Very disturbing news from the Ukraine. As the New York Times reported this week fighters from Chechnya have made their way to the front lines and organized battalions to bolster up the Ukrainian army which has not had much success in the face of superior firepower of the Russians. One of the commanders of the Chechens said they were happy to be there because “We like to fight the Russians…We always fight the Russians.” The Chechens are excellent soldiers, apparently, and much appreciated by the Ukrainian army. They also fight with little protective gear because “This is the way we look at it: we believe in God, so we don’t need armored vests.” There are also some far-right Ukrainian paramilitary militias, some of whom are openly Neo-Nazis, that have organized to get into combat as well.
This bodes ill for the region. Armies of men who believe Allah is on their side, eager to find some Russians to kill, making common cause with the admirers of Adolf Hitler. It’s a recipe for more snipers, more ambushes, more battles, more sieges, destruction, death and all the rest that inevitably accompanies the hounds of war. Like the ultra-right in the Ukraine the Chechens set great store by their homeland. That’s what they have been fighting for back in Chechnya, and in fact the latest figures show that 95% of the people of Chechnya are Chechen. If they want their own country, then, like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, they should have had the right to peacefully exit the Soviet Union and its successor, Russia. But as I’ve argued a number of times, it’s different in the eastern Ukraine. There are and have always been a large number of Russians living there and a certain number of them would like to be either part of Russia or independent in a new country, Donbass. Playing the “homeland” card is not good enough for the Ukrainians on the far right, because so much of the population in the eastern districts rallies around a different flag. It’s a similar situation to what we’ve just seen in South Carolina: some people there see themselves as proud citizens of the South, and that flag of the Confederacy is a symbol of that abstraction “homeland”. For many others, however, the flag is something different. When you get too wrapped up in a flag you end up with people going off the deep end, picking up guns and going to war, whether it’s your own private war in a church in Charleston, or in an organized battalion in the Ukraine.
I’m reminded of a clip I saw once a long time ago on the subject of “football hooligans” in the UK. These are the guys who go to soccer matches primarily to taunt the other side’s fans, hoping some kind of melee will result. One big bruiser was being interviewed after his arrest, and when asked why he did this kind of thing, he gave a big grin, revealing several teeth missing and replied, “Oi loik to foight.” There we have it. Men and boys have something in them that loves a good fight. We’re hard-wired for it, probably because, like stags in the springtime, we have to lock antlers and push the other guy out of the way so we can get access to the females of our species. We should acknowledge those urges, but if we ever want to change the world from one of wars and warlords, we have to get on a better educational track and teach people to redirect their energies to more peaceful paths. Specifically, when disputes over national sovereignty come up as they inevitably will, there should be lots of time for talks, to air grievances, to come up with options, solutions proposals, and in the end, allow the people—all the people in the region in question the opportunity to freely and fairly vote on the direction they would like to take. There has never been a fair vote in the eastern Ukraine. There should be one now.
The final educational piece for peace is to teach respect for the outcome of the vote or you end up like the Southern Sudan.