Fragments from a War Diary, Part #141
We’re all getting a bit sick of it. The international community in Ukraine has come here to fight for the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian cause and we light to think that the Ukrainian people are appreciative of the efforts we are making, not just in terms of personal commitment in time and individual expenditure but also in terms of the fact that our tax bills are higher because we are supporting the Ukrainian economy and the Ukrainian military and this makes a real difference to the amount of tax we are paying. Resisting the Russian invasion of Ukraine is costing each and every western taxpayer real money in terms of their tax obligations to their government, and many of us are coming to Ukraine too in order to give our time and our vacations and in many cases our sanity and risking our lives to support the Ukrainian cause. Yet we keep being ripped off.
Earlier this evening I went into a shop and I was provided with an excessive price because I was a foreigner. A few days ago I tried to buy a simple piece of luggage and while the price tag said 1300 Gryvnas the salesperson in the kiosk insisted that this was incorrect and the real price was 2500 Gryvnas. I go to my local bar each night, where I am by far the best customer, and pretty girls come to drape their arms around me and ask me to buy them miscellaneous expensive drinks I have never heard of for ludicrous prices. The bar staff ask me to buy everyone in the bar limoncellos, as though I am a cretin straight from the lunatic asylum. I am a volunteer here, working for the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but still local people in Lviv are trying to rook me - and my foreign colleagues and friends - for every cent they think they can juice from us.
Some pretty half-dressed girl tells me she wants to marry me - but I have to buy her and her friends drinks. An oafish bouncer tells me I cannot leave his crude and dirty sinful bar until I have paid an outrageous invoice I have never even seen. I tell him that he should spend a few weeks on the front line in Kherson, and then he will understand everything a little better. He looks down, ashamed, and then he lets me go without paying his fictitious invoice.
Ukrainian people have a long way to go to reach European standards and values. They are in many cases short-term in their thinking: greedy, covetous and self-interested. They need to come to comprehend that their relationship with the West has fundamentally changed. We are no longer sponges from which they can drench cash and gifts. The only - I repeat, the only - basis upon which the West is going to be prepared to admit Ukraine into the European community of nations is one in which Ukrainians and other Europeans are seen as equals who live side by side with one-another and do not exploit each other. Ukrainians need to understand this wholly new vision for their future. The European Union is not a casual replacement for the Russian Empire. Europe embraces an entirely different set of values, in which nation respects nation and peoples respect peoples. We are all equals and we all pull our weight. Ukrainians are not serfs or peasants in this new European community of nations. They are equal partners with all other Europeans, committed to a set of contemporary modern and liberal values.
Hence Ukrainians must change their perspectives most dramatically if they are to be embraced by the European polity. They must get it out of their heads that it is acceptable to rip off foreigners simply by virtue of their nationality. They must get it out of their heads that westerners are fools and will fall for their tricks. They must get it out of their heads that we are foreign creatures and beasts to be charmed to their faces and tricked behind their backs. We in the West are no fools. Ukraine is not the first post-communist country we have embraced into our midst. We have seen this sort of deceptive behaviour before, in which people think that westerners are stupid or foolish or here for bad reasons. Some of us may have improper motives, to be sure; but that is true of any people anywhere in the world. The vast majority of the international community in Ukraine is here to help, with all the goodness in our hearts; and Ukrainians should not trick us or be sly. They should treat us with the respect we deserve.
I understand how Ukrainians think about foreigners. They have a legacy of decades of communism, and even the youth of Ukraine who may not have been born within the Soviet Union nonetheless carry the cultural baggage of Soviet suspicion of the West and an instinctive intuition that Westerners are fools to be exploited and manipulated. But this attitude will not do. Ukrainians need to embrace the heart of the European project, if Ukraine is to progress as a nation. They cannot afford to see Europeans as another, a different set of people that are here to be exploited and to have their money deprived from them. The foreigners who have committed to Ukraine and who have come here gratis to give their time and efforts to the Ukrainian war effort deserve better than fraudulent invoices and scandalous demands for money draped in the scanty lingerie of sweetly smiling Ukrainian girls.
I say to the Ukrainians this: treat us with the respect that we are treating you with in our financial and other contributions to your cause. There are some bad apples amongst us, the international community present in Ukraine; but that is a tiny minority to be sure. For the rest of us, please treat us with decency and courtesy as we do everything we can within our powers, as individuals, as cultures and as nations, to assist modern Ukraine in resisting the yoke of Russian imperialism. Please do not treat us as another species of Russian invader, to be charmed and then betrayed as the convenience might lie. Embrace the modern European political culture of legal principles, consider yourselves equal with all other Europeans, and live up to those standards. That is how the rest of Europe wants to think about Ukraine, and we want you to think in the same way about us. So please do not rip us off; do not lie to us; do not be dishonest; please treat us with the respect that, if you really think truly in your hearts, you will understand that we deserve. We are fighting this war for you on the basis of principle, whereas the Russians are fighting it only on the basis of raw power relations. If you want to join the European community of nations, you need to radically change the way you think about your relationships with foreigners. If, and only if, you are capable of that, then we will welcome you with all our hearts.