The War in Ukraine and the Future of the World, a TED talk on YouTube with Anna Applebaum, Timothy Snyder and Yuval Noah Harari inspired me to write this article.
Timothy starts by looking at Ukraine as a European country with a mediaeval history from the Vikings to Christian conversion, a Renaissance and Reformation. Its National movement of the 19th century failed after WWI because of the Russian Revolution. After WWII, Stalin’s Soviet Union made it a dangerous place to be. Ukraine gained its independence in 1991. It is vital to remember: Ukrainians know who they are.
Anna says that Ukraine’s National identity is not turning it against the Russian people. They chose a type of civic nationalism which is based on democracy.
Yuval believes that Putin has already lost the war. It was about the existence of Ukraine, and he achieved the opposite: now the whole world knows that Ukraine exists. The West has been in a cultural war between liberalism and nationalism (Anna says maybe call it patriotism instead). Ukraine shows us that we need to stop this culture war because nationalism and liberalism are not enemies. It’s about loving your compatriots with the one enemy: Putin’s ideology.
A Ukrainian MP, Yegor Chernev joins the conversation briefly (as he is involved in the fight in Ukraine). He says that the West hasn’t many tools to stop Putin. NATO should help, with a no-fly zone as Ukraine doesn’t have enough anti-aircraft systems. Like his President Zelenskyy asked, “We don’t need flowers but bombs!”
Putin thought he could invade and in a few days Ukraine would surrender. But, due to the highest level of resistance, including by the population, he cannot occupy the big cities.
When Yegor leaves to join the fight of his country for survival, Yuval tells him that they are fighting for the freedom of the entire world; Ukraine has already a different role from before the war. According to Timothy, Russians are now in the second stage of the war as the first approach failed. When a dictator like Putin makes a mistake, as he has lost touch with reality, he cannot admit it. Looking at destruction in Syria, eg Aleppo, the fear is that he is trying the same in Mariupol. This is random fury as Russians are slaughtering Ukrainian civilians.
Putin is in a confrontation of history against myth. He believes that Russia and Ukraine’s 1000 years of history means that only an outsider can cause the resistance by Ukraine. He wants to be remembered as the greatest leader in history.
Yuval reminds us that Ukraine and Russia have not been enemies in history and it is Putin who is turning them into enemies. His legacy, sadly, will be that he takes humankind back to a time that we thought we had left behind. The change can be seen in numbers and budgets: defence was only 3% of the European budget. That ensured sound healthcare and infrastructure. Now defence has jumped up to 6% as countries realise that if we allow this aggression it will hurt every single person.
Anna points out that we should have armed Ukraine in 2014, but at the time the Germans opposed that. It is a turning point in history that they now decided to send arms.
Europe after Empire
Timothy poses the question, what was next in European history after the Empire? Putin is going against the structure we made after WWII. He says he wants to denazify Ukraine. By killing its Jewish PM? European history is made in Ukraine now. Putin is debasing our whole world structure. Zelenskyy reminds us that European integration now has to include defence.
Yuval stresses that Germany is now the leader of Europe and must stop trying to prove that they are not Nazis. As an Israeli, he believes Germany should not be neutral but be at the forefront of this fight.
Is diplomacy weakness?
Anna explains that dictators mistake countries’ attempts at diplomatic solutions to avoid war as weakness. But we have learnt from history that there comes a time when there is no other choice.
Timothy thinks that Ukrainians made us realise that individual choices matter. Yuval says we see that they can fight tanks with bare hands and that makes our choice easier. It shows that history is made by us. History does not determine the present. Freedom has to be affirmed. Even if we come from hundreds of years of autocracy, it’s possible to become a democracy. Countries can change their roles!
Democracy and renewal
One of the most important capacities we have is Renewal. Putin fears that Russian people could think: why not us?
Democracy is unpredictable. Zelenskyy shows us that the more democracy one has, the more unpredictability there is and the more renewal is possible.
What can people do in the present situation?
Yuval calls on people to donate as that is empowering. Politicians watch the behaviour of populations. Use citizens’ voices to show you are prepared to take risks. Find a cause, join an organisation and strengthen it as a basis for democracy.
Timothy underlines that we must show that we care about the free world. Demonstrate, put your body into a public space to show politicians you do not accept their excuses. Support Russian people with your messaging. Ukrainians need to know that there is a future for them.
Anna thinks a no-fly zone would help to keep people safe. It would also shorten the war.
In his final conclusions, Yuval repeats that with the show of support for Ukraine, Russia already lost the war. His second point is that we must commit to helping Ukraine rebuild the country.
According to Timothy, Ukraine is now at the centre of a cyber war too. It is at the centre of the fight against oligarchy. Once we get over the 19th and 20th century problems, it will be at the centre in the future too.
I want to end by saying: Slava Ukraini!
Timothy David Snyder (born 18 August, 1969) is an American author and historian specialising in the history of Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust. He is the Richard C Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He has written several books, including the best-sellers Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
Yuval Noah Harari s an Israeli public intellectual, historian and a professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014), Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016), and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018). His writings examine free will, consciousness, intelligence, happiness and suffering.
Anne Elizabeth Applebaum is a Polish-American journalist and historian who has written numerous books about Marxism–Leninism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. She has worked at The Economist and The Spectator, and was a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post. In 1992, Applebaum married Radosław Sikorski, who later served as Poland’s Defence Minister, Foreign Minister, and Marshal of the Sejm. The couple have two sons, Aleksander and Tadeusz. She became a Polish citizen in 2013. She speaks Polish and Russian in addition to English’