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Thoughts on New Year’s Eve

[infobox title=’Thoughts from Kyiv’]Thoughts from Kyiv is brought to you by Mychailo Wynnyckyj, Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology and Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, Director of the Doctoral School, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”. Below are his thoughts and writings on the situation in Ukraine. [/infobox]

It’ll be a quiet New Year’s Eve across Ukraine tonight: no fireworks, few loud parties, probably fewer drunks than in previous years. The mood is apprehensive. We are in a kind of “phoney war” (I remember learning this term in high school – it was the name given to the period between September 1939 and May 1940, when France and Britain were formally at war with Germany, but little in the way of military activity actually occurred). The Poles referred to this period as “dziwna wojna” (strange war). Call it “phoney”, call it “strange”, call it “hybrid” – whatever term you prefer, if you’re like most Ukrainians tonight, a grand party is not among your priorities.  Thank you Mr. Putin for that…

Trying to find a parallel with the mood that I am experiencing, I searched the internet tonight for descriptions of New Year’s Eve 1939-40. I found this article in The West Australian newspaper describing New Year’s Eve in Europe Not surprisingly, during the first night of 1940, at the height of the “phoney war” phase of World War II, the British were reported to have held subdued celebrations at home (even in Scotland!), while the French made sure to celebrate in style (though many toasted British soldiers in their midst). Ironically, Paris was occupied by German soldiers less than 6 months later; Britain remained free throughout the war.

My search for parallels between New Year’s Eve 2014-15 and the same night 75 years ago (ominously) led me also to this – an English translation of Joseph Goebbels’s radio address to the German people that night. The speech is a classic example of revisionist interpretation of events aimed at justifying territorial aggression under the auspices of “protecting Germans”. With less than 3 hours to go until midnight in Moscow, I am betting that the theme of the Russian President’s New Year’s address will basically parallel that of the Third Reich’s Minister of Propaganda – just replace “Germans” with “Russians” and insert Crimea and Donbas instead of Sudetenland and Poland. It will be “fun” to (again) compare Putin with Goebbels in just a few hours. Maybe this will convince those in the West who still doubt that the world is facing exactly the same threat 75 years later?

I must admit that I know the answer to my own question: sadly, few will be convinced. As the Oliver Stone post that circulated social media yesterday demonstrated, the West is full of “useful idiots” (this term was apparently first used by Lenin to describe unwitting propagandists who could be used for subverting capitalism from within), and the Kremlin has over a century of experience in using such sympathizers and apologists to full advantage. For those who missed it, the double Oscar-winning Hollywood director Oliver Stone, after apparently having interviewed Viktor Yanukovych for 4 hours at a location near Moscow, yesterday announced that his upcoming “documentary” film would demonstrate that the sniper shootings in February 2014 on Kyiv’s Independence Square were a CIA plot. My first reaction after reading this was that Stone is either crazy, stupid, extremely gullible, or very well-paid by the Kremlin. Then I recalled Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist Will Durante’s reports from Ukraine in 1932-33 – having travelled throughout the country, he claimed there was no famine, despite seeing people dying in the streets on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, people like Stone and Durante seem to be more common in the West than most would like to believe.

Ironically however, for the sake of humanity, I sincerely hope and pray that such “useful idiots” (and others like them, e.g. those who would have the world see a right wing neo-Nazi radical on every street corner in Kyiv) will continue to enjoy the freedom to express their foolish opinions in the New Year and well into the future. The alternative is more frightening, and in fact more immediate, than most would like to admit.

This morning, I called a former student, Andriy Zelinskyy – a graduate of Kyiv-Mohyla and now Jesuit priest, serving as a chaplain in the Ukrainian military. As he answered his mobile phone, his voice was tired and stressed. Father Andriy is currently in the village of Piesky, less than 2 km from Donetsk airport. Last night, the shelling there was certainly not “phoney”. Russian mercenaries bombed their position from all sides throughout the night, letting up only in the morning. On the ground it looked like preparation for a land assault. For those who read Ukrainian, I recommend Father Andriy’s Facebook post  His eloquent description of the morning after the battle defies translation.

I was planning on continuing this post with a summary of Russia’s military capability in Ukraine and throughout the world, but those who have been following the multiple fighter aircraft incursions, and Putin’s announcement of Russia’s new military doctrine need no warning. On the other hand, those who have not followed these events have no need to have their New Year’s celebrations ruined by my writings. Suffice it to say Russia is coming. The bear is angry and cornered, and that can’t be good.

For those who believe that Putin’s regime is under real threat either from sanctions, or from a collapsing ruble, or from falling oil prices, let me caution you not to hold your breath. Putin, the authoritarian dictator, has had ample opportunity to learn from the downfall of others like him (Yanukovych, Khaddafi, Mubarak, Assad…). As yesterday’s pitiful attempt at protest in Moscow demonstrated, Putin will remain in power in Russia for the foreseeable future. Russia is not Ukraine, and Red Square is a long way from Maidan.

But I guess such ominous warnings are best left for another night. Tonight is New Year’s Eve. For most Ukrainians it will be a time to reflect, and to pray for a better future. Incidentally, most will be eating “olivye” salad tonight – a mix of potato, meat, pickle and mayonnaise that has remained a traditional New Year’s dish since the Soviet period. A few days ago my wife Marta joined several ladies in Kyiv who showed off their olivye-making skills for the sake of the troops on the front. According to the volunteer who transported the goodies (which also included sleeping bags, night vision goggles, and other equipment), Marta’s 12 liters of “olivye” (a pail full) ended up in Piesky. Maybe Father Andriy will taste some. I hope he, and the brave men he is with enjoy it. Theirs will be a very cold New Year’s Eve indeed.

As the clock chimes midnight tonight, we will be praying for those who protect the civilized world from evil – in places like Piesky, Donetsk airport, Debaltsevo, Shchastia, and Mariupol. May the world remain ignorant of these place names, lest Russia’s madman seek further revenge for his perceived disgrace.

God help us, and may the New Year be peaceful one for all!

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