On Grand Strategy
The war strategists will say that strategy is a logical, or mathematical method of using violence in order to win a war. However, grand strategy is an area of higher mathematics and it's about: how to protect your national security if you win the said war.
Again - to clarify - take Russian and US involvement in the Ukrainian civil war.
There are many calculations regarding this war. Americans believe that Putin wants – needs - this crisis in order to keep Ukraine weak. There is no detailed analysis as to why Russia needs Ukraine to be weak except a vague assumption that Russians want to keep Ukraine away from EU and NATO. There is no further explanation as to why Russia wants to keep NATO outside Ukrainian borders, or why Russians would want something at all.
On the other hand, it needs no explanation why NATO would want to play an influential role in Ukraine nor why the citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk - participants of “an illegitimate referendum”, are being brutally punished by their own government which lets paramilitary forces carry out the ethnic cleansing for them.
One could almost see the same tactics being used by both sides: intimidating local opponents, torturing and killing them.
Pandora's Box of hatred has been opened. It's called grand strategy...
In this mathematical game of war, the capability to stretch is crucial. Stretching your military and your economic powers in such a way that the whole structure stays together while preventing the other side from taking advantage in the area of your influence - is the name of the game for the Russians.
Stretching your military and your economic powers in such a way that the whole structure stays together while forcing the other side to withdraw its influence from the region - is the name of the game for the Americans.
It's a dangerous, risky game. The game breaks windows, burns tires, fractures skulls, fires bullets into human flesh, intimidates and kills sons and daughters, it burns people alive, it spreads hatred for generations to come while those who stay alive wish they had never survived... It eradicates humanity within humanity.
Ukrainians had been naïve enough to get caught in this game; to become a platform, a chessboard for the grand strategists of the two grandmasters.
I have survived such a war. It's painful to think that I've survived someone's grand strategy. It's even more painful to think that in the future I may have to do it again.
For ignorant, self-indulgent westerners (one of whom I have, partly, become) it's hard to see what “grand strategy” does to individuals as war neutralises individual tragedies with big numbers. It's hard to imagine what is it like to be stuck in a city controlled or surrounded by ultra nationalists.
A rocket does not hate while killing. The fear of flying rockets among the population of surrounded cities like Donetsk or Luhansk is insignificant compared to the fear of looking into the eyes of those Others while being slaughtered. For those who survive, this fear will never end. Neither will the hatred.
On the Notion of The Other
When the 90's civil war raged in my country, I categorically proclaimed to my friends and family: “This is not my war!” I was not a new born nationalist or a delusional freedom fighter who bitterly wanted to dismantle the socialist state, nor was I one of the heroes who were to try and oppose them and save my beloved Yugoslavia.
It was the war circumstances of spring 1993 that brought me from Bosnia to Zagreb. Some of my friends, writers and journalists from Sarajevo, were already there. Back in Sarajevo in the 80's we were students writing for a student magazine. I wrote sporadic articles on art and ecology. Now, deep into the war, we found ourselves in an inhospitable land where our presence had been regarded as a threat so our bonds became stronger than ever before or after that summer of 1993.
The reason for it was obvious: that summer a new frontline opened, engaging Bosnian on one and Croatian patriots on the other side of the battle line. Until then the two confronting sides fought together their common enemy – the Serbs.
With a stunning precision, pro war Croatian state media unfolded unprecedented campaign against their yesterday's allies - Bosnians, repeating vocabulary that was, until then, used to demonise the Serbs.
Soon upon my arrival to Zagreb my friends found freelance work for me so in the summer 1993 I was writing for a family magazine - which paid good money- putting my hand occasionally into the pocket of Anti War Campaign in Tkalciceva Street, cashing on a few unimportant articles covering empty spaces of their magazine.
At the time I was apolitical, or at least, I thought so. At the time I was nobody, or at least, I thought so.
Life thought differently.
A few months later I was arrested. It was my friends who were loud, writing provocative, investigative articles about alleged war crimes committed by Croatian forces in Bosnia, causing unrest among deranged nationalists. Hungry for power, with God (and international community) on their side, armed nationalists did not let others take part in forming public opinions.
In the autumn 1993, after escaping from prison, in an action coordinated by Amnesty International, Red Cross and British Home Office I was evacuated, among other civil prisoners of war, to the land of “peace, security and prosperity”, as M.R., an Italian UNHCR officer in charge of my case described UK to me.
From London the perspective the war, or my understanding of it, gradually developed into an obsession. Here I acquired a new position - I was never apolitical.
(To be apolitical is already a political statement - I remember this idea from my readings in political philosophy. Proclaiming your political stand as apolitical becomes your politics. According to Plato we, humans, are Homo Politicus. Example: being an atheist stuck in a war between two religious groups can kill you faster than if you belonged to one of the conflicting sides. We can see it in today's Iraq, Syria, Libya ... likewise, being apolitical does not liberate us from being The Other...)
Isolated from the reality I lived a lonely life in an apartment in Vauxhall, near the MI5 building, not far from another building that is inscribed in my memory as an important symbol of my youth;
One grey - rainy morning, while crossing Vauxhall Bridge, I saw Battersea Power Station as I remembered it from a cover of my favourite LP. At that very moment I recalled that the album Animals by Pink Floyd, which my uncle bought for me as a birthday present, was lost forever. I remembered that I did not speak to my parents for almost two years as the phone lines were cut, that I did not know where my sister, her two children and her husband were, just as I did not know if my uncle was still alive.
I did not have a past, no future on that bridge. Yugoslavian war was at its peak, cities and villages were burned every day, people of the country, if not killed, were sent to the remote third countries, to learn new languages, to acquire new identities, to become someone else, to become The Others.
Standing there, under the scrutiny of MI5 cameras: a nobody, a penniless asylum-seeker in a country where alcohol and cigarettes were - and still are - overpriced, alienated from my world, The Other... I let the rain wash my face.
Lost in the lyrics of the song Pigs on the Wing and Waters’ voice;
If you didn't care
What happened to me
And I didn't care
Zig-zag our way
Through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
For pigs on the wing
On Ukraine - past
Maybe it was Kundera who once said (paraphrasing); … if a single detail in the daily routine of a dog's life is extracted, dog's life becomes miserable. Kundera's dog is a happy dog, otherwise.
My day is a pristine routine that any dog would envy.
The only difference is that I am not a happy dog. Rather, I am a paranoid dog who likes telling his friends a story of the Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg; between the two world wars Ilya was visiting Venice with his wife Ljuba when he saw the Italian fascists marching on the square. At the time the group looked like a bunch of clowns – society outsiders with no real prospect for coming into power - recalled the Soviet revolutionary. While Ilya's wife Ljuba fed pigeons, not paying any attention to the group, in this filmic scene Ilya saw heavy clouds blackening the Europe's political sky.
Ilya Ehrenburg was born in Kiev, Russian Empire, in 1891. It was a year in which famine had spread along Volga river, following a birth of yet another Kiev's famous writer - Mikhail Bulgakov. They were both born in Russia, died in Russia.
Wanting to be more precise, I could say that Ehrenburg and Bulgakov were born in present day Ukraine but both died in Moscow, Russia. Ehrenburg comes from a secular Jewish family and regarded himself to be a Russian first then a Soviet, while Bulgakov's parents were both religious Russians.
During 1920's Ehrenburg's had to leave Kiev due to pogroms (see bellow). The family went to live in Crimea.
Although he was beaten by police before the Russian revolution and spent some time in prison for the sins of his Bolshevism, later Ehrenburg became disillusioned with the achievements of the revolution. He went to Paris where he developed a taste for the bohemian life style, making friendships with the artists - the European leftists of that time.
During World War II he wrote the notorious poem Kill, inviting Soviets to kill Germans in Russia. Later he explained that he meant German occupying soldiers and not Germans as such...
Bulgakov was less fortunate. In 1919 he ended up in Ukrainian People's army, went to Northern Caucasus as a doctor, there he was infected with typhus, which he almost didn't survive. All of his family, fleeing from the revolution, went to Paris but he stayed due to his illness and moved to Moscow. As a result he became Stalin's favourite playwright.
A pogrom is a violent riot aimed at massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews. The term originally entered the English language to describe 19th- and 20th-century attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire (mostly within the Pale of Settlement in present-day Ukraine and Belarus). Similar attacks against Jews at other times and places also became retrospectively known as pogroms. - Wikipedia
On Bad Guys and Good Guys
Twenty years later and I have developed my daily routine. I wake up in the morning, take my coffee and my cigarette first, I read, I write. If I am a good guy that morning, I may go to the library. If I am a bad guy, I may just stay at home, read the news between the lines, read a book, do nothing… I have a bunch of friends. With A.N., my best friend, I have worked on a documentary for 4 years. The film follows a drinking artist who lives in Portobello Road. He is from Bosnia, like myself. He writes bad poetry, like myself. He is a gambler and a Buddhist but I am not that advanced. He, maybe, suffers from severe depression and paranoia, of which I am the champion.
As of recent, I have been a bad guy, staying home, deceiving my friend that I am working on our film while I secretly feed into my obsession. I am scrutinizing wars, counting deaths, forecasting, even finding certain perfidious satisfaction when my bleak predictions, based on my understanding of civil war, come true. If I was a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jewish, my war speculations could amount to the mortal sin (peccatum mortale).
I wonder what would it be like if I was a good Christian, or Muslim, or Jew - good enough to get the job as a big strategist of the devil, working in his factory of war, planning military coups in countries around the globe, bringing unrest to the world, spreading fear and panic, profiting from human misery.
Let's presume for a moment that there is such a job and I got it.
First I would find a country. Then I would find its most fruit-bearing tree. Then I would ask whose tree is that. If the answer is: it belongs to this family, I would try and buy it from them (as a Devil I can have all the money in the world). If the tree was not for sale, I would corrupt their offspring, brothers and sisters, I would divide them, throw them to the jaws of war.
In the war the good guys would fight on my side while The Other, “non-cooperative“ side, without a doubt, would be the bad guy's side.
The Other side would be demonised, humiliated, made to look like the devil himself.
But I am neither Christian nor Muslim nor a Jew. Neither patriot nor capitalist - globalist. I am nobody, an atheist, a writer with a blank page.
At worst, I am a socialist - At best, I am a gnostic. As far as I know I do not belong to a single voluntary organisation in the world. Even my library card has expired.
But there is no job...
The civil war in Ukraine is a brotherly war of two Slavic nations. A dangerous war that in no time can set ablaze the entire continent and beyond.
There is a humanitarian crisis in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Thousands already lost their lives, were wounded, their homes destroyed. Hundreds of thousands walked away from their towns in Donbass and left for Russia or, in much smaller numbers, towards Kiev's side. Along the lines of poisoning ideological and historical divisions of the past, the two sides are sinking into an endless war.
What if we are all seated on that square with Ilya Ehrenburg and Ljuba Michailowna Kosinzewa, some feeding pigeons, some looking at the gloomy sky of divisive European politics, witnessing radicalisation of popular opinions across the old continent, witnessing a dangerous civil war in Eastern Ukraine - doing nothing to stop it from spreading like a plague.
Of course, pro war advocates believe that it can be controlled. For pro war advocates there is a country and its property. There are citizens, resources, business opportunities, there are numbers. There are entire cities in Donbass (Eastern Ukraine) that resemble Sarajevo,Vukovar, Knin, Belgrade that are being terrorised or waiting to be terrorised, there are weapons to be sold, bank loans to be given, there are lives to be taken, territories conquered...
There are two contestants for the job.
One contestant is a bad guy, and he's The Other. Good guys are on “our side”. Yes, just like in Syria, Iraq, Lybia, Afganistan, Pakistan, Gaza, like anywhere in the world, the other side is to be blamed because … It’s Russia's fault.
Very soon, in a few years, it will become China's fault. Otherwise peaceful Chinese nation may soon become “the threat to our way of life”. But what if China disagrees with our future “quests for justice” and turns from peaceful nation that does not interfere militarily outside its region, enter the dragon of war?!?
It could be a frightening prospect if I did not count on the wisdom of the ancient nation of China.