This morning I watched a short clip of a young Ukrainian girl, Ankita Jain, singing Let it Go, from Frozen. She sang to her family and companions in an underground bomb shelter. It was heartbreaking, as I thought of my granddaughters, and other children around the world, singing this same song in the safety of their homes. I am sure parents and grandparents of small children everywhere will be as moved by this as I was.
There are common threads with children throughout the world nowadays that didn’t exist in the same way when we were young. The Harry Potter books, Disney movies and songs transcend language, place, and culture. We can be brought together through the childish delight of story, imagination, and dreams. And, of course, Russian children love these too, I am sure. But to see the fear and sadness on the faces of the Ukrainian children sheltering or running from Russian bombs is heartbreaking, and makes it very difficult to feel we can continue to sit and watch this war, without somehow taking more action. But how to do this without triggering something far worse?
In our creative writing courses, we are reflecting on the middle of things, on how beginnings, whether of events, stories, relationships, can be dramatic, full of hope, or, alternatively, as in Ukraine, dramatic but shocking. Endings bring things to a conclusion, either a happy one, disappointing maybe, or tragic. But the middle is where the uncertainty lies, where there are more questions than answers, where one doesn’t know whether the decisions and actions one is taking are the right ones or the wrong ones, whether they will lead one towards that happy conclusion or towards something one can’t even begin to imagine. And right now we are in the middle of things.
It made me think about how we can become desensitised to information when we watch it endlessly on television screens, and how important it is not to allow this to happen. We cannot let this war go into some kind of normality, because to be invaded and bombed by an aggressive neighbour with an occupying force is not something anybody deserves. We have become too complacent over recent decades, imagining, or not even bothering to think hard enough, about the fact that the world does throw up dictators from time to time and we need to be awake to that fact. Perhaps we were too comfortable, having reached a place in the free world where life is fairly easy for the majority, despite inequalities. Putin has never truly masked his intentions, for anybody looking.
It is important, of course, to give ourselves some respite from the ghastliness of this war, of watching the suffering of the Ukrainian people, the ruthlessness of Putin. It is important to enjoy the day we have been given ourselves, to be grateful for a home, a comfortable bed, hot running water, drinking water, working drains and food. Yet not to forget about what is happening in this not-so-distant country where people were enjoying all those same simple needs themselves only a short time ago. We cannot allow ourselves to be anesthetised to unfolding events. We must keep watching.
I hope that those who develop the legal and political structures and requirements of the institutions of government learn, yet again too late, that dictators should not be allowed to change a constitution to enable them to rule for long periods without a democratic vote. Francis Fukuyama wrote that the end of history might be said to have been reached by liberal democracy, but the reality is that we cannot ignore psychology or the human condition. To do so is both ignorant and naïve. There are bad people in this world, as has been witnessed in many different areas of the globe throughout history, for whom power is the goal. Yet again, government officials should review the checks and balances of their institutional systems to ensure that these people do not get into powerful positions where we end up in a state where one ruthless man paralyses the rest of the world into a position where they do not know what to do. I have written before about how wrong it is, in my opinion, that people can rise in politics without all the psychological profiling, qualifications and references that one needs to prove when applying for a job in business. There seems to be extraordinarily little professional development, 360 degree-feedback systems, or challenges to prevent the people who lead the countries of the world becoming bullies and dictators.
In this war, it is so difficult to know where there is a compromise to be had in this situation. As a Ukrainian said on the radio last week, if an invasion force came into the UK would you be happy just to give away Wales or Scotland? Of course not. So, the Russians should not be allowed to annex the Eastern areas without a democratic vote on the subject. Sanctions and actions against oligarchs may make an impact in the longer term though the oligarchs can be prey to the Kremlin’s henchmen too, of course, so may not have as much influence as is imagined.
A week ago, I was fretting about whether I could write certain things about free speech in my blogs. Today this seems petty, and yet it isn’t because what happens in our personal everyday lives remains important. But now the priority has changed, and I feel so helpless as I watch this young child sing in her bomb shelter, watch families run from the bombs. We give money, we sanction, we pray, but, in this middle part of this war, where we know not its outcome, we cannot let it go.