This blog post is long and random. I ramble.
If you want to skip all that nonsense and just help Ukraine, which continues to fight valiantly against the evil Russian invasion, consider one of the options presented by the excellent historian Timothy Snyder on his substack.
The war in Ukraine continues. Day by day I grow more disgusted with Putin, his garbage regime, the Russian soldiers, and the fools who support them.
I have many thoughts, but I struggle to put them into a coherent narrative. Perhaps it is too close, perhaps there is no one coherent narrative I could make.
Looters and Losers
The Russians have lost the Battle of Kyiv (2022) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kyiv_(2022)). 25 February – 31 March 2022 (1 month and 6 days).
They are officially losers.
But horrible, degenerate losers. The Russian soldiers fled with looted washing machines and phones and jewelry. They left behind ruined towns, slaughtered pets, massacred civilians, desecrated corpses, mass graves.
They also left behind their own dead comrades in crime.
Some people are human filth. Born or made that way, it doesn’t matter. They are rotten through and through, and they rot the people around them. They draw the weak and the servile and the foolish to them, and spread pain and misery.
I experienced something of that with the boss of the local office of the company I worked for in Switzerland. This nasty piece of work maneuvred and connived and bullied and hurt people until he became the CEO of the whole company. I managed to flee before he became my boss, but I suspect he still got me blackballed over the next months from job after job application. After all, who would Swiss employers trust? Me, a Yugo? Or one of their own?
This person psychologically tortured one employee after another into leaving. He screwed former colleagues out of tens of thousands of dollars of severance money. Many colleagues ended up in therapy because of his bullying and abuse. In the end he remains the boss of a cadre of lackeys who do his bidding, whether out of fear or pleasure or stockholm syndrome, I can’t tell. He is a negative leader, and he actively makes the world and the people around him worse.
This horrible person is irredeemable and I politely wish him all the worst in life. If someone could safely and permanently remove this person from effective interaction with the rest of society, the net quality of existence would increase appreciably.
Vladimir Putin is also a negative leader, but on a much larger scale. More successful at translating his personal psychoses and neuroses into popular tragedy.
Miloševič, Putin, Tramp*
When I saw Tramp’s rallies in 2016 I was reminded of Slobodan Miloševič. A garbage negative leader who used toxic nationalism to gain power in Serbia in the 1980s and their did his best to Make Serbia Great Again, sorry, to save the Serbian Folk and reunite them in a single Great Serbia.
Now, 30-odd years after the start of Miloševič’s nationalist campaigns, Serbia remains weak and poor, its population poisoned with hatred, its neighbours disdainful of its politics.
Nobody wants to see themselves as the bad guy, so many Serbs to this day deny that it was Miloševič who started the wars and Serbian people who carried out the worst atrocities. Destroyed towns, raped and murdered innocents, committed genocide.
But we saw what they did. We saw what they do and say.
The stain remains. The sin.
When we meet a Serb, we wonder, “Will this one feel the appropriate shame? Or will it be one of the willfully blind ones? Or will it be one of the foam-flecked loons spitting that they are the victims in all this?”
And every time we meet one of the loons, and it is easy to meet them online, we judge.
This is unfair to the innocent, to those Serbs who opposed the wars, who opposed the nationalism. But it is also their cross to bear.
For many years, we Westerners and Sort-of-Westerners** watched Putin’s pursuits. The Chechen genocide, the invasion of Georgia, the bombing of Syria, the first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and managed to sort of pretend that this was far away and not so bad and not so terrible.
But it was so bad. It was so terrible. And now Russia’s tortures and massacres and other horrors cannot be unseen. And they have already done worse in Mariupol and they will yet do worse. And we cannot unsee it.
Miloševič’s dirty, small-minded nationalism led to the Serbian attempt to create a Great Serbia by carving up Bosnia and Croatia. It led to Srebrenica. This has laid a stain of sin upon the nation, and its nationalists continue to justify it in the eyes of all their neighbours.
Putin’s dirty, small-minded nationalism has now led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s attempt to wipe out Ukraine, Russia’s crimes against humanity, Russia’s stain of sin. And just like Serbia’s sin, Russia’s sin will hang over it for decades.
*I spell their names in Slovenian. Deal with it.
**After all, it would be a lie if I said that many Westerners did not change their behaviour when they saw my surname. Alas, so is human nature.
I turned 40 this year. I don’t feel 40, I still feel 30. Or at least, thirty-ish.
When I turned 30, I didn’t feel 30. I still felt 25 or so.
When I turned 25, I still felt 19, maybe 20. Just after high school.
It is another life.
In another life, before I was a game designer, before I was an artist or a writer, before I worked in marketing or advertising, I was a student.
I studied political science, international relations (IR).
I hadn’t wanted to study IR. I’d really wanted to study architecture.
But my Dad, who was very absent in my high school years, took time out of his “busy schedule*” to tell me in no uncertain terms that there were too many architects and that I wouldn’t be able to get a job and that I should study something else.
I was devastated and I also had no idea what to do. I also listened to my Dad, because I craved his approval and love and respect. But, you know, “busy schedule*” and seeing him maybe once every couple of weeks. Not much from him those years. No trips, no hobbies, nothing.
I had an inkling that I wanted to work outside of Slovenia. So, international sounded good.
The courses seemed to cover things I liked. History. Uh. I mean, I liked the game Civilization. This should be fine, right?
No, let’s be honest, it wasn’t what I wanted, but I’d been set on trying for architecture, and my Dad’s little intervention, the first attention he’d paid to me in years, had thrown me utterly.
And IR was the hardest course to get into, so it should be good, right?
I literally chose it for that reason: hard to get in, so it must be good.
Well, I got in.
After a year, I wanted to switch to architecture again. This would mean losing two years – the year I’d already spent, and another year to prep for the architecture entrance exams.
This time my Dad threatened to cut me off completely if I quit, because he hadn’t raised his son to be a quitter. That was a stupid, mean thing of him, but it was what he did.
So I finished IR. I wasn’t the best at it, but I wasn’t bad. Still, in retrospect, it was five years of my life I could have spent doing and learning things I liked and enjoyed instead. Then again, I didn’t know what I liked or enjoyed, so there is that.
I did spend a year on my diploma thesis, delving into the discourses of the war in Bosnia from 1992–1995. The intricacies, the issues, how it was presented in the various countries, in the West, et cetera, et cetera. I’m not going to recapitulate that now, I’m not a unique authority, and my views hardly matter.
After 2005 I moved on and finally left IR behind me. Over the years, I saw the ghost of Miloševič shadow my region. People it was better to avoid because they’d start cursing if they had to face the fact that their beloved “faultless” Serbia had been the aggressor in those horrible wars.
Now, thirty years after the war in Bosnia, Putin has launched a bigger war—a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I watch it.
My mind flies back to the early nineties. I am a child and feel my parents’ tension and see the maps and the news. Many Serbs in our little Jugoslav expat community suddenly swathed themselves in nationalism and shouted it was our fault, the evil other nations who would not do what good Slobo said, who threatened the good Serbs.
My mind flies back to the early zeroes. I am a student. I am both fascinated and horrified and repulsed by the horrors of Putin’s war in Chechnya. I watch with dread and dismay as Dubya defecates on what the United States stood for in my eyes, breaks international law, and pulverizes Afghanistan and Iraq. I complete my pedestrian thesis on Bosnia with all the zeal of a typical student. I was too young, my skills at empathy too poor, my experience too small.
My mind flies back to the early tens. I’m hitting 30, pummelled by the Great Recession, living back home with my parents, Dad mocking my university studies. I experience the aimless, pointless horror of being a young man, completely superfluous to his society*. I clamber out of those years, I move abroad, I make friends from other countries including Ukraine and Russia. I watch Putin’s first invasion of of Ukraine and am aghast by the stupidity of it. There goes the last country that had a positive view of Russia. Still, life’s a struggle, I move on.
My mind flies back to this January and February. I can’t believe Russia’s about to invade. After five, six years of English-language media climbing deeper and deeper into their own navel, after Brexit and Trump, the calamity of Afghanistan and the anti-China hysteria, I can’t believe it. I don’t think Putin’s that stupid. I can’t see it working strategically for Russia. If there’s one thing a fractious West and Nearly-West needs to recover, it’s a clear purpose. And also, I can’t see it turning out in anything but disaster.
I watch in February, and it looks to me like Putin’s sabre-rattling is about to win him most of the concessions he wants. Maybe on the down-low, but it looks like he’ll get his damned sphere of influence.
Boom, invasion, shock, what the fuck? Why?
Stages of grief and now this.
I’m thrown back into those years of IR and can’t look away. First the missiles, then the refugees. The helicopters. The tanks. The experts predicting Ukraine is going down. Then the first reversals. Now the retreat from Kyiv.
Now the war crimes.
It hits me, the horror of genocide. Massacre. Murder.
At twenty I couldn’t comprehend it, but I was young and didn’t know I could die. Now I am forty. I have seen loved ones die and loved ones born.
I feel the revulsion here and now, and a delayed revulsion for the Serbs now cheering the Russians. A deep revulsion for the nationalists, their children, and their children’s children, raised in the soil of hate and loathing and fear. For thirty years is a long enough time.
And I feel pain and anguish. The Russians. The vile invaders. Those cheering for them on their home front. This will be another three generations of horrible people with horrible views, nurtured in poverty and self-aggrandizement. Shallow-minded fools, full of pride, eager to die for cynical nationalists.
I’ll be seeing this disgusting spectacle of people cheering for Russian war criminals for the rest of my life.
I look back at how I got into IR. I look at what I’m doing now. I like my art and writing and work better now. I look at IR. I look at the news.
It’s full circle.
I don’t have to do IR anymore. I live abroad, like I wanted. I have a career I wanted.
I won’t help anyone by becoming an expert on the details of the unfolding criminal Russian invasion of Ukraine. I know enough. Putin started this war for bullshit reasons, a lot of Russians supported him, and now they’ve murdered a lot of innocent people. Some will face justice, all will face God.
The circle is finished, I don’t have to prove to anyone I did IR or that I can do it.
I’ll go back to the games and the art.
I’ll donate to help the victims. To help Ukraine. I’ll encourage others to help.
But I’m done with letting Putin and his thrice-damned bootlickers live in my head anymore.
*Story for another time.
Is it preposterous, indecent, to swing from a terrible war to the first person singular, to the thoughts rattling in my mind? Who am I to focus on myself, while the world burns and war crimes pile up? Do I dare be so self-centred here, safely away from those guns and shells?
It’s my blog, my diary. This isn’t the news, it’s just me making sense of a calamity.
It’s not preposterous.
And if the next day or week, dear rattled voice in my head, you still feel like it was wrong I digressed so far into personal thoughts, please, feel free to make yourself my conscience for the day. Make another donation to Ukraine until you feel you have paid penance.
On Sin, I
I use the word sin, not crime, with purpose.
A stench of evil hangs over these wars fought for pride and greed and rage and hate. For the worst of intents. For the power of foul, little men, who need to bully and hurt to hide the holes in their broken souls.
And the sin spreads. To the courtiers helping the leader, the soldiers following orders, the cheering fools and the acquiescent masses. To the whole nation of Russia.
Every Russian will have to choose how they expiate their sin, how they atone for what was done in their name, for them, by them.
Some will embrace the flag and the lie and proclaim overloudly that they are good and Russia did no wrong.
Some will vigorously proclaim they are innocent, different.
Others will quietly hide their shame, avoid the topic, avoid the looks.
Some will apologize and apologize, over and over.
Not everyone will care. Not everyone will know or judge. But Russians will never know, now or thirty years from now, if they are talking to someone who cares.
When they travel to Europe. To the seaside. Anywhere. They will meet a local or another traveller.
“Are you Russian?” they will be asked.
And they will have to decide.
Lie? Apologize? Pretend? Shout? Walk away?
On Sin, II
I also think it is literally a terrible, collective, doubled sin. Every human is an eye of the universe, of God. A conscious perspective on the fantastic gift of life and existence.
One who kills closes themself to the truth of their life and destroys another living, conscious being who is also an eye of the universe. So they both delude and blind life and existence.
Sometimes, such an act is regrettable but necessary. Self-defence, obviously.
But here, in this war, in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Regrettable but necessary? Of course not.
And then, with every war crime, with every theft, every torture, every rape, every murder, these criminals and their commanders compound their sin.
Living With It
But Luka, we will have to live with the Russians after this war.
Yes, and we won’t have to like those who don’t repent.
The Closed Circle
I’m nearly done.
Nearly done with IR for this war.
Nearly done with following the news for this war.
Weaker Collective, Stronger Leader
One thing I saw while studying the wars at the twilight of Yugoslavia.
All of them were a disaster for each participant nation in every way that mattered. Lives lost and ruined. Homes destroyed, businesses ruined, money wasted.
However, even as the nation weakened, the malignant ruler grew stronger within. Opponents were sidelined or fled. Different opinions were suppressed (or shot).
Even as most people became poorer and lived more miserable lives, the strongman and his coterie grew wealthier. Poorer citizens meant cheaper servants. Smuggling meant greater profits for some and higher prices for everyone.
The worse things got, the more extreme some leaders became to justify their position.
And it all worked for them, until they finally drove their nations into the hard bedrock of reality. Yet, many of their victims and fool believers continued to praise them even after they were long rotted away.
Against Presidents For Life
Russia’s invasion is an object lesson in the dangers of a powerful ruler with no term limits. They keep taking chances and keep thinking it’s all skill, not chance. The longer they win, the more confident and greedy they get.
But life is skill and chance, and in the end the house always wins.
So they push their luck.
And then, usually, pop and everything goes catastrophically to hell.
Leaders with term limits usually never get the chance to become so over-confident that they can blow everything up.
If I was a Russian and younger than 50 or 60, I’d try to get out now. I think things are going to be bad for another 30 years.
This isn’t life advice. I don’t know anything.
They machine-gunned the cows.
The Full Circle
I like Civilization and Stellaris better than IR. Nice, safe escapism.
Oh, honestly, at this distance, looking back … I don’t regret my journey, but I am so happy I am out of IR now. I am better for it and, I suspect, so is that field.
Nearly done with wars.
Nearly done with news.
I hoped better of many folks with “contrarian views”. Let’s be real, a lot of news on China and anywhere not-English has become quite an echo chamber over the last five years or so.
I followed a few, to get a different view.
Some seemed thoughtful.
Now this war here’s a litmus test: who’s got a brain and who’s a deranged monomaniacal obsessive.
There’s a lot of those on social media, it seems.
I mean, it makes sense. It’s kind of weird that someone bangs on and on about the same stupid political thing for three, five, ten years, isn’t it?
Wouldn’t well-rounded people also have some hobbies, like gardening or crochet or video games? Not just hanging out online and screaming themselves hoarse in 280 characters or less?
Funny, I was deluded and didn’t see that.
Podestà, I am done.
I won’t try to wrap this post into a coherence. It’s a lot of hurt and anger and confusion. A lot of sadness, too.
We had a short innocence in the late nineties and early zeroes in Europe. We dreamt of progress and pece. Now the nail’s in the coffin and the dream looks like last-year’s Lady Springtime.
For the world; I can’t say.
For me; escapism, drawing, kindness, dogs, games, writing, family, hiking, friends, conversations. Life in small things.
IR, it’s been an interesting two-and-twenty years we danced around each other, but we weren’t ever really right for one another. Take care. I gotta go spend time on other things; better for me, better for you.
Ukraine; I’ll fight for you with words and donations. You reminded us of what Europe’s for. Of what we have to fight for.
Hello, world, let’s make tomorrow a wee bit better. One step at a time, eh, Sisyphus? Up the hill we go, again.
I can’t believe anyone read all the way to this rambling end, so I’ll just repeat.
Timothy Snyder is an excellent historian on Eastern Europe. His book Bloodlands moved me profoundly. He’s been writing movingly and powerfully on the region, on democracy, on tyranny. He has also compiled many useful ways to help the Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression.