Insidious Occupation

Ask yourself: “What exactly is a border, and why do we (‘we’ referring to human beings in general) often fight so hard, go so far in different ways, to defend them?”

This is a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately, given the conflict that has been happening in Ukraine and has appeared often in the news media over the past few months. Family members of mine have paid attention, and as a result, have engaged me, as well as friends of theirs, in conversation on the subject.

Please take note, however, that this post is meant neither as economic nor as political analysis. It is, instead, a collection of personal impressions and opinions. As such, it will probably contain personal bias as well.

So why should I care about Ukraine, then, since I am not Ukranian, and have no connections to or direct personal investment in the country? A fair question.

I’ll start by saying that my family and I are Latvian, which means in my case that, although I didn’t experience the Soviet Russian occupation directly, I’ve heard much about it from family and friends who did. I also volunteered at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia for the summer a few years ago. That experience taught me a lot about how both Germany and Russia behaved as invading and occupying powers, at various times between 1940 and 1991. I’ll let the museum speak for itself (seriously, check it out  – it cares about teaching people), but one of the overwhelming impressions I came away with was that being occupied by Russia is an awful, degrading experience which tramples all over human rights and human dignity.

With this in mind, I care because I feel a certain sense of solidarity. I’m aware of what a very large country can be capable of doing to a smaller one – especially if the larger feels that it can claim territory or people from the smaller, regardless of the smaller one’s established sovereignty or possible wishes to the contrary.

It’s true that ethnically Russian people, who speak the Russian language, live all over Eastern Europe. I don’t support these people being discriminated against as minorities in their countries of residence –  something that can happen all too easily, anywhere there are groups of people large enough (in comparison to other groups present in the same area) to describe themselves as majorities. No one should be treated that way, ever. I will admit, however, that given the Russian state’s track record during the Soviet era – a record characterised by violent invasion, suppression of culture, unexplained imprisonment and deportation of people who didn’t agree with it, and other charming behaviour –  I’m deeply suspicious of that state’s motives. I don’t want Eastern Europe to be absorbed into Russia, piece by piece – again.

I’m scared too – not only for the people in Ukraine, who are currently experiencing violent invasion and have experienced manipulation of their democratic elections, but for all the people in smaller states near Russia, who run the same risk.

Money can but a lot of things, including votes, and through them, political influence as well as power. I wouldn’t be surprised, honestly, if the liberal use of money to influence elections in surrounding countries – including the upcoming Latvian parliamentary election on October 4th – were part of the Russian state strategy for reclaiming former Soviet territories. Yes, the situation has been explained to me by people who understand it much better than I do. Still, now that I am better informed, sorry, Russia – I have no intention of playing along.

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