Timothy Snyder, Monday, March 9, 2015


– Good evening and welcome to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. My name is Dante Toppo and I’m one of our two student fellows this year. Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin all but signed his name on the Stealth Invasion of the Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and then more recently he did in fact sign his name on it. Mysteriously, Russian-speaking soldiers with Russian weaponry and blacked-out uniforms appeared in the Crimea and they absolutely were not Russian until all of a sudden they were and so was the Crimea. Though these Neo-Cold War machinations have shocked global audiences, historically Russia has messed around in Ukraine in far shadier ways and no one knows this better than Professor Timothy Snyder. Professor Snyder is the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997 where he was a British Marshall Scholar. Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2001, he held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard. Among his many publications are several award-winning books, all of which have been translated into other languages. His recent book Bloodlands Europe Between Hitler and Stalin examines the history of Nazi and Soviet mass killing in the lands between Berlin and Moscow and has won 12 cross-disciplinary awards, including the Emerson Prize in the Humanities, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Leipzig Award for European Understanding, and the Hannah Arendt Prize in Political Thought. Bloodlands has been translated into more than 30 languages and was a bestseller in six countries. Professor Snyder is on editorial boards of the Journal of Modern European History and East European Politics and Societies. His scholarly articles have appeared in many journals and he writes frequently for major publications around the world, including Foreign Affairs, The Nation and The New Republic. He is a member of the Committee on the Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and sits on the advisory councils of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research as well as many other organizations. So with that, I would like to remind you that audio and visual recording is strictly prohibited and please join me in welcoming Professor Timothy Snyder to the Athenaeum. (applause) – So thank you very much, Dante, for that thoughtful introduction. It starts us off on a very good note because it asks two questions and they’re the two questions around which this lecture is going to revolve. First, what is actually happening in Russia and Ukraine? What’s the best way to think about what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine? And why is it that we’ve been so slow to think about things that we might have been a bit more quick to think about? Right, because the question how can Russia invade a country and claim that it’s not is not just a question about Russia, it’s a question about everyone else as well. Why is it comfortable for us to accept the country as not being invaded when in fact it is? Now, what I would like to do in this talk is to try to approach these questions from a certain kind of historical perspective, which is not to say I’m going to explain to you why this war had to happen because there were lots of conflicts in the past. That’s a nonsense version of history. Whenever there’s a conflict in the present, you can always find some conflicts in the past which seem to point to it. Just like whenever there’s peace, or for that matter dinner, in the present, you can always point to previous dinners which made this dinner inevitable, right, and that’s a nonsense, which is my way of thanking the student organizers, that you can always organize historical thinking that way. Something’s happening. Let’s look for things in the past that are like it. Okay, we understand. That’s not really understanding. What I’d like to do here is something else. What I want to ask about is how the rethinking of the past which is going on in Ukraine and Russia now is related to the war that is going on now and I’m gonna ask you to think with me because obviously this is not the kind of history which is done, which is completed about which one can have final conclusions. But the proposition is that the war itself is changing the way that Russians and Ukrainians see the past just as changing ways of seeing the past are affect the war. Now that said, let me start with a few words of very conventional historical introduction. It’s important before we start to try get the concepts of Russia and Ukraine straight in our minds. Of course before this audience, I don’t have to spend too much time explaining how Russia and Ukraine are different countries. It’s like trying to explain how America and Canada are different countries, right. I mean, they speak our language, so aren’t they ethnic Americans, that sort of nonsense. But there are a few ways in which the different kinds of history do have at least a kind of implicit relationship to the conflict. I want to very briefly talk about those. So in the long range of Russia-Ukrainian history, the key mythical date is 988 when a man who was called Vladimir or Vladimir, depending upon whether you go by how he said his name or how it was later written down, may or may not have been baptized a Christian. At that when he was baptized, he may or may not have already been a Muslim, which is something which is left out of all of the Slavic sources, but is in the Arabic sources. At the time when this man Vladimir may or may not have baptized into Christianity, the realm around him, this thing which we call Kievan Rus, a state which almost 1,000 years later the Russian Empire took its name from, this realm was an interesting conglomerate. It was, for one thing, it was Jewish. You may have learned in Hebrew school that there was no Jewish state between the temple and the state of Israel. Not true, not true. Can’t believe everything you learn in Hebrew school. This is not the, but you knew that, right? So that will not be the last Jewish joke in this talk. There was a realm called Khazaria. It was a Khanate, it was called Khazaria. It was ruled by people called the Khazars who converted to Judaism right before they disappeared from history. That would be the second Jewish joke in this talk. You can now consider that for yourselves. But it’s true. There was long debate about what the Khazars actually did, whether they converted to Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. In fact, it was Judaism. We now have the sources. Not long after that, these people arrived from the north, Vikings. No European founding myth is good without Vikings. Whether you’re British or French, Vikings very important come into the picture, Greenland, Iceland, America even. The Kievan Rus was established in 988 essentially as a Viking-Jewish conglomerate. Now, Viking-Jewish conglomerate does not fixture in Russian textbooks today of this any more than like Thomas Jefferson’s like mistresses figured in American textbooks 20 years ago. It’s not a good way to start the story. It doesn’t figure in Ukrainian or Bielorrusian textbooks. The Ukrainians, Bielorrusians, and Russians have the same founding myth. What I’m trying to say is that like all founding myths, it doesn’t really stand up to any kind of historical observation. But from this Kievan Rus, which really did exist of course, it start as this kind of Jewish-Viking conglomerate, but eventually its rulers assimilated into the Slavonic-speaking background, took Slavonic names, spoke Slavonic languages and importantly, founded a law code in the Slavonic language. This state does have a history and its history does have legacies. The next key date in Ukrainian history for our purposes is 1241. 1241 is when the Mongols crash into Eastern Europe, coming across the step. Like the Vikings, they have a bad name. People tend to remember the rape and pillage. They don’t remember the rational economic interest of establishing a trade route from across. So the Vikings were trying to go from the Black Sea to the Baltic of course. That was what they were trying to do. The Mongols were trying to establish a trade route from East Asia to Europe, also very rational. There were some details along the way, but that was the basic idea. They destroy every European state they come into contact with. They defeat every European army they touch. They only have to go back, as I’m sure many of you know if you happen to be Mongolian, they only go back because the Batuhan, the commander in the field has to go back for a funeral. But the point of this is that when Kievan Rus falls apart, when Kievan Rus falls apart, it falls apart into pieces which have slightly different histories. The parts that had been in Kiev fall under something called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and that law code which had functioned in Kiev becomes a law code in Vilnius or the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania considers itself to be a successor state. Sorry, I’m just like iPhone obsessing. I’m still not done. Still iPhone obsessing. Oh okay, you’re taking notes. All right, okay, I love you, forget the whole thing. So the point is that this law code has some continuity into something we may not all have heard of, which is the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which then becomes part of something called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the point of all this is that in all of this, the territories of what’s now Ukraine, the lands around Kiev, partake in all of the things that you learned about in Western Civ if you had Western Civ and you’re not too progressive for Western Civ, all of the stages of European history. They have the Reformation, they have the Counter-Reformation, they have the Renaissance, they have the Enlightenment, they have all these things that you can’t abolish just by not studying them. They have all of these things. Whereas the history of Muscovy is a little bit different. The history of Muscovy is a successor state, not so much of Kievan Rus, but of the Mongols themselves, of the Tatar khanate, and it does not inherit law code, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Its history is rather different. So this means that in Russian and Ukrainian history today there’s a different attitude I think towards the notion of Europe, which I’m gonna characterize very brutally and that is if you’re Ukrainian, Europe is not a choice. You had Europe. You had all the nice things I mentioned. You also had colonization and decolonization, which are the big European concepts of the 19th and 20 centuries. Admittedly, you were colonized by Poles, which is maybe to first-class memorable colonization, but it’s colonization nonetheless. So the mainstream of European history is there, it’s fate. You can’t choose if you’re Ukrainian, I’m gonna be European, not European. That discussion doesn’t actually take place. Europe good, bad maybe, but Europe no, yes, that’s not a discussion. In Moscow or Petersberg it’s different. In Moscow or Petersberg, Europe can be a mission. I mean the whole idea, building Petersberg was an example of a mission. From Russia, you can choose starting in the 19th century are we European or are we not. This is the classic Slavophile-Westernizer debate. That’s a Russian debate. It doesn’t make very much sense in Ukraine and the whole reason why you can choose is because you didn’t have it. So you can then choose to build it up really quickly either as a modernizing Russian empire or as a Soviet Union, which is a westernizing project. You can choose it, but that’s a different position and so one of the things which can happen in Russia and is happening in Russia today is that you can tilt back. You can say okay we’re not European. As Russian, so more than 80% of Ukrainians today identify as European. Under 10% of Russians do. Does that mean they’re such different people? Not necessarily, but it does mean that in Russia you have this option of tilting back and forth. The other part of history which is relevant and what I’m gonna spend a little more time talking about is the history of the Soviet Union. So Russia and Ukraine have on the one hand a huge amount in common from the Soviet Union. Neither Russia nor Ukraine had ever been anything like a nation state before. There was a Russia Empire, but that was a multi-national conglomerate which was ruled by non-Russians. Neither of them had been a nation state. Neither of them had national borders before the Soviet Union. The difference though is that from a Ukrainian point of view the universalism of the Soviet Union, and it was a universal project, resided in its pluralism. The Soviet Union exists as a Soviet Union, as a nominal federation of national units because there’s more than one nation in the world. Ukrainians are also a nation. The Ukrainians are the most important. From a Russian point of view you can think the universalism of the Soviet Union resides in the fact that everybody’s gonna eventually speak Russian and we’re gonna have sort of one civilization circling around Moscow. Those are both universal ideas, but they’re different universal ideas. They could exist side by side. They could also clash. There are also some different interpretations of events that happened inside the Soviet Union. The most important of them is industrialization and collectivization, the first five-year plan of 1928 to 1933, which led to the starvation or death-by-hunger related disease of more than seven million people, first in Kazakhstan, then in Ukraine and in Southern Russia. Today in Russia, it’s possible and indominant to look at these events and say yes, a lot of people suffered, there was starvation, but it was a problem in soviet development experienced by everybody. Whereas from a Ukrainian point of view, the fact that a disproportionate amount of the starvation was on Ukrainian territory and that there were some deliberate policies designed to contain starvation within Ukrainian territory is remembered, it’s remembered for the very simple reason that basically every family experienced it in one way or another and try as you might, the experience of starvation is something which is not that easy to push aside. The final and the most important source of common memory from the Soviet period, and here now we’re really getting close to our subject, is the Second World War, the Great Fatherland War as it’s described in Soviet memory and in Russian-Ukrainian memory. Here things get really interesting. So the Great Fatherland War is a common myth. It’s a myth of the defensive war against a fascist invader, Nazi Germany, and their fascist allies. The difference between a Russian and a Ukrainian memory though has to do with geography and now here like I’m tapping on like the weak point of all of our educations, right. Like I’m not even gonna ask you to raise your hands as to whether you had geography in school. Like I had Ohio geography, right, like you know where the counties are and things. That’s as far as it went. This is really important. From the geographical perspective, all of Ukraine was occupied during the war for over two years, the whole thing. 5% of Russia was occupied and often for a very brief period of time. So from the point of view of Ukraine, the Second World War is a war of occupation and liberation. From the point of view of Russia, admittedly some of Russia was occupied and Russians suffered much more than, I want to make sure we have this straight, infinitely more than French, British, Americans, you know you name it. But not like Ukrainians. For Ukrainians it was occupation and military liberation. For Russia, it’s more of a war that for Russians, it’s more of a war that happens beyond, which happens somewhere to the west, which of course means that huge number of Russian soldiers die fighting in Ukraine and Belarus and Poland on the way to Berlin. Huge numbers of Russians soldiers die. I don’t want to reduce that number, it’s very important, but it’s a different thing to be occupied than not to be occupied, which means that even today it’s a bit easier from a Russian perspective to slip into a memory of the war which is about going somewhere else as opposed to a memory of the war which is about the war coming to you, about the Germans coming to you, which is the dominant Ukrainian experience and that gets us a step closer to the question which I really want to ask today, which is how this memory of the war is changing as a war is going on and what this means for us because it clearly is changing. Now, I’m gonna point out something very simple about how it’s changing, which you’re all gonna understand as soon as I say it, I don’t want to spend much time on it, and that is this. There is a war going on in Ukraine now where there about 10,000 Russian soldiers inside Ukraine. Thousands of soldiers have died on each side. There are more than a million refugees. It’s a rather awful thing. There are tank battles larger than in Europe since the Second World War. There’s a difference though in how it’s seen and felt. In Russia, this is a war on the television screen, I mean a bit like say an American war in Iraq in that sense. It’s a war on the television screen. It’s a war that takes place in two dimensions somewhere else for most Russians, not for all, not for the thousands of mothers who have lost their sons, but for most Russians it’s a television screen war. Obviously for most Ukrainians it’s not because it’s happening in their country and this has had the consequence that the myth of the Great Fatherland War, without its content changing, its significance has changed. If you’re in Ukraine, the Great Fatherland War is still a very important myth, but it’s much less important than the things that are happening right now. The experience of revolution, counter-revolution war in the last two years trumps easily the myth of the Great Fatherland War, whereas in Russia, on the other hand, the myth of the Great Fatherland War is that framing device, it’s that thing which gives meaning to what’s on the television screen. The myth is still functioning to interpret today’s reality and that’s a kind of basic difference. In so far as there are myths that function now in Ukraine, those myths largely have to do with 2013, 2014, 2015 and not in 1941, ’42, ’43 and if you’re going to ask for what’s a basic difference between Ukrainians and Russians, that may be the most fundamental one right there, that the Great Fatherland war in Russia is now creeping into becoming a justification for a war of aggression, whereas in Ukraine it’s much less significant than it was and the effect of that war of aggression is what matters for national identity, which brings me to where I really want to go. So the paradoxical question of this, because unfortunately the subject goes much deeper, but the paradoxical question is what is happening, what is happening when the myth of the Great Fatherland War begins to change in content. So all I’ve said now is about how it’s changed in significance. I’ve said that it exists in Ukraine, it exists in Russia, but in Russia it’s a way to project interpret a war that you’re actually fighting against someone else and in Ukraine it’s much less important, but what about what it changes in content, which I think is what’s happening. Why do I make that claim? Well I’m gonna try not to make any claims which aren’t made before me by President Putin. President Putin has done something extremely interesting. Some of the recent changes were mentioned at the introduction, but the one that I find myself drawn to in trying to explain and trying to mine the kind of inexhaustible significance of is the rehabilitation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Okay, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, what’s the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact? Why is that so important? Well the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the beginning of the Second World War. So anyone who thinks the Second World War mattered in any way, anyone who happens to think that any episode of the Second World War was historically of any significance, it begins with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it begins with the German-Soviet agreement in August 1939 to divide Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. It begins with a secret protocol to that agreement, which basically lines up who’s going to invade where. It begins with a Treaty of Borders on Friendship of 28 September 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union revised their borders, had a victory march, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That’s how the Second World War begins. It begins with a German-Soviet treaty. Now, it could have begun some other way in some other alternative universe, but in the universe that we know, and there will be alternative universes aplenty in this talk as it goes on, but in this universe that we live in, that is the way the Second World War began. So the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is a very significant thing and rehabilitating it is hugely significant. What I want to ask now a bit is why. Okay, rehabilitating the Second World War, obviously a bad thing, but I want to take a step deeper into this and I want to do it with the help of a couple of texts. One text that I want to use is a memoir, which you might read at some point in class or I’ll recommend it to you if you don’t. One of the great memoirs of the Gulag. It’s called A World Apart and it’s by a Polish writer called Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski who was sentenced to the Gulag during the Second World War. Why was he sentenced to the Gulag? He was sentenced to the Gulag because he was trying to cross the Polish border into Lithuania. What was he charged with? He was charged with illegally crossing the border, he was caught by the Soviets, illegally crossing the border in order to fight Nazi Germany. Did I say Nazi Germany? The Soviet Union. He was charged with illegally crossing the border to fight Soviet Union. In his interrogation, this man, this young man, this young writer says “Could you please change the charge “so that it reads I was illegally crossing the border “in order to fight against Nazi Germany,” which happened to be true and his interrogator laughed and said “It doesn’t make any difference.” Now, why doesn’t it make any difference? It doesn’t make any difference because this was the period of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were in effect allies. So his Soviet interrogators could laugh and say it doesn’t make any difference whether you were going to fight the Nazis or us, we’re sending you deep into the forests to the Gulag anyway. In the Gulag, Herling-Grudzinski experienced a good many things which he wrote about later. I’m just going to read one bit of his memoir to you. It’s about totalitarianism. Not about totalitarianism in the sense of a state that has total robotic power to control all of your motions, but totalitarianism in the stronger sense or the more frightening sense of the word. What does he write about the experience of the Gulag? He writes “A prisoner is considered to have been “sufficiently prepared for the final achievement “of the signature,” that is admitting you’re guilty, “only when his personality has been thoroughly dismantled “into its component parts.” Now, I want you to just mark that notion of what totalitarianism means because as we move through this talk, we’re going to, I think, get closer to why those words should mean something to us today. So this is what Herling-Grudzinski says about the Molotov-Ribbentrop moment and about what it means to be under Soviet power during the Molotov-Ribbentrop moment. What I’d like to ask is how we get from here to there. Okay, so is there anything about, why am I talking about this writer in the Gulag? Is there anything about our moment, could there possibly be anything about us having dinner in California which has anything to do with his experience felling trees among dying prisoners in the Soviet Gulag in 1940 and 1941 and my claim is going to be that there is. So rehabilitating the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Why is this such a significant thing? Well there are obvious points to make, that is during ’39 to ’41 the Soviet Union invaded a good deal of Eastern Europe that many people in Eastern Europe were subjected to policies of deportation or execution, for example at the Katyn massacre. This is the most obvious thing to say. The journalism about the rehabilitation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact stressed this. It stressed the Estonians are afraid, the Latvians are afraid, the Lithuanians are afraid, the Poles are afraid because they remember that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact led to the invasion of their countries, which is all well and good and which is perfectly true. But I think that’s only the beginning of the significance. Something else which is a bit less obvious which we’re gonna return to, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a Soviet-Germany alliance. What the Russians are now trying to do or what the Kremlin is now trying to do is to draw European states out of the European Union into this kind of bilateral politics. So when you rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, one of the things you’re doing is you’re saying to Russia, and in fact also to Poland at this moment in history, why don’t we just abandon all of this nonsensical supernational stuff which just constrains us. Let’s be real men in the real world of great power politics and let’s start dividing countries up again. That was a lot of fun. It worked out really well the last time. Let’s do that. So there is an appeal to Germany, which the Germans have resisted and to the Poles, which the Poles have also resisted to take part in a kind of division of Ukraine. The other reason this is significant, and again we’ll return to this if I have time, is that and this is why I predicted it. I mean back a year ago, I stood up at a different stage in Kiev and I said Putin is going to rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the reason that I predicted that, correctly as it turned out and I don’t write his speeches, so it’s not that simple that I could predict it because I reads his speeches. No, no, no, I know that’s what you’re thinking, but it’s not actually true. The reason I predicted it was that the way that Russian foreign policy is engaging in the European Union is by engaging the European far right. So the populist right as in the Front National in Paris, the separatist right, UKIP in Britain, as well as the really nasty fascist and Neo-Nazi right all over the European Union and they were engaging the far right because those are the people who are against the European Union. In other words, it’s the same strategy that Stalin was pursuing in 1939. Stalin engaged Hitler not because he liked Hitler. He engaged Hitler because he thought if we make peace with Germany, the Germans will have to fight the French and the British and all of capitalist Europe will fall apart. Now, Russia is engaging the populace, the fascist, the Nazis, et cetera on the logic that if these people can be propped up and made stronger, then the European Union will fall apart. In other words, you make friends with the far right not because you like them, but because you’re going to use them to make what you have now seen as your enemy to fall apart. So that’s why it was clear to me that they were gonna rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact because they were doing this same strategy of marrying the far right in order to bring down some kind of European organization. But maybe the most frightening thing about all of this is the context in which President Putin talks about it. He talks about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as the normal way, this is in his rehabilitation speech, as the normal way to do international politics. His justification for rehabilitating it was that that’s how politics were done back then, so what’s so bad about this and he links it to Munich, that is he links it to the Western betrayal of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. He says this is just how people did, this is how real men made real politics during real decades like the 1930s basically when real things happened. So this is the thing which I think is the most, perhaps the most interesting, the most disturbing, linking it to that period ’38, ’39, ’40, ’41 when the previous European order was dismantled. There’s a European order now and it’s peaceful, it’s prosperous. I know some of us like to hawk on it, like they drink too much coffee, they don’t work enough, whatever. Let’s just agree that it’s peaceful and prosperous. Let’s agree that it’s the largest single market in the history of the world. Let’s agree that lifespans are longer there than here. Let’s agree that people work less, but also make more money than here. Let’s agree on certain basic things. The idea, the frightening thing is embracing the period ’38 to ’41 when the last European order was brought down. That’s the frightening thing. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is part of that, it’s the most significant part, but it’s only part of that. Now, you may think that I’ve gone as deep as one could possibly go. I mean this might seem like it’s bad enough to you, but I want to suggest is that there is a level even below this, that there’s a trap door even to this basement and the trap door is the history of the Second World War itself. Okay and here let me take a step back. When you’re rehabilitating the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, you’re rehabilitating the war of 1939. You’re rehabilitating not the war of, as I’ve already said, you’re not rehabilitating the war of defense, you’re rehabilitating the war of aggression in which you were the attacker and you were the attacker in an alliance with Nazi Germany. When you rehabilitate 1939 and you continue to say that it’s a Great Fatherland War, when you rehabilitate 1939 and as they’re going to do in May, in a couple of months, you celebrate your victory in the Great Fatherland War, when you have both of those ideas in mind simultaneously, what are you actually doing? What does it mean to simultaneously say that it was a war of aggression and a war of defense? It was a war with the fascists and a war against the fascists. What does it mean to do all those things at exactly the same time? Well it’s confusing, but it’s a specific kind of confusion. At one level, what we’re seeing is and this should be familiar to Americans ’cause we’re not that great at confronting the past either, although we make some gestures now and again, what we’re seeing is an almost total exploitation of the Second World War without an attempt to come to terms with it. So let me give you the very specific example of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is the sort of single event in recent European history, which is the kind of test as to whether there’s reflectiveness about the past or not and in different ways France or Poland, Germany is a leading example, have come to terms with the Holocaust. If you rehabilitate the war of 1939, you’re rehabilitating a war in which you were an ally of the state that carried out the Holocaust. That itself would be something you might want to confront. But the problem is that it all goes much deeper than this. If some of you I know are reading my book and I’m afraid I’m gonna repeat myself, but an important feature of the Holocaust is that it started in Eastern Europe. It started precisely in lands which had recently been occupied by the Soviet Union and it continued as far at the German Army marched into the Soviet Union. So in Soviet Belarus, in Soviet Ukraine, but also in Soviet Russia, as far as German troops went, there was Soviet collaboration regardless of ethnicity. We love to talk about ethnicity ’cause many of us are much more ethnic nationalists than we like to admit, especially when it comes to far-flung peoples in some barbaric place. So we like to talk about Ukrainians and Latvians and so on. Soviet citizens collaborated on mass in the Holocaust in every conceivable way and that is not a history which has been confronted to put it mildly. So what does it mean not to confront that history and to rehabilitate the war of 1939 and now we’re moving into the darkest, I think, of possible zones. Now we’re moving into kind of a psychological zone, which I’m gonna try to explain. It too has a history. So it’s not that in the Soviet Union people denied that a Holocaust had taken place. That would be ridiculous. Roughly half of the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were murdered on Soviet territory, as I’ve said, with the participation of hundreds of thousands of people with Soviet passports. So it’s not that you can deny that basic fact. The way that it was handled in the Soviet Union, and this is very significant for today, was to export the responsibility to people you don’t like for other reasons. So the Soviet explanation of the Holocaust, which still has a lot, unfortunately, of resonance today is that there was a Holocaust in the Soviet Union, but we’re gonna pick out ethnicities who were responsible for it. It was the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Estonians, and the Western Ukrainians. They were the people who were responsible for it. Now, this has a certain amount of force because there were plenty of collaborators in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Western Ukraine. Unfortunately for this argument, there were also plenty of collaborators in Central Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Everywhere you choose to put the microscope you will find, it doesn’t have to be microscope, it can be like reading glasses, it can be nothing. Everywhere you look there is Soviet collaboration in the Holocaust. So the attempt to pinpoint ethnicities has to be made either in ignorance or in bad faith and it’s usually bad faith. The other way that responsibility was exported was to say that there was this thing called fascism. Fascism is ultimately responsible for all the evil that befell the Soviet Union and fascism ultimately comes from capitalism and therefore the West. That’s a general kind of exported responsibility. It’s not that we did anything, it was that there was this fascism business and the Great Fatherland War undoes all of this. The Great Fatherland War shows that we oppose fascism. What’s happening now is that responsibility for the past, rather than being confronted, and this is just my thesis, I’m happy to discuss it, but whereas many European countries in the last 15, 20, 25 years have taken a kind of route of confronting the past, especially the Holocaust. What Russia is doing today, interestingly, effectively, intelligently, is exporting responsibility instead so in traditional and in new ways. So it’s still the case, according to the current Russian account, that ethnicity is responsible for the Holocaust. Now, admittedly it’s not West Ukrainians, but it’s all Ukrainians. All Ukrainians are now Nazis, fascists, they like juntas. So it’s still an ethnicity and somehow the Holocaust like stops once you stop being Ukrainian and start being Russian. Then you’re on the side of the good. So the border has shifted a little bit, but it’s still the same basic idea. We’re gonna ethnicize, i.e. we’re going to specify in an ethnically ridiculous way who’s responsible for the past. So it’s okay to invade Ukraine, in other words, because they’re the fascists now, they’re the ones who created the Holocaust. Not us, them. And the general way, the export strategy is still the same because now the line is the West is responsible for, the capitalist West doesn’t have to be said, the West, it’s now the oligarchical West by the way or occasionally the Jewish oligarchical West if you want to be really worried, the West is responsible for supporting the Nazis in Ukraine and therefore in general everything which is going bad. So it’s a story which is familiar, but which has been modified in the last couple of years. Now, the question then becomes, and now I’m moving to the last few things I want to say, the question then becomes, and I’m gonna put this in a sharp way, but I think it’s justified, what does it then mean to be a pro-fascist anti-fascist? Or what does it mean to be an anti-fascist pro-fascist? What does it mean to simultaneously support the war of ’39 and the war of ’45, support beginning the war on the Nazi side and ending as a Nazi enemy without actually confronting the past, where the notion of responsibility, which has become very important, at least in some discussions of the past, is instead something which you export, you export responsibility. What does that actually happen? And what does it mean in particular when you export this one understanding which might seem to be contradictory. Pro-fascist anti-fascism, I mean I’ll leave it to you and in Q&A you’re gonna explain to me how this is not contradictory. I’m just I’ve got a simple mind. I’m gonna see this as contradictory. What does it mean to export pro-fascist anti-fascism? Or what does it mean to export something which is inherently contradictory? And here we get into something which I think is interesting and here we get into this second text, which many of you I’m sure will know. The second text which I’d like to refer is The Second Coming by Yates 1919. You’ll know these lines. “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. “The best lack all conviction, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Here I think we have the key to what Russia has been doing with the Europeans and with the West, with all of us with respect to the war. The aim is not so much to win this war. I don’t think Russia has any intention of winning the war in Ukraine anytime soon frankly. The aim is to create a conflictual situation in which the institutions of the adversary, the institutions of the enemy fall apart and if we explore this line of reasoning for a moment, we’ll see where contradiction comes into it. Now, what do I mean in practice? Well in 2013, Russian foreign policy shifted defining the European Union for the first time as an adversary and when Russia opposed the Ukraine revolution on the Maidan the first rationale was that we’re opposing the European Union and its expansion into Ukraine. We’re opposing European decadence, European fascism, European homosexuality. All of the early propaganda against the Maidan was about things like Swedish pedophilia and about how you could join Europe, but you had to marry a man first, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That was the initial line they took. It was all this civilizational stuff against the European Union. The Americans only came in after they invaded Crimea when they became necessary, then the Americans and NATO, yada, yada. But at the beginning it was all about Europe and civilization. I think this is the crucial thing. What Russia is after now and where they’re winning now is about weakening European institutions and this policy and we can talk more about this, I’ll just list it very quickly, but this policy has unfolded in a number of levels in the last couple of years. The first is the cultivation of client states inside the European Union. The second is the support of separatism, separatism in the sense of states leaving the EU, but also breaking up states inside the EU. So you may remember the Scottish referendum. You may not remember that when the Scottish referendum was defeated, that is when Scots voted to remain inside the United Kingdom, Russia protested that vote on the grounds that the votes hadn’t been counted, Scotland actually should leave the United Kingdom. The support of national populism, very serious parties like the Front National in France, which were against the European Union, and then as I’ve already mentioned supported the far right, the fascist right, the Neo-Nazis, and behind all of this, and this is where it gets interesting, behind all of this is a kind of political theory or at least a negative political theory. So I’m gonna try to enunciate what the political theory of the West is and then you can all disagree with me because of course the essence of the political theory of the West is that we can all disagree about it. But there is a kind of notion, a sort of kind of baseline notion that there is this thing called, okay I’ll just be all Jeffersonian about it, right to revolution. There is this thing called civil society. Civil society is helpful in the establishment of sovereignty, not harmful, but sovereignty itself is not sufficient. Sovereignty can only succeed if there’s a higher international level of cooperation. Okay, so that was Jefferson and Kant. These are things we all know. That there are basically three levels of life. We can participate in voluntary organizations like we’re doing now. Those things are not the state, but they help the state, they keep the state in line, but no state is itself sufficient, there’s no self-sufficient state. Autocracy is impossible. We have to have some sensible relationship with other states. One state in the world doesn’t make any sense. The counter-theory would be something like civil society doesn’t really exist. Supernational organization is nonsense. All that matters is sovereignty. Now, that theory I think is a description of the world is wrong. But as a policy, as something to motivate policy, it’s quite effective. If you believe that or pretend to believe it, then you have the energy to destroy other people’s institutions and then that moves you closer to the heart of the argument and to the end of the argument. So if you’re against civil society, so if you’re against the European Union, you’re against supernational organizations, you can show how to weaken them. If you’re against civil society, what do you do? You claim that it doesn’t exist, which isn’t true. I mean it’s not true that like these guys who organized the talk are part of some front organization, yada, yada, yada. What you say is it’s not true that the Claremont Colleges are part of some larger international Freemason plot. It’s not true that every spontaneous act or every institutional act is part of some shadowy plot of someone else. That’s just not the case. But if you believe that it is or if you act as though you believe that it is, you can bring these institutions down. You can wreck them if you don’t believe in them. So if you believe, for example, that the Maidan, which was more than a million people from all walks of life, from all Ukrainian ethnicities who basically wanted the rule of law, that was the main thing they were protesting for. If you claim that or if you even believe that, they were paid by the CIA, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, they were all part of a conspiracy, blah blah blah, working for the oligarchs, et cetera. If you believe that, you can break it. If you can convince people that’s true, you can break it. If you can convince people that that’s true about Ukraine, you convince people that’s true about Russia, everyone who comes out on the street is also a puppet of something or other and then it can become general and so the opposition of civil society, interestingly enough, has gone well beyond Russia and Ukraine. It works inside American civil society organizations, which are often funded by Russia and like either they will try to then manipulate them from within or if that doesn’t work, then they’ll admit that they’re funding them, which discredits them. It works in journalism, which is extremely important in this conflict, extremely important because if it weren’t for the women and men and for some reason it’s mostly women interestingly, if it weren’t for the women and men who were actually going to the combat zone and covering this war, we would have no idea what’s happening because the propaganda from Russia is so unbelievably good and the propaganda from Ukraine is so unbelievably incompetent. So if it weren’t for the actual reporters, we would not have any idea. But what they do now is they pay retired reporters to say I was always a CIA agent, which then, I confess, I’m 85, which then discredits, you know it’s kind of funny but it’s not, well the idea is to discredit the whole idea of journalism. So there are no authorities, right, there’s no knowledge, there’s no civil society, there’s not really anything there. Which brings me back to my text and if you don’t mind, I’m just gonna repeat very briefly. Yates, “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Herling-Grudzinski, “The personality dissolved “into its component parts.” Which is and now we’re getting close to where I really wanted to go, what does it mean to lose contradiction upon the world or what does it mean to lose contradiction upon the world and for us not to notice and that’s the second part which I think we really have to be concerned about. Russian propaganda, at its heart, is not about this or that factual claim. It’s about our ability to think. It’s about our accepting that we might understand something and it’s about our trust and our ability to understand it. So to be sure, the propaganda does use some conventional techniques which we know, from our own past or from other pasts, just inventing things. So the claim that the Ukrainian Army crucified a young boy because he spoke Russian is an invention and a ludicrous one. Or the cacophony, we know that, the Fox News is very good at this too. Not as good, admittedly. I mean part of all of this is seen as a cycle, things that we do in the West which then the Russians do an awful lot better and then they come back to us and we’re like “Oh that’s amazing.” So cacophony, so when something happens which is out of your control, like for example your army shoots down a civilian airliner, has happened in summer of 2014. What you don’t do is you don’t say “Oh we deny it.” What you do is you loose a lot of different versions of it on the world. So you say well it was a Ukrainian fighter or there was a natural disaster or you say, this is my personal favorite, you say the Malaysian flight that went down over Ukraine was actually the same plane which disappeared over the Indian Ocean and the CIA, no this is what, the CIA dredged it up, filled it with corpses and then launched it by remote control from Amsterdam filled with these corpses and then blew it up over Ukraine to make it look like the Russians did it and so at the end of that, what happens? At the end of that and I’m just taking part in it, but at the end of that what happens? We’ve all forgotten about those 300 human beings, right. We’ve all forgotten about those 300 human beings who died tragically and senselessly and any chance of having a sensible discussion about what actually happened, which is actually very simple, the Russians shot it down by mistake. Any chance of having a sensible discussion goes away. It evaporates in all this cacophony. So we’re familiar with that. We’re familiar with political marketing, which is another thing they do really well. So if you’re talking about the war in Ukraine to the European left, you say it’s all the American imperialists, it’s their fault. If you’re talking about it to the American right, you say it’s all those decadent European gay latte drinkers and we say “Yay.” So you target your message and strangely the American right and the European left agree with each other. They agree and they don’t realize why they agree with each other, which is they’re both being manipulated by lies, but they’re all nodding at the same stuff. So political marketing, that can also be very effective. On the Jewish question, if you’re looking at your far right anti-semetic and I’m sorry I’m looking at you, but I have to kind of do this, if you’re looking at the far right anti-sematic people, you say Ukraine is part of the international Jewish conspiracy. It would never exist if it weren’t propped up by Jews and then if you’re looking at your left-wing anti-fascist or constituency you say Ukrainians are all Nazis, they’re all fascists, they’re all anti-Semites. It contradicts, but you’re targeting your messages to different groups and these groups don’t socialize very much with each other and so they may not realize that there’s a contradiction here. But there’s something deeper here and now I really am where I wanted to end up. There’s something deeper here, which is that when you get deep enough into this political marketing, you realize that the contradictions are not accidental. The contradiction is part of the point or maybe the contradiction is in fact the point. Getting used to contradiction is part of the point. In the introduction I mentioned lies. Getting used to lies is part of the point. When you’re told oh those weren’t our soldiers in Crimea, those weren’t Russian soldiers and you say “Oh okay, maybe they weren’t,” and then you’re later told oh yes they were Russia soldiers and you say “Oh yeah, they are.” What actually happened to you? What happened to you during that moment? Because you don’t want to admit that you’re someone who’s so stupid who just believes every lie. So what happens to you when they say it’s not our war, it is our war and you kind of went for it the first time, what’s happening to you? You’re getting used to lies and that’s the point. It’s the same thing with contradictions. It’s meant to happen to you. When they say these contradictory things like there’s no Ukrainian state, but the Ukrainian state is very oppressive, there’s no Ukrainian language, but Russians are being forced to speak the Ukrainian language, there’s no Ukrainian nation, but all the Ukrainians are nationalists. Okay, how many of us noticed that? Or we’re saving the world from fascism, but maybe fascism wasn’t such a bad thing in the first place which is the contradiction that this talk is all about. My question is why haven’t we noticed that? What does it mean that it takes us so long to notice these kinds of things? And here’s my thought about all of this. My thought about all this is that this is a kind of test. I mean it’s easy to say that this is all about, let’s call it destablizing, certain kinds of ideas of truth which, okay old-fashioned word, truth, we just heard a lecture in college where someone said truth. I’m not even gonna say that it matters and it’s real. There’s certain kinds of truth on which our everyday life is implicitly grounded. The idea, for example, of historical truth, fine. But also the idea of legal truth, like that you have a legal relationships to a state, which is true, that you’re a citizen, that that matters and so I can’t just say like oh well you speak English, therefore I’m gonna claim you for my nation or I have a historical relationship with your people, therefore you’re part of my nation, which is part of the Russian propaganda, or existential truth, fancy name, but something like I decided to go out and make a revolution at risk to my own life. Maybe I have a right to that story of my life, but what happens if somebody else is able to say, with control of the media, that that never happened. In fact, they were just CIA puppeteers. What happens to my truth about my life? What happens to the million people who actually did risk their lives? What about the volunteer Ukrainians who are dying right now in a war against Russia if that war supposedly is not happening? What happens to their truth about what they’re doing? I mean you can like or not like that people volunteer to go off and fight and die, but what does it mean to say that it never happens? Isn’t that denying a certain kind of essential truth? Or what about the truth of trust, which I think may be the most fundamental, the one on which civil society depends. You can’t really have, this is what universities are all about, you can’t really have truth unless you have someone to test your truth on, whether that’s your professors or your fellow students or your friends or whoever it might be. Unless you can talk things through with people you trust, you can’t really be confident about anything. But what if you trust no one? What if it comes to the point where you don’t really believe in your university, you don’t really believe in your friends, you don’t believe in anything because there aren’t any real institutions. It’s all just part of some plot or another. Well then that kind of truth goes away as well. So one thing we could say is that these ideas of truth on which our boring, but maybe basically satisfactory institutions are based, that these things are the real target and these are the things that we ought to be worried about. It would be all well and good if we could say well this is just a European problem. It’s fundamentally a European problem. This is fundamentally a problem for the Europeans because it’s the European Union which is in direct line of political attack. America’s not really present in this. America’s mostly present as an object of propaganda. But it is striking to me that Americans, probably no less than Europeans, have proven themselves to be vulnerable to this sort of propaganda, that we believe all kinds of things which have no basis in reality, that we are also moving in some measure in an alternative reality and the most striking thing to me is that, now speaking a year after the revolution or rather a year after the invasion of Crimea, a year after the war started and it is a war, it’s a conventional war plus, it’s a conventional war with other elements. A year after the war has started, what’s striking to me is this. Ukraine has not fallen apart. They are weak, their state is corrupt, it’s oligarchical, they have enormous problems, they need to decentralize, they need every kind of reform you can think of, but the state has not actually fallen apart. They have fielded an army and fought the Russian Army, which is, to coin a phrase, more than anyone else can say at the moment and before we talk about how they don’t exist, et cetera, let’s just remember they did actually field an army. They’re losing, but they did field an army. They have proven to be a harder target than the Kremlin thought. The idea was you take Crimea, they fall apart. Didn’t happen. You intervene in Donetsk and Luhansk, that’s the southeast, it’ll fall apart. Didn’t happen. The Ukrainian state has not fallen apart. They’ve proven to be a harder target than expected. What’s proven to be a softer target is the West, which means that this war in Ukraine is not about Ukraine anymore. They have no intention of winning in Ukraine. They have no intention of bringing it to an end because what they’re doing in Ukraine is just a small part of this overall campaign to make things fall apart. So in so far as we believe that either through giving weapons or signing some kind of a peace deal, we can bring this thing to an end in Ukraine, we’re missing the big picture. It can’t end in Ukraine ’cause it’s no longer about Ukraine and the reasons it’s no longer about Ukraine have everything to do with the weaknesses, not that the Ukrainians have shown, but that everyone else in the West has shown, which is where I’m gonna leave you. Thanks a lot. (applause) – [Dante] We will now have time for questions. If you have a question, please raise your hand and either Shannon or I will come by with a microphone. As always, questions go to students and in order to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak their truth, please limit yourself to one question. – If you could say you’re name, it’s always nice if you could say your name and… Ask your question in the form of a question. – [Art] Hi, my name is Art. I wondered what do you think of the German response to this situation ’cause it seems to be a pivotal state and a problem in Europe and it seems like Russia is now thought of as being more powerful or more a focus, as you’ve been presenting, but also as more evil in Western Europe than it was 20 years ago when. Did you have that impression? – Yeah, the German question is very important. I just came back from Berlin where I was giving a similar set of remarks, but much more targeted to that public. So the first thing which is worth saying here is that the Russians or the current Russian government is much more comfortable dealing with individual nation states than it is with the European Union. So with respect to Germany as with respect to everybody else, what they’re trying to do is pump up the nation states and avoid the European Union because and I think the calculus is quite simple. It’s intelligent, it’s quite simple. Russia compared to the European Union is very small. It exports as much as the Netherlands. The GDP is the size of France. Compared to the GDP of the European Union, it’s very, very small. It has advantages. It has the advantages of being nimble ’cause it’s a tyranny and it has the advantages that it can threaten to cut off natural gas, although that’s really not very credible. But the EU, so long as it exists, is not only bigger, but the EU, I didn’t even talk about this, but the EU will eventually come up with some kind of common energy policy, which will be doom for the present Russian elite. Not for the country of Russia, but it will be doom for the present Russian elite. So what they want to do is deal with Germany and they’re unlucky in their partner basically, they’re unlucky that Angela Merkel is premier. I mean for a number of reasons. One is that she happens not to be, I’m gonna make it, this is where I get like, if I were in my home institution, I would be now fired for the sexism which is about to follow and maybe I will be fired here as well, but she happens not to be an egomaniacal male. So she’s not like a Silvio Berlusconi or a Gerhard Schroder type who’s like oh yes, there’s another big man out there, let’s go hunting. She doesn’t fall for that particular side of the dictatorial appeal of Putin as many European. No, as many. No, there’s like look the gender question is really interesting in all this, I gotta say. But she doesn’t fall for that. So he does a lot of better with men who like look at him and say oh yes, like if it weren’t for the rule of law and the division of powers, I could be like that. Merkel doesn’t seem to be going for that to her great credit. Also she’s much more historically-minded as a result of coming from East Germany. She can read Russian. These things separate her out from most of her peers. So the German reaction has been very interesting. It’s been very statesman-like. I mean it’s been the most statesman-like of all the reactions in the sense that you have a very competent, intelligent leader who is navigating different currents in public opinion who manages to rally some kind of coherent policy even though there are big German economic stakes in Russia. For the most part, the big Germany companies have accepted the policy of sanctions even though they’re losing a lot of money as a result. So their response has been quite admirable, I mean much more impressive, I think, than ours for example. But of course, inside Germany there are all kinds of passionate debates about this, which have to do with history and in those stakes, I didn’t really talk about this, but in those the stakes have to do with German guilt and the way that the Russian leadership plays it is they try to tell the Germans that you killed a lot of Russians, therefore you should feel very bad, which is fair enough, but they killed, proportionally they killed even more Ukrainians and Belarusians and of course Jews. So the idea is that you want to take credit, as it were, for the suffering of Russians, but to kind of push the Ukrainians entirely out of the picture. So that’s the history of war as it’s going on inside Germany. – [Sasha] My name’s Sasha. So I just had a quick question. My personal interest kind of lies in understanding as to why Russia would like to kind of dismantle the European Union, kind of coming from the standpoint that yes like Russia has undergone the Soviet Union, millions of people have died and there’s also been kind of this lack of psychotherapy within the country and really healing from all of the, I mean call it what you want, like mass murdering by the state and by other countries, war, so forth. So does Russia really care about dismantling the West and working against the European Union? Or is Russia also trying to like focus on itself? Just a comment, thanks. – No, that’s actually a very deep question because I think the two things are very much associated with each other. No one ever comes to terms with the past on their own. It’s one of the weaknesses of the idea of sovereignty. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was largely a result of the fact that the Soviet Union during the Cold War was using the racial question against us. The… The confrontation with the Holocaust in France was largely a result of a book which was written by an American. The confrontation of the Holocaust in Poland, which started with Jan Gross’s book Neighbors, was largely a result of a book by a Pole, but who had spent several decades outside Poland and it largely happened because people in Poland were thinking about what are the Germans and the Americans and so on gonna say about this event. So one of the limitations of sovereignty as I see it is its intellectual and moral limitation. If you’re inside a sovereign paradigm, you will never come to terms with your own past because the whole point of your past will be to justify the leadership that you’ve got now. So this model of coming to terms with the past, like it ends up being national memory in the end, but you can never do it by your own. Nobody can do this on their own. It’s just not possible. You need prompts from the outside. And so part of what, so it’s all one story is what I’m trying to claim, that you can only rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact if you’re not in a discussion with other people about what the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact means. It’s all the same, it’s all one issue. So I take your point that what is, and I think I tried to make this point too, that what’s not happening in Russia is this kind of engagement with the past where you let the past talk to you or overwhelm you or surprise you. That’s not happening. What’s happening is that the president in particular is reading a lot of history, but he’s picking out of it things that he wants to use. I didn’t talk about this so much, but I mean the idea of Novorossiya, the idea of a new Russia in Ukraine. He doesn’t understand what it was. He misunderstands it completely. I mean, new Russia means the same thing as New England. It doesn’t mean that it is England. It means that it’s not England. That’s what like New Jersey is not Jersey and New York is not York, New Caledonia is not Scotland, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. When you call something new, it’s because it’s not you, not because it is you. But or the idea of (mumbles). Like he has these idea that he’s plucking from history or the baptism of Vladimir, which he thinks is so important. He’s plucking these things out, not because there’s supposed to be a discussion about them, but because we know what they mean. The president is telling us what they mean. It’s creating the kind of genealogy, but that’s not history or that’s not history in a social discussion. That’s old-fashioned genealogy of power basically. It’s not really history. And then trying to put the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact into the story of like stop Stalin’s state craft is the same exercise. It’s not this kind of horizontal history, which needs civil society and civil society needs it, which needs international cooperation and international cooperation needs it. It’s a vertical history which is meant to defend the current leadership and to be incomprehensible and therefore defensible from all attacks from the outside. So you’re right. I mean I talked about the German occupation, but I mean the Stalinist past, which is what the rehabilitation of Molotov-Ribbentrop is in a way the ultimate rehabilitation of the Stalinist past because that is maybe the most taboo thing that Stalin did, perhaps more taboo than the million or so deaths in the terror, actually cooperating with Germany. I mean even under the Soviet Union, that was actually that was literally a taboo. It wasn’t, as I’m sure you know, you couldn’t talk about that. The existence of that agreement was denied until 1990 when the stuff was finally published. So that’s in a way the ultimate rehabilitation of Stalin himself because in the old Soviet paradigm, that may be the worst thing that Stalin ever did. So I think, anyway what I’m trying to say is that it’s all one discussion. If you’re using history in this vertical way, that means you’re not using it in this historical way. If you’re not having what you call psychotherapy, it means that you’re not interested in what the European Union does because the European Union does have a kind of historical basis. Sometimes it seems to me to be too simple, even childish, but what it’s based upon is the idea that the Second World War was a bad thing and that’s what they say they learned. We learned for the second. I mean it’s kind of a myth, but they say we learned from the Second World War and then since the ’80s they also have been saying we have learned from the Holocaust. That is their package. We learned that war is a bad thing. We learned that genocide is a bad thing. Our cooperation is meant, our constant discussions are meant to stop things like that from happening. When you reject the European Union, you’re also rejecting that. So I see it as one process. I see it as the same thing. The tension in your question, I think, is resolved. I think it’s all one thing. – [Student] Thank you for your speech tonight. So my question regards you mentioned also at that table in your talk that Russia’s very effective in mobilizing disaffected groups within the European Union and the West to sort of galvanize their opinion in favor of Russia and my question concerns what allowed Russia to achieve this in the European Union, but not in Ukraine? Because by very virtue of being a youth is being disaffected and not liking the status quo ’cause that your parents and it’s just a part of it, right. So what’s different about the European Union and Ukraine that Russia was successful in one but not the other? Thank you. – Yeah, well I mean there’s a really, I’m gonna give you two answers. One is really simple and one’s less simple. The simple one is propinquity, just when the famine in 1933 in Soviet Union people were more likely to believe it the closer they were to it. So by the time you got to Warsaw, people weren’t quite sure. But in the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands everyone knew it was true because the hunger refugees came across the border. So there’s a simple way in which actually experience, at least in something very dramatic, will trump propaganda. So what I’m trying to say is that in today’s Ukraine, there is not, you can’t find, well almost nobody, I mean but people know that they’ve been invaded by an outside power. They know that their family members and friends are dying. They know or more less what happened during the revolution, et cetera. So experience trumps propaganda. But the other thing is that they’re just more, I mean they’re in general more sophisticated about this stuff than we are because they come out of the same world. I mean, Ukraine, as the Russians. But the difference between Ukraine and Russia is that in Ukraine, this is a whole interesting other subject, but in Ukraine you have this thing, you have this like oligarchical pluralism. So you have the media is a mess. The president shouldn’t own a television channel, et cetera, et cetera the governor of Dnipropetrovsk, also not on a television channel. Like they have problems. But there is a kind of pluralism which is real because the fights among the elites are real. In Russia, there are no real fights among the elites. I mean there probably will be very soon, but there haven’t been for awhile and so there is no real pluralism in TV coverage. You could have five channels, but those five channels their directors meet to divide up how they’re gonna present one message. It’s all one message and so in Russia you have what you had in the Soviet Union, which is one message. In Ukraine, you don’t really have that. So you have people who come out of the same Soviet tradition but are now dealing with a much more fragmented reality. So I find it very interesting that you have the most educated people in Germany whose basic understanding of the war in Ukraine is less correct than that of somebody who shines shoes in Chernihiv or whatever. Like that’s a kind of feature of this conflict. – [Student] Hi, thank you so much for your talk. I just wanted to ask if Russia’s I guess machination, I’ve never known how to say that word, plays– – Machination. – [Student] That one. That’s why I guess you’re talking at the Athenaeum and I’m asking the question.
– Machinasai. – [Student] But yeah, I was just wondering if those from Russia within Ukraine might be indicative of a larger policy of Russia in its neighboring regions to perhaps claim a sort of regional dominance or regional hegemony in order to reclaim sort of the loss of glory that after it turned from the Soviet Union, which had global interest, into just Russia or if that’s something that might just be an isolated incident as opposed to just one step in the domino chain. I probably shouldn’t have made a domino reference. – No, no, it’s okay. So because your question in a way refers back to the Cold War, I’m gonna talk about the Cold War for a second to try to make clear what’s similar and what’s different. The communists had a theory of the world and their theory of the world had to do with class struggle and the class struggle was coming everywhere. The proletariat might win sooner or later in different countries, but it was gonna win everywhere eventually. The job of the Soviet Union was to survive and support the progressive elements until the revolution spread around the entire world. In other words, there was a logic to the Soviet Union intervening all over the world because there was history, history was going a certain direction. What’s a little bit different now is that Russia no longer has a vision for the world. This is the thing which I find terrifying about it all. There isn’t an actual vision to engage with, which is what makes this in a way harder for us who are not in Russia than the Cold War. There’s nothing to engage with. It’s hard to write a containment article like George Kennan did because there’s no coherent ideology on the other side. On the other side what there is is only a negative vision and the negative vision is that is things fall apart basically, that all the stuff that people appear to have in the West, it’s just illusory and if you just blow or push or nudge or bribe or tell a few lies or have an amazingly successful television channel, if you do just a few of these things, then it will all fall apart. So there’s nothing to actually engage with and this is what makes your question hard to answer because I don’t think that there can be some kind of priority for Finland or Estonia or Latvia or Lithuania. I understand that those countries have good reasons to fear, especially given the things which Putin has a way of saying about them. He does refer to the Soviet Union. He also refers to the Russian Empire. It’s all a bit vague and contradictory. That Russia’s supposed to be great is the kind of consistent threat. But given the way things are going and given how good the Russians are, so what they’ve been bad at doing is what they’ve been bad at doing has had to do with Ukraine. This whole thing started because of a misunderstanding about Ukraine. The things and I wrote about this at the time and this is why I said they were gonna end up invading. They didn’t, I mean Putin really seemed not to think that there was a Ukrainian nation and that’s the mistake that drew them in because if there’s no Ukrainian nation, it should be really easy to make the whole thing fall apart and if there’s no Ukrainian state, okay just one more nudge, one more. They got that wrong, but what they’ve been much better at is seeing our weaknesses and so I don’t think that there’s a territorial plan. What I think is that they are going to keep testing and prodding and seeing what works and what doesn’t work and not everything works. There was a plan called South Stream to move natural gas south of Ukraine so it didn’t have to go through Ukraine. That didn’t work, not everything is working, but some things are working, especially to the level of media. So I think it’s much more likely that they’re going to keep going the way they’re going and try to hollow out the European Union from within, keep working at that level oh and try to keep breaking up the Transatlantic Alliance, which they’re also doing a pretty good job with. It’s like with, what’s his name, with the Snowden thing, like the Americans provide a certain amount of raw material and then they use the raw material as best they can to divide the Americans from the Europeans. They’re gonna keep trying to do that and they’re playing on a certain amount of, they’ll play on America, like this whole idea that the European Union is decadent, like who came up with that? American conservatives in the 1990s and so and the Russians say okay, hey let’s use that, let’s make it even more intense and then let’s see how the American conservatives react and some of the American conservatives’ reaction is “Oh wait a minute, we may have, oh okay” and some of them say “Yes, yes, yes!” And so we do something, they react to it and then they split our opinion with the stuff that we’ve created. Anyway, my point is that if I were them, which as I already mentioned I’m not, but if I were them I would probably just let what they’re doing keep working because the stuff with the Transatlantic Alliance, with the American right and the American left and the European right and the European left, that’s what’s working out very well. So let that keep working for awhile before you go after more territory. I think in the short term and I could be wrong, I could be wrong, I think in the short term they’re gonna keep going after little bits of territory in Ukraine, not because they want a final victory in Ukraine, but because that’s enough to keep the conflict going sufficiently to destabilize Western institutions. In other words, I think a big land grab right now would hurt them more than it would help them because they would be risking that NATO would respect Article Five, for example, which I think is a very real risk. I mean I don’t think, I mean I could be wrong, but I really don’t think that we’ve reached the point where the United States would ignore Article Five, but if you give it another five, seven years and the European allies are themselves giving up, then maybe at that point you would try it. So that’s my best sense. – [Dante] We have time for one more student question. (student speaking off microphone) – I’m sorry, what? (student speaking off microphone) It’s a weakness. So okay, it’s thousands of years and it begins with Aristotelian non-contradiction and the moment you give up Aristotelian non-contradiction, you’re giving up individuality and my claim is that the point of this is to get people to give up Aristotelian non-contradiction. The moment you concede on that where you can say oh wait, they don’t exist, they do, there’s a state, there’s not, there’s a language, there isn’t, they’re fascist, they’re not, it’s okay, then you’re vulnerable and I think you’re no longer, I realize this is a slightly radical claim, but I think at that point you’re no longer a subject in the sense that you want. I think if you and I can’t agree on non-contradiction, then you and I can’t actually have a dispute in the meaningful sense of the word. So I think it’s precisely the thousands of years of tradition of disputation which should allow us to say we can’t go further than non-contradiction or ’cause what the Russians are doing to us and this is a point I made in another context already, they’re taking the whole postmodern thing, they’re bringing it to its natural conclusions, they’re giving it back to us and they’re seeing how it works on us and it’s working pretty well. So in the end I say it’s weakness, I say it’s weakness. – [Peppa] Hi, I’m Peppa. Thank you for your talk. I’m curious to hear ’cause you spoke, you sort of touched on the way that Russia is helping to ferment a lot of the antisemitism and fascism and sort of Neo-Nazi attitudes within Europe in particular and I’m curious whether you think there, I mean it seems that you think that’s at least in part sort of a general strategy of confusion and contradiction, but I’m curious whether you think there is an endgame there or whether they’ve considered sort of the potential ramifications of that or the consequences of that and if you’re willing to predict how you think that that will play out. – Yeah, no the idea. So there is an endgame. And I wrote about this a year ago and I wish I’d been wrong. The endgame is, with the antisemitism business and the Holocaust business, the endgame is not only to trap people into contradictions. So if you say all of Ukraine, like this is what they did, they said the Ukrainians, they said the Maidan were a bunch of fascists and that, which they weren’t incidentally, and that drew the West in because many people in the West, and not only on the left, think that fascism’s a bad thing, which it is and so this whole business of trying to characterize a complex contemporary event as in a Manichean way, a fascism and anti-fascism, it drew a lot of people in and of course no one wants to be on the side of the fascists so if you make a big push that Ukrainians are all fascists, which of course is ludicrous. The right wing there is less important electorally than it is in pretty much any Western country and hugely less important than Russia where it’s in power, but that claim cost us, as it were, six months. We spent six months talking about debating the ludicrous proposition of whether all the Ukrainians were fascists and by the time we got tired of that, then they were on to the next one, which is that it was all the Americans who were behind it, which has then cost us an additional nine months and now that’s slowly running out of steam as like even the thickest observer realizes that America has no coherent policy. But sorry. That was for, this is the problem with being videoed ’cause then your diplomat friends are like “Oh that was a good speech by Snyder. “Wait a minute, what’d he just say about?” Sorry. (chuckles) But anyway, getting back to your question. There is an endgame to this as I see it and the endgame is that so it’s crying wolf. So the Holocaust is a very serious subject. It’s not one to be invoked lightly and the threat of like a second Holocaust in Ukraine, which is what they were talking about, that’s a kind of crying wolf. It’s not just that it’s wrong or that it’s unfair or that it is precisely the kind of ethnic stereotyping which gets you into problems in the first place. When you say a whole nation is X, that is itself a hugely dangerous thing to do. Whether you’re saying a whole nation is sheep or whether you’re saying a whole nation is fascists, whatever you’re saying about them, it’s a bad thing to be doing. But the ultimate endgame of this is that you hollow out the historical reference points of the West itself. If you can draw Westerners into an entirely false but emotionally meaningful Holocaust discussion, the next time when there’s a real problem, it’ll be harder. So it’s the crying wolf issue because there is an antisemitism problem in Europe. There is actually a real antisemitism problem, a growing antisemitism problem in Europe. It doesn’t happen to come from Ukraine. There are other places it’s coming from. The antisemitic right is much more important actually in Western Europe now than it is in Eastern Europe, as no one seems capable of saying. It’s much more important in terms of violence. I mean the one place that synagogues are not guarded by people with machine guns is Ukraine in Europe. That’s the only big country where you can go to a synagogue without having to pass armed guard, which is worth thinking about. The reported incidents of antisemitic violence in Ukraine are much lower than in England, France, Belgium, et cetera, et cetera. So the point is that if you can draw people in to a phantom discussion of something important, the next time when there really is something important, it’ll be harder for people to concentrate because they’ll know that they’ll remember vaguely that they were fooled once about this. So it’s not just a kind of trivial, it’s a trivialization of the Holocaust, but it’s also the erosion of a kind of foundation of political discussion, which I think is deliberate. I think that’s on purpose and that’s one of the things which concerns me about all this. – [Dante] Unfortunately, hat is all the time we have. Please join me in thanking Dr. Tim Synder. (applause)

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