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The New Killing Fields of Europe

(Russian tanks partaking in drills in December of 2021)

Civilizational states such as Russia and China have a cohort of national and cultural values that are far more deeply enshrined (like them or loathe them) than those of the West.”

Czech President Petr Pavel, a one-time communist, is surely the Tony Blair of modern diplomacy. He is a weathervane of Western winds, a nose for which way the wind blows. In his reincarnation as a Western-style “liberal,” he has come out with the usual soundbites regarding Ukraine. Yet so it always was for Czechoslovakia, emerging in 1918 as a nation but always surrounded by menacing neighbors. It was Otto von Bismarck who allegedly stated that whoever controls “Bohemia” (as the western part of the Czech Republic has historically been known) controls Europe. And so it still is. “Bohemia” in this context is a euphemism for Central Europe, the battleground of nations. The price of modern “nationhood,” after being released from the security of empires, has been unending war. 

The battleground has not moved, except perhaps slightly to the East, the slaughter based on some form of “ideology” now, hiding the realities of grossraums (large spaces) and the geopolitics of resources. The Czechs will be familiar with the present-day scenario. In 1938, it was the splintered appeasement front of the British and French, with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain trying to avert another war, and with little Bohemia left to the mercy of the Germans. They say history repeats itself. That is true because history is cyclical and not one of a progressive denouement to a liberal utopia, as was the tone of international relations in the 1990s. Now, the wolves are circling the door once more, this time in Ukraine, and 1938 looks like it will be repeated, as nation after nation is counting its chips and bailing out.

There is a league table of contributors to the Ukraine war effort. The early enthusiasm for the war, with talk of a Russian Federation breakup and oil resource contingencies, has failed to upset the bear. For the Russians, with that endless horizon of golden steppe, a long game is played out, just like the Chinese philosophy of Tianxia (all under heaven). It is a gradual wearing down, a cultural assimilation of the enemy. Think tanks such as the Institute for the Study of War and the Hudson Institute predicted a quick defeat for Russia. As I reiterated in an article in April of last year in The National Interest, the early optimism of these think tanks was misplaced. The world is shifting to grossraums, and this is highlighted by the shift of resource-rich nations to commodity-based currencies. This will collapse dollar hegemony and, therefore, cultural dependence.

The idea of the bear’s demise is misinformed, and Western nations now see the reality on the ground in the Ukraine. If financial contributions are to be gauged, then the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Baltic nations are in the Premier League of contributors. But as one looks at more comprehensive figures, it is clear there are divisions within the bloc. While Premier League Estonia contributes 1.4% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Italy, Belgium, France, and Spain all contribute less than 0.1%. While these are the Second League contributors, far more worrying is the Third League. This consists of nations such as Slovakia which, with a new conservative government under Prime Minister Robert Fico, has curtailed all contributions. Similarly, Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has vetoed a European Union (EU) aid package of €50 billion. Poland has ended support, deciding that funding its own military may be the best strategy, considering all the funds going to Ukraine without results to show for them. The Czech Republic, though offering 0.56% of its GDP, has no current pledge of financial support, stuck as it is in the middle of the EU veto.

Shadows of 1938 are back for the Czechs; they are dependent on the whims of their neighbors and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Yet it is Ukraine which is in the full grip of 1938 syndrome, as support falters and appeasement (read financial and “liberal democratic” election constraints) gains the high ground. While President Pavel might be waving his Crusader sword, the world of Bismarck’s realpolitik returns to haunt Bohemia. 

Besides the financial disparities and division, there is hypocrisy. War is business, and this is a factor in the Czech Republic pivoting to a war economy. As well as profiting from manufacturing for the Ukrainian market, the Czech arms industry is actively equipping wars in Africa. Profits from the Ukrainian theater are invested in African states. The Czech firm Aero Vodochody supplies attack aircraft to African nations. In 2022, Czech armaments firms exported €32 million of ammunition, guns, and aircraft to ten nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. While Russia is the largest exporter of arms to African countries, the Czech Republic is using the Ukraine diversion to fill some gaps. It is not surprising that European nations such as the Czech Republic, Poland, and the United Kingdom are not calling for peace deals in Ukraine or Gaza but, rather, for more funding for these war efforts. 

But, of course, NATO has a stronger, better equipped army than Russia does. So goes the usual narrative. However, conflicts are not solely about financial contributions, rounds of shells, or “outsourcing” the war to whoever may be more amenable to the sacrifice of thousands and thousands of lives. Think Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. War without principle is only a military capitulation away. It is not that the Russian soldiers are disciples of Aleksandr Dugin—far from it. The point is that the Russians are tough and battle-hardened.

At the root are conceptions of war culture. Despite the liberal universalist rhetoric of human rights, of freedoms couched in Western paraphernalia, many peoples around the world do not adhere to such beliefs. Civilizational states such as Russia and China have a cohort of national and cultural values that are far more deeply enshrined (like them or loathe them) than those of the West.

The very nature of Western liberal democracies is atomized individuals and the primacy of the market. The West is faced with existential social problems and wide political divisions, especially in the United States. There are foreign policy changes with every four-year presidential term, and there is no underlying orthodoxy. The Russians, by contrast, are in the real blood and soil of reality, not simulations over a round of coffee and crackers with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. A “sacrifice” for many in the West is not having a particular type of food at the supermarket.

Notions of sacrifice are cultural. For the Russians near the Urals, pushing a battered truck through snow drifts is the norm—not a sacrifice. Yet the biggest enemy of the West is not China or Russia but, rather, the internal dynamic of liberalism, which is destroying Western societies from within. President Pavel’s soundbites from Prague are like puffs of hot air fired towards the brutal chill of the Urals. As President Pavel is surely aware, victory over Nazi Germany was not an unalloyed triumph for freedom. One of the victors was Soviet communism. 

In Prague last month, 14 university students were shot dead by a fellow student. Maybe the irony was missed on the Czech government amid the outpouring of sympathy. It appears it is fine to export weapons abroad to African countries but not when a shooter turns his guns on Czechs. Fueled by greed and existential confusion, the weaponized continent of Europe becomes a new killing field.

Brian Patrick Bolger, who studied at the London School of Economics, has taught political philosophy and applied linguistics in universities across Europe. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, and his new book Nowhere Fast: Democracy and Identity in the Twenty First Century was released with Ethics International Press in December of last year.

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