Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has forced many public figures to take sides. Ukrainians now have a clearer idea of who is friend and who is foe.
In one of his parables Jesus describes the Last Judgement as a sorting of souls: the sheep, who are the just, will go on his right; whereas the goats, the unjust, will go on his left. The sheep will have eternal life, and the goats eternal punishment.
It’s a quaintly rustic metaphor, suited to the pastoral society into which he incarnated. But the picture is clear.
Ukrainians also have their share of rustic metaphors, and the sheep-goat dichotomy speaks to many these days.
In fact, over the course of this war, as Ukraine has taken center stage in world affairs, not just politicians and celebrities, but also your next-door neighbors can easily be fit into the categories of either just or unjust. The sheep, in the eyes of Ukrainians, will hover eternally under a heavenly golden dome; whereas the goats will be doomed to spending eternity in the otherworld’s equivalent of a Siberian gulag’s outhouse.
Fortunately, Ukraine has many righteous supporters all over the world.
Without a doubt, the most popular foreign politician in Ukraine has been former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who channeled his inner Churchill and made several surprise visits to wartime Kyiv. Much to his dismay, Johnson was not as popular with his own people.
Joining Johnson are the leaders of the Baltic States and Poland, who have had to strongarm and shame Germany and France into giving Ukraine more aid.
Among intellectuals there are figures like French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who recently visited Ukraine again to see the mass grave in Izyum, Kharkiv Region. Always on the side of those who rise up against dictators, Lévy has never wavered in his support for Ukraine against Russia’s attempts to dominate it, and he has been a vocal supporter since at least 2013.
Yet a special place among the just should go to two American historians – Timothy Snyder and Anne Applebaum – who have consistently and tirelessly put to lie the relentless salvos of Russian propaganda and anti-Ukrainian historiography.
Applebaum has written an exhaustive book on the Holodomor, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, and regularly puts Putin-appeasers in their place with her thoughtful and rational arguments in The Atlantic.
Snyder, the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin as well as many other books covering Ukrainian history, should receive a Hero of Ukraine award for scholars. His steadfast commitment not only to the cause of the Ukrainian nation, but also in the struggle for democracy against all manner of authoritarian political systems is exemplary.
Other public figures who have championed Ukraine’s struggle against Russia in no uncertain terms are former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who told Kyiv Post in an exclusive interview: “We believe that the free world must do everything to help Ukraine win. There’s no other solution: Unconditional victory of Ukraine – and the unconditional defeat of Putin.”
Other celebrity supporters of Ukraine run a range from musician Sting to Leonardo DiCaprio to former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, whose adoptive mother, Camilla Evashchuk, was Ukrainian, hailing from Ternopil Region.
Unfortunately, Ukrainians also have their share of goats to deal with.
There are the politicians who have always been Putin lackies, like Belarusian dictator Aleksander Lukashenko. Others, like Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, lick Putin’s boots in a more insidiously ambivalent way.
Among intellectuals, the two heavyweights whose quotes all too often pepper the screeds of Russian propaganda, are Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky. Both of these men commit the same grave error in their analyses of the current situation: they deny Ukraine and the Ukrainian people agency – as if all that mattered were abstract “great powers” and the people involved were just negligible chaff.
Kissinger continues to see the world in terms of spheres of influence and has always automatically assumed that Ukraine is – and can only be – a mere satellite of one of those spheres.
Chomsky, on the other hand, seems to formulate all his political arguments around one basic assumption: Whatever the evil, it has to be America’s fault.
Ukraine’s grassroots rebellion puts a wrench in both these men’s top-down vision of politics. So, they simply dismiss it as an anomaly.
In the United States, the media has given inordinate attention to two particularly unseemly goats: Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who seem to stake out contrarian positions sympathetic to Putin as a matter of course.
In the same vein, there is the economist Jeffery Sachs, whose conspiratorial views seem to have been spawned from a cross between Chomsky and Carlson.
While there are few non-Russian celebrities willing to taint their reputations with pro-Putin propaganda, one figure stands out: Pink Floyd’s co-founder, Roger Waters, who spouts a sort of populist version of Chomsky’s “it’s all America’s (and Israel’s) fault” argument. To quote Michael Hnatyshyn, the inimitable social commentator and author of the historical novel The Road to Rus’, “It’s hard to believe that the guy who wrote most of the lyrics to Dark Side of the Moon is such a moron.”
The above-mentioned are merely some of the clear-cut sheep and goats in the eyes of Ukrainians. But there are those who have a special place on the razor’s edge between good and evil.
No-one has embodied this liminal zone better than Elon Musk. The billionaire entrepreneur has been crucial in supporting Ukraine’s war effort with donations of Starlink satellite communication systems. But recently he has begun tweeting Russian talking points about Ukraine conceding territory and allowing intrinsically bogus referenda to take place.
Musk wavers back and forth from goat to sheep like a shapeshifter, threatening to make Ukrainians pay for the previously donated satellites one minute, then withdrawing his threat the next.
Is Musk an ally or a Putin shill? A Judas? Or a prodigal son? Only time will tell. For now, he has earned a special place in the antechamber of a Dantean purgatory, where the promise of houris and dates vies with panoramas of particularly unpleasant circles of hell.
All of which is to say that Ukraine’s struggle against Russia is unique in many ways, but especially with regard to the fact that those of us alive have rarely seen a political conflict in which the ethical contours are so clearly defined.
It’s gotten to the point where Putin and his minions have stopped looking for putative Nazis in Ukraine and are now looking for Satan himself. And yet, the rest of the world knows those Putinites can find the deuce whenever they take a good look in the mirror.
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