As I research, an insight that’s being hammered into my brain is that grievances, even those lightly held, never disappear and, in fact, grow.
Once established in a culture, grievances get bigger. If you feel aggrieved, you’ll look back and build yourself a past which may be mythological but seems increasingly real — and, after a while, it becomes real. You’ll aspire to a future that may not be plausible, but still begs to happen — and, after a while, this becomes what you aim for. You’ll interpret your present through the stories of grievance you share with others like you. This is your community. You grieve together.
Slowly, your grievance becomes defining. It’s what happened to you in the past, what’s happening to you now, and what could happen to you in the future. It limits you, like a definition. You can only stretch so far or you’ll step beyond the grievance.
I’m not saying your grievance isn’t real or merited, only that a grievance, once established, has a life of it’s own. It doesn’t go away.
In the Ukraine, the Russian minority felt aggrieved. The truthfulness of their perceived grievance is not at issue — the fact that they felt it and made it a defining aspect of their identity is what matters. Ditto with the Ukrainians who, too, felt aggrieved for very different reasons.
Ukrainians chaffed at the knowledge they spoke a “lesser” language, as one Ukrainian quoted in the media put it. Apparently, speaking Russian had a bit of cachet in the Ukraine. It hinted at sophistication and education — interestingly, Zelensky didn’t speak a word of Ukrainian when he first became president. He had to learn the Ukrainian language on the job.
Most Ukrainians lived in the center and western areas of the country — Russians lived in the south and east. The Russian area bordered the beautiful sea-front and included the richest agricultural land. Heavy industry was also disproportionately in the Russian areas. As I research, I sense the grievance and envy in Ukrainian stories. Clearly, when they finally were able to vent their anger, Ukrainians persecuted neighboring Russians. They resented what they perceived as Russian comparative success. The worst sort of envy is of people you know and see, the ones who live close to you. This is the “coveting” the Bible injuncts. It’s one of the commandments for a reason.
Russians may been arrogant. Or clannish. Maybe Russians held onto old grievances that made them pretentious, ungenerous and wary of their Ukrainian neighbors. In an early speech, Putin spoke of Slavic blood, as if blood alone would overwhelm culture and the grievances of the past. This doesn’t often happen. Blood may be thick, but it still runs.
Eurocrats are fixated on keeping borders unchanged and intact even though those borders make little sense to the people within them. Had the Ukraine been carved into culturally Russian and non-Russian areas many years earlier, this war may have been avoided. But this would have gone against “the rules.” The rules state that borders are inviolable. They can’t be changed. But had they been changed, just maybe, like tall fences that make good neighbors, new borders would have prevented war.
The European mindset is integration — “ever closer …” — not the creation of peaceful communities of like mind. Diversity is not strength. It never was. It’s precarious and tends towards war. That’s what’s happening in the Ukraine. Real diversity has nothing to do with skin color or gender or any of the approved categories — unlike people are those who think differently or who share different presuppositions. Grievance, once nurtured, creates such diversity.
I feel sick to my stomach when I read about the war dead and how older men are being sent to Bakhmut and other fronts where they’ll be slaughtered in the “cauldron” or “meat-grinder.” Younger men are being “saved” for upcoming battles during which they’ll likely be slaughtered too. Rows of dead bodies and stacked pine coffins seem horrific, because they are.
I no longer believe that all people can live proximate to each other. Some grievances are too deep to stave off conflict. In such cases, a new boundary makes sense. It could preserve lives, at least. When this war ends, there will be far fewer and less able-bodied men. There will be tens of thousands of unsupported young Ukrainian widows as well as grief-struck old women who live alone. The elderly will suffer quietly until they die; the young may be fortunate enough to re-marry, perhaps to a Russian soldier, and start a second family. Children will be forever scarred.
And to think that a border, a redrawn national boundary, may have prevented this …
I’m not sure that Eurocrats fully comprehend the horror of human suffering and brutal death they indirectly caused. Lousy treaties that no one seriously intended to keep — Minsk-1 and Minsk-2, for example — amplified grievances already present, which eventually exploded into war. Borders weren’t withdrawn. Obviously, many other factors were present, but to me, they pale before the human suffering that may have been prevented, but wasn’t.