Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A war that awakens

A shopping center in the city of Kremenchuk in the Poltava region of Ukraine after a Russian rocket strike on June 27, 2022 (Source: / Wikimedia Commons /

The problem is that this situation is the result not only of the “naiveté” of Western elites, but also of their hypocrisy and even loss of a sense of realism

Wojciech Roszkowski

We were asleep. We, the West, had our heads preoccupied with something else. Not counting friends from Central Europe, the Balts1, and a few experts, we were naive, blinded, cynical, or simply ignorant. We believed that the Soviet neo-totalitarian dragon had been defeated, and meanwhile it was reborn from the ruins of the USSR. Our strategists, tucked under the U.S. umbrella – dreaming, after all, of breaking free from under it – told themselves that we were forever rid of the war.” This examination of conscience by French journalist Laure Mandeville can be found in the introduction to her interview with Konstantin Sigov2, a prominent Ukrainian intellectual of Jewish descent, published with remarkable swiftness by the Wszystko Co Najważniejsze (“All that is Most Important”) publishing house.

Like most French statements of recent times, the interview promises much. The interviewee is on the ground in Kiev, knows full well the significance of events in Ukraine, and the journalist seems genuinely convinced that she will finally wake up the slumbering West. Not only that, but she thinks it has already begun to wake up, as she has published a number of texts on the subject, including excerpts from her conversation with Sigov in the pages of Le Figaro. It is hard to doubt Mandeville’s goodwill, as she writes with complete conviction. Through Siegfried’s opinions, she brings the French reader closer to the terrible reality of the war unleashed by Putin and testifying to the Kremlin’s imperial and genocidal mindset.

One of the first excerpts from the interview was titled by Mandeville, “The imperial paradigm is collapsing before our eyes in Ukraine.” Sigov confirmed this diagnosis, pointing out the imperial arrogance of Russians, not only those in power from the Kremlin, but also ordinary Russians and most of their intellectual elite. However, Sigov shrewdly emphasized that the Russian empire will collapse only when Russians take a genuine interest in other nations. This is true, but it is a minimum and probably insufficient condition. They are interested in others, but in a very specific way, namely from the point of view of how to weaken and subjugate these others.

Mandeville and Sigov noted the crucial importance of truth in public life. According to Sigov, Putin has rejected truth because he wants to “exist in discretion.” Moreover, he noted a similar aspiration among European “realists.” “It is no longer possible to maintain a situation in which Europeans are aware that the United States is the guarantor of the continent’s security and at the same time hate them for it.” The problem is that this situation is the result not only of the “naiveté” of Western elites, but also of their hypocrisy and even loss of a sense of realism. Stigmatizing Russian imperialism won’t get you very far if you ignore the interests and even the existence of the nations located between Russia and the West. Such, however, is the traditional optics of the great Western powers, some of which have ceased to be great. Mandeville ate humble Western pie, admitting that the existence of the Ukrainian nation was ignored in European capitals, but still underestimating the crucial role of NATO’s eastern flank. She would like to base the new “security architecture” in Europe on the Paris-Central Europe-Kiev axis, but she can’t quite show what France will bring to this construction. Words?

Unfortunately, reading Mandeville’s interview with Siegel, which bears the title “The Birth of a New Europe” and the subtitle “Ukraine has Awoken Us,” raises some doubts. First, the original title was Quand l’Ukraine se lève, or “When Ukraine Wakes Itself Up.” The wording is not as optimistic as the translated title would suggest3. The publisher is to be commended for quickly publishing this text in Polish, but let’s read this interview with care. In addition to Sigov’s cleverness, it echoes a note of “French greatness” based on words, not deeds. Along with the clarity of the analysis of Russian behavior, there is a lot of ambiguity here about the possibility of France’s “awakening.” After all, its citizens are now mainly busy fighting the exceptionally unsuccessful President Macron, after all, one doesn’t really see a constructive alternative for him, after all, the French have a huge problem defending an identity that is frail with the influx of immigrants, and the United States is indeed often hated. So how is Paris to become a pillar of the new “architecture” of European security? We won’t learn much about Poland and its role in the construction of this Europe from the interview. It’s also a good thing that the interviewees are not addressing the alleged violations of the rule of law in Poland.

1 Another term for Baltic people, encompassing Latvians and Lithuanians

2 Konstantin Sigov is a professor of political philosophy and one of Ukraine’s most prominent intellectuals. He is head of the European Center at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” in Kyiv, the St. Clement’s Center, as well as the publishing house “Spirit and Letter.”

3 The translation in question refers to the Polish title that was translated based on the original French article – Ukraina nas obudziła. For the purposes of this text, the Polish translations have been further translated into English without going into further detail about the Polish translation from French.

This article was published in May 2023 in “Do Rzeczy” magazine.