10 September 2022
by Sergei Davidis
Like many people in recent days, I am thrilled and delighted over the “miracle on the Oskol.” A miracle wrought, actually, by the heroism of Ukrainian fighters and the courage of the entire Ukrainian people.
I think any true patriot of Russia is experiencing the same feelings today, if by patriotism we mean the best future for our country and the well-being of its people and not the desire to feed this future and this well-being to the moloch of state greatness.
Current events are a fine occasion to bring up the absurdity of the thesis which asserts that the duty of each person in any conflict or war is to support “their” state, no matter what.
This seems obvious to me, but recently I spoke with a well-known and respected journalist who, understandably, condemns the Kremlin aggression and supports Ukraine, and I was amazed to learn that despite this he condemns the railroad sabotage against trains carrying military equipment or donations to the Ukrainian Armed Forces because this poses a threat to Russian soldiers’ lives.
I’m sorry for the Russian soldiers, among whom there are certainly good people who wound up being participants in a criminal war due to the social and informational environment that formed and surrounded them. Just as there are certainly good people in the army of North Korea or once mobilized for the Wehrmacht (which, by the way, the victors did not recognize as a criminal organization).
What of it, though? In conditions of war, it is not a matter of individuals but statistics, the balance of losses, the cost in lives of a given outcome of the war.
How complete, how possible Ukraine’s victory turns out to be is a blessing for the whole world, for Russia, and for the inhabitants of the temporarily occupied territories. This is a more reliable key to the speedy cessation of war in conditions that assure the rights of the maximum number of people and the maximally reliable peace. Victory in war is impossible without lives lost, but all-out support for Ukraine is helping bring closer the cessation of those deaths. I feel sorrier for the peaceful inhabitants of Ukraine and for the Ukrainian fighters defending their homeland and freedom than I do for the Russians, even if they were tricked and forced into this predatory and aggressive war.
The principle of the unconditional necessity of supporting one’s own side (or the inadmissibility of supporting “them”), whether on the basis of ethnicity, language, or citizenship, leads to a division between “us” and “them,” a fragile, archaic thing in the modern world, a vestige of centuries past.
The civic duty to defend one’s country is understandable, and the cultural, ethnic, or linguistic proximity which all else being equal usually compel us to support our own is understandable.
But in the present war, we are not talking about defending Russia, so all things are not equal. There is absolute righteousness of one side and absolute, destructive unrighteousness of the other side, which is breaking all the formal laws and principles of modern civilization.
We can talk about supporting our country, even when it’s wrong, probably, in conditions of democracy, when a decision that gives rise to dissent was the result of an informed decision taken by the majority of society in accordance with transparent, agreed-upon procedures. The moral duty to submit to the majority will in these conditions may, it seems to me, be viewed as an element of a kind of unwritten civic contract.
But no one does or can have a duty to support their country in an aggressive war unleashed by an insane dictator who has usurped power, destroyed the opposition, political competition, and freedom of information, assembly, and association, and commandeered all the country’s resources.
Translated by Marian Schwartz