The war in Ukraine has shattered the world, as it should have happened with the wars in Syria, with the ones in parts of Africa and in many other places of the world where populations have been or are still being displaced or killed for political reasons. We didn’t see this kind of international response in those other cases, but this is another conversation that the world should have, because as people we should all be treated the same, regardless of race, religion, gender and of the other kinds of social markers.
It is the war in Ukraine I would like to talk about today. In the past week I have been in touch with people from my birth country, some of which are in powerful political positions. Besides getting official information, I also get to see the inside of how Romania is responding to the crisis in Ukraine.
I’d like to bring up a story, from the town where I was born, Targu Jiu, which has about 80,000 inhabitants. Not a big place, not a lot of people, not extremely rich, still…. people are pulling together to help the best they can their displaced Ukrainian neighbors.
Dana Constantinescu, the Director of Inspectorate of Education of Gorj Country, has mobilized the schools within the county’s jurisdiction and organized centers where people can donate household items, food and everything they can spare to help the refugees of Ukraine.
Photo: Dana Constantinescu, Director of Inspectorate of Education of Gorj country
This is what it looked like yesterday……..
Amazing, isn’t it? And this is just one county…
The Romanian government has launched a platform to coordinate the help for Ukraine Impreuna Ajutam mai Mult. They did this in record time. This is a platform where volunteers and organizations can mobilize and coordinate help for refugees, and it is also a place where refugees can find official information about how to get medical services, find jobs and obtain asylum in Romania (this is for long term- because immediate help is provided at the borders).
Romania is also sending medication, hospital beds and medical equipment into Ukraine.
Photo: Romanian Government/Facebook
According to UN, as of March 9th here is how refugee are distributed across Eastern Europe:
Poland has taken in 1,412,502 refugees
Other 255,000 people have gone to other European countries, the UN says.
First, I would like to offer a little background on this, for people who are not familiar with this part of the world. I think that what is happening right now was brewing for a while.
Putin was deeply bothered (for a long time!) but more so since the Revolution of Dignity. Back in 2013, Ukraine’s pro-European trajectory was abruptly halted in November 2013 when Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine at that time, bowed to intense pressure from Moscow just days before the association was to be signed.
Protests took place over the next months, people were jailed, scores of others were killed until in February 2014 when Yanukovych and his regime were ousted. It was great, because the Ukrainian economy and politics were struggling with oligarch-controlled manufacturing industries and with the same kind of control in political life.
The same year, in the aftermath of this revolution, Russia attacked and annexed Crimea. In that conflict only, when Russia invaded and occupied Crimea, over 13,000 people died. I am not sure what is going to happen now. Nothing is surprising anymore. I won’t be surprised if Putin wants to bring back the former president Viktor Yanukovych. I won’t be surprised by any twists and turns in this ongoing war.
Second, I am worried about the escalation of the curent conflict. If a missile goes wrong, in the wrong direction…let’s say towards Romania or another NATO member, the situation can get seriously out of control. Not that anything is in order now, because at Romania’s and Poland’s borders there are already thousands of refugees. And I can’t even think of what is on the ground in Ukraine.
And, there is one more thing…..the situation in the Black Sea is not very good. According to news outlets , Snake Island is now controlled by the Russian army.
The island itself is Ukrainian, but, for a long time, Romania refused to legally recognize it as an island so as not to lose sovereignty over the surrounding waters. The territorial limits of the continental shelf around Snake Island were finally delineated by the International Court of Justice in 2009, and Romania has 9,700 square kilometers of the continental shelf around the island.
I would start by saying this: GREAT HOUSES DO NOT EXIST WITHOUT GREAT HOUSEKEEPERS. Do you agree with this? And now, it is time for a second question: WHO ARE THE HOUSEKEEPERS?
I was born and raised in Romania. We were communist for so long, and it wasn’t the greatest time of our history. Then, the Romanian Revolution came in 1989 followed by waves after waves of corrupted politics. It’s been 30 years and although the new society and political structure was not built at all levels the way that it was expected (lots of Romanian industry landmarks and natural resources have been sold to foreign companies for pennies, by corrupt leaders, while their accounts were loaded with money), Romanians are free. Romania is a democracy, a beautiful country with beautiful people that live their life in peace. Everybody is doing the best they can, living and speaking their minds without the fear of being jailed or killed. I cannot imagine going back in time, to the old ways of life. I can’t.
Now, let’s go back to Ukraine. How do these people feel and most importantly, who is there for them? Them, themselves only? What should they do, while Russia is on one side and NATO on the other side? They are part of none, but they’re in the middle. How much time do you think they can hold in this position?
Photo credit: Paul Michelman, MIT Sloan Review
Yes, unfortunately, the geopolitical situation of Ukraine sucks. It really does, and there is nothing drastic that can be done about it, unless the world is ready to risk war expansion and massive loss of life.
Unfortunately, the way our world is built it places value more on institutions than on what it actually happens on the ground. It is the same whether we consider the macro and micro scales. When planes throw bombs, they do not imagine families in those buildings, mothers crying next to her children, and old people huddled in bed praying for their lives. They throw bombs in the name of geopolitics, in the name of balance of power, and not in the name of humanity.
What is happening right now in our world is not only about Ukraine, about Russia, about NATO. It is about everything, including geopolitics, big corporations and interest games that are sucking our souls, the people.
There are, for example, approximately 40,000 oil fields globally and 6 million people that live or work nearby. If not done carefully, drilling pollutes local soil, water, and air, which in turn causes cancer, liver damage …and in general, the destruction of our planet. In the game corporations vs cost of human lives, who wins? Us, people?
There are many such examples, but without loading this post with much information, I want to go back to the simple statement and the simple question I posed above.
GREAT HOUSES DO NOT EXIST WiTHOUT GREAT HOUSEKEEPERS. EARTH IS OUR HOUSE. WHERE AND WHO ARE THE HOUSEKEEPERS?
The bomb that fell flattened his world, And drew corridors of fire That led everywhere and nowhere, Toward a future that kept hanging.
The tearless silence was floating, Dressed with silk black cap, As faith was rewriting the lists For new havens.
His eyes were closed, but it was bright inside, He remembered the taste of chocolate And how he ran up and down the hills Over the desert.
He will soon hear the others, Crawling like him, on their canes of hope, Their skills got sharper every time.
He’ll join them in the quest for Their food for tomorrow: Wild mushrooms and rabbits. Sometimes they will go by the airfield, Wondering loud where the storks were, And why was their place taken by uniformed men.
He felt his body burning, Heard shouting, faint, then rising, He smelled his father pomade and felt the clutching of his arms. He was tired of running in a race that had no stopwatch, Besides he already won, Of all the things, this war has never been able to embargo his dreams.
This is a poem I have written few years ago. Like everything I write( like everything that we writers write), there is a story behind it. Back then I was doing field work in Jordan about war refugees, and I was spending time listening to Syrian war refugees recounting their stories. Some of them had their children around when I was taking their interview. I was struck, I knew war from far away but this was a first account, as close as I could get. I would finish the interviews, and then I’d go transcribe and I would feel these people, and their pain even more than I didn’t before. Their faces would come to mind. This poem is about one of those faces.
I haven’t read any books about Russia for a long time. Russians have beautiful literature; they have Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Gogol and many other wonderful writers. I did not stop reading their books because I didn’t like their stories; I did like their literature. Though, I guess my rebellious mind unconsciously protested against anything that had to do with Russia because I grew up in a communist country and I blamed communism and everything that had to do with it on Russia.
Indeed, by the end of WWII in the countries that the Red Army ‘liberated’, communist-dominated governments took power. By 1949, all the governments of Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia, became Stalinist regimes.
The map of Europe looked like this….
Romania became communist in 1947. I wasn’t born back then but my grandparents were. Unfortunately we were a noble family and that was really bad! The Communists took everything my grandparents had, all the lands and….everything. Later on they sent my father and my uncle to a correctional school because they had to “un-noble “ them and they had to be educated in the “communist spirit”. Appalling ….but other people had it worse….
My grandparents never talked much about this past.
I don’t really have a feel of what was life before communism but I do know what was like growing up under communism. Here are some things that I remember:
–It was allowed only 2 hour per day to watch television between 8 and 10 PM and usually they will put just news or documentaries about Ceausescu and his wife. As kids, we would only have cartoons 10 minutes a day and in the weekends it was half an hour. I remember all of us kids running from outside where we were playing to go in front of the TV so we can watch some Tom and Jerry….
— The communist party was trying to denigrate the image of Christmas, as it was considered too religious. So we did not have Santa Claus, Santa was banned! Instead we had Mos Gerila, a kind of slim, funny version of Santa. They wanted kids to believe that this guy was bringing presents from the state…..and that it wasn’t a magical creature. We still believed though, because our parents somehow managed to nurture our imagination…..
This is a picture of Mos Gerila from a newspaper in 1947. Still, our image of it was the one with beard and it pretty much looked like Santa, because our parents, the ones who dressed up like it, never looked so hunky :))).
–When my aunt who moved to Germany sent me a pair of jeans it was a miracle. In communist Romania, almost nobody owned a paired of jeans because that was a luxury.
–I remember my parents planning to go in vacations or visits during the weekends. The planning was a whole production! Why? Because depending of your license plate you could only drive your car two weekends a month! They would alternate between even and odd license plate numbers! In some weekends you could only drive your car if the license number plate was ending in 2, 4, 6 e.g. and in others the ones ending in 1, 3, 5, 7 e.g. If they caught you with wrong plate number you would have been arrested. How weird is that!!
–Every month you could only use 20 L gas, that is about 5 gallons a month!! Yes, that was all you had! So you had to plan your travels carefully and save gas if you wanted to take a longer trip! Also, we had a car but to own a car back then was a complete luxury. In 1989, before the revolution, in Bucharest there were only about 200. 000 cars. Now there are millions of cars in Romania…..
–During communism the borders were closed. Nobody could go outside the country. We never imported many goods, so imagine when after 1989 when finally products were imported! Juices, cigars, sweets were things nobody tasted in their life!
So yes, I remember all these things and others too. Russia, communist rule, our lives. I never wanted to go back, not even in my mind. And apparently I kept everything away, even the wonderful Russian novels that were completely unrelated with the spread of communism and what it did to us……
I’ve bought these three books from my neighborhood bookstore, in California. I think what attracted me most were the covers and the old feel! These books are over 50 years old; they were published in 1953. Who knows who left them in this bookstore ….
This author is not Leo Tolstoy, but some sources say that they were distant relatives. I don’t know much about their relationship, but whereas Aleksey was not an influential global writer as Leo Tolstoy, he did leave an interesting legacy that includes many wonderful works.
And so, I read them….
The story revolves around 4 main characters, 2 sisters and their husbands. Dasha and Katya are the sisters and Telegin and Roshkin are their husbands. I was swept by the true love between these people but most of all I was swept by how the turmoil of historical events shaped people’s lives and their destinies.
This trilogy traces the development of the Russian society during the critical years of WWI, the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war in Russia.
Russia fought WWI on the Eastern Front. As many other armies, Russian army too lost a lot of soldiers, and more …because the Russian Army had about one doctor for every 10,000 men. Thus, many wounded soldiers died from wounds that would have been treated on the Western Front.
Then the Russian Revolution started in March 1917, the monarchy was abolished. The Civil War followed….
The Civil War was between the Red Army, known as the communist Bolsheviks and the White Army, who greatly favored nationalism and monarchism. And in between, there was also the Green Army that rose from the peasantry. The Greens grew tired of the Red Army requisitioning their livestock, food, and able-bodied men so they rose to protect their communities.
As the history of Russia was being made, people’s lives were turned upside down to the point that soldiers and officers that fought together in the WWI ended up fighting against and killing each other in the revolution and in the Civil War.
Reading these books made me think about a distant past and about these people, about how much they went through and about how much they suffered. Then about the Russian Revolution, the spread of communism and what it did to people living in Eastern Europe…
People and places, our lives
You see, we create meaning through the exchange between spheres of different rationalities. Depending to what we are exposed to, we create our identities and shape our life trajectories.
During communism, people were in a deeply flawed position. They learned gobbets of information and wrong teachings and information were stored in the society’s collective memory banks. Thus how could one give a reasoned critique to what was really happening?
I saw what happened to my family, what they took from us, how they transformed our lives. But I was just a child. Human mind displays great ingenuity and so I blocked everything that had to do with Russia, even their literature. Looking back, this was crazy……..
I will have to ponder about it more, but one thing that comes to my mind now is that are all people, we are individuals with similar fears, needs and desires. We are all living histories; we are told or untold biographies. We have to take time to learn about the world and about other’s views of the world. Our lives are our own and we have to keep learning.
Since tomorrow is Christmas, let’s try to give our best to the ones around us! Peace and love from me to all of you.