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Will History Rhyme? Ukraine as Rwanda

The world is ignoring an impending humanitarian catastrophe.


This post first appeared on Russia Insider


Vladimir Golstein is Professor of Slavic Studies at Brown University, an American Ivy League university.  He contributed this comment to Russia Insider.

A country fears and resents a neighbor who has historically dominated it. Venting historical grievances, it mistreats its ethnic minority, which constitutes the majority of the neighbor’s population.

<figcaption>The world watches, says little, as Ukrainians are butchered</figcaption>
The world watches, says little, as Ukrainians are butchered

This neighbor sends an army across the border to protect its own ethnic group. In response, the invaded country launches a propaganda campaign, charging centuries of exploitation and abuse. The young are easily rallied to the call, ready to emulate the country’s heroes who died resisting the historic enemy. 

Dehumanization and demonization follow; it becomes common to refer to the hateful group as insects. And then, a plane explodes in the sky. Everyone on board is killed, and the country’s leaders leap at the chance to blame the hated minority.

In the ensuing lawlessness, road blocks appear where youth bands capture and interrogate anyone who passes by. Members of the hated minority are captured, tortured, and beaten to death.  The country plunges into one of the most gruesome genocidal attacks known to mankind.

This is the story of Rwanda, but I might as well be talking about the Ukraine.

The world watched, paralyzed by its own greed, petty politics, and ignorance while almost a million souls were violently separated from their disfigured bodies. The UN fiddled. American UN ambassador, Madeleine Albright, debated the definition of genocide.  England sabotaged resolutions and in fact, “tried to block an American proposal to send a fact finding mission when the death toll had reached 6 figures.” In short, business as usual, until Uganda, with the help of the Tutsi army, decided to invade and end the bloodbath.

The radical youth group that spearheaded the campaign (Interahamwe) (which means “those who attack together”) was instrumental not just in murdering Tutsis but also for intimidating regular Hutus, forcing them to participate in murders, murdering them when they refused. Local officials, church members, intellectuals were intimidated into participation. The violence of this youth group was motivated by a political vision of a glorious future. “The Interahamwe weren't fuelled by drink, drugs or mindless violence, but by fanatic dedication to a political cause”.

Many components of the Rwanda tragedy are in place in Ukraine today, and one wonders if we haven't reached the point of no return.

The removal from power of the legitimate if corrupt president who at least tried to keep the uneasy coalition of East and West of the country together, the ascent to power of an ultra-nationalistic government obsessed with rewriting history to fit its skewed vision of victimhood, its dehumanizing rhetoric, its violence against civilians, the impotence of the UN, European governments looking the other way - all find easy parallels with Rwanda.

Furthermore, nothing suggests that the Kiev government is capable of confronting the impending human disaster. The specter of ultra-nationalism, lawlessness, and violence haunts Ukraine and there are hardly any attempts to exorcise it. As in Rwanda, the civil war, a mind-boggling anti-Russian campaign, thousands of civilian victims and more than half a million refugees only fuel the flames.

Right Sector, the violent youth group that for all intents and purposes plays the role of Rwanda’s “Interahamwe” has already threatened to take over the government, while continuing its violent attacks on civilians, journalists, and politicians.

To see Right Sector as a fringe group is myopic. In May, several hundred of these thugs burned dozens alive in public view, and have thoroughly intimidated the traditionally independent-minded Odessa, a city of a million people.

A specialist on Khmer Rouge violence, the Belgium historian, Pierre Rychmans, observes “Contemporary history teaches us that all you need is one mentally sick individual, two ideologues and three hundred murderous thugs in order to take power and gag millions of people.” ( quoting Kazimierz Brandys)

The world has already watched with nonchalance as thousands of civilians were killed. The violent thugs of Right Sector and Svoboda keep on marching on Kiev, and demanding more and more accommodations to their unreconstructed Nazi ideology, including the recent use of force to demand official recognition as national heroes the founding fathers of the WW2 Ukrainian Nazi army, which gruesomely murdered and tortured Jews, Russians, and other minorities.

How long before a new wave of violence spreads, for history to rhyme?

 


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