In my book I talk about the “dark side” : those territories we tread when we do not acknowledge what is sacred about our humanity. We’re seeing plenty of the dark side now on the news as a cult of death spins out of control in the Middle East, threatening to draw young people from all over the world into its arms. In the Ukraine we’re watching the misery of soldiers and civilians in a war that never should have happened, and shows no sign of ending any time soon. The dark side in this case arises from “the sacrament of the group” spinning out of control. The incredible rush that people get when they’re at political rallies listening to powerful speakers can turn quickly into something diabolical. Words like “fascists” are tossed around. The sabres rattle, the rallies become mobs or militias out for blood, the propaganda machines start cranking out their dangerous messages, and history repeats itself over and over. Reason flees, and people end up starving in cellars and subway tunnels. It’s hard to stop a war once it’s started.
It is apparently exceedingly difficult for different ethnic groups to live together in Europe, even cousins like the Ukrainians and Russians. Evidently it’s not so easy for some Russians to imagine themselves living in a country dominated by Ukrainians. They would like to be part of a greater Russia, or else part of an independent Donbass nation. They are prepared to take as much of the country as they want now that they are flushed with victory from their most recent battle.
The answer to stopping this can be found in Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points. Self-determination. He was focused on breaking up Germany and Austria-Hungary and didn’t mention Russia, but should have. The Ukraine and the West are wringing their hands about the loss of Crimea and the Eastern provinces. But “territorial integrity” is a joke at this point. The old Ukraine from 2013 is history, and it should be. Remember: When the elected president (Yanukovich) was ousted, he didn’t resign, he fled. He was still president. The new leaders tore up the Constitution, figuratively. All bets were off, and the more disgruntled among the Easterners wanted their own country. They should have had a verifiable vote then.
But now is not too late. What are these Ukrainian politicians waiting for? They don’t stand a chance on the battlefield, given the porous Russian border, the will to fight that their opponents are showing, and the unwillingness of the West to supply heavy weapons. As I’ve said before, the people should vote county by county : Russia or Ukraine? No more shelling in exchange for verifiable votes in this eastern region. Get the data and draw a boundary. There should be a cease fire, and then a conference to determine how the vote will take place. A lot of people have fled—how will that factor in? How will they guarantee a secret ballot? How will they avoid controversy if the vote doesn’t go the way that either side thinks it should? Lots to talk about. That’s what diplomats are for. In any case they should start talking about this now before the Ukraine is bankrupt (and Russia too, for that matter) and before any more lives are lost. It’s called Realpolitik.