The lounge in Buswells Hotel, Dublin 2 this morning as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed, via video link, a joint session of the Houses of the Oireachtas
Kevin L Higgins writes:
Irish children of the early 1960s whose homes contained a (generally rented) television were treated each weekday from just after 5pm, to a stream of cheaply made, cheaply acquired and universally awful series of outdated American TV shows.
Between Monday and Friday at least three of these slots were occupied by such as Rin Tin Tin, Annie Oakley and of course, The Cisco Kid . Had these productions been labelled like LEGO kits, they would have been described as suitable for 5+. This form of entertainment even then, had barely moved on from an era of film where, in a bar-room fight all the ‘good guys’ wore white hats and all the ‘bad guys’ black ones.
While the Irish population of 2022 has moved on somewhat over 60 years, certainly in its willingness to pronounce on world events, there remains some doubt as to whether we are better informed; perverse in our determination to propound a contrary view or simply remain infatuated with the sound of our own voices. The majority of our political class are certainly a fit for the two latter options.
In the space of a couple of years. a huge chunk of the chattering classes and indeed that of the population as a whole have become experts on the nature and effect of transmittable viruses and in a blink, informed commentators on the politics of Central and Eastern Europe and the logistics of modern warfare. Not since the introduction of the revolutionary arcade game of Space Invaders more than forty years ago have we been able to exhibit our quick-wits and dexterity to such effect.
If were are forced to paint by numbers it can be said that Putin is a vile creature who rules Russia and its satellites with a grip which no one has had, since the death of Stalin in 1953. Though he is acutely aware of his own mortality as he approaches his 70th birthday this is no consolation, as he is transparently unhinged and clinically paranoid.
He is a captive in a prison of his own construction. As on so many occasions in the past, it may fall to the Praetorian Guard to solve the current problem. Those with any knowledge of the Roman Empire will be aware that the Guard could always be bought. There are undoubtedly offers already on the table, the Devil is clearly in the detail.
If we await the sound of trumpets from the Seventh Cavalry bringing relief to Europe, we should recall that at the last changing of the guard in Washington, a deranged lunatic without any apparent redeeming features attempted to overthrow a duly-elected President by violence and continues on a daily basis to preach sedition.
Putin is a present and dangerous poison in the world, but any suggestion that the United States is on balance, a force for good in the world is absurd. However deluded Putin is about a new Russian Empire, the creation and extension of the American hegemony has been inexorable for at least eighty years; that is where US interest lies.
Those interested in how Putin became the new Red Czar and how Russia evolved after the collapse of the Soviet Union, should read David Satter’s “Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State”, published in 2003. Satter’s professional career in Moscow began as correspondent for the Financial Times in 1976. He filled various posts in the Russian Capital until Putin finally had him expelled in 2013. His books are essential reading for a proper understanding of the Russian State over the last forty years.
The Irish response to the displacement of Ukrainian people has been generous and understandable. The virtual canonisation of Zelensky has been a useful focus and rallying mark for those who still recognise the good guys by their (at least notional) white hats.
When it comes to the tortured history of Central Europe however, nothing is simple. For a century Ukraine has been pulverised both by Nazis who actually called themselves Nazis and by the savagery of Stalinism and it’s successors.
The richness of its ‘black earth’, it’s scale and the fact that it was soaked in blood during the major conflict of the twentieth century makes it the true Mitteleuropa irrespective of how that term was intended by nineteenth century writers. The term was certainly not benign as interpreted by the Nazis who saw it as indispensable in the acquisition of Lebensraum just as Moscow has always viewed it as part of the Russian Empire. Ukraine, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and expansion of the EU and NATO. is now more than ever the buffer state of Europe.
If Ireland is going to embrace Ukraine on the scale envisaged, then it would be a good idea if we were to inform ourselves as to it’s history. Given how poorly we grapple with our own history of the last hundred years, that may be a bit of an ask. The response of the Ukrainian people to violent attack is understandable, as it has been like Poland, the ground over which contending empires have carried out unspeakable atrocities.
When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa on June 21,1941, he quickly swept through Ukraine. A large part of the Ukrainian population welcomed the Germans as their ‘enemy’s enemy’. By September 1941, the German army was fully in control of Kiev or as we now daily refer to it as Kyiv.
Outside the city is a place called Babi Yar, the site of a large ravine. There, over two days, the September 29 and 30, some 33,771 Jews; men, women and children were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen (the murder squads that followed with the regular army) and by members of the Ukrainian State Police, then allied with their enemy’s enemy.
How do we know that? Because with the efficiency for which our Teutonic friends are celebrated they counted very carefully and transmitted the information to Berlin. The details were picked up on Enigma radio traffic, decoded at Bletchley and confirmed by post-war sources.
Any Ukraine for Dummies booklet being used by those within the Department of Foreign Affairs will not be helpful in assisting in the present horror story. Neither will several hundred pairs of bespoke yellow and blue socks. We should read a little, listen a little, learn a little.
The present writer does not claim any particular expertise, but I have been to Moscow, Lviv, Kyiv and visited Babi Yar. I have read the entirety of the Transcript of the Nuremburg Military Tribunal, and completed (a long time ago at undergraduate level) a course of Soviet Studies.
I have read voraciously the history of Europe for some 40 years. If I am none the wiser, I am perhaps a little better informed than I might otherwise be. If we are to be confronted by daily butchery on European soil (while blithely ignoring it elsewhere) and perhaps even Armageddon: perhaps we should be a little curious as to why? Simultaneously, mountains must be moved to bring this latest tranche of war criminals to the Hague.
Our politicians have to have a capacity to understand what their job is on entering Iveagh House [Department of Foireign Affairs], as should the collection of Third Secretaries whose academic output included essays on the Congress of Vienna and a critical assessment of Bismarck based on a student crib. They too may need to widen their reading.
Now retired from law, Tuam activist Kevin L Higgins has contributed to Broadsheet previously on the issue of Mother and Baby Homes.
Earlier: “I Would Like You To Show More leadership”