Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Ukraine, George Orwell and emergence of state sovereignty

Last week, Putin, the Russian dictator, had his rubber-stamp parliament pass a law providing for sentences of up to 15 years in jail for the crime of distributing "fake news."Russia is already a dangerous place for journalists and in 1992-2022, 82 journalists have been killed there according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): the motive has been confirmed in 58 cases.

“I want everyone to understand, and for society to understand, that we are doing this to protect our soldiers and officers, and to protect the truth,” the speaker of the Russian lower house, Vyacheslav Volodin, said.

The Orwellian move evoked George Orwell's Ministry of Truth in the 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' novel which was first published in Britain in June 1949.

“I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive,” Orwell wrote, but “that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences.”

George Orwell (Eric Blair 1903-1950): “'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'”

The main character Winston Smith introduces the theory behind the work he does at the Ministry of Truth. The Party understands that by rewriting the events of the past and controlling the narrative of history, they can maintain their position of authority.

Orwell created Newspeak, the official language of the totalitarian state of Oceania. Its purpose was to diminish the range of thought by eliminating shades of meaning and nuance from Oldspeak (Standard English). For example, without a word for freedom, the concept of freedom cannot exist.

The world was divided into three superstates — Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia (map from Wiki).

Putin has banned the words "war" and "invasion" from being used by the media in Russia. Big Brother has only sanctioned the “special military operation on the territory of Ukraine.”

“We don’t see any need to exacerbate the situation or worsen our relationships,” the dictator has said using his version of Newspeak. “All of our actions, if they occur, they occur exclusively, always, in response to ill-intended actions toward the Russian Federation.”;

Last weekend Putin emulated the tyrants of history by threatening Ukraine that it risked losing its statehood if it did not kowtow to his demands.

Alexei Navalny, Russia's jailed opposition leader who was poisoned by Putin in 2020, wrote in a statement that his lawyer released “Let’s at least not become a nation of frightened silent people. Or of cowards who pretend not to notice the aggressive war against Ukraine unleashed by our obviously insane Tsar.”

Last year Navalny was jailed for violating a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement (it's easy for a dictator and loyal minions to frame an opponent) after missing several scheduled parole meetings with Russia's prison service. He was in a coma in Berlin following the poisoning and could not attend the scheduled meetings! Putin has arranged to have new charges that will result in keeping him locked up in prison.

Days before taking office in 2019, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky put flowers on the grave of his Jewish grandfather, who fought the Nazis in World War II. (Facebook/Volodymyr Zelensky)

In 1999, Russia waged its second war within five years against Chechen rebels, including in the city of Grozny. Putin, the former KGB intelligence agent, became president because of his destruction of the city. It was a modern Carthage and in 2003, the United Nations called Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth.”

The cold-hearted tyrant has attacked Europe's poorest country which has a per capita annual economic output of $3,500 (2020) while Russia itself was only at $10,000 according to the World Bank.

The human misery Putin has caused has seen millions of Ukrainians flee to neighbouring countries and there will be more from the 44m population.

Hitler's occupation of Ukraine resulted in human and material losses during World War II that were enormous. An estimated 5 to 7mn people perished.

Putin has vowed "to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine" but Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and he said in 2020 on a grandfather's brothers “Three of them, their parents and their families became victims of the Holocaust. All of them were shot by German occupiers who invaded Ukraine,” he said. "The fourth brother survived..."

Last July Putin signed a ban on comparisons between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It means a person could be jailed for mentioning the collaboration between Hitler and Josef Stalin. The Second World War started in September 1939 after an agreement between Europe's top dictators to wipe Poland off the map for the second time in 142 years.

State sovereignty

A sovereign state also known as a sovereign country, is a political entity represented by one centralised government that has sovereignty over a geographic area.

How did the world come to be organised into sovereign states?

In his book 'Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations' 2001, Daniel Philpott "argues that two historical revolutions in ideas are responsible. First, the Protestant Reformation ended medieval Christendom and brought a system of sovereign states in Europe, culminating in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Second, ideas of equality and colonial nationalism brought a sweeping end to colonial empires around 1960, spreading the sovereign states system to the rest of the globe. In both cases, revolutions in ideas about legitimate political authority profoundly altered the 'constitution' that establishes basic authority in the international system."

The end of empires and colonisation resulted in a global system of sovereign states.

The Peace of Westphalia ended the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch, and the Thirty Years' War. Peace talks began in 1644, in the Westphalian towns of Münster and Osnabrück. The Spanish-Dutch treaty was signed in January 1648 and the treaty of October 1648 involved the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand III, German princes, France, and Sweden.

In 1650 Pope Innocent X condemned the treaties as “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time.”

Rulers were allowed to choose the religion for their state but individual religious freedom provided that Catholics in a Protestant region and Protestants in a Catholic region were allowed to practice their religion at home, to attend religious services, and to bring up their children according to their religion.

In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans and the new Holy Roman Empire encompassed most of modern France and German lands. The empire would in time only include German lands.

In 1438-1806 a member of the Habsburg dynasty mainly occupied the role of Holy Roman emperor while aspiring popes were backed by kings. France was an enemy of the Habsburgs who controlled the Iberian peninsula, Central Europe and the lands that today comprise the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Both the Habsburgs and the French were mainly Catholic.

In the 'Peace Treaty between the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of France and their respective Allies' the word sovereignty appears 5 times.

The first one transfers sovereignty of certain bishoprics to the Crown of France and the last says "That it shall not for the future, or at present, prove to the damage and prejudice of any Town, that has been taken and kept by the one or other Party; but that all and every one of them, with their Citizens and Inhabitants, shall enjoy as well the general Benefit of the Amnesty, as the rest of this Pacification. And for the Remainder of their Rights and Privileges, Ecclesiastical and Secular, which they enjoy'd before these Troubles, they shall be maintain'd therein; save, nevertheless the Rights of Sovereignty, and what depends thereon, for the Lords to whom they belong."

Both the empire and Catholic Church lost their hegemonic powers.

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet 1694–1778), the French writer, commented sardonically on the Holy Roman Empire: "This body which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire"

Voltaire also wrote in 1767 “En effet l’histoire n’est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs” — “Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.”

To the Nazis, the Holy Roman Empire was the First German Reich/ Empire.

The post-1945 world in Europe

Europe has had the longest period of peace between great powers in over 2,000 years of recorded history.

James J. Sheehan wrote in his 2008 book 'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe,' "Between 1648 and 1789, the European powers had fought forty-eight wars, some of them, like the Seven Years’ War in the mid-eighteenth century, lasting several years and stretching around the world. Between 1815 and 1914, there were only five wars in Europe involving two great powers; all of them were limited in time and space, and only one of them involved more than two major states. From the end of the Franco- Prussian War in 1871 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the European states were at peace with one another. This was the longest period without war in European history until it was surpassed toward the end of the twentieth century."

It is shocking that the Russian dictator would pick on Europe's poorest country with a population of 44m to invade and bombard. It has been a sovereign country for 30 years.

In defiance of Ukraine's sovereignty, Putin declared war by emulating Hitler and demanded that “those who seized and hold power in Kyiv” cease hostilities, or else “all responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine.”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president of Ukraine in 2019 with a landslide victory of 73%, ousting the sitting president.

It is clear from the reaction to the invasion that a large number of Ukrainians do not wish to be colonised by Russia.

Sanctions should remain on the invader until Ukraine is rebuilt.

Paul De Grauwe of the London School of Economics has commented "Russia is a small country. From an economic perspective, that is. According to the IMF the gross domestic product (GDP) of Russia amounted to $1,648 billion in 2021. This is about the same size as the combined GDP of Belgium ($582 billion) and the Netherlands ($1,008 billion) in the same year. Even if you add those two countries together, you still have a small country. Russia’s GDP represents barely 10% of the EU’s GDP. Russia is an economic dwarf in Europe.

Can such a small country win an intense war against a country that is resisting tooth and nail and that will have to be occupied for a long time? My answer is no. Russia does not have the resources to do so."