Taking the Role of the Other

The political debate over the Ukraine has become increasingly polarised and extreme. You can get a sense of this in The Guardian and Telegraph where debates are either for or against Russia. Some articles are possible to comment but there is very little understanding between pro-Russian and anti-Russian. There is no dialogue, only “for” and “against” endlessly repeated by readers. It makes dreary reading. I am sure everyone recognises this. I wonder in the end why anyone bothers to contribute. It becomes a sort of posturing. See the work of George Herbert Mead and taking the role of the other, for an insight into what is missing in such posturing.

We subscribe to Dagens Nyheter three days a week, Fridays to Sundays. I am often surprised and impressed at how this Liberal Independent newspaper manages to keep a reasonable balance between differing views, at the same time as it is clearly against the Russian position.

One writer who is impressive in this way is Richard Swartz. His background is interesting as it is so cosmopolitan. He is Swedish, studied at Charles University in Prague 1970-72, is married to a Croat author and journalist, and since 1976 lives in Vienna where he is well-placed to be, as it is where West Europe meets Central Europe. He has published books in Swedish on East Europe. I always read his Column in Dagens Nyheter. This post concerns his piece in the 15 March issue entitled  “Rysslands geopolitiska mardröm” (Russia’s Geopolitical Nightmare).

Below I give a very rough translation of his main line of thought concerning Russia and Ukraine. But I urged that anyone who knows Swedish should read the original!

A rough translation: Richard Swartz starts with the position I described in my post in jimsresearchnotes of 4 years ago, where Russian power is waning while that of NATO and the EU/USA (in combination) are waxing: the new EU and its embroilment in Global Ostpolitik. Russia stands with its back to the wall, and its fear of encirclement and invasion has been a standing fear, going back to the time of the Tatars invasion, Greater Poland, Napoleon and most recently Hitler. He continues to say that it is all too easy for EU and NATO to be understood as new, albeit more mild, variants of the classic threat.

Russia has noted that elsewhere in East Europe, membership in NATO has followed on from membership in the EU. But with the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine is in many respects considered contradictio in adjecto

Swartz make it clear that this cannot justify Russian aggression against Ukraine, but how was it possible that these Russian fears had been forgotten? Did people believe that these phobia had disappeared with the end of the Soviet Union? It is just not possible that Moscow’s reaction to the Ukrainian crisis came as a surprise, especially after Georgia in 2008. 

So Russian aggression against Crimea has to be understood as a sign of weakness rather than strength, almost a sign of desperation: “This far but no further!” But just as Russia cannot afford to keep Ukraine as a colony, the EU cannot afford it either. Ukraine is far too large, far too ethnically divided far too poor and far too underdeveloped.

Some maintain that we must stand for our democratic values and beliefs in Ukraine as elsewhere. But politics is the art of the possible, and even if Russian interests could be secured in Ukraine, that country is not a Finland. So  Finland outside NATO while being democratic and economically integrated in the West could be accepted by Russia. Ukraine is quite simply too big and Putin needs it for his Eurasian Union. So “either-or” appears to be the what applies.

This all bodes ill for a political solution.”

Here I end my discussion of Ukraine on this site. Any further discussion of Russia-Ukraine relations and issues will be taken up in a wider discussion of the EU as a Ramshackle Empire, blundering from one crisis to the next. The website is under construction and is called EU: the Ramshackle Empire.

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