The Long Road to Ukraine
At the age of nine, Frank Furedi experienced a historical event that he would never forget. The Soviet Army crushed the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, forcing Furedi and his family to flee their homeland. The memory of this event affected him strongly throughout the remainder of his life. As a result, in the spring of… The post The Long Road to Ukraine appeared first on VoegelinView.




At the age of nine, Frank Furedi experienced a historical event that he would never forget. The Soviet Army crushed the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, forcing Furedi and his family to flee their homeland. The memory of this event affected him strongly throughout the remainder of his life. As a result, in the spring of 2022, his observation of the refugees from Ukraine entering the now independent Hungary affected him both personally and in broader terms. It seemed like history had not merely returned, as some commentators insisted, but that it had never really departed in the first place. History entails both continuity and change that must be understood to appropriately respond to events and to the world we live in. This is one of the strongest messages in Furedi’s recent book The Road to Ukraine, written while the war only two months underway.
Furedi is a British sociologist with wide-ranging interests both within and outside his field. He is a scholar with a strong historical sense, which is evident in his analysis of what he calls a “culture of fear.” In his recent book on this subject, How Fear Works (2019), Furedi claims that a culture of fear, including various forms of competitive scaremongering, is a characteristic mark of this century in the Western world. He persuasively insists that, “[p]aradoxically, the contestation of moral authority, and the weakening of the moral consensus of what to fear, intensify the tendency to moralize threat.”[1] This has a considerable effect on how the past is interpreted: “The mentality it cultivates is one that regards the past as a scary and ignoble succession of events, where humanity lacks not only direction but any redeemable qualities.”[2] And so, “[t]he shift of focus from the historical hero to the survivor of history mirrors the trend towards the emergence of the fragile and vulnerable subject as the central character in the culture of fear.”[3] Such remarks capture issues that are explored at length in Furedi’s work. Moreover, this work is the second in a series that teaches how the consequences of the First World War are still with us.[4]
As the subtitle implies, the war in Ukraine helps explain how the West lost its way. The lack of a sense of history is among the primary causes of the problematic disorientation that Furedi perceives. This is a problem to which the Ukrainians, with their heroic effort against a merciless aggressor, help to illuminate through contrast. The second book I will look at, The Conflict in Ukraine, written by Ukrainian author Serhy Yekelchyk shortly after the Russians initially invaded his country in 2014, helps in understanding the actual history of the attacked country which Furedi barely touches. It is also a reminder that the current war is a radically intensified continuation of the earlier invasion, which was carried on in a hybrid fashion — hardly noted for some time by the mainstream media.
Furedi’s stay in Hungary occurred shortly after the current, more drastic stage of war broke out in February 2022, and it included a visit to a small village on the Ukrainian side of the border. At the time the conflagration had not yet had a great effect within it but nonetheless many refugees had gathered there. Here Furedi spoke with elder Hungarian villagers who remembered the various changes of borders within their lifetime. This showed Furedi that the ordinary people of his country of origin had a strong historical sense, and this further reinforced his conviction that, in contrast, Western elites had an impoverished historical sense — a kind of “historical amnesia.” Much of his book is an exploration of this phenomenon and how it affects the West.
The author begins his exploration of the historical amnesia of the West by noting that, when the war broke out, numerous experts and policymakers remarked that the renewed invasion was a wakeup call forcing them “to catch up with the realities of a new era.” For Furedi, however, “it often seems they [were] not so much catching up with present day realities but very slowly catching up with the past” (p. 15). The author observes that historical amnesia desensitizes people to historical processes that are always with us. In addition, it is often accompanied by an overbearing sense of the superiority of the present over a past, which some have referred to as “the bad old days.” An ahistorical sensibility was present throughout much of the twentieth century, but it gained full momentum after the Cold War concluded and many assumed that history had come to an end. This ahistorical sensibility crossed political lines. George W. Bush, for instance, talked about the emergence of a New World Order as early as 1990. And despite the current crisis, such assumptions have not been fully disposed of by contemporary political leaders.
Among the symptoms of this historical amnesia in the West is the frequent tendency to read the past “backward” without accounting for historical specificity. After the recent invasion, an American trend was to look at the event as an extension of the Cold War. This was understandable, one might add, considering Putin’s earlier reference to the tragedy of the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Furedi places emphasis on the greater geopolitical complexity of these times, which are no longer bipolar, with a greater number of major players in the world. Consequently, he suggests a better analogy is to be found in the complex years leading up to the First World War. “If anything,” Furedi writes, “the situation is even more complicated than in the early part of the 20th century” (p. 19).
Part of the complexity stems from divisions within the West. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the West lost one of its main sources of legitimacy. The assumed unity that had prevailed in the West during the Cold War devolved into divisions and cultural conflicts. It was soon realized that the West had understood itself primarily in contrast with its opponent rather than in terms of a positive model of the common good. Unfortunately, this awareness did not lead to overcoming the problem. For similar reasons the post-Cold War malaise also affected the EU, leading among other things to a technocratic governance blunting democratic procedure. Furedi agrees with those who have identified this crisis with a loss of meaning in the West. One pertinent report in this vein even notes that the lack of social cohesion and agreement about fundamental values possesses similarities to the situation before the outbreak of the First World War. This is an approach that helps understand the context of “the project for framing the current conflict in Ukraine as Cold War 2.0.” Furedi warns, however, that “the quest for legitimacy by the West may well lead to outcomes that may contradict the interests of the people of Ukraine” (p. 31).
A key factor in the effectiveness of Ukrainian resistance to aggressive Russian imperialism is the willingness of the country’s citizens to die for its sovereignty. This is largely incomprehensible in the West, where such willingness is virtually absent. Furedi persuasively argues that, contrary to expert opinion, the diminishing sense of the value of duty, patriotism, altruistic sacrifice and risk-taking “are underpinned by a sense of cultural disorientation rather than prosperity” (p. 33). He points to the differences in prosperous European societies, such as in Finland, where 74 percent of citizens surveyed indicated they would be willing to fight for their country, as opposed to the Dutch, where a mere 15 percent declared such willingness. In their willingness to die for the sovereignty of their country, the Finns are not altogether different from the Ukrainians. Furedi indicates that a key reason Ukrainians have demonstrated such a fighting spirit is their sense of nationhood, which has been solidified to a great extent especially after Russia’s recent attack and seizure of Crimea in 2014. A sovereign sense of history is, for the Ukrainians, something crucial. Furedi cites Ukrainian scholar Giorgij Kasianov, who in an article in Foreign Affairs states: “Ukrainians see their existence in time and space as resting on this vision of a sovereign history, emancipated from Russia.”[5]
The fact that people in the West have lost this sovereign sense of history stems from the ideology of globalization, which has eroded historical memory. Besides being a descriptive concept that deals with the internationalization of cultural and economic life, Furedi notes that globalization “has also mutated into an ideology that elevates the status of international institutions and devaluates the role of national governments” (p. 4). For ideologues of globalization, the old idea of patriotism and the celebration of local or national communities is nonsensical. Cosmopolitanism within a borderless world is instead seen as the solution, and national histories are seen as counterproductive. This has resulted, ultimately, in an attack on heroes and heroic enterprises. This has even affected the army, where risk reduction is considered crucial.
One might add that the responsibility for everyone that cosmopolitanism implies leads to responsibility for no one, which also helps explain the lack of willingness to fight for one’s neighbors. As Furedi notes, “Many Western supporters of Ukraine stop short of offering genuine and unconditional backing for the right of this nation to exercise its sovereignty. There are frequent calls by the West to ‘accept reality in Ukraine’” (p. 54).
An important source of the misunderstanding of the past is presentism — an idea that affects not only politicians but also other cultural elites.[6] This absence of a sense of the past leads to errors by policymakers. Presentism assumes that historical events, even recent ones, “are confined to a folder in the archives marked the past.” Furedi notes how right up to the last moment “so many commentators concluded that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 did not necessarily serve as a precedent for conflict in the future” (p. 61). It is worth adding that commentators are one thing, but European politicians intensifying commercial relations after that invasion and thus partially financing the current one is quite another. Moreover, in Western Europe what Furedi terms a Year Zero historical policy is forwarded based on the bestiality of its history during World War Two. This also leads to a selective approach by the EU to the history of its newer members.[7] For instance, in the House of European History in Brussels, opened in 2017, which Furedi points to as an instrument of Year Zero historical policy, post-World War Two events in Central Europe were left out. This includes, of course, events like the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 that forced the author’s family to flee their country, as well as a similar invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.[8] Such events help explain why there is a stronger sense of sovereign history in Central Europe, a sense that is incomprehensible and even denigrated by the major power players in Brussels and much of Western Europe.
Presentism degrades the past and promotes idiosyncratic values in the present. Furedi points out that in the British State, institutions ignore historically significant ideas that made it possible to defend the state in the past. Thus, the Ministry of Defense has “fallen prey to the fashionable fads associated with identity politics.” By the time of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, British soldiers were engaged in campaigns in this vein. “Confronted with the infantilised behaviour of these soldiers,” Furedi concludes, “one is reminded of [the] warning [issued] by the Roman philosopher Cicero when he stated, ‘to remain ignorant of history is to remain forever a child’” (p. 70).
Among the important features of a national community is the nature of the relationship between citizens. To give some idea of the nature of these it is worth looking at the problem of trust within the nation, which cannot be developed without internal relationships at the personal and institutional levels. In Trust: A History (2014), Geoffrey Hosking has indicated that the basic unit of trust in a community is the family: from this basic unit the rings of trust expand outward to the larger nation. Hosking looks at the EU and its modestly successful attempts at providing “a broader radius of trust” for its older and newer members. At the same time, however, he also points out that when a crisis breaks out, the people of various national communities look to their own nation-states for solutions and protection, a point made even more evident by Ukraine’s response to Russian aggression. Hosking adds that with all its resources more finely attuned to its citizens’ needs, the nation-state will probably “outbid all rivals in providing a focus for different kinds of trust for the foreseeable future.”[9] Trust is thus an element of creating a larger community conducive to the good life, but it can only be spread out so far while remaining a relevant social force. This relates to a further reason for the damaging nature of cosmopolitanism, as well as why it is troubling that globalization ideologues have no understanding for the resurgence of the nation-state, including in matters of security and defense.
At this point it is worth looking more closely at that sovereign history which plays a role in Ukrainian resistance to aggressive Russian imperialism. A good place to start is in Serhy Yekelchyk’s The Conflict in Ukraine of 2015. The Ukrainians were largely unprepared for the Russian invasion a year earlier, but in response they rapidly prepared themselves for the present war since they knew the long-lasting imperialist inclinations of their aggressor. Crucially, they also had a good sense of who they were despite the complications of their history. Yekelchyk, born in Ukraine, is currently a historian at a Canadian university. His book is written to explain the plight of the Ukrainians and to communicate the idea of the Ukrainian’s sovereign sense of history to people of the West, many of whom knew little about what had happened in his country. A substantial part of Yekelchyk’s work is an identity history from a national perspective.[10]
Yekelchyk also gives a clear picture of contemporary Russian identity, from a top-down perspective dictated by Putin. “The ideology of the Putin regime is devoid of communist elements,” he notes, “but it valorizes Russia’s past as a great power, be it in tsarist or Soviet times. It is the loss of great-power status and empire that explains the Putin regime’s negative view of the Soviet Union’s dissolution” (p. 8). This explains Russia’s attitude to the West and why Ukraine serves as a battleground between them, an explanation that has gained even greater validity.
At the time the book was written significant divisions still existed within Ukraine. Among other things, these divisions reflected its twentieth century history, which, as Yekelchyk explain, have been calmed amid the most recent phrase of aggression. In the interwar period, Ukraine announced its independence in 1918. Yet in the lands of the former Habsburg and Russian empires, the part of their lands that was not taken over by the Soviet Union was divided among Poland, Hungary, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia. Ukraine was “united” under Soviet rule after World War II, but subject to indoctrination and “fraternal relations” with Russia. A Polish reader of the book will recognize the ironic connotations of such phrases, demonstrating Orwellian newspeak. And even in the interwar period, despite the creation of their own Soviet republic, during the collectivization of farmland Ukrainians experienced the Holodomor, where millions of them died. Ukrainians were not alone in suffering the deadly effects of this phase of Stalinization, but it is estimated that approximately half the deaths were theirs despite the considerably smaller portion of the Ukrainian population in the USSR at that time.
According to historian Norman Davies, Ukrainians have spent more time in their history under Polish dominion than Russian, which explains much of the difference between the two peoples. The historical connection of Ukrainians with the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth stems from the Lithuanians wrestling a number of Ukrainian lands from the Mongol rulers that had occupied Kyivan Rus — which had included Moscow, but that remained under Mongol domination till its end. When the Grand Duchy of Lithuania formally united with the Kingdom of Poland in the sixteenth century, the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was created. This Polish rule over the Ukrainians was quite different from the imperialist Russian rule to which ever increasing parts of the Ukrainian populace ended up being subjugated to from the late seventeenth century onward. Under Russian rule, eventually much of its culture was banned within the polity. As Yekelchyk writes, “unlike Muscovy, Poland professed religious tolerance and allowed a significant Jewish population to reside within its borders.” Significantly, he continues, “Ukraine’s historical relations with Poland and other Western neighbors had a profound and lasting impact” (p. 26). As evidence of this claim, the author mentions the multinational heritage of cities like Lviv. The Ukrainian lands that remained under the Polish rule and then that of the Habsburg Empire—one of the partitioners of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth—received a different exercise of political culture than those under imperialist Russia. Here Ukrainian cultural life was able to flourish.
Ukrainian history becomes more complicated during the Second World War and Yekelchyk is not afraid to deal with dark cards from that period, noting that Putin has used this in an exaggerated fashion in his historical propaganda regarding the Ukrainian Euromaidan activists. The same is true of Putin’s use of history in the current phase of the war. Since Ukraine was not included in the expansion of the EU to post-communist countries, its path since finally gaining its independence in 1991 has been even more difficult than that of such countries as Poland, and this is all explained with clarity in The Conflict in Ukraine. All in all, this work is a praiseworthy effort by the author to explain a complicated history and present. Yekelchyk concludes with an evaluation of the earlier stage of the conflict that from today’s perspective seems prophetic:
Viewed from a longer historical perspective, it is clear that the crisis in Ukraine is only masquerading as ethnic strife. It is a conflict over what type of a state and society will develop in the post-Soviet political space, and a part of Putin’s challenge to the unipolar world order that emerged after the Cold War. (p. 166)
Among the more obvious historical lessons of the current war is that, at present, soft power is not enough. The overreliance on this kind of force, together with mere economic leverage, is among the factors that led to a security crisis in Europe. The closer a country is to the Ukrainian border — not to mention the Russian border — the more intensely it is felt, reminding us that rearmament is one of the key solutions. However, in his conclusions Furedi raises the following additional matter: “The consequences of historical amnesia, (. . .) and the neglect of the importance of traditional boundaries, both national and cultural, have led to the moral disarmament of the West” (p. 92). As important as rearming the countries of the West may be, continues Furedi, “[w]hat matters today is not so much military but moral rearmament. (. . .) Recovering a sense of historical consciousness is the precondition for the Western world to acquire the ability to play a mature and responsible role in global affairs” (p. 98). The moral rearmament he recommends is not the same as soft power, since it does not deny the need for hard power but instead puts it in proper perspective. Nevertheless, the paradox in Europe — with its EU technocrats — seems to be that moral rearmament is a prerequisite to understanding the need for real military rearmament.[11] Such a moral rearmament is not only necessary for Europe and the security of its members, but also for the sake of Ukraine. If victory occurs, it will not necessarily bring lasting peace. History will undoubtedly continue, even under the most optimistic of potential circumstances.


The Road to Ukraine: How the West Lost Its Way
By Frank Furdei
Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022; 114pp.
The Conflict in Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know
By Serhy Yekelchyk
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015; 208pp.


[1] Frank Furedi, How Fear Works: Culture of Fear in the 21st Century (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 119.
[2] Furedi, How Fear Works, 238, 239.
[3] Furedi, How Fear Works, 239.
[4] Frank Furedi, First World War: Still No End in Sight (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).
[5] I am providing the link to the full article: Georgiy Kasianov, “The War Over Ukrainian Identity: Nationalism, Russian Imperialism, and the Quest to Define Ukraine’s History,” Foreign Affairs Magazine, May 4, 2022, <>.
[6] The cultural elites Furedi describes are similar to the meritocracy of Michael Sandel’s study: see Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? (London: Allen Lane, 2020).
[7] See Frank Furedi, Populism and the European Culture Wars: The Conflict of Values between Hungary and the EU (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), chapter 4.
[8] See Christopher Garbowski, “The Polish Debate on the House of European History in Brussels,” The Polish Review 64, no. 4 (2020): 60-70.
[9] Geoffrey Hosking, Trust: A History (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 194.
[10] For an explanation of identity history, see Donald Bloxham, Why History?: A History (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2020).
[11] Unsurprisingly countries on the eastern flank of NATO are increasing their expenditure on their military, in some case quite vigorously; see, for instance, Matthew Karnitschinig and Wojciech Kość, “Meet Europe’s Coming Military Superpower: Poland,” Politico, November 21, 2022,  <>.

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