The reality of war hits Russians – but not the Irish government
It is obvious that there is and has been considerable reaction against the ‘partial’ mobilisation or conscription of men in Russia for the war in Ukraine. Some of that reaction has included the torching of recruitment centres and, in one case, the shooting of a recruiting officer. While some men may feel it is their patriotic duty to go and ‘serve’ their country, many others are looking at how they can possibly avoid being drafted. In a move reminiscent of many men in the USA leaving that country to avoid the draft in the Vietnam war in the 1960s, many Russian men have been fleeing abroad. But women have been protesting too either on principle or because they do not want the men in their family to be cannon fodder. It represents a sad brain drain for Russia. While polling shows just over 70% of people still supporting the war, there are many qualifications to that support.
There were also a reported 1300 arrests in demonstrations following the mobilisation announcement. The mobilisation itself has not been well handled from the government point of view, and seems to have been targetting ethnic minorities and country people more than metropolitan white Russians – while in a rather despicable move some of those arrested for protesting have been served with call up papers as a penalty. While many Russians have been brainwashed by state control of the media, it is obvious to all that the fact there is this mobilisation means the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine has not been going to plan. The number of Russian soldiers already killed is uncertain, Ukraine claims it to be 55,000 but it is certainly far in excess of the figure, a tenth of that, admitted by the Russian state, and people in particular areas may know how many local people have died as soldiers and the real human cost of the war on their side.
Some in other parts of Europe are sceptical of people only showing their opposition to the war now. But this is largely mistaken. Of course it would have been desirable if more people had protested against the war earlier in Russia but at what cost? When the potential cost came, literally, knocking on their door then they had to make up their minds fast. It takes courage to go against the state in Russia and whether acting from principle or self interest (we do not recognise the concept of ‘cowardice’ in relation to militarism), it does not matter if men avoid the draft, the effect is the same, to undermine Putin’s war in Ukraine. And in such situations we are all likely to have mixed emotions, including a desire not to be killed or to kill people from a neighbouring country which has had extremely close links with ours.
All countries should provide safe passage and refuge for Russian war resisters, whoever they may be and whatever their reason for refusing to fight. It should not be too difficult for people to prove that they have been conscripted. Of course false conscription papers could be provided to Russian agents wanting to come to the west but the Russian state has rather a lot on its hands at home and in Ukraine at the moment.
It is uncertain how much Russian mobilisation will affect the course of the war, certainly in the short term. The fact that the war may be longer term brings up all sorts of issues about the final cost to both sides. And that includes a very significant cost to Russia in terms of lives lost and opportunity cost, mainly men from the bottom of the pile in Russia. We hear little, as part of deliberate policy, on the cost of the war in Ukrainian lives except for civilians, that is the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed, while the obliteration of whole towns and cities in Ukraine is staring us in the face.
Warnings or threats about using nuclear weapons, which have emanated from Putin and other senior Russian government figures, are reprehensible. The possibility of a cornered Russia, on the cusp of being defeated, using small ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons against Ukraine is an appalling prospect and one which cannot be ruled out even if the repercussions could be beyond the beyond. But let us get one fact straight; the very holding of nuclear weapons is a threat to humankind (they are held as a military threat) and totally reprehensible, and now also illegal. The western powers of the USA, Britain and France are all holders of massive amounts of nuclear weaponry. When do we hear prominent figures denouncing western nuclear weapons?
This brings us back to the coverage we have previously given to the possibility of nonviolent resistance to the Russian invasion. The longer the war goes on, the greater the cost in lives and the destruction of essential infrastructure. Ukrainians may well have felt they had no choice but to resist militarily. But that was not actually the only option. Nonviolent civilian resistance was, is, also a possibility. As stated in these pages, it would have had a different time frame but would have avoided the massive loss of life and destruction which has been part of this war.
There is also the question of how the war can end. The Irish government has paid €55 million for military aid to Ukraine though the European Peace Facility (sick) though admittedly for body armour and non-lethal supplies – however any army does not march on its bullets and bombs and needs such provisions as part of its total outlay, so the distinction from lethal supplies is academic. The Irish government could have been more usefully employed in looking at how the war could be brought to an end with a just solution.
Neither side has shown signs of being willing to have a ceasefire and negotiate which is why great creativity is needed by third parties who want the war to stop immediately, not parroting pro-war slogans like the Irish government. Of course this might include things like a fictitious ‘victory’ for Putin in such things as a guarantee of Ukrainian neutrality (likely to be part of a settlement anyway) but the government seems to studiously ignore Article 29 of the Constitution about the pacific resolution of conflicts which is both very sad and rather bad. The Irish government and elite has been gunning (sic) anyway to be part of NATO and EU militarism – they have attempted to leverage the war in Ukraine towards this. They could have been using their imaginations and explorations towards peaceful ends. The organising of a second military/arms fair in Dublin [see News section], with an outlandishly greenwashing name (including ‘Ecosystem’) is a further indication of where the Irish government’s heart lies.
All wars come to an end. What is most needed is governments and NGOs who stick their necks out to work on non-violent solutions, and press hard for them so belligerents, and aggressors, take note. Instead of playing a positive neutral role – militarily neutral but practically on the side of justice and peace – the Irish government has been content to be a cheer leader for a military ‘solution’ which look more like it could turn out to be something of a pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile the dangers of escalation and nuclear warfare are considerable. This all represents a massive amount of wasted potential by a supposedly neutral country whose constitution emphasises peaceful solutions.
The death of Queen Elizabeth and the perpetuation of the UK’s military-monarchical complex
Queen Elizabeth II was a dedicated and hardworking woman who fulfilled to the highest degree her understanding of the role which she occupied. And no one under the age of 75 would likely remember another monarch in the UK. She had a good grasp of current affairs and a sense of humour – something instanced by her interaction with Paddington – and was reputed to be a good mimic. She also led an extraordinarily privileged but circumscribed life, the latter perhaps contributing towards her love of dogs and horses who would not distinguish between a member of the royal family and a lesser human being.
The extraordinary ten day mourning period in the UK following her death was very revealing. The pomp and circumstance gave ordinary people an opportunity to mourn her death but it also upheld the status quo of the country and the transition to a new monarch. At most times it looked like too many of those involved in the ceremonies chose unwisely from an extravagant dressing up box. But, as with Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee (celebration of 70 years as queen) the presence of the military, and military symbolism, was everywhere – she was titular head of the armed forces. Even her four mourning children, following her coffin in Scotland, were all dressed in military uniform, except for Prince Andrew and that was only because he has been in disgrace for sexual abuse and/or rape (and whose military titles were removed to avoid tarnishing the military brands he was associated with); they were all in military uniform for a short vigil around her coffin in London.
Much of the set pieces for the monarch’s funeral process were not ancient traditions but dated from the early 20th century. When there is an emotional but also potentially divisive happening it is extremely difficult for it to be marked or celebrated in a way which satisfies supporters but does not make others feel something is being stuffed down their throat (and BBC main news could be half an hour of what was happening after the Queen’s death, five minutes on the war in Ukraine which was going through a critical phase, before returning to more news of the obsequies).
All of this impacts on Northern Ireland. While Queen Elizabeth is considered a reconciling figure to some extent because of her reaching out to both sides in the North, and her visiting of the Republic and what she did there, royalty in the North is a deeply divisive matter. Most Protestants and a considerable majority of unionists in Northern Ireland would be royalists and monarchists, and some few Catholics as well. There is also the ‘celebrity factor’ of those who follow the rich, famous and powerful. But the more one identity is emphasised by the state – as with the obsequies for Queen Elizabeth – the more divisive it is. Obviously the whole matter is divisive for the considerable minority in Britain who are not monarchists but it has further ramifications in the North where by definition of identity up to half of the people are excluded.
The military-religious-royal complex of the past in the UK, the alignment between these forces – the armed forces, the church, and the royals – and the buttressing which each gave the other, has changed somewhat insofar as British society is now very largely secular. The position of the Church of England, and the monarch being the titular head of it, is wholly anachronistic and unworthy of a modern state. The Church of England is still a part of the establishment in a minor way but the military-royal complex continues unabated. The non-military involvement in the pageantry presented after Queen Elizabeth’s death was exremely limited and most parts of the public mourning was a festival of militarism. The queen’s aura was cast over the military, and the military spectacle in turn emphasised the importance of the monarchy. The military-royal complex, or military-monarchical complex to give it a bit of alliteration, is alive and well.
Although relatively minor as mentioned above, the Church of England/Christian aspect of it all is rather unsettling. How any church got from ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ words of Jesus through to outright support for militarism is difficult to comprehend. To anyone believing in peace and nonviolence, all the military trappings are an insult to the deceased person as well as a militarist drug for the masses. We return, as we frequently do, to Gandhi’s saying that the only people who do not believe Jesus and his teachings are nonviolent are Christians. Queen Elizabeth was an enthusiastic member, and titular head, of the Church of England so it is highly appropriate that they should be involved in her funeral arrangements but that is not what we are talking about.
The UK is the European country, or certainly one of only a couple (and we include Russia in this), most likely to be at war at any time. Its colonial wars on freedom fighters in its colonies may be substantially a thing of the past but it has been a participant in various other recent wars including Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which have been completely disastrous for the countries and regions involved, as well, for example, involvement in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya which has also had violent and destabilising consequences. The UK remains a nuclear armed state which has engaged in sabre rattling, e.g. in the South China Sea, and in illegal drone strikes to kill islamist militants..
The class system in the UK, and economic inequality, is among the worst in Europe. While Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly had a strong sense of noblesse oblige, the fact is that the monarchy is one of the bastions of inequality, and part of the circus element of bread (sometimes dread) and circuses which keeps such inequality at least partly palatable to people. Unintentional it may be but the recent mourning period for Queen Elizabeth was a distraction from the real issues including energy prices and resultant poverty which face people.
There are also matters of free speech associated with the aftermath of Queen Elizabeth’s death and the transition to a new monarch. There were instances of people arrested for mildly proclaiming alternative views. There are also more who feel their free speech was constrained by the oppressive faux-consensus and the threat of violence. However there is also an issue of ‘nonviolent communication’ to be taken into account; challenging people’s views when they are mourning, albeit for someone they have probably never met, is unlikely to be the best way to get people to question the establishment orthodoxy. It would be better for them to wait but free speech should apply for those who feel they cannot do so. And, as with all divisive issues in Northern Ireland (it goes with the territory or the territorial division) some people, on all sides, resort to mockery which is extremely insensitive and divisive.
The people of the UK are, of course, free to choose what they want in terms of government and social and state structures. But an antiquated and unjust electoral system (the first past the post voting system is very distorting of anything that can be considered remotely to be ‘the will of the people’) has facilitated right wing whirlwind change under Margaret Thatcher and more recent Tory prime ministers.
Queen Elizabeth rarely put a foot wrong in terms of the establishment’s view of her role. People from countries colonised by Britain are likely to have a more nuanced view. The recent royal obsequies were also about the transfer of power and prestige from one monarch to another and thus ensuring passive stability. It remains to be seen how King Charles III will exercise his role, and how popular he will prove with his subjects. Charles’ vocal and long term support for environmentalism (in theory if not necessarily in practice) should not hide the fact that the monarchy in Britain remains a bastion of class division, privilege, and militarism.
There are many things which the people of Britain can be proud about, and many things which unionists in Northern Ireland can appropriately celebrate in terms of the Northern Ireland link to Britain in the United Kingdom (but rarely do so). Such things were invisible in the mourning and funeral process, with people in some cases queueing for nearly a day to pass her coffin, and the effect of such concentration on the very apex of British society is anti-egalitarian. This has unfortunate consequences in a country where the health service, social security and economy were once in good shape by international standards and served the people relatively well but have been declining rapidly and are failing the people they should be helping.