The current turmoil in Ukraine seems to be a popular topic for discussion. Almost everyone has an opinion on it. The spectacle of a country on the brink of descending into complete chaos is simply too much for people to avoid. It doesn’t matter if it is Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Libya, or some other far flung corner of the world.
As long as it isn’t in their backyard, most people will not try to gleam meaning from it. It is nothing more than something they’ll hear on the news once a day for five minutes and then regurgitate it for small talk later. The depth of their interest stops at tired platitudes about freedom, democracy, and the pointlessness of violence.
The central issue here is buried under a constant need to re-brand it. These conflicts all share a common thread. They are simply fighting over who has the right to control a land. It is a theme that has been repeated ever since history began. It is the most basic question any nation can ask itself. There are those who might try to shift the discussion away by discussing its implictions and effects. They will do anything and everything to try to frame it as something more than a basic struggle for power. They are simply trying to subvert others from getting any real meaning out of it.
Crimea is only the latest development in this. Both Ukraine and Russia claim it as their own, and both have legitimate historical claims to the land. Crimea has been peopled mostly by Russians throughout the majority of modern history. It has also been politically part of Ukraine for the last 60-odd years, and Ukrainians have always been a sizable minority.
What is happening in Crimea today is something that happens to every borderland at some point in their history. There are two valid claims by two distinct nations. There is only one land. When tensions rise, land becomes a precious thing. It can only belong to one people. For this reason, no two people can ever inhabit the same land without eventually coming into conflict. Sooner or later, it becomes a zero sum game. Either they win or you do, there can be no compromise.
What is most troubling about modern attitudes towards this sort of conflict is the selective memory everyone seems to have about it. A casual stroll along the halls of history turns up example after example of these zero sum games. Why does Tibet represent a great injustice done by China but the name Konigsberg evokes nothing? Why does Israel belong to the Jews after thousands of years but Asia Minor belongs to the Turks after pushing out the Greeks only a few hundred years ago? Why are Kosovo and South Sudan propped up as independent nations where as Taiwan is left in national limbo?
The answer lies in knowing the power of a narrative. It can determine the destiny of entire nations and billions of people in the present and future. Those that control history of a land also control its future. Look at who controls the narrative, and you will find who is in power. Look at how the narrative is being told, and it becomes all to easy to see why it is being told that way.
When you look at these conflicts with this in mind, the question of who rightfully owns the land becomes trivial. It belongs to the strong. The land has no inherent owners. Nature could care less about what flag is raised over any square inch of the earth. Boundaries between countries are only lines on maps until we make them something more. They can be shaped by anyone who has the will to do so and the power to back it up. As soon as a people lose reason to fight for a land, it is only a matter of time until it is no longer theirs.
Narratives and platitudes about justice and rightful ownership only exist as a tool for this purpose. Most will blindly accept the official story pushed by those in power without any question. It’s only further proof of powerlessness modernity produces.