The Progressive Post

Why would a Ukrainian victory be essential for Social Democracy?

Co-founder of the Centrum Im. Ignacego Daszyńskiego Foundation

One year has passed since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. On the morning of 24 February 2022, we woke up to a new reality that definitively ended the post-Cold War status quo. Russia, theoretically possessing the second most powerful army in the world, violated international law and began bombing military and civilian targets across Ukraine. 

Contrary to Kremlin propaganda, however, the Ukrainian workers and farmers did not throw themselves into the invaders’ arms. On the contrary, they resisted, often chasing confused soldiers out of their villages. Also, the Ukrainian army, trained after 2014 by Western experts, not only successfully defended Kyiv and Kharkiv but, after a few months, recaptured Kherson and hundreds of other towns and villages.

In early April 2022, the world learned about Russian war crimes in Bucha, Irpin, Borodianka and Hostomel. 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the soldiers of the Russian Federation used the same horrific metorture methodss their grandparents in the Soviet Red Army. The scale of degeneracy became clear when recordings of rapes (including of children) or castration of Ukrainian prisoners of war were published on social media. Death pits are still being found today, where Russian torturers also buried women and the elderly en masse. In addition, during the first months of the war, Russia carried out kidnappings and deportation of Ukrainian children into Russia, copying the practice of the German Third Reich, which did the same with Polish children from the Zamojszczyzna region during World War II. 

After several military defeats, Russia started bombing Ukrainian cities and destroying critical infrastructure. Almost every day, civilians are killed by Russian missile strikes and Iranian-built ‘kamikaze drones’, and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have no access to heat or electricity. Unable to break Ukraine’s spirit of resistance, Russia continuously threatens to use nuclear weapons, which, in turn, would mean a global nuclear conflict and annihilation for all.

Since the first hours of the Russian onslaught, the West has shown decisive solidarity with Ukraine. The European Union, the US, the UK, Canada and Japan have imposed unprecedented economic sanctions against Russia. Many NATO countries have begun supplying Ukraine with Soviet-made tanks and aircrafts, as well as modern air and missile defence systems. A vital role in this policy is played by European Social Democracy: Josep Borrell, Pedro Sánchez, António Costa, Magdalena Andersson, Mette Frederiksen, Sanna Marin and Olaf Scholz met with Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is on a mission to help Ukraine without directly involving NATO countries in the conflict. The Polish centre-left, whose members of Parliament, local government officials and party activists have rushed to help Ukrainian refugees, also deserves praise. All offices of the New Left (Nowa Lewica) in Poland have become aid centres. Polish progressive mayors have provided Ukrainian women and children with communal housing, organised collections of clothing and of all things necessary for a decent life. For this activity, the mayor of Warsaw’s Bielany district, Grzegorz Pietruczuk, was announced as FEPS’s Progressive Person of the Year in January 2023.

Social Democratic commitment to helping Ukraine and Ukrainians in the uneven fight against Putin’s Russia is axiological, based on the values we profess. Human rights, the international duty to protect the defenceless (the Responsibility to Protect or R2P), anti-imperialism and the fight against nationalism and xenophobia are in the DNA of progressives. Of course, Ukraine is not a symbol of a just and fair welfare state, as the country has adopted blatantly anti-worker laws since the war started. But in the face of the scale and perfidy of Russian crimes, any person whose political heart is on the left should, without hesitation, side with the victim, not the perpetrator.

Some on the European and American left made the deplorable and historic mistake of siding – more or less unwittingly – with Russia, blaming the outbreak of war on the US and NATO. In their manipulations, however, they forget that in Ukraine, NATO accession – even though it figures, since 2018, in the country’s constitution – never had a strong majority. And even if it had wanted to do so, guided by the principle of independence and state sovereignty, it would have had every right to do so. Justifying Russia’s actions with the argument that the West has somehow provoked the country is equivalent to the not less morally (and factually) wrong argument that Iraq had provoked its own invasion by the US and its allies in 2003. Opposition to US imperialism cannot limit itself to accepting the ideology of a ‘Russian world’ (русский мир, ‘Russkiy Mir’), which implies the right for Moscow to invade neighbouring countries.

The European Parliament and several European national parliaments describe today’s Russia as a country that supports terrorism. The government led despotically by Vladimir Putin represents the almost complete opposite of Social Democracy in its governing practice. Russia is an oligarchic country without independent and strong trade unions, where oppressive organs prosecute human rights organisations. In Russia, the Orthodox Church imposes a public moral order and promotes a patriarchal family model where women are subordinate. The Kremlin’s ‘politics of memory’ is a hybrid of the legacy of the tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union, with remnants of the messianic nature of Neo-Eurasianism shining through. According to this concept, Russia is a separate civilisation, with the leading role of Orthodoxy, lacking respect for the Western legal and political order. Russian government-controlled media ooze a dehumanising narrative of Ukrainians daily, often threatening Poland, the Baltic states, Germany, and even France and the UK with war for their military and political assistance to Ukraine.
European Social Democracy has passed a test of responsibility over the past year. It is catching up with many countries’ naïve foreign and security policy approaches. The Russian aggression against Ukraine showed that peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted and that significant threats in our European neighbourhood still exist. Germany’s SPD, for example, is at pains to acknowledge the failure of its naive policy toward Russia, based on a ‘change through trade’ approach. For many Social Democrats, the challenge is to change their attitude toward military and arms spending. After all, war is the downfall of humanity, in which the weakest, the poorest and the most vulnerable lose their lives first. The near future will pose a significant challenge for the European centre-left. To avoid further casualties, an end to the conflict on the Dnieper must be sought as soon as possible. With a victory for Ukraine!

Photo credits: European Parliament

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