Timothy Snyder is an American historian who has been researching the tragic history of the Eastern Europe for many years. He equates Hitler’s Holocaust with Stalin’s repressions in terms of consequences for the peoples of this region.
Snyder is confident that the international situation is currently very favourable for Ukraine and that we should use this chance ‘as if it is the last one’. While Snyder thinks that Brexit will create grave problems for the Great Britain and might even lead to the country’s disintegration, he is optimistic about the European future of Ukraine.
First and the most important human capacity is the capacity to take things for granted. So, the British have all of these wonderful privileges and rights associated with Europe and they just don’t remember what it was like not to have these things. Now that they are going to need passports and visas to travel, now that their companies are going to have to renegotiate all of their agreements with all the other European countries — now they are going to remember all these things that they have lost. So human psychology is the first thing. We take things for granted.
Ukraine has to function as a state, but also has to be a part of Europe, and this is what the English is going to find out. If this happens, if they leave the European Union, and then Great Britain collapses, which I think is very likely, they are going to be all by themselves, as a small nation state, and they are going to suffer.
I think it is not going to lead to the end of the European Union. I do think it is going to lead to some kind of different Europe. What kind of Europe that would be, I think, here it is very important to stress that a lot of it is going to depend on choices that people make in the next year or the next two years, and it depends more on East Europeans than you realize, even more on the Ukrainians than you realize. Because if the East Europeans, the Poles, the Hungarians, said: “well, this just shows that European Union does not make any sense” — that is going to hurt the European Union, but if people of Eastern Europe say: “no, we still believe the European project has a future, just a different future” — that will help.
I think it is very important for the Ukrainians to say: “the things that Europe stands for in general, like civil society, the rule of law, competitive markets, functional states — we are in favor of those general things. Yes, we like the rules of the game. If this or that country is a member of the EU, that is not so important. What is important, is that we like the general project” and I think saying that is good for Ukraine, but also I think it is good for Europe. I mean, Europe needs all the help it can get all the time and it may not seem so, but things that happen in the East also have a certain reflection back in the West.
So, in general, I think that the biggest problem with democracy in the world is one that the ancient Greeks already predicted. The ancient Greeks said: “the problem with democracy is that it always becomes an oligarchy, so if you do not like oligarchy, you cannot have the democracy.” And this is our problem in America.
I see Trump as the problem of all oligarchical populism. Like, once, people believe that all that matters is money and that everyone is corrupt. Then, the worst populists becomes successful. Now, that said, I should also say that I think he is going to get killed, he is going to get crushed in the elections this fall. I think he is going to be very soundly defeated.
I think Ukraine disappeared from the radars already before Brexit. There was a moment when Ukraine was a ‘crisis’, that’s been over for more than a year, and now there is a moment when Ukraine is a ‘problem’, and whether that will change depends upon Ukrainians themselves at this point.
You have been demoted from crisis to problem and once you have been defined as a ‘problem’, the only way to get out is by way of your own efforts. So, to put it a different way, I don’t want you to be a crisis again, because that means that Russia has invaded you another time or you had another Maidan. And I don’t want that to happen, I want there to be a peaceful and slow improvement in Ukraine. And the thing is, if there is peaceful, slow, gradual improvement and a rule of law in Ukraine, then the Europeans start to care because then there are conditions for foreign investment, then the political interest follows and then you have a chance of joining the European Union.
Soviet inheritance is a major problem in all kinds of ways: the Soviet inheritance discourages individual responsibility. The Soviet inheritance is one of vertical patron-client relationships which work in a Soviet-style state and worked in Soviet Ukraine, but don’t allow for pluralism or economic development.
It’s true that in the 1930s, many of the best people on the territory of this country were killed. And in the famine very often it was the best people who died first. In the terror, it was very often that the most interesting Ukrainians who were killed and then there was WW2, which was another demographic horror for Ukraine.
The natural final step of communism is oligarchy. And the question that is the main problem of Ukraine is “how you get over the present state of corruption to something new, to something which is normal by European standards.”
I am a historian and the reason why I find Ukraine so interesting is because there are so many unanswered historical questions, so many sources that have yet to be read, so many ways that Ukraine is a typical European history but more so, more profoundly.