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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #342

I went to the Opera last night and it was a little heavy. It’s a modern piece called Psalms of War by the Ukrainian-Soviet composer Stankovich, and it revolves around the themes of the destruction of family life caused by wartime: a state security officer arrives with papers to detain a member of the family suspected by treachery, and the family turn the other way out of fear and decline to help him, and he is taken off to the cells to be murdered by an axe. Or something like that. It was sung in Ukrainian with Ukrainian surtitles and the music was somewhere in between Shostakovich and Janacek and I admit that I couldn’t really get into it. I left after the second Act, knowing there was to be much more depressing and debilitating themes of human misery accompanied to screeching music like wire gloves scratching on a steel plate and operatic singing that seemed designed to match the music: booming voices, screaming women all accompanied to solemn booming drums. I got the picture. Everyone was very well dressed up for this opera and the house was full: a rarity. Stankovich, as one of Ukraine’s few living operatic composers, seems incredibly popular and I was lucky to get a seat. But in reality I am a traditionalist; I like the old themes of classical opera, immortalised in bygone stories that remain curiously pertinent to the modern age, rather than these re-invented hulks spreading and beating doom and gloom into the audience who I noticed clapped only politely. So that was that. Sorry, Mr Stankovich; I’m going to see another of your pieces this coming weekend, so let’s hope I like that more.

I stumbled off down the street, after hesitating but deciding against staying for the final Act, to my usual bar but I suppose I wasn’t really in the mood. There was a band on there but they weren’t hugely enthralling. They tried their best at the Ukrainian National Anthem but the music was tinny and bland. There were a lot of Ukrainian patriotic songs, as my friend who was celebrating his birthday explained that this corpus of traditional Ukrainian folk songs go back centuries because that’s actually how long the Ukrainians have been resisting the Russian yoke. The Ukrainians must stand as some of the most oppressed people in the world, having been victims of Russian imperialism for as long as Russia has existed, being treated by Russia as a vassal state of peasants and Ukraine’s traditional culture suppressed. Therefore the Ukrainian people hang on close to this corpus of traditional songs because it’s all they’ve got; until now, their culture has never been allowed to flourish. This is their moment of renaissance; their opportunity to fight against Russian domination with western support. And they are seizing this opportunity to express their culture and to assert political control over their country, because it seems they get only one chance every 100 years to do this.

The last opportunity was at the end of the First World War, when Russia had collapsed in turmoil amidst the October Revolution and the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and hence Ukraine tried to establish a nation state in the ashes of the armistice and amidst the Peace Treaty of Versailles. Unfortunately at that stage, in 1917, the Ukrainians for historical reasons were not united, at least initially; the people who had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the west of Ukraine around Lviv, wanted to go in a separate direction from those in the rest of the country who had been subjects of the Russia Empire that had now collapsed. Hence they created two protean nations: the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic and the Ukrainian People’s Republic. This division did them no favours in the Versailles Treaty negotiations that would bring peace to the greater body of Europe, because Ukrainians could not say that they had a legitimate single representative and in any event they were not adequately represented at Versailles, the focus of which was not keeping back the Soviet Union (the dangers of communism as a mere re-invention of the Russian Empire had not yet been seriously understood) but in partitioning and enfeebling Germany so that Germany could not present a danger to Europe once again. That didn’t work, and we ended up with World War II; but it turned out that the Soviet Union was even more dangerous than Germany in the grand span of things; Stalin killed far more people than Hitler. Nevertheless Ukraine was mostly thrown to the wolves in the inter-war period and by 1945 Stalin was an uncomfortable ally of the West so Ukraine had no hope then either.

Now the real dangers of Russian imperialism are understood, the West stands with Ukraine; not necessarily for the sake of Ukraine, as my good American friend rather cynically pointed out the other day, but by reason of the need to fight Russian imperialism everywhere it emerges. Hence I found myself writing to the French Embassy this morning asking for a visa to the Central African Republic (France handle’s the CAR’s consular affairs), because the CAR is another country where Russia and the Wagner Group are interfering with domestic politics to advance a Russian Neo-imperialist agenda. Or maybe I’ll go to Niger, where Wagner Group has backed a military coup against the western-leading regime. Russian imperialism is everywhere, and it must be fought everywhere. Ukraine is the largest theatre by far but it’s not the only one by any means. Russia is now interfering in the Middle East, using gold robbed from African countries she has dominated to pay Iran for the drones used to attack Ukrainian civilians and to fund Hamas in creating foment in attacking Israel from the Gaza Strip. This is what World War III, or the Second Cold War, looks like: constantly fighting the Russians everywhere they may appear.

I left my favourite bar earlier than usual, feeling unusually lonely and sad. I feel I am in this struggle on my own, as a relentless warrior in favour of the good, and as a well-known politician once said to me, “Matthew, when you’re at the top, it’s a very lonely place to be and you make all the important decisions on your own”. Well I don’t know that I’m anywhere near the top, but I feel the loneliness that wise man once expressed to me. So, Mr M—, thank you for your wisdom. Your words stuck with me to the present day.


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