Sunday, March 02, 2014
a little stroll through crimean history
i'm following with interest the events unfolding in the crimea. i really liked this piece in this morning's guardian/observer, which i think, in an even-manner, outlines what's going on, tho' there's more in this piece and it clouds the picture for me a bit. there are many facets to this story i'm trying to decide exactly what i think about the situation. i think it's hard for us to really get at the truth of what's happening, despite our instant access to information about it. so to try to understand, i dug in my memory to tolstoy's sebastopol sketches, the small tome of vignettes that some say makes tolstoy the first war reporter (i also think it's his best work, but that's the stuff of a different post).
the original crimean war (1853-56) was the first extensively-reported and photographed war. you might remember some musings on the roger fenton photos right here on mpc. it also changed the nature of war in many ways, including medically, as it was there that florence nightengale did her groundbreaking work. in the original crimean war, the russians fought the declining ottoman empire and were even winning, but thanks to napoleon and the brits getting involved on the ottoman side, they lost and ended up losing their black sea fleet. (that's admittedly the very short version of the story.) russia ostensibly got involved to protect the interests of orthodox christians in the ottoman empire, seeing themselves as champions of eastern orthodoxy everywhere. it was actually some trouble with various factions in the ukraine which made russia get involved in the first place. sounds familiar, eh?
well, in the accords after the war, the crimea ended back in russian hands, tho' they were prevented from establishing naval bases along the black sea, which crippled them there for years afterwards and probably served to prop up the dying ottoman empire for a few more decades.
as late as 1954, russia transferred administration of the crimea to ukraine, much to the dismay of the many russians living there, but they were all part of the soviet union so that was that. but those russians have remained russian and there are arguments for russia protecting their interests against a ukraine in chaos (no matter who has caused that chaos).
so i suppose by now you can tell that i'm actually inclined to be not that opposed to the russian "invasion." and i find it absurd and ludicrous that the US is making noise about getting involved, even going so far as to stick some hypocritical words in the mouth of the US secretary of state john kerry, "you just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.' um, mr. secretary, i know it wasn't your administration, but wasn't there a rather recent invasion by your good selves in another little country called iraq on some trumped up charges of wmd?" how will we ever learn from history if we can't even remember it a mere decade later?
regardless of who is wrong and who is right (and there are undoubtedly many aspects of wrong and right on both sides), this isn't going to end well. but maybe a return to the cold war will do us good. we've been a little lost without it. and i don't just mean in the russian history departments of american universities.