A specter is haunting Europe again. This time it doesn’t show up as a topless woman with a gun in one hand and a red flag in the other. Well, the topless woman might still be there, but the specter puts the face of an WW II veteran, with cossack mustache and wearing a Waffen SS cap. Ukraine has become an unsolvable dilemma for liberal democracy. Whether Europe lets Putin have his way, or incorporates an uncontrollable revisionist movement, the outcome will be the same: challenging the moral consensus on which the present is built.
This moral/political consensus consists briefly in the concept that WW II was manichean conflict between a mad Axis and the Allied forces of good. However, there’s a lot of thrash swept under the red carpet (carpet bombing comes to mind) walked by the WW II victors, and there is lot of innocent blood on the other side.
During WW II, the nations of Eastern Europe faced the inescapable dilemma of choosing between Hitler and Stalin. One was no better than the other, but, under the circumstances, Stalin fought on the good side (sort of). However, Eastern Europe could not afford the luxury of a philosophical perspective. To the common peasant, the difference between the German soldier and the Red Army soldier was that the former did not pillage and rape (Hollywood history notwithstanding). To the business man, Germany meant fair trade agreements. To the generals, fighting along the Germans meant good strategy. The intellectual admired Kant, but considered Machiavelli. For what is worth, the Allied proved themselves equally machiavellian when dealing with Stalin the fate of Eastern Europe postbellum.
Ukraine is the biggest skeleton in the closet. During WW II, Ukraine was an occupied nation humiliated by Russian crypto-nationalism. Its once reach peasantry had experienced mass starvation and terror with the imposition of kolchoz economy. People perceived Operation Barbarossa as an unique chance to liberate themselves. After the victory, the Ukrainian (excuse my word) freedom-fighters turned themselves to the Allied to be, perhaps, prosecuted and tried by western standards. They were sent back to Stalin to be tortured and executed along with their families. It is the phantoms of these soldiers that are haunting now the Euromaidan.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to follow the example of Hamlet. Talk to the phantoms. Let the dead talk to us. “Time is out of joint”. “Something is rotten in Europe”. Let the dark secrets come back to life and shatter the self-righteousness of our moral order. Let Europe, the not so innocent Queen, face her shame, like Gertrude in Hamlet:
Gertrude: Hamlet, you split my heart in two.
Hamlet: Then throw away the worse part. Live with the pure.