Two artists spoke to the world today addressing the war waged by Vladimir Putin against the people of Ukraine. One is a musician, Peter Gabriel. The other is Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an actor that was elected by a landslide to lead his country. What do artists inherently have in common? The ability to communicate and deliver ideas and vision.
We’ll start with the words of Peter Gabriel addressing this tragic and insane situation:
The United Nations was created in response to the devastation of World War Two. Reactions to this brutal war in Ukraine are snowballing all over the world. This horrific, totally unnecessary and barbaric invasion should encourage us to imagine something different for the future. Something that might prevent a repeat of what we are now watching with such impotence; possessing nuclear weapons doesn’t seem to be enough.
The nature of war is evolving, a panel on future warfare in Davos was asked how long a human might survive on a battlefield equipped with robots and AI? ‘Approximately 17 seconds’ came the reply. But this war is already a war like no other, with banks versus tanks, with smart social media disinformation campaigns, with the seizing of superyachts and the assets of Putin cronies, with the band of global hackers Anonymous taking on the might of the military cyber-squads. Minute by minute reports and troop movements are being logged on an open map by young people with their mobile phones. This invasion is also uniting ordinary families all over the world with tech companies, sporting events, fashion houses, fast food outlets and credit card companies, all of whom want to show that they detest this war – this bloodshed, this merciless violence. Meanwhile, one man’s angry and paranoid fantasy of recreating a long-gone empire relentlessly rolls forward over thousands of bodies, not only of Ukrainians that wanted peace, but the bodies of his young conscripts who never wanted to kill their neighbours. Now they lie side by side in the streets, along with the dreams and hopes of a remarkable and brave nation.
This was the same nation that Russia, the US and the UK had promised to respect and protect in 1994’s Budapest Memorandum – when Ukraine agreed to surrender their Soviet arsenal of nuclear weapons and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As an independent nation within the UN, Russia also pledged never to attack another independent UN nation, and that – along with its blatant disregard for the Geneva convention, attacks on civilians and hospitals and use of thermobaric and phosphorous munitions – should require it, at the very least, to surrender its place in the UN Security Council.
Perhaps one of the West’s greatest recent miscalculations was not to bring Russia closer to Europe and NATO when the gloves were off, as the Soviet Union collapsed, and grab the moment to cement a real alliance. When Putin first came to power he asked for a fast-track to join NATO, a request we were dumb not to have taken seriously.
If we ignore the minor blip of Brexit, this invasion of Ukraine has united Europe (and the UK) like nothing else in recent times and this in turn, along with all the unique characteristics of this war, is creating all sorts of opportunities. Although we failed to respond properly to attacks in Syria and the Yemen we can now see the Ukrainian flag appearing all around the world in all manner of situations, even making it hard for information-controlling governments like the Chinese to keep it hidden. It is also appearing in protests all over Russia. Russia is not the enemy of peace, it’s not even the Russian government or most of the military, it is Vladimir Putin. The UK, having left the EU, is now standing beside its centuries old enemy France, its 20th century nemesis Germany and a big majority of the world’s governments in condemning Putin’s brutal war. There are connections being made, or remade, that need to be explored and harvested while the time is ripe.
The shining example of how Germany transformed itself by integrating its former Soviet controlled East with its capitalist West should be our real inspiration here. Our fight is not with the Russian people but with their leader. This could be a perfect time to invite the Russian people, when they have chosen a different leader, to be part of a new stabilising power block that could bring together all the former Soviet countries with the European Union to form a new entity, mighty enough to balance even the emerging dominance of China. We have so much shared history and culture, so many land borders, so many reasons to collaborate, that we must make sure that this sort of barbarism can never happen again within our expanded borders.
In Japan, kintsugi is the art of repair. It translates as ‘join with gold.’ It is the broken pot, put back together with gold, that has greater value than the original whole pot. Rescuing something, or someone, from destruction, from the edge of the void and from worthlessness, gives it, or them, greater value. In the parable of the prodigal son, it is the broken brother who returns repaired, who is given the big feast, really pissing off the brother who had, all the time, stayed good and whole.
Once this brutality stops, let’s give peace a permanent expanded home in this part of the world by sending out our invitations to all the peoples of Europe, alongside all the peoples of the former Soviet Union, to move to create a new stabilising force: a Eur-Russopia, or EUSSR.
– Peter Gabriel
It is an interesting coincidence that artist Peter Gabriel’s suggested solution echo’s Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s proposal for an international peace coalition in his address today to the US Congress (linked below).
The ideas of inclusion and acceptance of “others” are always saner and conducive of peace. Exclusion leads in the other direction, invariably.
The words and ideas of artists do not often lead societies, but perhaps that is also something that should change.