Viktor Kogan-Yasny: The moral value lies in the preservation of life and of peace

7 November 2022

by Viktor Kogan Yasny

On responsibility

The public expression of sympathy for the victims of lawlessness is the right of each one of us, although there is no obligation to accompany such expressions of sympathy and indignation at a crime with personal reflections on the future. Yet it saddens me to see the almost total absence of such reflections on the part of those who, in my view, are obliged to think about these matters, and not merely mechanically repeat tragic information. This saddens me, and I have every right to feel sad, just as I have a right to my many very sorrowful thoughts and expectations these days.

But what I find much more frightening – in terms of the nature of the sentiments being expressed – is that the people expressing them, while condemning the criminal bloodshed, have no sense of hopelessness about the very likely coming of ‘total war.’ Indeed, they expect to see a ‘winner.’

I have the impression they are not afraid of bloodshed. That a bloody event, in terms of the approach to life they have adopted, is merely seen as a means to ‘personal aggrandisement.’ This is, to put it mildly, a very irresponsible position in the circumstances. Our moral responsibility as human beings is not for victories on the battlefield or for this or that future geopolitical order. It is whether or not in our thinking we have a sense of responsibility with regard to the shedding of blood. Every other question is secondary. A just war becomes unjust in an instant if goals are substituted and moral restraints are removed. It is quite obvious that in any war, in the most serious view of things, there is and can be no winner, no matter who is declared such; that the pictures of any actual parade for ‘victory’ – and even more a victory that is merely imaginary – will eventually backfire against those who admire them and – while, possibly, a just victory can be important – nonetheless victories are essentially not enduring in nature, are tragic, and all the more meaningless the more they involve hype and self-aggrandizement. The moral value lies in the preservation of life and of peace.

A crude worldview is step by step becoming the norm in a considerable and socially influential part of the world today. To greatly simplify things, one can say that, in various places, centres of imitation of Putin’s Russia are being created, although this is a great simplification ‘for brevity’s sake.’ The nature of the phenomenon is much more complex and much more serious. We are already mourning the deaths of the victims of this failure of morality. And very many more will yet become – literally, or at best, figuratively – its victims.

The limits of what is permissible are ever expanding. Ignorance and cruelty are triumphant. When emotions are openly engaged in war and there are no moral restraints, we are in a qualitatively new phase. We are all responsible for this.

Those who deliberately go on pushing the moral boundaries of what is permissible, justifying war, wanting to demonstrate how tough and ‘cool’ they are, deliberately, at the cost of human life, will be held to account. No matter on whose behalf they acted or in whose favour. Each will answer for their own actions. They will not be able to pass the resonsibilty on to others.

A faint hope

I hope that a complex process will lead, not quickly but in the foreseeable future, to a result in which the recognition of international borders will be restored, in accordance with the principles of the UN and OSCE.

I hope for a gradual return of Russia to the institutions of the Council of Europe and a rejection of isolationist approaches in matters of law and individual rights that weaken the notion of justice. The European world and its representives – those who, thanks to the cirumstances of their lives, have the opportunity and powers to seek resolutions to the most difficult problems of our times in a way that reduces the risks for ordinary people, rather than increasing them – must above all demonstrate a vital capacity in diplomacy, setting high goals as a counterweight to provincial mediocrity, and exhibiting both an active creativity and an enduring patience.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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