When there’s war across the street (#1)
A collection of thoughts:
It’s rarely a good sign when a piece of writing requires this amount of prefacing, however, in the current mis-/dis-information day and age, I can’t help but feel that it’s of the utmost necessity to shed some light on myself in order to help you understand that my views actually are just that, my views.
Context: I’m Romanian. Not a proud Romanian, there’s very few of those — a humble Romanian. Humbled by many years of interaction with the world outside my borders, be it to the East, West, North or South, but also by the years of interaction within my borders — with a barely functioning, often severely lacking, consistently corrupt government AND people, for within our borders we are victims of our own design and have been complicit (mostly through ignorance) for decades.
I am not “a gipsy”, though few of the Romanians pillaging and plaguing western societies actually were gipsies, and most actual gipsies are often times more human than most humans.
I am not poor. I am employed by an international company and even without checking any stats, I can confidently say I’m probably in the top 1–2% of earners in my country. My salary afforded me the privilege of exploring other cultures both from afar, either through co-workers from distant lands or the wonders of the internet, and up close, through travelling and mingling.
I can, therefore, only identify as somewhat of a unicorn in my society: young enough to be unburdened by borders, old enough to remember communism, educated enough to have thoughtful, balanced views, and apprehensive enough to know that I know very little.
The world has ended.
10 days ago, on February 24th, the world has ended. For many of my Ukrainian neighbours this is a painful, literal, reality. Starting at 5AM, they’ve begun seeing their lives and livelihoods brutally erased by an enemy that has caused them plenty of sorrow before, and since.
Their situation is dire, make no mistake, I am not trying to detract anything from it, but the world as we’ve known it for the past 30 or so years has ended for all of us.
With one fell swoop, a scum-of-the-earth dictator, reminded all of us that ivory is rather brittle when towers made of it are being shelled into oblivion.
Whichever way this war should end, a return to what a mere 11 days ago was the status quo feels impossible. Economies need to reorganize from top to bottom, armies and military stances require rethinking, resources that were once put towards a more noble use will now have to buy tanks and bunkers and God-only knows what else. And, as it’s usually the case with catastrophic (and potentially catastrophic) events, surely some of our liberties will also fall victim. And yes, we’ll probably be a tiny bit safer, and yes, someone, somewhere, will be a tiny bit more powerful for it — it’s the ‘circle of life’, as the Jungle Book would put it.
Conflict on your doorstep
Like many Romanians (as proven by the ratings of news networks), and probably Moldavians, Georgians, Latvians, Estonians and Poles, perhaps even Swedes and Finns, I can’t help but think of what would happen should Russia manage to dispense of these inhumanly brave Ukrainians and manage to annex part of, or the entire, Ukraine.
In prefacing this collection of thoughts I mentioned two key aspects:
1. I feel I would have very little to defend, as a citizen of my country, and
2. I could easily afford to live an average life anywhere else
This is what I’ve been at qualms with myself about for much of this past week. On the one hand, I was raised in a patriotic fashion by parents with a patriotic duty, I feel connected with my land, my mountains, my plains, I’ve seen all the Rambo-like movies and, even more-so, I feel emboldened by the pouring of Ukrainian examples of regular people fighting for their country, despite recognizing that some of it is just their side’s war propaganda machine. Dying for one’s country is romantic, it feels noble and righteous, and if nothing else, it’s sticking up your middle fingers in that psychopath’s face.
Then, on the other hand, it seems irrational to give up on my amazing wife and adorable cat and our beautiful lives together — lives that we could live anywhere — in order to defend the structures and governments who, for most of my entire life, have done nothing to help and all but everything to hinder my path to any modicum of success.
And as I’m playing out this theoretical battle between my heart and my head, all it takes for it to become a very real and actual decision making process is one stray missile, one brake-less tank, one fighter jet with outdated maps and a mildly vodka-intoxicated pilot. When there’s a war going on just some tens of miles away from the border, it no longer feels like that big of a stretch.
Through my job, I’ve had the opportunity to work with tens of people from both Ukraine and Russia. Some of my Ukrainian colleagues managed to leave the country in time, but plenty are stranded. The ones I’ve managed to speak to since, have sheltered their families in the countryside where, at least for now, they feel safe. The vast majority of them are going back to help the fight.
There will undoubtedly be some with whom I’ve likely spoken for the last time…
While it’s painfully obvious that this is the more tragic situation of the two, I need to point out that my Russian colleagues aren’t doing great either.
Many of them are also living in fear because the economic sanctions dawning on Russia will hit them much harder than they could any oligarch. All of them, however, say they understand, and to their credit they’re doing whatever little they can to spread reality among their acquaintances. And yes, a few of them were jailed and we haven’t heard from them since.
I’m writing about this to point out that both these struggles are real. One, significantly more immediately-tragic, but both, ultimately, powerful. It is important to note that this pathetic excuse for a human being in charge of the Kremlin is holding two nations hostage at the moment. And while one of them may have partly developed a Stockholm-syndrome-esque quality over the years, there are plenty of people wishing for change and risking their lives for what they believe in.
Blood in the water
I can’t help but wonder what this, so-far, localized war can mean for the world and the human species. While there have been plenty of conflicts during the past 30 years, all of them tragic, one can’t fight the feeling that this one’s different.
No one seems to have the option of winning it. On the one hand, should Ukraine somehow manage to fend off the attacks and recoup all its lost ground, unlikely as it seems, will have a titanic reconstruction ahead.
On the other, Russia will supposedly be sanctioned into oblivion and will have to solely rely on friendly-ish nations to support its economy well into the distant future.
China seems to be tentatively rubbing their hands together at the thought of getting Taiwan, but the chance of full-blown military conflict with the US is too great to risk a move now. India is playing the role of ‘knock-off Switzerland’ for fears of economic implosion, being hugely dependent on Russia AND the rest of the world.
And then there’s NATO…
For an unversed plebeian such as myself, NATO seems to be cowering strategically. While it’s easy to understand why they would take such a posture, given the most certain outcome out of any involvement would be WWIII, it’s unavoidable to wonder how this can be positive, either.
In a time when the world is more connected than ever, how safe is it to allow a run-of-the-mill autocrat with a nuclear arsenal to reach out and take what he likes from under a sovereign nation? Where would that stop?
A nation like Estonia, or, why not, even Romania is a ‘treasured partner’ in times of peace, sure. What about in other times?
When would NATO decide that it is, in fact, time to start WWIII? Would a stray rocket leveling the house of an old Latvian couple be enough? Would there have to be a particular number of casualties for which that empty-eyed, iron-fisted, sh*tstain of a ruler can’t say “oops, my bad, didn’t mean to”?
How about if some dimwits with tanks and air support bomb the hell out of a nuclear power plant in a non-NATO country, cause a radioactive cloud to cover Europe in cancer for generations. Is that an overt sign of aggression? Does that warrant a military reaction?
As a citizen of a country that struggled with irrelevancy throughout most of its history, a country that’s been passed around from empire to superpower, enslaved and looted since time immemorial, I can’t not ask these questions.
And worst still, I have a feeling there’s a certain cosmetically-enhanced, botox-filled, power-hungry, Eastern European dictator near the Urals who might be curious too.