The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything

Roundup
tags: Russia, fascism, Ukraine



Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University and the author of "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin." With Leon Wieseltier, he has planned a congress of international and Ukrainian intellectuals to meet May 16 to 19 in Kiev under the heading Ukraine: Thinking Together. This essay is a revision of an earlier article that appeared in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

We easily forget how fascism works: as a bright and shining alternative to the mundane duties of everyday life, as a celebration of the obviously and totally irrational against good sense and experience. Fascism features armed forces that do not look like armed forces, indifference to the laws of war in theirapplication to people deemed inferior, the celebration of “empire” after counterproductive land grabs. Fascism means the celebration of the nude male form, the obsession with homosexuality, simultaneously criminalized and imitated. Fascism rejects liberalism and democracy as sham forms of individualism, insists on the collective will over the individual choice, and fetishizes the glorious deed. Because the deed is everything and the word is nothing, words are only there to make deeds possible, and then to make myths of them. Truth cannot exist, and so history is nothing more than a political resource. Hitler could speak of St. Paul as his enemy,Mussolini could summon the Roman emperors. Seventy years after the end of World War II, we forgot how appealing all this once was to Europeans, and indeed that only defeat in war discredited it. Today these ideas are on the rise in Russia, a country that organizes its historical politics around the Soviet victory in that war, and the Russian siren song has a strange appeal in Germany, the defeated country that was supposed to have learned from it.

The pluralist revolution in Ukraine came as a shocking defeat to Moscow, and Moscow has delivered in return an assault on European history. Even as Europeans follow with alarm or fascination the spread of Russian special forces from Crimea through Donetsk and Luhansk, Vladimir Putin’s propagandists seek to draw Europeans into an alternative reality, an account of history rather different from what most Ukrainians think, or indeed what the evidence can bear. Ukraine has never existed in history, goes the claim, or if it has, only as part of a Russian empire. Ukrainians do not exist as a people; at most they are Little Russians. But if Ukraine and Ukrainians do not exist, then neither does Europe or Europeans. If Ukraine disappears from history, then so does the site of the greatest crimes of both the Nazi and Stalinist regimes. If Ukraine has no past, then Hitler never tried to make an empire, and Stalin never exercised terror by hunger...



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