Friday, December 4, 2015

Identity Politics from the U.S. to Ukraine

What is the geographic center of gravity in the American mind? Kevin Phillips says in The Cousins’ Wars that the U.S. Revolution and Civil War were at heart a continuation of the English Civil Wars, the bloody one in 1642-1651, and the “glorious one” in 1688. White male British affairs at heart.

Subsequently, of course, the Irish made a splash in cities across the country, and since the 1960’s African Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans, women, the sexually diverse, and others have asserted themselves in our politics and staked their claim to our collective identity.

Today the geographic center of gravity in the American mind is up for grabs. All those Donald Trump supporters are no longer so confident that we are a white Christian Anglo-Saxon country at heart. It causes tensions.

Europe, of course, has such tensions in spades. In Vienna, after the Anschluss on March 12-13,1938, my then 13 year old mother-in-law to be was told by her teacher to move to the back of the class, to be quiet, and not to come back after the semester was over. She escaped Vienna in January 1939 when a family in London responded to an advertisement in The Jewish Chronicle of London and agreed to take her in. It’s made her susceptible to identity politics and a strong supporter of Israel all her life.

Now 90 years of age, my mother-in-law recently read an acclaimed collection of short stories by a young writer, Molly Antopol, The Unamericans. Antopol’s family is from Eastern Europe, she spends much of her time in Israel, but she is very much an American Jew.  Some of the stories are set in Eastern Europe, resonating with the events of World War II. My mother-in-law's parents's families hailed from there too. She can relate.

So we got to talking about what is Eastern Europe, and what is it's identity? Confronted with the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the civil war in Eastern Ukraine today, we wonder: are these people of the west, or are they people of the east? What is their identity?

John Mearshimer, a University of Chicago historian in the realpolitik mold, thinks Ukraine is “people of the east.” Thus when Russia annexed Crimea and began to foment turmoil in Eastern Ukraine last year, he suggested that this was a natural reaction to NATO looking east, and Europe entertaining the thought of taking up closer relations with Ukraine. He counseled that, because Ukrainians are people of the east, we should “keep our mitts off” (paraphrasing).

This hit a nerve with Brad DeLong. Just like Americans have different stories that make up our identity, DeLong suggested, Eastern Europeans—Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians—have belonged to three different “imagined communities.” Only one of those is fully “of the East.” And they are not vassals of Putin! Read DeLong’s entertaining post at his Blog. [Some of what follows is directly from Brad, most of it is reworked for present purposes. I've mostly omitted quotation marks.]

The Kievan Rus’

The Kievan Rus' dominated Eastern Europe from ca. 800 A.D. until the Mongol invasion in the 1240’s. Modern people of the three East Slavic countries, Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus all claim them as their cultural ancestors and treat Old East Slavic (or Rusian, with one “s”) as the direct predecessor to their own language.

The imagined community that is Kievan Rus', says DeLong, is the east most outpost of a Mediterranean and European-oriented civilization. It was influenced by the Byzantine Empire ruled from Constantinople.

Following the 1569 Union of Lublin, Kievan Rus became part of the Kingdom of Poland (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). It too was oriented to the West.

In 1648-1657 the Dneipr Cossacks (named after the Dneiper river that flows through Kiev and enters the Black Sea west of Crimea, near Odessa—i.e. Ukraine) rebelled against Poland to form a Ukrainian Cossack state (the Hetmanate). This state is at first independent, then autonomous and self-governing but owing allegiance to the Muscovite Tsar in Moscow (treaty of Pereyaslav 1659), and then after 1775 neither autonomous nor self-governing. But much of Kievan 'Rus, what we now call the Western Ukraine, was ruled from Vienna, with its major city of Lviv called Lemburg.



The Novgorod Center of Influence

A second imagined community of influence on Eastern Europe was the 'Rus of Novgorod the Great. This was oriented toward the Baltic and the North Sea beyond: Sweden, Germany, the Hanseatic League, Holland, and international trade. Peter the Great (b. 1672-d.1725), the Romanov Czar of Muscovy, built St. Petersburg (completed 1713) precisely because he wished his empire to imagine itself not so much Muscovite as Novgorodian.

Peter saw Saint Petersberg as providing his Moscow-centered realm with "a window on the west" that was maritime Europe. But, of course, the Baltic littoral and as far inland as you could navigate a barge in summer did not need a window on the west: Novgorod (and Riga) were cities as European as Helsinki or Stockholm or Danzig.

Muscoy Rus

The third imagined community is that of the Muscovy 'Rus: far enough north in the forests that the Mongols could not easily and permanently dominate it, and far enough east that western Europeans could not easily control it. It is the heart of Slavonic Orthodoxy, neither western European, Middle-Eastern, nor steppe-Mongol. It is the civilization of the very strong leader desperate for geographic buffers against invaders from the east, from the south, and most recently from the west.

The polity of the Tsars came to dominate the lands of all the Russians in a long slow process of fits and starts. Their project was to convince everyone that their community was Muscovy 'Rus--not Kievan 'Rus oriented toward Constantinople, Vienna, and Warsaw; and not Novgorod 'Rus oriented toward Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Hamburg.

At least some of the Tsars who did the most to advance the political project of the Muscovite empire--Peter the Great (1672-1725), Catherine the Great (1721-1796), and Alexander I (1777-1825) with his French-speaking aristocracy come immediately to mind--had at least mixed thoughts about this. They would have greatly preferred that the empire they were building had its heart in Novgorod 'Rus rather than Muscovy 'Rus.

The Peculiar Universality of the Soviets

DeLong:
The ambivalent attitude of the rulers of 'Rus toward their Muscovy power base came to a sharp end in 1917 with the accession to power of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov--Lenin. Lenin believed that he was a bit player in the great socialist revolution of the early twentieth century. It was his job, he believed to make the socialist revolution for the nationality of the Moscow-centered Great Russians. Other nationalities--Finnish, German, Estonian, Polish, Ukrainian, Georgian, Kazakh, and so forth--would make their own socialist revolutions. He would help to the extent that he could. But to take over was not his job.

Lenin did not aspire to rule the empire of the Tsars: he did not want to be the jailer of the prison-house of nationalities that the Romanovs had assembled under their rule. He sought, rather, to lead the Russian people--in comradely and brotherly alliance with their neighbors--into Karl Marx's classless utopia. This made Lenin both an anti-nationalist and a cosmopolitan nationalist. He was an anti-nationalist in that--unlike nearly everyone else of his followers--he did not particularly care about the terms on which his Bolshevik Russia made its peace with Germany and withdrew from World War I. The German socialist revolution was imminent, after all, and after it took place borders would be adjusted and treaties rewritten in mutual brotherhood. He did not think that Russia should be great. He thought that peoples should be free--and socialist, and therefore allied. 
Lenin's successor, Stalin, would have none of this. He wanted the empire of the Tsars, and more. Local autonomy and local nationality were useful illusions with which to beguile, but power needed to be centralized in Moscow, in the Kremlin, and in Stalin.

However, a strange thing happened. The formal structure of the USSR remained that of fifteen union republics. And the educational system of the Soviet Union taught everyone that their ethnicity was an honorable nationality of its own. And over seventy years people came to believe this: come 1991 the Estonians were more Estonian, the Ukrainians more Ukrainian, the Georgian more Georgian, and the Kazakhs and Tadjiks more Kazakh and Tadjik than they had been eighty years before.

The Killing Fields

For the surviving descendants of the victims of World War II, Jews, Gypsies, Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians, this area of the Muscovy Rus' and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, of course, is etched in the brain as ground zero for the horrors of World War II. As Anne Applebaum says in her review of Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands:
This is the region that experienced not one but two—and sometimes three—wartime occupations. This is also the region that suffered the most casualties and endured the worst physical destruction. More to the point, this is the region that experienced the worst of both Stalin’s and Hitler’s ideological madness. During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, the lethal armies and vicious secret policemen of two totalitarian states marched back and forth across these territories, each time bringing about profound ethnic and political changes

Stalin got a head start in 1933 with his forced farm collectivization program in Ukraine, culminating in a mass famine which resulted in 3.9 million dead. The Germans and the Soviets shared a contempt for Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic independence and systematically proceeded to eliminate the elite in those countries. They arrested and murdered Polish professors, priest, intellectuals, and politicians. Stalin ordered the murder of 20,000 Polish officer at Katyn and in other forests nearby. Of the nearly six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, four million were from the "Bloodlands." The vast majority of the rest (e.g. 165,000 German Jews, 65,000 Austrian Jews, and 75,000 French Jews who perished in the camps) were also shipped east. A total of 14 million civilians perished in this region during the period 1933-1953.  

Those events continue to resonate in politics from Israel to Europe (east and west) to the United States.

You can find Brad DeLong's piece HERE.
You can find my earlier posts on Ukraine HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles


3 comments:

  1. The Europa Canal links the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers to the Black Sea, an aquatic Orient Express. It was for this reason that Yugoslavia was partitioned, to keep the Danube international. The Danube is Ukraine's border with Romania, whose Hun Timasoara is the next conflict area. Obama was raised by his Catholic maternal grandmother and was promoted by Brzezinski, who also promoted Carter and Wojtyla.

    The Old Prussian language is actaully related to Lithuanian. Merkel's maternal grandmother was Polish from Gdansk. Merkel fancies herself Catherine the Great. Germans Catherine and Nesselrode were the only "Russian" Imperialists. Catherine sought to Germanise Russia, bringing Mennonite Germans, like Mayakovsky's forbears, into Russia. Hordokovsky fancies that Russia must return to Scandinavian Varangian roots of Novgorod. At the time of the Bolshevik revolution, Russia was the largest petroleum producer. Casey got the Saudis to flood the petroleum market in 1982 to bring down the soviets in Afghanistan. The Tsar chased Napoleon to Paris, leading to the Russian word for fast becoming a type of restaurant, bystro. This is why Napoleon's nephew prosecuted the Crimean war, which the pope called the Crusade Against the Heresy of Photius. France was indebted to the Russian central bank for saving them from the 1838 and 1846 panics. Greece was occupied during the Crimean War, so Greece replaced her Catholic king with a Dane married to a Russian whose son became Constantine XII.

    Greece was not allowed to regain Constantinople to keep Russia from the straits, yet every old American world history book said ancient Greek power depended on the straits. Alexander the Great's father took the straits to prevent Athens feeding herself with Scythian wheat. Athens farmed Scythia while Sparta farmed Italy, hence Italy and Russia, twin daughters of Greece, are very jealous of each other. Without the straits, Greece is doomed a commercial cripple.

    The Greek 1967 junta planned to quickly try Andreas Papandreou and restore elections, but LBJ forbade it on grounds Papandreou was American. Andreas raised the Greek debt to income ratio from one third to unity and his son raised it by another half, deliberately bankrupting Greece to obstruct the 1975 Karamanlis plan for Russian energy pipelines. As soon as Obama became president, Greece was striken by Canvasopedia.org riots which restored Papandreou.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Europa Canal links the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers to the Black Sea, an aquatic Orient Express. It was for this reason that Yugoslavia was partitioned, to keep the Danube international. The Danube is Ukraine's border with Romania, whose Hun Timasoara is the next conflict area. Obama was raised by his Catholic maternal grandmother and was promoted by Brzezinski, who also promoted Carter and Wojtyla.

    The Old Prussian language is actaully related to Lithuanian. Merkel's maternal grandmother was Polish from Gdansk. Merkel fancies herself Catherine the Great. Germans Catherine and Nesselrode were the only "Russian" Imperialists. Catherine sought to Germanise Russia, bringing Mennonite Germans, like Mayakovsky's forbears, into Russia. Hordokovsky fancies that Russia must return to Scandinavian Varangian roots of Novgorod. At the time of the Bolshevik revolution, Russia was the largest petroleum producer. Casey got the Saudis to flood the petroleum market in 1982 to bring down the soviets in Afghanistan. The Tsar chased Napoleon to Paris, leading to the Russian word for fast becoming a type of restaurant, bystro. This is why Napoleon's nephew prosecuted the Crimean war, which the pope called the Crusade Against the Heresy of Photius. France was indebted to the Russian central bank for saving them from the 1838 and 1846 panics. Greece was occupied during the Crimean War, so Greece replaced her Catholic king with a Dane married to a Russian whose son became Constantine XII.

    Greece was not allowed to regain Constantinople to keep Russia from the straits, yet every old American world history book said ancient Greek power depended on the straits. Alexander the Great's father took the straits to prevent Athens feeding herself with Scythian wheat. Athens farmed Scythia while Sparta farmed Italy, hence Italy and Russia, twin daughters of Greece, are very jealous of each other. Without the straits, Greece is doomed a commercial cripple.

    The Greek 1967 junta planned to quickly try Andreas Papandreou and restore elections, but LBJ forbade it on grounds Papandreou was American. Andreas raised the Greek debt to income ratio from one third to unity and his son raised it by another half, deliberately bankrupting Greece to obstruct the 1975 Karamanlis plan for Russian energy pipelines. As soon as Obama became president, Greece was striken by Canvasopedia.org riots which restored Papandreou.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, Markos, for this interesting and wide-ranging comment.

    ReplyDelete