Artillerymen have such a term as “registration fire.” This means fire delivered to obtain accurate data for subsequent effective engagement of targets. History is our registration targets by which we can forecast the outcome of the currents battles.
In the summer of 1943 the Odesa-based newspaper Molva was full of articles on farming, vacation season, and other peaceful life news mixed with the advertisements of restaurants, factories, practicing doctors and lawyers. If the paper did not indicate addresses with streets named after Adolf Hitler and King Michael of Romania, it would be difficult to believe that you are holding in your hands a document of the dramatic period of World War Two.
Looking into the yellowish photographs of that time’s overcrowded beaches and cafes, you involuntarily draw a parallel with the present day. Our beaches and cafes are similarly crowded, and our media are similarly strewn with adverts and battlefield reports. War and peace in Ukraine paradoxically combine misanthropy and philanthropy. The atrocities of foreign and our own terrorists go hand in hand in news reports with local festivals and exhibits. A paradoxical combination of temptations and horrors makes the reality look fantastic. The human psyche refuses to see blood and beach cocktail parties as part of the same set, so it resists the war. From this angle, it was easier for our ancestors in 1943 because the occupational authorities had seized their radio sets and given them just one newspaper to read. They did not let themselves “break the pattern,” as any unexpected things are called today, for they knew who was a foe and who was a friend, what they were to fear and where to hide. Conversely, we do not always know – except for the soldiers and officers who have encountered the enemy.
Ukraine is waging a paradoxical war which defies comparison with the past world wars or even local armed conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Perhaps it looks like the Soviet-Finnish war…
Our war does not exist formally. Although there is a military armada on the eastern border and Russian secret services keep training and sending to us saboteurs and agents, we are supposedly in peace. This suits all the sides of a conflict that has exploded the global security system. Ukraine grudgingly accepts non-recognition of war because it has no strategic reserves and resources to impose martial law at least in some areas. Russia is shrouding the annexation of Crimea and the eastern aggression in such neutral wording as “accession” or “problems with Ukraine.” The European Union does not wish to call an armed intervention a war because it will have to take the next step in this case, i.e., to aggravate the confrontation. Even the US, which has mobilized all its diplomatic clout against the aggressor, is not exactly rushing to render military assistance.
The external perception of our “bad peace” is being projected onto the world outlook of society. Far from all have a sensation of war in their home, and far from all hearts are bleeding for their country. There are much more worries about personal business, comfort and wellbeing than patriotic feelings. In Odesa oblast, 60 percent of voters ignored the presidential elections, and there was a zero turnout in some villages. In Odesa itself, almost no young people voted, for they entrusted the destiny of this country, as usual, to their grandmas. I am not saying this to moralize and convince in the obvious. The point is different. The US terror attacks on September 11, 2001, were followed by restrictions on many personal freedoms in the name of the security of individuals and the state. By contrast, Ukraine is expanding and deepening democracy in wartime. It is also a paradox of our contemporary history. We have an election turnout at the level of a peaceful Europe and lines in recruitment centers like in a wartime Israel. Both things are the reality of today, and it is very difficult to say what will add more strength to the state – the winning of daily bread or a counterterrorist operation. Where is success awaiting us – in expanding the sphere of peace or plunging into war? Which will change this country for the better – establishing civil control over the authorities or vesting these authorities with powers to protect our interests? Unfortunately, in the 23 years of an independent Ukrainian state, the expansion of powers of the upper crust has never resulted in a better life of the grassroots. The same will happen this time. Therefore, unlike the Americans, we cannot afford to allow our rights to be restricted in order to untie the state apparatus’s hands to combat terrorism.
Yes, the wartime Ukraine looks like a big mosaic picture with an allegoric set of scenes in the life of characters like Bacchus, Ceres, Janus, and Mars. At the same time, the spirit of active citizens is unusually high, and we can see it turning into a material force.
Our friends Finns have such a notion as Talvisodan henki, i.e. winter war spirit. It is an instructive lesson of history and the victory of a free nation in a war against a slave force. In 1940 Stalin attacked Finland precisely as Putin did Ukraine. He chose a favorable moment – a difficult pre-reform condition of the economy of a small country, – ordered to shell the Russian village of Maniyla to create a casus belli, violated the peace treaty signed by Molotov and the League of Nations Charter, and invaded Suomi. A “government” of the “Finnish Democratic Republic” was promptly established in the first occupied Finnish town of Terijoki. At the same time, the Soviet propaganda and the emissaries sent to Helsinki were trying to persuade the working class to support the DNR, sorry, the FDR. But the “great Stalin,’ with his VKP(b)-NKVD machine, grossly miscalculated. The ordinary Finnish workers and peasants supported their legitimate government, not the invaders. This moral cohesion was later referred to in all kinds of encyclopedias as winter war spirit. It is this spirit that broke the neck of Stalinist invaders – not severe frosts and lack of skis, as Soviet and Russian historians have been claiming. One should not confuse a spirit capable of resisting force with readiness for violence. One can sow grain, guard the border, or make films, still remaining in the ranks of those who liberate the country from invaders. Not all can fight, as not all can make boots. Peace and war do not exist separately as professional spheres. One is always inside the other. Reflecting on the strange combinations of militaristic and civil deeds of people, the author of the novel War and Peace wrote: “We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events… The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they become to us.” For this reason, it is perhaps impossible to explain why a tiny Finland, which was busy reforming its labor code in 1940, suddenly routed a militaristic country that could field three soldiers against every Finn. What stood in the way was something immaterial but very large.