Understanding Ukraine

Ever since my youthful travels in Eastern Europe in the 1970’s and 1980’s I’ve been interested in the region. I had one or two friends of Ukrainian origin, but like most British people, or like most West Europeans, I knew remarkably little about the country.

Since the full-on Russian invasion of 24th February 2022 I have been trying to follow events and to read as much as possible. Generally the British media has been very poor at covering the situation. In my book ‘System Change Now!’ I added a postscript, written in April 2022, informed in large part by a number of excellent commentators from the eastern regions of Europe. I stand by all that I said in that postscript, but since April much has happened, and many lessons are there to be learnt.

On this blog I usually single out a person of the year, and a technology of the year. For me the technology of the year has been the You Tube video: it is how experts can get complex and important messages out, when the mainstream media is obsessed with trivia and a welter of un-reflected upon events.

This blog’s person of the year award goes to Timothy Snyder whose lecture series ‘The Making of Modern Ukraine’ has helped me, and millions of others, even many Ukrainians, better understand their history and from that basis how better to understand the current war. It is a series of 23 lectures presented to students at Yale University and to the world via You Tube. Each lecture is about fifty minutes long, twenty presented by Professor Timothy Snyder and the other three by guest lecturers, so watching them all is quite a time commitment. I have watched all 23, and a couple of them I’ve watched all through a couple of times, and made notes.

I do recommend watching the whole series in order, from one to twenty-three to get the broad sweep of the last couple of thousand years, as rival empires and cultures influence events in what gradually becomes modern Ukraine. Lecture 20 in the series is presented by Professor Marci Shore and focuses on a couple of key periods, around the 2004 elections, and then the winter of 2013 to 2014 with the Maidan protests and the grassroots building of democracy. The final lecture in the series, presented by Timothy Snyder, explores why we in much of Western Europe, and in Russia, misunderstand events in Ukraine in large part by our failure to properly come to terms with our own imperial past, and how that shapes our current misinterpretation of events. Essential watching!

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