Freedom Isn’t Free
Like most people these days, I’ve been following the news of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine and the heroic resistance of the the Ukrainian people and their democratically-elected president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This invasion feels personal for me because my forthcoming novel Torch is set in the aftermath of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, carried out because the Czechoslovak Communist Party under the leadership of Alexander Dubçek had implemented democratic reforms that included freedom of speech and assembly, a relaxing of censorship, and giving ordinary Czechs and Slovaks greater agency over their lives. After deposing him and installing hardline Communist apparatchik Gustáv Husák, Soviet (mostly Russian) soldiers occupied the country and initiated a reign of terror against dissidents that nonetheless pales in comparison to the atrocities Putin and his minions have wrought on the Ukrainian people.
People have speculated on the motives of the enigmatic Putin. I see his actions as a tantrum. For more than 20 years he and his underlings have stolen from the Russian people, to the point that the country has stagnated. Ukraine, on the other hand, has thrived under the pro-Western democracy that followed the 2014 Maidan uprising. Surely, Putin looks over the fence at his neighbors and sees they have better stuff — as people under democracy and rule of law usually do because they have the freedom to try out new ideas and assurances that the fruits of their labor won’t be stripped by an all-powerful, unaccountable, and corrupt regime. So the neighbors’ better stuff enrages him, and he kills the neighbors and smashes their stuff. Not takes. Smashes. None of the places Putin has leveled has been rebuilt. Years later Grozny, Aleppo, and the breakaway regions of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova remain wastelands.
And we complain about sanctions and gas prices. And basic public health measures. All the while, Ukrainians are suffering and dying to save their democracy. Many years ago, then President George W. Bush claimed the United States needed to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, to fight the terrorists there, so we won’t have to fight them here. (Never mind that Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein had zero connection to the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.) Today, the Ukrainian people are fighting for their democracy “over there” — for themselves — but their resistance makes it significantly less likely that we’ll have to fight for the democracies of Moldova, the three Baltic nations that joined NATO and the EU, and the rest of the eastern European countries that once suffered behind the Iron Curtain. It makes it less likely we’ll have to fight in Western Europe, in Canada, and in the streets of the United States. Dictator Putin’s capacity to gin up global fascism, to divide nations, to aid right-wing extremists in our own country, will be significantly reduced in the face of a Ukrainian victory.
In the meantime, the Ukrainian people need our help. Nearly two million, mostly women and children, have fled the country and are now refugees elsewhere in Europe. Some may be coming to the United States and Canada, where they have family ties. I live in the East Village of New York City, one of the largest Ukrainian-American communities in the United States. I’ve attended several rallies with my Ukrainian neighbors, if for not other reason than to let them know I appreciate what they’re doing. As I posted several days ago on Twitter, “it doesn’t cost me anything but a little of my time to #StandWithUkraine in #NYC. But the whole world is at risk from a nuclear-armed sociopathic dictator & props go to the Russian people putting themselves & their families in danger to stop his murderous march.” The woman I met in Washington Square Park, who has been at other rallies as well, is Russian-American and she knows the difference between right and wrong, and good and evil. Ultimately, I think it will be up to the people in Russia to remove this monster from power, but all of us need to learn to recognize these monsters and make sure they never attain the levers of power in the first place. Protecting democracy is no guarantee, but it does lower the odds of these maniacs taking and keeping power, to the detriment of all.
If you would like to help refugees from Ukraine, here are some organizations where you can donate:
CORE (on the ground helping arrivals from Ukraine to Poland)
Razom for Ukraine (Ukrainian organization dedicated to democracy and development in the country, and now relief for survivors of the Russian aggression)