A tribute to my Ukrainian and Russian Friends

by Didier Marlier on Friday March 4th, 2022

“I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell; you see, I have friends in both places.” I always loved this quote of Mark Twain and it sadly resonates these days.

My intention is not to jump on the Ukrainian slaughter bandwagon and draw abusive leadership lessons from it (although I have a deep respect for Volodymyr Zelensky, Vitali Klitschko and many other anonymous Ukrainians): It would feel to me like a cheap use of the heroism of such “bigger than life” human beings.

“To die for one’s idea, this thought is excellent… in fact, I almost died not to have had it, since all those who had had it before me, outraged multitude, jumped on me, screaming to my death!” sang famous French artist, Georges Brassens! It is how I felt when reading a few days ago, a post on LinkedIn by an obviously well-educated man, seeking to provide a bit of an explanation to the Russo-Ukrainian context. He was far from justifying the Russian invasion, he was simply trying to understand and inform. The deluge of aggression and insults he was subjected to was pathetic…

Should we waste time in academic conversations about the sex of Ukrainian and Russian orthodox angels? Should we try to distance ourselves and relativise the unacceptable? Should we replay the Munich Agreement whereby Chamberlain and Daladier sacrificed Czechoslovakia in the futile hope that Hitler and Mussolini’s thirst for power would be quenched? Of course not! The famous Futurist and Professor, Yuval Noah Harari, says in an interview to Portugal’s “Publico”: “The war in Ukraine is reshaping the future of the whole World. Should we let tyranny and aggression win, all of us will suffer the consequences. This isn’t time to remain just a passive observer. It is time for us to rise and become accountable!” I must confess that the reactions and demonstrations of indignation and the measures taken against the Russian government reassure me on our capacity to reassemble ourselves against dictatorship.

The purpose of this article is therefore not to play the Wiseman and relativize the intolerable aggression of Ukraine by Russia, nor to condemn the part of the Russian population, taken hostage by a dictatorial and nationalist regime and of course not to appear like a leadership expert, using the martyrdom of others. I simply would like to draw our attention on two trends I see in our reactions, that may not guarantee the Future of Mankind, should we persist:

  • Bonding, the illusion of being united behind a shared purpose: My heart beats for the European project. I am not a Eurosceptic at all. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I can understand those who see European bureaucracy as threatening, its raison d’être, being closer to finance and trade than social and environmental ideals. For many, the unified response of E.U. countries (interestingly enough, even Poland and Hungary who were “threatening to walk out” a few weeks ago), the reconnection with the United States have a lot of us hoping that we are now back together as solid allies. Nothing could be more wrong, as soon as the threat or media attention, will be captivated by the next disaster or pandemic, our ad-hoc unity will evaporate. Bonding is a dangerous mechanism: it instils the fake impression of being united behind a shared purpose but the purpose is in fact reactive,not lived, truly shared, nor exemplified by leaders. So, rapidly after the common enemy is gone, the disappointment is huge in realising we were not as emotionally bound as we hoped. Constantly nurturing a shared and lived ideal, declined on Logos (clarity and transparency on what it is/it is not), Ethos (exemplified each and every day by the leaders or its proponents) and Pathos (linked to a deep emotion) is what we must strive for, as this part of the World aspiring to a real democracy.
  • Ceding to the urge of taking side: Time is scarce in Ukraine and long deliberations have no place in such a life-threatening situation. But how did we handle the situation before it was too late? Have we, like Henry Kissinger, explored why the Egyptians wanted the Sinai back (national pride) and why the Israelis did not want to hear about it (national security), before working towards a solution whereby the Egyptian flag would return to float on Sinai which would remain a demilitarised zone? Have we tried to critically observed how we listened to the various sides and needs in the situation prior it exploded? And maybe we did and coming to the barbarian war that we are witnessing, was the only possible solution, but something in me suggests we, collectively, as Mankind, did too little, too late, which seems to be a constant in our History.

My thoughts are with those crying the death or fearing for the lives of their dear ones on both sides of the border, for those defending their freedom to self-determination. I hope my modest contribution to be respectful of them all and be useful to us, civilian leaders.

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