Viktor Kogan-Yasny: A person of principle is an advocate of peace

27 March 2023

Thoughts [16 February – 24 March 2023]

by Viktor Kogan-Yasny

16 February 2023

Elena Georgievna Bonner was a kind person, at times outwardly severe in manner, but very kind. Nothing could stop her seeing the ‘small person’ or sympathizing with people with whose views she absolutely disagreed. No kind of global activity made sense to her if it did not benefit the ‘small person’ in the here and now. That is how I remember her.

Being a person of principle means at the same time being an advocate of peace, both strategically and – whenever possible – in any particular given situation. And vice versa. This is the historical lesson of Sakharov and Bonner.

21 February 2023

What would I say if – very unlikely – some Americans asked me what needs to be done for Ukraine and Europe now? I would say a road map is needed. For ten years and for twenty years. A ceasefire, reconstruction of Ukraine, a return to borders according to the UN Charter and OSCE norms, political transformations that would smooth internal pockets of instability in the future Ukraine, in future fundamentally new circumstances, a transformation in Russia that would allow a full return to cooperation with the EU and NATO, to mutual benefit, peaceful relationships with the US and the People’s Republic of China while respecting the interests of the Republic of China in Taiwan, a transformation in the PRC. Steps towards the ‘europeanisation’ of US laws, abolition of the death penalty there. A return to the idea of a Greater Europe with a shared vision of a peaceful future.

I would also tell them that Putin’s position inside Russia now and in the near future has very little to do with the situation on the front and that a hypothetical (highly unlikely) military victory for Ukraine in its southeast is unlikely to seriously affect Putin’s position inside Russia. I would tell them that talk that Putin ‘dreams of compromise and the status quo’ is quote wrong, since history has long ago shown that Putin is anything but a dreamer, that ‘popular discontent if Putin is defeated’ is unlikely to manifest itself, and if for one reason or another it does happen that there is mass discontent in Russia in the present decade the mood of those protests is unlikely to please those who impatiently await them. I would tell them that the situation of Putin and of the Russian ruling group depends critically on themselves, on their sense of usefulness and future perspectives, and not at all on the desires of today’s ‘populists’ who broadcast from their new places of residence outside the country. That diplomacy is not just a fun game with friends on the sofa, but hard work, which does not only involve drawing tanks and planes… And that you cannot get away from the future, even if you are determined not to see it and live only for the present …

10 March 2023

As is well known, there was war in Europe after 1945 on the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. And there were very serious confrontations on the brink of the large-scale use of force over events in the GDR in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. And, against the background of changes in the USSR, there was violence in Lithuania and Latvia in 1991. But the ‘generally accepted’ view in politics in those years was that violence should be used only as the last resort, that the outcomes of competition and confrontation between systems should be achieved primarily by avoiding violence, by means of strategic analysis and the use of ‘soft power.’ Victims, on either side, were cause for grief and regret, including when it concerned victims on the opposing side.

Now, for a great many reasons, it appears that the strategic approach and soft power as a professional skill have been lost. To some extent this has happened as a result of deliberate decisions, to some extent it has come about by accident, as a result of laziness and lack of focus.  A special new factor has emerged in the form of those who support military measures. And this has been accompanied by the development of a largely abstract attitude of indifference towards victims and losses. Decisions to escalate this or that conflict are being taken with very little attention to the issue of victims and losses, to humanitarian concerns, to issues of human rights, the neglect of which may become irreversible.

21 March 2023


There are systems, corporate and political, built on the basis of the priority of simple solutions. They are not able to do otherwise, they are built on this, they are very poorly adapted to anything else. The psychology of the countries of the former USSR, their bureaucracies and political classes, as well as of a number of the former Central European countries (formerly Eastern) which were imbued with the mentality and practices of the Komsomo, is just tending now – everywhere – in the direction of simple solutions. This absolutely does not mean that they will succeed, quite the contrary, especially when seen in historical perspective, from the future, but they will fulfill one ‘set task’: they will be simple. If historically complex systems which are not at all adapted to simple solutions begin to follow that path, then the loss will not be just in terms of a particular situation, not local, not just cruel, but strategic. Because you don’t put your feet in other people’s shoes!

If I decide for some reason or other to try to run, then nothing will come of it except a disaster for me (and probably somebody else), no matter how outwardly persuasive the reason may have seemed to me that I should run. And so when Western legal and political structures take it upon themselves to act within a framework of this or that model of simple solutions, this provokes nothing but great anxiety for people, for the situation we are in, for the future of us all. This is especially the case when what appears to have a good appearance externally is taken as a prototype of future positive successes.

22 March 2023

One of the main philosophical leitmotifs of Vasily Grossman’s immortal novel Life and Fate is that in the struggle against an extreme social evil, against fascism, in particular against Nazism in conditions of a concentration camp, it is not those who are careful who pose the greatest danger, and not even those who are very afraid, but idiots with slogans and ideas of heroism.

24 March 2023

A philosophical prediction

I do not know what exactly is to come in the future, in the continuation of what has already been and now is. But I am almost certain that the sequel will be tragic and very difficult , when for millions of people under the shell of one thing something very different is hiding. The tragedy, the fears, the anxieties will be swamped with a flood of stupid sanctimonious raptures (triumphalism). The scarier and more absurd the reality, the more it will be accompanied by expressions of triumphalism on the part of those who need to be ‘respectable people.’

Victories, real and imaginary, past, future, those that never were achieved, promises of victories, fixed expressions of outrage over crimes, plans that will never come to fruition – all this becomes an instrument of manipulative demagogy. ‘Respectable people’ need to constantly maintain and strengthen the impression of their ‘respectability.’

In general, a ‘respectable person’ – whether they are right or wrong – is ‘respectable.’ Not like the ‘unrespectable,’ who for their unrespectability alone are either made use of or mocked, or better both together, so that they know their place – until they are lowered into the grave.

Well, all the same we’ll do our best to clamber out of this mess. That after all is our obligation.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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