Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Ukraine Crisis as Seen from Our Backyard

Distance between Prague and the Ukraine
Map provided by Google Maps
(Click on the map to see details)

Hi Everyone,
There’s been a lot of political unrest in the Ukraine the past couple of years, which boiled over about a month ago into violence between Ukrainian police and civilians on the Maidan in Kiev. Here, in the Czech Republic, we’re looking at the crisis in our own backyard.

Ukrainian Crisis Near, Yet Not So Near

First off, when I say the Ukrainian crisis is in our backyard, it is. Prague is about 729 miles (1172.6 km) from Kiev and is 1252 miles (2014 km) from the Crimea. In the European perspective of distances Prague is a long ways from the crisis. However, by American standards, Prague isn’t really all that far away. When you realize a missile can easily enter Czech airspace from the Ukraine or Crimea, it puts a slightly different perspective on things. I must say, though, from my own perspective, it feels like we’re neither so close nor so far away. In other words, I'm happy we're not physically closer to the crisis.

Slight Tension in the Air for Czechs

There is a slight tension in the air here, with Czechs wondering what will happen next in the Ukrainian crisis. Most people understand that the referendum (this coming Sunday) for separation will put Crimea completely into the hands of the Russians, who already are in possession of the entire peninsula. That’s pretty much a given, but what happens after that? Will Russia go ahead and begin a takeover of eastern parts of Ukraine, where many ethnic Russians live? Will they grab the western portions of the country, which wants ties with the West? No one can predict for certain how it will all play out, so we all feel a slight tension of what may come next.

Here's an article that shares Eastern Europeans' feelings about the Ukrainian Crisis. I agree that an instantaneous takeover isn't likely; however, there are many parallels with Hilter's invasions and allied responses to treaties. Would treaties be honored this time? Will NATO step up to the plate to protect this region? Is it likely we'll see a return of the Cold War, with half of Ukraine behind another "Wall?"

Czechs Have Experience with Takeovers and Occupations

The Czech Republic has quite a bit of experience with this type of takeover, as do the other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The 9th century saw the creation of the Great Moravian Empire, with Czechs and Slovaks united. However, in 906 the empire was dissolved after defeat by Magyars (Hungarians). From that time, the Czechs were to endure Hapsburg rule, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the occupation of Germany, then the rise of the communist regime, the 1968 invasion of the Soviet Union. 

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the non-violent Velvet Revolution, Czechs have had to adapt to a ruthless form of capitalism. Many of these changes have occurred in the last 100 years in central Europe. Most Americans have a hard time conceptualizing these types of changes taking place in such a short time period. Czechs are survivors and are preparing for what the future may hold.

Czech Supporting Ukrainians
Czechs are supporting the new government of the Ukraine--the government the Russians say is nothing but a government of thugs. Not only have Czechs sent aide to Ukraine, they’ve also accepted protestors who were seriously hurt in the violence seen on the Maidan about a month ago. They have made it clear they side with the Ukrainians who want sovereignty over their own country. 

In preparing for what may come next, Czechs are also looking at how to care for refugees who may come in the event of an escalation of the crisis. During the German occupation of the Sudentenland in WWII, Czech refugees fled the region in large numbers and were taken in by other Czech families. Czechs are willing to do this for their Ukrainian neighbors. I admire the Czech spirit and how they’re supporting the Ukraine.

Czech Republic and Ukrainian Workers

As Ricky Yates mentioned on his blog, the Czech Republic is home to many Ukrainians who come here to work at menial jobs Czechs don’t want and then send money back to their families in the Ukraine. They come here to do farm work, construction and other jobs. You could equate this to the immigrants who come from Mexico to the US; the Ukraine is a poor country much like Mexico, with not enough work for its people. 

The Ukrainians who live here have held large and small protests in Prague over the past few weeks.  Czechs are supporting these peaceful demonstrations, and working with the EU, the US and Ukraine to find ways to stop a Russian takeover.

What Will the Future Bring?

Life here is going on like normal, but that slight tension’s in the air—wondering what will be next. How will changes in relations between Ukraine and Russia effect life in surrounding European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia? Will the Russians take over the Ukraine and then try to move on into Europe? No one knows, but one thing is clear—the majority of people in this part of Europe do not want to see Russia take over the Ukraine or come closer to the heart of Europe.

God bless,



writergem said...

You did a nice job of breaking this perspective down, Sher.

Sher said...

@Writergem: Thanks for your comment!

The parallels with the past are interesting, but hopefully people will step up and not let tragedy strike in this region again.

From the looks of things, though, it's a tossup as to which way this will all work out.

We're staying tuned!

Have a great day,