe from nazi madness.
Charles de Gaulle called for the formation of a “Europe of nations, from the Atlantic to the Urals”. His vision had the merit to recognise Russia as a European nation.