Teaching a Wesleyan course online presents me with the opportunity to interact with students from scores of different countries. I am teaching The Modern and the Postmodern in Middletown, and the course is also available on the Coursera platform. Here in what students often call the “campus bubble” our political issues often seem abstract or “first world problems.” But for students in the same class but in different parts of the world, politics (and even the intellectual issues in the class) are sometimes a matter of life and death.
Recently Arianna posted the following on our class Facebook page:
Dear friends, I want to say that what we read here is very important. The last couple of weeks I do not have time for this and I apologize to the teacher, but I’ll catch up with you! In Ukraine, the revolution now. My friends and I smell smoke, because our capital (Kiev) on fire. Texts we read here, helping to become conscious, self-reliant. This contributes to empathy and transparency.
Thank you. We will win!
(Pardon my French)
There followed exchanges that linked some of the concepts in political philosophy we are studying with the quickly changing situation on the streets of Kiev. How can a revolution be successful, especially when confronted with violence? How does a new regime establish legitimacy?
Last week it seemed that Arianna and her fellow-citizens had won. Then Russia turned its attention from making authoritarianism attractive via the Olympics to real geopolitical stakes in Crimea. This morning Arianna posted this from a friend:
“This sunny sunday morning feeling when you wake up and your country is on the edge of war. You can’t sleep, eat, feel. Yesterday Russia’s parliament officially approved the use of its military in Ukraine. The south of the country (Crimea) today is basically occupied by the russian army. What? Militaries enter the territory of a sovereign country quietly and occupy it in the 21st century just like that? “Russia, the UK and the USA undertake to respect Ukraine’s borders in accordance with the principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council”, – states the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed in 1994. The autonomy of Ukraine was guaranteed in return on it becoming a non-nuclear state. And what do we see now? It’s hard to believe that after everything that has been happening in my beloved Motherland during these 3 months, after all those people who were injured or died fighting for the freedom and democracy, Russia de facto declares a war against Ukraine. Please, wake me up, tell me it’s just a fucked up nightmare.” my friend, Inna
There are many reports now giving a context for Arianna’s and Inna’s first-hand accounts. Timothy Snyder’s account here seems particularly helpful.
I understand that it is not clear what exactly the United States and the European Union should do to stop this blatant act of aggression against Ukraine. But let’s begin by acknowledging that Putin’s regime, the same regime that (in the name of protecting national sovereignty) is supporting the Syrian dictatorship’s murderous war against its own people, has just invaded its sovereign neighbor. These are historical nightmares, at the very least, we should not ignore.
Arianna and her friends are struggling for the future of the country, while they are also trying to build more democratic political practices. How can we show our solidarity?