The Path to Peace

Olga Dueñas, Chime, serigraphy, Courtesy of the MUNA – Museo Nacional, Quito


The Path to Peace

Vladimir Safatle on Neutrality.

The complexity of historical events can unfold poetically in the biographies of artists. Like in the case of Olga Dueñas, born Olga Valasek Dipold in Hungary, a descendant of Russian and Ukrainian families who fled to the US, and then to Ecuador, after the first World War. Her experience of migration through musical environments was filled with hope. She stated: "music was the oxygen that helped us breathe" permeating the power of art, evidenced in everyday life, no matter how hard it was.

Vladimir Safatle on Neutrality

There are moments when the only sane thing to do is not to fight for the best case scenario, but rather use our strength to avoid the worst. More than a month after the war between Russia and Ukraine began, 3.5 million people have thus far fled the completely devastated country. However, the vast majority of discourse on the subject addresses the supposed causes of the war and who should be held responsible or offers eloquently worded moral judgments. Very few people are focusing on what would certainly be the most important process in this context – namely, how to stop the war as soon as possible.

Arguably, the most productive act in this regard is to mobilize public opinion for solutions capable of stopping the war and preventing it from becoming a long-term situation. If the war continues for many months, Ukraine will be devastated for years, resulting in significant numbers of displaced people due to the total destruction of their living space. Therefore, rather than attempting to sustain it materially and symbolically, the more effective and responsible approach would be for the international community to engage in discussions about how to stop the war.

We are all familiar with the classic discussion of "fair" wars, and this is not about questioning the right of any population to defend itself when attacked. However, there are several forms of defense, and some are more effective than others. Engaging in a territorial war against a country that has an extensive nuclear arsenal, whose government knows full well that it will fall if it loses the war, and therefore knows no bounds in their actions or capacity for violence – this certainly does not seem to be the best way to defend yourself as a nation. 

Olga Dueñas, Lithe, serigraphy, Courtesy of the MUNA – Museo Nacional, Quito

It is possible to be outraged by positions and tones of this nature, and it is easy to assume we can simply ask populations to stop fighting against an invasion when it is not our own nation that is under attack. However, the reverse argument can also be used, in other words, that it is easy to ask populations to continue to resist when we are not on the front lines of the battle. Some might say we can at the very least offer our material support and help them arm themselves. However, due to the brutal disproportion of the relationship of forces and the nuclear threat, there will always be those who claim this is simply inviting such populations to help decimate their own country. 

We know all too well what it would mean to send troops from other countries to Ukraine: war on a global scale with an uncertain duration. Therefore, a solution of this nature has been completely ruled out. It is also worth recalling the consequences of past actions to weaken the United Nations, which came from Western powers, particularly after the US invasion of Iraq. We are currently paying the price for irresponsibility of this nature, because we can no longer simply appeal to an international forum who then sends troops into a war in an attempt to keep things under control.

It is a mistake to consider this current conflict as a war between democratic and authoritarian societies. In fact, our “way of life” is very much economically tied to authoritarian governments.

On the other hand, I believe it is true to say those who claim this is a “punctual” war are wrong. In fact, it might be possible that it is a symptom of a greater structural problem. Be it a war between nations or wars against certain populations, capitalist accumulation processes are always a part of it. Although some believed such an aspect was a thing of the past, this outlook may have been overly optimistic. For decades, Russia has sought to recover from the trauma it endured following the erosion and decay of its imperial strength. Today, it is employing a conventional war of occupation to impose what it perceives to be its natural zone of influence – and force the world to acknowledge it as such. In addition, there is no guarantee other countries that have become military powers, such as China, will not follow suit in the medium term – not least because the notion of a “zone of ​​influence” has not been entirely abandoned by Western powers. For example, several politicians recently used just such an argument to justify sending French troops into Mali. 

Obviously, it is not a question of “naturalizing” the monstrosity of actions carried out within such a criminal logic. On the other hand, the best way to fight something is to understand its real function and resilience. We live in a world in which imperial war is not just something for the history books, but rather a reality we need to know how to handle without the support of political mediations conducted by multilateral structures we no longer have, thanks to our own destructive actions. The logic of economic sanctions may appeal to some, but historically they have always proved ineffective – case in point Cuba, which has endured sixty years of sanctions to no avail. In any case, the Russia, China and India alliance doesn't really seem to contribute to economically isolating Putin. For now, what remains to be seen is how to avoid the worst in situations where the worst is happening right before our very eyes. 

Olga Dueñas, Flare, serigraphy, Courtesy of the MUNA – Museo Nacional, Quito

By this point, it should have become clear that I am among those advocating that Ukraine become a neutral space, in some ways similar to the role Finland took on during the cold war. Although it is terrible for a country to lose the effective right to control its own foreign policy, if this is what it takes to stop the war and its destruction as quickly as possible, it will be worth it in the end. 

Last, I would like to stress that it is a mistake to consider this current conflict as a war between democratic societies (ours) as opposed to a more authoritarian approach (Russia, China, as well as more or less explicit supporters such as India and Brazil). In fact, our “way of life” is very much economically tied to such countries with authoritarian governments. Not only do Western companies conduct business with their governments, they produce and subsidize extractive processes fundamental to the economic stability of North Atlantic countries. Someone of little faith might even wonder if there isn't some organic need for the global capitalist process to produce wealth through the brutal exploitation of natural resources and structural exploitation of the labor force made under authoritarian governments, far away enough to be out of sight, out of mind. In this sense, Russia and China are indeed an organic part of our own way of life, which goes to show how much we ourselves have contributed to the current situation.

Vladimir Safatle is Professor at the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Psychology at the University of São Paulo. At THE NEW INSTITUTE, he contributes to the programs "The Foundations of Value and Values" and “The Future of Democracy" as a fellow.

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