We can hardly believe the atrocities that are happening in Ukraine – the scattered corpses in the streets and yards, the bodies dumped into pits with their hands tied. In these present times!
Indeed, they propel us back to the past. They remind us of the photographs of the First and Second World Wars. For so many years we have not seen something similar, at least in Europe.
(And I say at least in Europe with a sense of guilt, because unfortunately we in the West are only interested in ourselves and either do not know or do not care about what is happening elsewhere on our planet.)
World War I was proclaimed as “the war to end all wars.” And the Second World War was supposed to have put an end to fascism.
That situation lasted for about eight decades, a relatively long time. A liberal wave embraced Europe and led it to an unprecedented long period of peace and prosperity. Common principles and values were adopted. Principles and values that had their roots in Ancient Greece and which were won with blood in the French and American Revolutions: The principles of human dignity, human rights – including women and minorities – religious freedom, and the principle that government should be based on popular sovereignty, i.e. on democracy.
In recent years these principles, these values, have declined. They were questioned. People were exhausted by successive economic crises, the failures of the promises of the political establishment, the effects of globalization, the pandemic. And China’s rapid economic growth provided an example of an alternative form of government. All these created opportunities for ‘charismatic demagogues’ to turn back the clock of history.
The evolution of Putin into a kind of Tsar or a new Stalin is the most important example of the massive undermining of the progress over the last 80 years.
It is no coincidence that the atrocities, the bestiality we see in Ukraine today, are perpetrated by such a regime, that of Putin. The regime of authoritarianism, of the integration into daily life of corruption, of the oligarchs.
It is difficult in this dark moment to see what good can come from this war. But if Putin’s bestiality shakes the world and wakes it up, making people realize even worse things can happen, if the war makes them think that the weaknesses of the system of the last 80 years of peace are nothing in the face of today’s catastrophes, then the sacrifices that have been made will not be completely lost.