On Friday 27th February, Durham PPE society, in affiliation with European Students for Liberty, hosted a series of talks called ‘Ukraine Crisis: Lessons learnt’ to mark a year since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in University College.
It was a really interesting event, and certainly got me thinking about the current crisis from angles I hadn’t really considered before. The first talk was given by Thomas Urban, a prominent German journalist, on ‘Is the crisis a European problem?’, focussing on Ukrainian national Identity. Something that Urban developed a lot in his talk was the role Ukraine’s marred history plays in the current situation.
For example, he showed how the different experiences of Eastern and Western Ukraine under Stalin, with Eastern Ukraine prospering more industrially than Western Ukraine, can be said to have led to Western Ukraine viewing the Soviet Regime with more suspicion perhaps than the East. The East-West divide is so much more than just a language and cultural divide, something really brought out in the talk.
Dr. Christian Schweiger, (Expert on CEE – Central and Eastern Europe, Durham University) continued the theme of the power of history in the current situation by turning the focus to Russia, looking at the post-communist transition of Ukraine and Russia. Schweiger spoke about the The Brezhnev doctrine of 1968, a doctrine which attempted to justify intervention in Eastern European countries on the basis that this was an act of defence if external actors were attempting to turn the development of a socialist country towards capitalism, and how Putin’s actions can be seen within the legacy of this mind-set.
Schweiger went on to give a fascinating overview of the post-Cold War enlargement of NATO, and of the increasing gulf between Russia and the European Union, which I felt really set the Ukraine crisis in a relatable and understandable context. It is so easy to lose the coherence of events like this, when broken down into snippets by different news channels and websites, and I think the great thing about the event was that it used historical perspectives to weave these different narratives together.
When I first arrived, I thought the ‘Lessons Learnt’ theme would be looking at lessons learnt with the regard to the crisis thus far. But having listened, I realised the point of the conference was examining lessons learned from the longer perspective of the Russo-Ukrainian relationship. Really thinking about Ukraine’s relationship with Russia, as well as Russia’s relationship with the West, in historical terms, made me approach the current crisis from a slightly different perspective than before. Credit goes to Durham’s PPE society for putting on such a great event.