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Sunday, March 16, 2014

An Appeal to the Russian people while Crimeans decide their fate at the ballot box

As Crimeans go to the polls today to vote in a referendum that many western governments and media outlets have deemed unfair, I thought it prudent to re-visit the words I'd written last June on Russia’s national holiday.  That post can be accessed here

Yesterday, an estimated 50,000 Muscovites marches through the streets of Moscow to protest Russian military involvement in Crimea. 

The American author Mark Twain once said that "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." To wave your country’s flag and to hold a sign of protest is a patriotic duty when injustice presents itself. It shows a desire for improvement for one’s homeland. Even when one may not agree with the sentiment of the dissenting opinion, the action should be respected and honored as a vital part of democracy.  

Ukrainians participating in EuroMaidan have often shouted the battle cry of "Слава Україні! Героям слава!" (Glory to Ukraine! Glory to her Heroes!)

Героям славa indeed. Glory to the heroes of EuroMaidan, especially those people who gave their lives in hopes their country could re-establish itself in a more democratic light. Could there have been a more peaceful way to change Ukraine’s course? Perhaps, and maybe EuroMaidan will not accomplish all the goals its supporters hope it does. But the time for that has passed. Ukraine has an opportunity to change its course, and while the road to that course had its bumps and potholes, it will do no good for Ukraine not to travel that road. 

Glory and God’s blessing also to those Russians who speak out against their government. These people are the Героям Russians should celebrate. 

Let it be known to those Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians that I am not at all opposed to a fraternal relationship between Russia and Ukraine. I am opposed, however, to the Kremlin and the way they run Russia. If Russia is able to become a modern, democratic, and free state, Ukraine would do well to establish and extend ties with its eastern neighbor. No, Ukrainians and Russians are not the same. They are distinct peoples, with distinct languages and cultures. But there is no denying that similarities exist between the two peoples. Ukraine and Russia are different branches off the same tree-the tree of the Slavic peoples. 

What about the fascists, you say?  I, along with many Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans, am distrustful of the Свобода party. Свобода does not represent my principles and if Ukraine is to move forward, I hope that Свобода's influence wanes. I also acknowledge there exist controversial undercurrents behind the use of the red and black flag of the Ukrainian Insurgency during World War II by EuroMaidan supporters. If I was Ukrainian, I’d likely be drawn to support УДАР, Vitali Klitschko’s party. Батьківщина (Fatherland, Yulia Tymoshenko’s party) has its merits, but Yulia Tymoshenko, populist she may be, is not free from corruption. If Ukraine has any hope of eradicating their government of corruption, she must stay on the sidelines. 

     If this is the best argument the Kremlin has against EuroMaidan, they display a stunning lack of self-awareness at best. Of the 450 seats in the State Duma, 56 are held by the LDPR, a far-right, ultranationalist party that many consider fascist. Their leader, Vladimir Zhirinovski, is a full-blown nutcase who wants to remove the letter "ы" from the Russian alphabet because of its "Mongol origin" and claimed the meteor that hit Chelyabinsk was a failed American weapons test. 

In Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, Svoboda holds a smaller percentage of seats (36 out of 449) than the LDPR does in the Duma. 

The referendum will come out, likely with a pro-Russian slant. Russians make up the biggest ethnic group in Crimea, bigger than both the Muslim Tatar and Ukrainian populations. But this referendum is not what Ukraine, the European Union, or the United States wants. Rather, it is only the wishes of the Kremlin and pro-Kremlin Crimeans. President Putin and the Kremlin are not the only players who care about the fate of the Crimean peninsula. 

President Putin would be wise to retreat. The gains Putin hopes to make in Crimea pale in comparison to the problems that almost certainly will arise in regards to Russia’s perception abroad. Putin and the Kremlin speak of preventing fascism, yet their actions have been compared to that of Hitler’s annexing of the Sudetenland. 

Crimea should be allowed autonomy within Ukraine and the ability to elect representatives who represent their interests. And if their desire is a closer relationship with Russia, then so be it. As I mentioned before, I am not opposed to a strong Ukrainian-Russian relationship. However, there is a substantial difference between autonomy and a breach of Ukrainian sovereignty. If this referendum is to pass, sanctions will follow it that will outweigh Crimea’s economic assets. 

Let us remember that this is not 2008. While the war in Georgia may not have been quite as one-sided as this conflict, Russia still acted arrogantly and belligerently. The international community did not come to Georgia’s aid, and whether they should have remains up for debate. Ukraine, however, has shown a difference in opinion. This is not a tiny country of five million people that is often confused with the southeastern US state. This is a country of 45 million, the breadbasket of Eastern Europe-a vital actor on the European continent. 

To those protestors who oppose Russia’s intervention in Crimea: Keep speaking up. Your country needs you. Your Ukrainian brothers will thank you for it, as will your children, who, God willing, will inherit a modern, democratic Russia that enjoys an extensive fraternal  relationship with its Slavic and non-Slavic neighbors alike. A Russia that can be proud of herself and the changes it has engineered to improve from the past. A Russia that is welcoming to all peoples. 

Марш против Путина! За Русский народ! За родина! За свобода и новый день! Слава России! Героям слава! 

(This picture is not mine)

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