Friday, February 28, 2014

Ukraine: Where Will it All Lead?

Maidan in Kiev: Great events have begun 
As February comes to an end, we are full of questions about an ancient land, and also perhaps about the future. It would appear that what began last Fall as protests in the center of Kiev has been transformed into the Maidan Revolution. A corrupt dictatorship has been overthrown, and steps are in place for the election of a new President in May. But what lies ahead is far more complicated than "a Ukrainian Spring."

We know little about the history of this nation whose name means "the Borderland." A thousand years ago, the monarch of a region of Slavic peoples who were known as the Rus converted to Byzantine Christianity. The prince venerated today as St. Vladimir consolidated the region, and over the next two hundred years its capital city of Kiev arose as a vital center of civilization and culture in the Christian East.

But ancient Kiev disappeared after the Mongol invasions, and hundreds of years later -- when Eastern Slavs finally threw off the Mongol yoke -- another city rose in the north, the city of Moscow. It was the Grand Duke of Moscow who married the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, and his successors gathered the Slavs and their territories into an Empire that saw itself as the bearer of the great imperial heritage of Rome. Moscow's leaders took to themselves the mystique behind that unique name, Caesar, which they adopted as their own. Ancient Kiev was subsumed under the Empire of the Russian Czars.

One of the more peculiar things about the Soviet Union was the degree to which it held the territory of the old Empire together, including this land of the south, that bordered the Black Sea and the Latin West. One face of Ukraine (in the East) looked toward the Russian heartland and the other toward Europe. Ukrainians retained their distinctive language, and their awareness of themselves as a great, subjected people.

Stalin determined to break that spirit, and by a preconceived and ruthlessly engineered famine and the brutal exile of the population, he created a genocide that took the lives of millions of people, a genocide whose story has only begun to be told, the Holodomor.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine asserted its national identity. A people with a proud heritage and a distinctive language, but also a post-Soviet society, fragmented, poor, and with significant Russian minorities especially in the Eastern regions.

It is a nation with much division, and as we leave the month of February, we hear rumors that Russian troops may have already entered the country, while others conduct threatening exercises on its borders. The Ukrainian Spring may play itself out as an invasion, a civil war, and/or a fragmentation of the country into its diverse regions. What will happen to Ukraine? And how will it affect the European allies of Ukraine and their partners in the United States? Will there be war between Kiev and its historically younger brother, Moscow? What will this mean for the rest of the world? These are serious questions with roots that go back a thousand years.

Much depends on the dispositions and the decisions of the new Czar of the Russia of the twenty first century, and the nature of his own imperial ambitions -- another man called Vladimir.