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Post Thoughts on Crimea
Created by John Eipper on 03/27/14 5:46 AM

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Thoughts on Crimea (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 03/27/14 5:46 am)

John Eipper asked me off-Forum for my thoughts on the Crimea crisis. In my view, Ukraine has always consisted of two parts--East and West--and the West, previously part of Austria-Hungary and Poland, had never been happy under the Bolsheviks/Communists/Russians and new Ukrainian oligarchs. The situation today is exactly as it was in August 1961 in Berlin, when the wall was constructed. These two countries--West Ukraine (like West Germany) and East Ukraine (like the DDR)--must be separated until the people of East Ukraine (under Russia) decide to break the wall and unite with their Western relatives.

This is not going to be easy, because it will take a few decades of a very different living. I believe I know exactly what I am saying, because I first came to East Berlin in 1988. After about a week living in a general's suite in the Russian embassy compound, my wife and I crossed Checkpoint Charlie in our Lada-2107 sedan and found ourselves in West Berlin. How different it was only a few minutes' drive from the Brandenburg Gate! A different smell, different weather and different people! All the women were blond and beautiful, and all men tall and wearing white raincoats. We stayed in the Polish pension Augusta (now a 3-star superior hotel), on Fasanenstrasse which is just a few meters off the Ku'damm and watched the Wall fall (I have a picture of myself standing at the middle of Checkpoint Charlie on 9 November 1989), when cheerful crowds from East Berlin started to move to the West. At the entrance of the KaDeWe department store, a feeding post was organized to give them hot soup and helping to change money.

I have been watching East Germany/East Berlin as part of the united Germany. In spite of huge investments, (almost) nothing changed really, because people remain the same. East Germany is different from West Germany, and after four decades of Communist dictatorship it became even more different. Absolutely the same is going to happen in Ukraine. East Ukraine and West Ukraine should live separately until they decide it is time to unite again. But they will never be the same people, as East Germans even today are very different from West Germans. Like Trabant and Mercedes, sorry to say.

Imposing sanctions on the Russian oligarchs and Putin's associates is a good thing, but it is not going to change anything. Crimea will be Russian, and the Eastern part of Ukraine should decide where they want to be. Russia will certainly not allow anybody to intervene and, to be honest, nobody can do anything.

Let us sit and watch what's going to happen.

A postscript. After my keynote lecture at the LSE last Thursday (and a dinner with WAISer Paul Preston), my wife Valentina and I went to Vienna. Yesterday afternoon we went shopping at the local gourmet place named Billa Corso at the very centre of the city. There we met a group of children aged between 8 and 10 speaking Russian. In the lift (the shop is three stories high), Valentina asked them where they came from and they responded in chorus: from Kiev. Because Valentina spoke Russian to them, they asked in turn where we were from. Hearing that we are from the former USSR they asked: "Are you for Russia or for Ukraine? Do you know there is a war between us?" It was quite a shock to hear that from young children, but probably that was what their parents felt. Even on holidays in Vienna the children were thinking about the war back home.

To attack Ukraine was probably Putin's biggest political mistake, and the lack of an adequate response was perhaps the biggest mistake of the West. But I remember it had all happened already in 1938 and 1939...

JE comments: Great to hear from Boris Volodarsky, and my apologies to WAISdom for the delay in launching today's posts. (There was a wi-fi outage at WAIS HQ.)

What do WAISers think of Boris's fascinating Ukraine-Germany analogy?  My first thought is that the East-West divide in Germany did not involve language difference.  Moreover, there was never any question of annexing the East to a huge and powerful neighbor, as in Russia for East Ukraine.  Indeed, the "Ostis" probably saw reunification as the only way to un-annex themselves from Russia.

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  • Trabants, Audis, BMWs (John Heelan, -UK 03/27/14 9:49 AM)
    Boris Volodarsky's comment (27 March) of being in Berlin the day the Wall came down reminded me that not long after, I saw a metaphor of economic difference between the DDR and West Germany. We were on vacation on the border between southern Bavaria and Austria and were driving up the Autobahn to Munich. We noticed on the other side of the Autobahn there were groups of tiny, poorly maintained Trabants heading south, trundling along and being overtaken at high-speed by shiny BMWs and Audis.

    JE comments: Ah, but the Trabant is now a collector car, highly sought after! Who, in contrast, cares about a 25 year-old Bimmer?

    I must run this 2007 photo again. (We were in Budapest on the hottest day in history; literally:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Budapest )

    My sister-in-law Justyna tells me that we'll be renting a Trabant this summer in Nowa Huta, Poland, as part of a PRL "heritage" tour.  I'll take mine in robin's egg blue:


    (Egads, either I was dehydrated when the photo was taken--it was 105 degrees--or I've put on some weight.)
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  • Thoughts on Crimea; Response to Boris Volodarsky (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/28/14 5:10 AM)
    Boris Volodarsky in his post of 27 March is speaking about a mistake made by Putin in recovering Crimea. Frankly I believe that it would have been a terrible mistake if he had not reacted, otherwise the poor fellow in a couple of years would have found US missiles installed a short distance from his summer resort. Of course the missiles would have been installed only for self-defense and democracy; perhaps against the terrible Iranian threat. Everybody knows that the Iranians may invade California, Oregon, Texas and New Jersey simultaneously and at any moment...

    Boris is right about two peoples, one in the Northwest of the country and speaking Ukrainian and the other in the Southeast but speaking Russian. The latter wants to return to the motherland. After all, why do they have to stay in a country where they are not liked and where wages and pensions are only half of those in the motherland?

    We shall remember that the Ukrainians are in a certain way the forefathers of the Russians, but they separated when they were ruled by Jagiellonians in the great Kingdom that included Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine and for a short period in the early 16th century, even Moldavia. This Kingdom was completely different from the nearby German, Ottoman, and Russian Empires. For instance, it was the first European state that had a written constitution on 3 May 1791, a situation extremely different from the absolutism of the others.  This was not lost on the generations that followed.

    We shall remember that the great leader Pilsudski after WWI was even dreaming of a new federation that would have included Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine (the present North West).

    A final consideration: the only correct borders are those that follow as far as possible the ethnic divide.

    JE comments: Yet in Eastern Europe, the ethnic divide was never clear cut. The city of Bialystok in the 19th century, for example, spoke six different languages.

    Regarding Crimea, history and ethnicity point to its Russianness, but this cannot justify its outright conquest. It's an extremely dangerous precedent in international law. Now, states can cite Putin's action as justification for their own irredentist adventures.

    By the by, when was the last time one nation annexed territory from another, and got away with it?   I'm thinking 1945, if we consider the re-drawing of Poland's and Germany's borders. Prior to that, there was Versailles in 1919, and Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.  Note that all three of these cases were victor's justice in the wake of major wars.

    (Note for Eugenio:  the Iranians might try to invade California or New Jersey, but Texas?  They would be horribly outgunned.)

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