If there is one thing that truly disgusts me in the world’s reaction to Russian aggression is the naivety of the abstract calls to “stop the war” – without clarification WHO must stop it and HOW.
Such attitude trivializes the immense ongoing suffering of people in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and many other Ukrainian cities and villages. Like it’s not a true genocide, not the most ruinous war in Europe since WWII, but a mere fistfight of some teenagers in the school yard: “Oh, Ukraine, why can’t you simply be friends with Rashiya?”
The Perpetrator VS the Victim
What’s even worse is that the abstractness of “Stop the war!” slogans creates a terribly false assumption that Russia and Ukraine are somehow similar or even equal participants of this tragedy. No, they are not. It is Russia that took away Crimea and parts of Donbas, it’s Russia that amassed 190 thousand soldiers on Ukrainian border, it’s Russia that launched the offensive on the 24th of February, it’s Russia that now destroys theatres and maternity hospitals, takes over the Ukrainian nuclear power stations and bombs Kyiv.
So, who exactly must stop the war? Saying “Stop the war!” makes little sense if you address Ukrainians. We would be all extremely happy if we could simply click some button and stop this war. But we can’t. Even if our government surrenders tomorrow, for most of us that will be only the beginning of the true hell of Russian occupation and the following introduction of their new totalitarian state on Ukrainian soil. Trust me, you wouldn’t care one bit if your hometown is bombed or not if you or your loved ones are taken to be tortured in GULAG.
(On this I would highly recommend reading Vaclav Havel’s article “Anatomy of reticence” where he destroys the notion of having “neutral states” in Europe as a means to prevent wars).
Only Russia could unilaterally “stop the war” – because, obviously (in a terribly optimistic theory) they could simply refuse to go on. If they wanted to, the Russian soldiers could turn around and go home. However, if the Ukrainian soldiers turn around, Ukraine will cease to exist, a new reign of terror will begin here. We can see its outlines in the cities already occupied by Russians: they kidnap democratically elected officials, torture journalists and deport Ukrainian refugees to some remote unknown towns in the middle of Russian nowhere.
However, even if the Russians could simply go away, that would also be terribly unjust – for the war has already begun, the immense damage has been already done, thousands of people killed, millions of lives ruined, at least in some way. So, it is not enough to simply “stop the war”. The perpetrator must be punished. Forced to pay reparations in full, forced to give up its nuclear arsenal, forced to reform itself.
The USSR wasn’t punished after the WWII for its atrocities and, emboldened, it waged numerous proxy wars with the West for half a century. The modern Russia wasn’t punished for wars in Chechnya and Georgia, nor was it punished for the occupation of Crimea or Transnistria, neither for the war crimes in Syria. Now you can see the consequences.
Maybe there is a similarity to a fight in the school yard after all… If Russia is a typical bully, it will stop doing what it does only when it is FORCED to stop. Only when it is sufficiently punished. And definitely not when it’s simply called to stop.
More Appropriate Slogans
What should then people around the world shout at the anti-war rallies? What should they write on their flags and placards? There are quite a few options. You can simply change “Stop the war” to “Stop Russia“. Because war isn’t a non-personalized force of nature that simply happens. War it is an action committed by a group of people against the others. Stopping the war is stopping the aggressor.
“Putin is a war criminal”, “Russia = terrorism”, “Isolate Russia”, “Stand With Ukraine”, “Pray for Ukraine” and many others would also be much better slogans than abstract calls to noone in particular for the currently obviously impossible peace.
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[…] could’ve been prevented. Unfortunately, while we hear an awful lot of pointless calls for “peace” the world powers behave not like they indeed want to put an end to this war (which can be achieved […]