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Ukrainian extremists will only triumph if Russia invades

Ukraine has no future without Europe, but Europe also has no future without Ukraine.

“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire”
by Ilya Repin (1891). Image: Wikimedia Commons

The history of statehood on the territory of Ukraine begins with two archetypically European encounters. Medieval statehood on the territory of today’s Ukraine, like that of France and England, includes an encounter with Vikings. The men from the north sought to establish a trade route between the Baltic and Black Seas, and used Kiev, on the Dnipro River, as a trading post. Their arrival coincided with the collapse of an earlier Khazar state, and their leaders soon intermarried with the local slavic-speaking population. Thus arose the entity known as Kievan Rus. Like all of the states of medieval eastern Europe, Rus was a pagan entity that did not so much convert to Christianity as choose between its western and eastern variants. Like all of its neighbours, it hesitated between Rome and Byzantine before its rulers chose the latter. Rus was seriously weakened by problems of succession before its destruction was ensured by the arrival of the Mongols in the first half of the thirteenth century. 

At this point the history of Rus fragments into parts. Most of the lands of Rus were gathered in by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, an enormous warrior state with a capital in Vilnius. Its grand dukes styled themselves the inheritors of Rus, and adapted many of the cultural achievements of Rus, such as its slavic court language and legal traditions. Although the grand dukes were pagan Lithuanians most of their subjects were eastern Christians. After the grand dukes of Lithuania became, by personal union, the kings of Poland, most of the lands of Ukraine were part of the largest European state. The constitutional reforms of 1569 established this state as a republic known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In this “republic of two nations”, the lands of Ukraine were part of the Polish crown, and the lands of Belarus part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In this way a new division was created within the old lands of Rus.

This was the first epoch of oligarchical pluralism in Ukraine. Ukrainian noblemen took part as equals in the representative institutions of the republic, but the vast majority of the population was colonised in large estates that produced grain for export. Local warlords were joined by Polish noblemen as well as Jews, who helped to establish a feudal order in the country. It was in this era that Jews helped to create the small cities remembered as shtetls.

This political system brought the Cossack rebellion of 1648, in which free men who had escaped the system challenged its logic. Fatefully, they allied with a rival state that had roots in ancient Rus, the Duchy of Muscovy. The city of Moscow had been on the eastern frontier of Rus, and unlike most of the territories of Rus it remained under direct Mongol control. Whereas the territories of today’s Belarus and Ukraine were in contact, through Vilnius and Warsaw, with the renaissance and the reformation, neither of these trends reached Moscow. Its break from Mongol rule is dated conventionally at 1480. The dukes of Moscow, like the grand dukes of Lithuania, styled themselves the inheritors of Kiev Rus. They did not, however, control Kiev for nearly half a millennium after the destruction of that medieval state. For most of the time Kiev was ruled from Vilnius and

The Cossack rebellions began the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and created the conditions for the shift of Kiev from Polish to Muscovite rule. In 1667 the lands of today’s Ukraine were divided between the Commonwealth and Muscovy, with Kiev on the Muscovite side. This permitted contact between Muscovy and Europe, and educated elites from Kiev’s university moved north to become professionals and officials in the growing empire. The pattern repeated itself when the Commonwealth was partitioned out of existence by Muscovy (by then known as the Russian Empire), Prussia, and the Habsburg monarchy at the end of the eighteenth century. The Russian Empire, which had no tradition of higher education, exploited literate men trained in Vilnius and Kiev.

In the nineteenth century, the Ukrainian national movement also followed rather typical European patterns. Some of these educated men, lay and clergy, began to rebel against their own biographies and present the subject of history not as the elites but as the masses. The trend began in Kharkiv, and then spread to Kiev and across the Russian-Habsburg border into Lviv. Ukrainian historians of the nineteenth century were leaders among the general European trend of romanticising the common people, known in Ukraine as populism. This intellectual move also allowed for the imagination of a common Ukrainian nation across the border of the Russian Empire (as Muscovy was now known) and the Habsburg monarchy (where a small territory known as eastern Galicia was home to speakers of the language we would call

As in the rest of eastern Europe, the Great War brought the end of traditional empire and attempts to establish a national state following the Wilsonian logic of self-determination. But in Ukraine the attempts were multiple, one on the Habsburg lands and one on the lands of the Russian Empire. The first was defeated by Poles, who succeeded in attaching eastern Galicia to their own new state. The second had to contend with both the Red Army and its White opponents, who even as they fought against each other agreed that Ukraine would be part of a larger political unit. Although the Ukrainian national movement was comparable to those of other east European territories, and although people fought and died in larger numbers for Ukraine than for most of the other emergent nation-states after 1918, the outcome was complete failure. After an enormously complicated series of events, in which Kiev was occupied a dozen times, the Red Army was victorious, and a Soviet Ukraine was established as part of the new Soviet Union.

Precisely because the Ukrainian movement was difficult to suppress, and precisely because Soviet Ukraine was a western borderland of the USSR, the question of its European identity was central from the beginning of Soviet history. Within Soviet policy was an ambiguity about Europe: Soviet modernisation was to repeat European capitalist modernity, but only in order to surpass it. Europe might be either progressive or regressive in this scheme, depending upon the moment, the perspective, and the mood of the leader. In the 1920s Soviet policy favoured the development of a Ukrainian intellectual and political class, on the assumption that enlightened Ukrainians would align themselves with the Soviet future. In the 1930s Soviet policy sought to modernise the Ukrainian countryside, by collectivising the land and transforming the peasants into employees of the state. This brought massive resistance from a peasantry that believed in private property, as well as declining yields.

Joseph Stalin transformed these failures into a political victory by blaming them upon Ukrainian nationalists and their foreign supporters. He continued requisitions in Ukraine in the full knowledge that he was starving millions of human beings, and crushed the new Ukrainian intelligentsia. More than three million people were starved in Soviet Ukraine. The consequence was a new Soviet order of intimidation, where Europe was presented only as a threat. Stalin claimed, absurdly but effectively, that Ukrainians were deliberately starving themselves on orders from Warsaw. Later, Soviet propaganda maintained that anyone who mentioned the famine must be an agent of Nazi Germany. Thus began the politics of fascism and anti-fascism, where Moscow was the defender of all that was good, and its critics were fascists. This very effective rhetorical pose did not preclude an actual Soviet alliance with the actual Nazis in 1939. Given the return of Russian propaganda today to anti-fascism, this is an important point to remember: the whole grand moral Manichaeism was meant to serve the state, and as such did not limit it in any way. The embrace of anti-fascism as a strategy is quite different from opposing actual

Ukraine was at the centre of the policy that Stalin called “internal colonisation”; it was also at the centre of Hitler’s plans for an external colonisation. His Lebensraum was before all Ukraine. Its fertile soil was to be cleared of Soviet power and exploited for Germany. The plan was to continue the use of Stalin’s collective farms, but to divert the food from east to west. Along the way German planners expected that some 30 million inhabitants of the Soviet Union would starve to death. In this style of thinking, Ukrainians were of course subhumans, incapable of normal political life, fit only for colonisation. No European country was subject to such intense colonisation as Ukraine, and no European country suffered more: It was the deadliest place on earth between 1933 and 1945.

In the Germany of today, colonial assumptions remain unexamined. Germans are reflective about crimes against Jews and against the Soviet Union (falsely remembered as Russia), but almost no one in Germany recognises that the central object of German colonial thinking and practice was precisely Ukraine. German leaders as prominent as Helmut Schmidt do not hesitate, even today, to exclude Ukrainians from the normal precepts of international law. The idea that Ukrainians are not normal human beings persists, now with the vicious twist that Ukrainians are held responsible for the crimes in Ukraine that were in fact German policy and would never have taken place without a German war and German policies of colonisation.

Although Hitler’s main war aim was the destruction of the Soviet Union, he found himself needing an alliance with the Soviet Union to begin armed conflict. In 1939, after it became clear that Poland would fight, Hitler recruited Stalin for a double invasion. Stalin had been hoping for years for such an invitation. Soviet policy had been aiming at the destruction of Poland for years. Moreover, Stalin thought that an alliance with Hitler, in other words cooperation with the European far right, he thought, was the key to destroying Europe. A German-Soviet alliance would turn Germany, he expected, against its western neighbours, and lead to the weakening or even the destruction of European capitalism. This is not so different from a certain calculation made by Vladimir Putin today, as we shall see.

The result of the cooperative German-Soviet invasion was the defeat of Poland and the destruction of the Polish state, but also an important development in Ukrainian nationalism. There had been in the 1930s no Ukrainian national movement in the Soviet Union: Such a thing was impossible. There was, however, an underground terrorist movement in Poland known as the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). It was little more than an irritant in normal times, but with war its importance grew. The OUN opposed both Polish and Soviet rule of what it saw as Ukrainian territories, and thus saw a German invasion of the east as the only way that a Ukrainian statebuilding process could begin. Thus the OUN supported Germany in its invasion of Poland in 1939 and would again in 1941, when Germany betrayed its ally and invaded the USSR.

Meanwhile, the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941 also favoured Ukrainian nationalism. The Polish ruling classes and the leaders of traditional Ukrainian political parties were deported or killed. Ukrainian nationalists, used to life underground, fared better. Ukrainian left-wing revolutionaries, who had been quite numerous before the war, often shifted to the radical right after experience with Soviet rule. In addition, the Soviets themselves assassinated the leader of the Organisation for Ukrainian Nationalists, which brought a struggle for power between two younger men, Stepan Bandera and Andrii Melnyk.

 Ukrainian nationalists tried political collaboration with Germany in 1941, and failed. Hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists joined in the German invasion of the USSR as scouts and translators, and some of them helped the Germans organise pogroms. Ukrainian nationalist politicians tried to collect their debt by declaring an independent Ukraine in June 1941. Hitler was completely uninterested in such a prospect. Much of the nationalist leadership was killed or incarcerated. Stepan Bandera himself spent most of the rest of the war in Sachsenhausen. Some Ukrainians continued to collaborate with the hope of gaining military experience or of some future political reversal when the Germans might need them. But in occupied Ukraine, as everywhere in Europe, the vast majority of practical collaboration had little to do with politics.

As the war continued many Ukrainian nationalists prepared themselves for a moment of revolt as Soviet power replaced German. They saw the USSR as the main enemy, partly for ideological reasons, but mainly because it was winning the war. In Volhynia Ukrainian nationalists established a Ukrainian Insurgent Army whose task was to somehow defeat the Soviets after the Soviets had defeated the Germans. Along the way it undertook a massive and murderous ethnic cleansing of Poles in 1943, killing at the same time a number of Jews who had been hiding with Poles. This was not in any sense collaboration with the Germans, but rather the murderous part of what its leaders saw as a national revolution. The Ukrainian nationalists did then fight the Soviets in a horrifying partisan war, in which the most brutal tactics were used by both sides. It was Khruschev who ordered that the Soviets exceed the nationalists in brutality to cow the local population.

The political collaboration and the uprising of Ukrainian nationalists were, all in all, a minor element in the history of the German occupation. As a result of the war something like six million people were killed on the territory of today’s Ukraine, including about 1.5 million Jews. The Germans developed the techniques of mass killing at Kamenets Podils’kyi and Babyi Iar, where more than 20,000 and then more than 30,000 Jews were killed by mass shooting. Throughout occupied Soviet Ukraine local people collaborated with the Germans, as they did throughout the occupied Soviet Union and indeed throughout occupied Europe.

But far, far more people in Ukraine were killed by the Germans than collaborated with them, something which is not true of any occupied country in western Europe. For that matter, far, far more people from Ukraine fought against the Germans than on the side of the Germans, which is again something which is not true of any west European country. The vast majority of Ukrainians who fought in the war did so in the uniform of the Red Army. More Ukrainians were killed fighting the Wehrmacht than American, British, and French soldiers–combined. In Germany these basic facts are invisible because the Red Army is seen falsely as a Russian army, an identification insisted upon by the propaganda of today’s Russia. If the Red Army is a Russian army, then Ukrainians must have been the enemy. This line of thinking was invented by Stalin himself at the end of the war. The idea of the Great Fatherland War had three purposes: It started the action in 1941 rather than 1939 so that the Nazi-Soviet alliance was forgotten, and it placed Russia at the centre of events even though Ukraine was much more at the centre of the war, and it ignored Jewish suffering completely.

It is the propaganda of the postwar much more than the experience of the war that counts in the memory politics of today. No one in power now remembers the Second World War, although some Russian leaders seem to believe the version that they were taught as children. The leading politicians of today in Russia are children of the 1970s, and thus of the Brezhnevian cult of the war. The Great Fatherland War became more simply Russian, without Ukrainians and Jews. The Jews suffered more than any other Soviet people, but the Holocaust as such had no place in Soviet history. It appeared mainly in propaganda directed to the West, in which the suffering of Jews was blamed entirely on Ukrainian and other nationalists–people who lived on the territories Stalin had conquered during the war as Hitler’s ally in 1939, and people who had resisted Soviet power when it returned in 1945. This is a tradition, to which Russian propagandists have returned in today’s Ukrainian crisis: total indifference to the Holocaust except as a political resource useful in manipulating people in the West.

In the 1970s the Soviet Union itself was russified, in a certain special way. The ideological conclusion was drawn that classes exist within the Soviet Union itself and not within individual nations. Thus the USSR needed only one thinking class, and not multiple national ones. As a result the Ukrainian language was driven from schools, and especially from higher education. It remained as a language of low culture and, paradoxically, of very high culture, as even at this point no one in the USSR denied the existence of a distinct Ukrainian tradition in the arts and humanities. In this atmosphere Ukrainian patriots, and even Ukrainian nationalists, embraced a civic understanding of Ukrainian identity. They were aided in this by Polish émigré intellectuals, who in the 1970s and 1980s were defining a future foreign policy for a period after communism.

These thinkers, grouped around Jerzy Giedroyc and the journal Kultura in Paris, argued that Ukraine was a nation in the same sense as Poland, and that a future independent Poland should recognise a future independent Ukraine – without challenging its borders. This was controversial at the time, because Poland lost the lands now known as western Ukraine as a result of the war. In retrospect it was a first step, for both Ukraine and Poland, towards the legal and intuitional norms of postwar Europe. The pre-emptive recognition of Ukraine within its existing borders became the basis for a Polish foreign policy of “European standards” in 1989. In the crucial period between 1989 and 1991, and for the first time in history, Ukrainian national activists only had one opponent: the Soviet Union. In December 1991, more than 90 per cent of the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine voted for independence (including a majority in all regions of Ukraine).

Russia and Ukraine then went their separate ways. Privatisation and lawlessness led to oligarchy in both countries. In Russia the oligarchs were subdued by a centralised state, whereas in Ukraine they generated their own sort of pluralism. Until very recently all presidents in Ukraine oscillated between east and west in the foreign policy and among oligarchical clans in their domestic loyalties. What was unusual about Viktor Yanukovych is that he tried to end all pluralism, not only the popular sort but the oligarchical sort as well. In domestic policy he generated a fake democracy, in which his favoured opponent was the far right party Svoboda. In so doing he created a situation in which he could win elections and in which he could tell foreign observers that he was at least better than the nationalist alternative. In foreign policy he found himself pushed towards the Russia of Vladimir Putin, not so much because he desired this as such, but because the way in which he ruled made substantial cooperation with the European Union difficult. Yanukovych seems to have stolen so much from state coffers that the state itself was on the point of bankruptcy in 2013, which also made him vulnerable to Russia.

Oscillating between Russia and the West was no longer possible. By 2013, however, Moscow no longer represented simply a Russian state with more or less calculable interests, but rather a much grander project of Eurasian integration. The Eurasian project had two parts: the creation of a free trade bloc of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan; and the destruction of the European Union through the support of the European far right. Imperial social conservatism provided the ideological cover for a goal that was eminently simple. The Putin regime depends upon the sale of hydrocarbons that are piped to Europe. A united Europe could generate an energy policy, under the pressures of Russian unpredictability or global warming or both. But a disintegrated Europe would remain dependent on Russian hydrocarbons. Individual nation-states would be more pliable than the EU. Throughout 2013 media close to the Kremlin returned obsessively to the theme of European decadence, usually expressed in sexual terms. But the decay of Europe is not so much the reality perceived by the Putin regime as the goal of its policy.

Just as soon as these vaulting ambitions were formulated, the proud Eurasian posture crashed upon the reality of Ukrainian society. In late 2013 and early 2014, the attempt to bring Ukraine within the Eurasian orbit produced exactly the opposite result. First, Russia publically dissuaded Yanukovych from signing a trade agreement with the EU. This brought protests in Ukraine. Then Russia offered a large loan and favourable gas prices in exchange for crushing the protests. Russian-style laws introduced in January transformed the protests into a mass movement. Millions of people who had joined in peaceful protests were suddenly transformed into criminals, and some of them began to defend themselves against the police. Finally, Russia made clear, both privately and publically, that Yanukovych had to clear Kiev of protestors in order to receive the money. Then followed the sniper massacre of February, which gave the revolutionaries a clear moral and political victory, and forced Yanukovych to flee to Russia. The Eurasian Union could only be a club of dictatorships, but the attempt to create dictatorship in Ukraine led to an outcome exactly the opposite of what was desired: the return of parliamentary rule, the announcement of presidential elections, and a foreign policy oriented to Europe. None of this would have happened without the spontaneous self-organisation of millions of Ukrainians on the Maidan in Kiev and throughout the country.

This made the revolution in Ukraine not only a disaster for Russian foreign policy, but a challenge to the Russian regime at home. The weakness of Putin’s policy is that it cannot account for the actions of free human beings who choose to organise themselves in response to unpredictable historical events. Its strength is its tactical dexterity and ideological shamelessness. Thus Eurasia was very quickly modified: It was no longer a dictators’ club and an attempt to destroy the EU, but rather an attempt to destabilise the Ukrainian state and the EU at the same time. Russian propaganda presented the Ukrainian revolution as a Nazi coup, and blamed Europeans for supporting these supposed Nazis. This version, although ridiculous, was much more comfortable in Putin’s mental world, since it removed from view the debacle of Russian foreign policy in Ukraine, and replaced spontaneous action by Ukrainians with foreign conspiracies.

The Russian invasion and occupation of the Ukrainian province of Crimea was a frontal challenge to the European security order as well as to the Ukrainian state. It created the temptation for Germans and others to return to the traditional world of colonial thinking, ignoring decades of law and regarding the Ukrainians as unworthy of statehood. The Russian annexation was carried out, tellingly, with the help of Putin’s extremist allies throughout Europe. No reputable organisation would observe the electoral farce by which 97 per cent of Crimeans supposedly voted to be annexed. But a ragtag delegation of right-wing populists, neo-Nazis, and members of the German party Die Linke were happy to come and endorse the results. The German delegation to Crimea was composed of four members of Die Linke and one member of Neue Rechte. This is a telling combination.

Die Linke operates within a certain virtual reality created by Russian propaganda, in which the task of the European Left is now, from Moscow’s perspective, to criticise the Ukrainian right–but not the European right, and certainly not the Russian right. Now, there is some basis for such criticism. Ukraine does have a far right, and its members do have some influence. Svoboda, which was Yanukovych’s house opposition, liberated itself from this role during the revolution. In the current Ukrainian government it holds four of 20 portfolios. This overstates both its electoral support, which is about 3 per cent, and its representation in parliament. Some of the people who fought the police during the revolution, although by no means a majority were from a new group called Right Sector, some of whose members are radical nationalists. Its presidential candidate is polling at under 2 per cent, and the group itself has something like 300 members. There is support for the far right in Ukraine, although less than in most members of the European Union.

A revolutionary situation always favours extremists, and watchfulness is certainly in order. It is quite striking, however, that Kiev and Ukraine returned to order immediately after the revolution, and that the new government has taken an almost unbelievably calm stance in the face of Russian invasion. The only scenario in which Ukrainian extremists actually come to the fore is one in which Russia actually tries to invade the rest of the country. If presidential elections proceed as planned in May, then the unpopularity and weakness of the Ukrainian far right will be revealed. This is why Moscow opposes those elections.

People who criticise only the Ukrainian right often fail to notice two very important things. The first is that the revolution in Ukraine came from the Left. Its enemy was an authoritarian kleptocrat, and its central program was social justice and the rule of law. It was initiated by a journalist of Afghan background, its first two mortal casualties were an Armenian and a Belarusian, and it was supported by the Muslim Crimean Tatar community as well as many Ukrainian Jews. A Jewish Red Army veteran was among those killed in the sniper massacre. Multiple IDF veterans returned from Israel to Ukraine to fight for freedom.

The Maidan functioned in two languages simultaneously, Ukrainian and Russian, because Kiev is a bilingual city and Ukraine is a bilingual country and Ukrainians are bilingual people. Indeed, the motor of the revolution was the Russian-speaking middle class of Kiev. The current government is unselfconsciously multiethnic and multilingual. Ukraine is a cosmopolitan place where considerations of language and ethnicity count for less then we think. In fact, Ukraine is now the site of the largest and most important free media in the Russian language, since all important media in Ukraine appear in Russian, and since freedom of speech prevails. Putin’s idea of defending Russian speakers in Ukraine is absurd on many levels, but one of them is this: People can say what they like in Russian in Ukraine, but they cannot do so in Russia itself.

This is the second thing that goes unnoticed. The authoritarian far right in Russia is infinitely more dangerous than the authoritarian far right in Ukraine. It is in power, for one thing. It has no meaningful rivals, for another. It does not have to accommodate itself to international expectations, for a third. And it is now pursuing a foreign policy that is based openly upon the ethnicisation of the world. It does not matter who an individual is according to law or his own preferences: The fact that he speaks Russian makes him a Volksgenosse requiring Russian protection, which is to say invasion. The Russian parliament granted Putin the authority to invade the entirety of Ukraine and to transform its social and political structure, which is an extraordinarily radical goal. It also sent a missive to the Polish foreign ministry proposing a partition of Ukraine. On popular Russian television Jews are blamed for the Holocaust; in the major newspaper Izvestiia Hitler is rehabilitated as a reasonable statesman responding to unreasonable western pressure. The pro-war demonstrations supporting the invasion of Ukraine are composed of people who wear monochrome uniforms and march in formation. The Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine involves generating ethnic violence, not suppressing it. The man who raised the Russian flag in Donetsk was a member of a neo-Nazi party.

All of this is consistent with the fundamental ideological premise of Eurasia. Whereas European integration begins from the premise that National Socialism and Stalinism were negative examples, Eurasian integration begins from the more jaded and postmodern premise that history is a sort of grab bag of useful ideas. Whereas European integration presumes liberal democracy, Eurasian ideology explicitly rejects it. The main Eurasian ideologist, Alexander Dugin, who once called for a fascism “as red as our blood,” receives more attention now than ever before. His three basic political ideas – the  need to colonise Ukraine, the decadence of the European Union, and the desirability of an alternative Eurasian project from Lisbon to Vladivostok–are now all officially enunciated, in less wild forms than his to be sure, as Russian foreign policy. President Putin presents Russia today as an encircled homeland, not of the revolution as the communists used to say, but of the counter-revolution. He portrays Russia is a special civilisation which must be defended at all costs, even though it generates power in Europe and the world through its rather generic collection of reactionary mantras and its accidental possession of hydrocarbons.

More than anything else, what unites the Russian leadership with the European far right is a certain basic dishonesty, a lie so fundamental and self-delusive that it has the potential to destroy an entire peaceful order. Even as Russian leaders pour scorn on a Europe they present as a gay fleshpot, Russia’s elite is dependent upon the European Union at every conceivable level. Without European predictability, law, and culture, Russians would have nowhere to launder their money, establish their front companies, send their children to school, or spend their vacations. Europe is both the basis of the Russian system and its safety valve. Likewise, the average Strache or Le Pen voter takes for granted countless elements of peace and prosperity that were achieved as a result of European integration. The archetypical example is the possibility, on May 25, to use free and fair democratic elections to the European parliament to vote for people who claim to oppose the existence of the European parliament.

Like Putin, Strache and Le Pen propose an obvious contradiction: all of the benefits of European peace and prosperity will somehow remain, even as Europeans return to some form of national state. But this, of course, is a utopia as stupid as it is colourless. There is no nation state to which anyone can return. The only alternatives in a globalised world are various forms of interaction. For countries like France or Austria, or for that matter Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary, the rejection of the European Union is the embrace of Eurasia. This is the simple objective reality: A united Europe can and most likely will respond adequately to an aggressive Russian petrostate, whereas a collection of quarrelling nation-states will not. The leaders of Europe’s right-wing parties no longer even attempt to hide that their escape from Brussels leads them into the arms of Putin. Their party members go to Crimea and praise the electoral farce as a model for Europe. Their allegiance, in almost single case, is to Putin rather than to the supposedly far right Ukrainian government. Even the leader of UKIP now shares Putin’s propaganda on Ukraine with millions of British viewers in a televised debate.

Presidential elections in Ukraine are to be held on May 25, which by no coincidence is also the day of elections to the European parliament. The ongoing Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine is meant to prevent these elections from taking place. In the next few weeks, Eurasia means the collaboration of the Kremlin and the European far right as Russia tries to prevent the Ukrainian elections from happening at all, and as European nationalists try to win European elections. A vote for Strache or Le Pen or even Farage is now a vote for Putin, and a defeat for Europe is a victory for Eurasia. The return to the nation-state is impossible, so integration will continue in one form or another: All that can be decided is the form. Politicians and intellectuals used to say that there was no alternative to the European project, but now there is: Eurasia.

Ukraine has no future without Europe, but Europe also has no future without Ukraine. Throughout the centuries, the history of Ukraine has revealed the turning points in the history of Europe. This seems still to be true today. Of course, which way things will turn still depends, at least for the next six weeks, on the Europeans.

Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University, permanent fellow at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, and the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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What Jeremy Corbyn can learn from Orwell

Corbyn’s ideas may echo George Orwell’s – but they’d need Orwell’s Britain to work. It’s time Corbyn accepted the British as they are today.

All Labour Party leaderships since 1900 have offered themselves as “new”, but Tony Blair’s succession in 1994 triggered a break with the past so ruthless that the Labour leadership virtually declared war on the party. Now it is party members’ turn and they, for now at any rate, think that real Labour is Jeremy.

To Keir Hardie, real Labour had been a trade union lobby expounding Fellowship. To the Webbs, real Labour was “common ownership” by the best means available. Sidney’s Clause Four (adopted 1918) left open what that might be. In the 1920s, the Christian Socialist R H Tawney stitched Equality into the banner, but during the Depression young intellectuals such as Evan Durbin and Hugh Gaitskell designated Planning as Labour’s modern mission. After the Second World War, Clement Attlee followed the miners (and the London Passenger Transport Board) into Nationalisation. Harold Wilson tried to inject Science and Technology into the mix but everything after that was an attempt to move Labour away from state-regulated markets and in the direction of market-regulated states.

What made the recent leadership contest so alarming was how broken was the intellectual tradition. None of the candidates made anything of a long history of thinking about the relationship between socialism and what the people want. Yvette Cooper wanted to go over the numbers; only they were the wrong numbers. Andy Burnham twisted and turned. Liz Kendall based her bid on two words: “Have me.” Only Jeremy Corbyn seemed to have any kind of Labour narrative to tell and, of course, ever the ­rebel, he was not responsible for any of it. His conference address in Brighton was little more than the notes of a street-corner campaigner to a small crowd.

Given the paucity of thinking, and this being an English party for now, it is only a matter of time before George Orwell is brought in to see how Jeremy measures up. In fact, it’s happened already. Rafael Behr in the Guardian and Nick Cohen in the Spectator both see him as the kind of hard-left intellectual Orwell dreaded, while Charles Cooke in the National Review and Jason Cowley in the New Statesman joined unlikely fashion forces to take a side-look at Jeremy’s dreadful dress sense – to Orwell, a sure sign of a socialist. Cooke thought he looked like a “burned-out geography teacher at a third-rate comprehensive”. Cowley thought he looked like a red-brick university sociology lecturer circa 1978. Fair enough. He does. But there is more. Being a middle-class teetotal vegetarian bicycling socialistic feministic atheistic metropolitan anti-racist republican nice guy, with allotment and “squashily pacifist” leanings to match, clearly puts him in the land of the cranks as described by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) – one of “that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat”. And though Corbyn, as “a fully fledged, fully bearded, unabashed socialist” (Huffington Post), might make all true Orwellians twitch, he really made their day when he refused to sing the National Anthem. Orwell cited precisely that (see “The Lion and the Unicorn”, 1941) as an example of the distance between left-wing intellectuals and the people. It seemed that, by standing there, mouth shut, Comrade Corbyn didn’t just cut his wrists, he lay down full length in the coffin and pulled the lid shut.


Trouble is, this line of attack not only misrepresents the Labour leader, it misrepresents Orwell. For the great man was not as unflinchingly straight and true as some people think. It is impossible, for instance, to think of Orwell singing “God Save the King”, because he, too, was one of that “dreary tribe” of London lefties, and even when he joined Labour he remained ever the rebel. As for Corbyn, for a start, he is not badly dressed. He just doesn’t look like Chuka or Tristram. He may look like a threadbare schoolteacher, but Orwell was one twice over. Orwell was never a vegetarian or a teetotaller, but, like Corbyn, neither was he interested in fancy food (or drink), he kept an allotment, drove a motorbike, bicycled, cared about the poor, cared about the environment, loathed the empire, came close to pacifism at one point, and opposed war with Germany well past the time when it was reasonable to do so.

In Orwell’s thinking about socialism, for too long his main reference point was the London Marxist left. Not only did he make speeches in favour of revolutions, he took part in one with a gun in his hand. Orwell was far more interested, as Corbyn has been far more interested, in speaking truth to power than in holding office. His loyalty was to the movement, or at least the idea of the movement, not to MPs or the front bench, which he rarely mentioned. There is nothing in Corbyn’s position that would have shocked Orwell and, should they have met, there’d have been much to talk about: belief in public ownership and non-economic values, confidence in the state’s ability to make life better, progressive taxation, national health, state education, social care, anti-socially useless banking, anti-colonialism and a whole lot of other anti-isms besides. It’s hard to be sure what Orwell’s position would have been on Trident and immigration. Not Corbyn’s, I suspect. He was not as alert to feminism as he might have been but equally, few men try to write novels from a woman’s point of view and all Orwellians recognise that Julia is the dark hero of Nineteen Eighty-Four. In truth they are both austere types, not in it for themselves and not on anyone else’s expense account either. Corbyn won the leadership because this shone through from the very beginning. He came across as unaffected and straightforward – much as Orwell tried to be in his writing.

Except, as powerfully expressed in these pages by John Gray, Corbyn’s politics were made for another world. What sort of world would he need? First off, he’d need a regulated labour market: regulated by the state in partnership with a labour movement sensitive to what people wanted and experienced in trying to provide it. He would also need capital controls, a manufacturing base capable of building the new investment with Keynesian payback, an efficient and motivated Inland Revenue, a widespread public-service ethos that sees the country as an asset, not a market, and an overwhelming democratic mandate to get things done. In other words, Corbyn needs Orwell’s Britain – not this one – and at the very least, if he can’t have that, he needs the freedom to act that the European Commission forbids.

There’s another problem. Orwell did not trust left-wing intellectuals and spent half his life trying to work out their motivations as a class who spoke for the people, went in search of the people, and praised the people, but did not know them or believe in them. True, Corbyn says he wants to be open and inclusive, but we know he can’t possibly mean it when he says it will be the party, not him or the PLP, that will decide policy, just as we knew it couldn’t possibly be true when he said he’d turn PMQs into the People’s Question Time. Jeremy hasn’t changed his mind in forty years, appears to have great difficulty (unlike Tony Benn) in fusing socialism to national identity or experience (Hardie, Ben Okri and Maya Angelou were bolted on to his Brighton speech) and seems to think that not being happy with what you are given somehow captures the historic essence of socialism (rather than its opposite).

Granted, not thinking outside the ­circle is an inherent fault of the sectarian left but some of our most prominent left-wing journalists have it, too. Working-class support for nationalisation? Good. Right answer! Working-class opposition to benefit scroungers and further mass immigration? Bad. Wrong answer! Would you like to try again? In his essay “In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus” (1947) Orwell reckoned that left-wing intellectuals saw only what they wanted to see. For all their talk of representing the people, they hated the masses. “What they are frightened of is the prevailing opinion within their own group . . . there is always an orthodoxy, a parrot-cry . . .”

The game is hard and he may go down in a welter of knives, yet Corbyn still has time. He may go on making the same speech – on the benefits of apple pie to apple growers – but at some point he will have to drop the wish-list and get on the side of the British people as they are, and live with that, and build into it. Only the nation state can even begin to do the things he wants to do. The quicker he gets that, the quicker we can see if the latest incarnation of new Labour has a future.

Robert Colls is the author of “George Orwell: English Rebel” (Oxford University Press)

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis