Ukraine's History: One More Thing Putin Has Wrong
Nobody asked me, but Moscow's rationale for laying waste to the area is hardly rational
My eternal quest for context persuaded me to turn off the Ukraine war video feed, dry my tears, and learn about the country’s distant past.
In Vladimir Putin’s mythology, Russia is heroically reassembling Kyivan Rus. which was nothing more than a loose association of Slavic princes that ended in the mid-11th century. Kyivan Rus was ruled by — guess which city? Not Moscow, barely a dot on the map back then.
To put it mildly, Putin’s rationale for laying waste to Ukraine — not to mention Belarus, Poland, Finland, and Lithuania — is pretty thin gruel. Ukraine could cook up better historical reasons to take over Russia than the other way around.
The Slavic people living in the vast swathe of steppe, marshes, and farmland that incudes today’s Belarus and Ukraine have for centuries put up with life under Mongols, Tatars, Lithuanians, Poles, Austro-Hungarians, and the Stalin and Hitler genocides. And that was just the second millennium.
Go back further, and Greek, Iranian, Viking traders had the run of the place.
Through it all, the Slavs farmed, did the tasks of daily life, sang, danced, and paid taxes.
Putin’s story about reviving Kievan Rus by invading neighboring Slavic territories seems a relatively modern obsession hearkening back to Ivan III (1462-1505). I’m reminded of the modern Middle Eastern fanatics who fantasize that they are still fighting the medieval Crusades.
The Rusyns, Rutherians, East Slavs, Ukrainians, Belarusians — whatever you wish to call them — deserve to live their own lives for a change.
I read partly to discover my own history. As a late boomer growing up in the time of nuclear bomb drills, the Iron Curtain obscured Eastern Europe for me. My father’s parents were born in the East Slavic territories of of Poland, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. My DNA says a lot of me is Lithuanian.
After emigrating, my grandparents settled down as Connecticut dairy farmers. They had very little to say to my father and his brothers about life in the old country. They danced Cossack dances with their neighbors and swam in the local swimming hole.
I am guessing that too much violence, poverty, and grief froze their tongues.
I still have relatives in Belarus and Moscow. We exchange holiday cards. I made contact in the 1980s after a cousin forwarded me an old letter found among my grandmother’s possessions on her death. It was from her sister. “First the Germans came. Then the Russians. Everyone here has died,” it read.
That is pretty much the story of Ukraine. And yet the Ukrainians endure.
Listen to Ukrainian Village Voices, a Manhattan folk group, to see what I mean.
Inflation news stories have had the same lead for months, and it’s getting to be a bore
For the last few months, many news stories on inflation has led with the same dreary figure: worst in 40 years.
As an editor, I find that appalling. Not just the constant repetition, but the lack of context.
In fact, 40 years ago, in 1982, the rate of inflation was finally slowing after peaking at 14% in 1980. An 18-year bull market was beginning.
Here’s a Washington Post story from 1978 detailing the numerous factors, missteps, and unintended consequences that contributed to that miserable period. The Vietnam war, the war on poverty, clumsy attempts to control wages and prices, a swelling bureaucracy, a plethora of regulations, the attempt to make America into a bureaucracy-ruled welfare-warfare state: all entered in.
I can’t help but wonder where are we on the curve — if curve it be and not a trajectory.
My Son and the Swazis
Over the pat few months, my 15-year-old has been having long conversations with a young man in Swaziland. They talk about life in the former British colony, now a tiny kingdom in the middle of South African territory.
After learning that his friend and many other college grads in Swaziland are underemployed and unable to afford electricity, my son founded a nonprofit service that connects Swazi tutors with American kids. The rates are low compared with what some of their U.S. counterparts are charging, but enough in Swazi terms to make a big difference in the budget.
I became one of the first customers. The chemistry tutor is also a fitness coach, and so once a week I put my exercise mat in from of the webcam so Sesandzile can Zoom me through my paces. East Coast winters make me grumpy and morose, and unless someone is there to count reps I often find myself skipping exercise. She looks like an Amazon but has a sweet voice. Afterward, I feel great.
I have no philosophical insights on my Swazi connection. But I do remember the fitness sessions of my childhood: ballet lessons at Ebsen Dance Studio in Pacific Palisades. We’d go through positions and pirouettes, and twice a year there would be a performance in a big school auditorium, complete with costumes hand-sewn by our mothers.