There are some songs and tunes which always have given me goose-bumps. « Russians » by Sting (1985) is obviously one of them. These were the times of Cold War, when America was (already) allegedly « back » under Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The Vietnam war trauma was officially gone and the US were deliberately accelerating the arms race, at a pace the Soviet Union would eventually be unable to follow. Still, not everyone in the Western countries, by far, would endorse this confrontational attitude. Noticeably in Europe where, for instance in Germany, huge crowds demonstrated against the installation of US Pershing missiles in response to the earlier deployment, by the Warsaw Pact forces, of SS-20 rockets – the « Euromissiles crisis ». So was the context of Sting’s « Russians », a song that beautifully advocated for an end to this confrontation – « Mr Reagan says we will protect you/I don’t subscribe to this point of view » and « there’s no such thing as a winnable war/it’s a lie we don’t believe anymore ». At the end of the day, « what might save us, me and you/is if the Russians love their children too ».
Indeed: apart from some freaks, who doesn’t love one’s children? And it was more than meaningful to expect that any Russian would want to « save (his/her) little boy/from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy ». Because it was kind of obvious to all, back then, that any serious confrontation in Europe would end-up with a general nuclear holocaust. In this « zero/one » alternative, pacifists would go for the « zero » option, assuming that from Moscow to East-Berlin no-one really intended to use the humongous amount of military power the « socialist camp » had also accumulated over the years since, quoting Sting again, « there is no monopoly of common sense/on either side of the political fence ». Was it too strong an assumption? No-one can tell, now, even though, as French President François Mitterrand pointed out to justify his support to the Pershing missiles deployment: « The pacifists are in the West, the missiles are in the East » – no massive anti-militarist demonstration of any kind, ever, beyond the iron curtain.
Almost four decades later, Sting’s words ring in a weird way. It’s been over five months today that Russian forces have unilaterally spread death and desolation in Ukraine, in an attempt to prevent it from getting closer to the EU, to the « decadent West », i.e. away from Moscow’s control. A week back I was walking along a street in Napoli and I picked-up a half-torn poster on a wall, calling for a pacifist event of some kind: from what I got it said : « Against Russian aggression and NATO imperialism« . I’ve been perceiving this kind of « equal sign » also at a Geneva University amphitheater, when members of the « marxist students association » called for a meeting explaining that this war was all about capitalist interests conflicting at the expense of the peoples of Russia and Ukraine.
Come on, guys, give me a break, give me a fucking break. That Ukrainian politicians haven’t necessarily been always very smart in their foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia over the last thirty years, that some Ukrainian oligarchs are so rotten that they could fertilize the Sinai, that the Western powers under-estimated the Russian frustrations, assuming that joining the brave new world of free-trade and endless profit was good enough to be optimistic, nobody or almost denies it. But we’re talking about a military agression here. We’re talking about deaths by thousands and the devastation of entire cities, we’re talking about millions of refugees. « NATO imperialism » may sound fine on a poster, but try and think, for once: who in the US – the heart and brain of the NATO – can reasonably advocate for finding ways to spend more money and have more « boots on the ground » in Europe, when Asia-Pacific has been agreed being a priority for the Pentagon? Fact of life is that a NATO membership is the nearest thing to an insurance policy against a Russian aggression, for many countries that have historical reasons to believe that Russian aggressions are no fantasies.
The truth is that, absent a substantial political and military European power, the decades-old America-Russia confrontation takes over. Thus NATO logics takes over. The truth is, if to choose an imperialism – corruption and inequality levels being equal – most of Ukrainians do prefer one that sits thousands of miles away from them rather than another one within a few hundreds, especially if it comes with political and societal freedom. The truth is, Europeans cannot simultaneously demonstrate for « peace in Ukraine » and complain about military spendings increase: if Ukrainians have a chance to bring Russia to a negotiation table, it will only be if European/NATO military supplies can balance the Russian gear, whilst tough sanctions are being maintained.
Sting’s intuition was correct: Russians certainly do love their children. But the point is, Russian leaders and especially the supreme one, Putin, don’t care much about Russian soldiers’ parents’ children, and give no crap at all about Ukrainian parents’ children, be they soldiers or not. And whilst no nuclear warfare perspective is in sight so far, there may be « no monopoly of common sense on either side of the political fence » but « common sense » for Putin and his gang sounds really different from our political leaders’, here in the « decadent West »: a conventional, WWII-like conflict in Europe is OK, as long as their political authority is being « respected », i.e. feared. All this dressed-up with some pseudo-historical narrative about a « shared destiny ». So the fact that the « Russians love their children, too » is no safety guarantee whatsoever for Europeans, even less than it was at times of a foreseeable use of « Oppenheimer’s deadly toy ».
Sting’s « Russians » still gives me goose-bumps, and will continue doing, I’m sure. Yet like some stuff that’d keep you away from the real world.