On Saturday my husband and I walked around Ypres, a town in West Flanders, which was the center for the intense battles during World War I. In Belgium, the memories of 14-18 are still vivid, and walking along the meadows that once were the war zone but are now pale green and ready to burst into spring blooms was a poignant experience. Later that day I heard the news that the Russian Parliament granted Vladimir Putin broad authority to use military force in Ukraine; it all seemed like a bad dream, or a scene from a film.
Except that we have seen this film before and know that it doesn’t end well. The justification of invading Ukraine to protect its Russian population is absurd. The Ukrainian conflict that started in November 2013 is not between Russians and Ukrainians; it’s a struggle among Ukrainians for an accountable, responsible government. Turning it into an ethnic conflict is dangerous, callous and irresponsible. Once such rifts are opened, they don’t mend easily. History gives us plenty of warnings from the 20th century, from the Partition of India in 1947 to the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. For someone who’s half-Ukrainian and half-Russian with family still in Ukraine, the current events are a personal tragedy.
I don’t often write about politics on these pages, but not because I ignore them–hard to do for a Political Science graduate! Being aware of the world events and enjoying pretty things are not mutually exclusive. I hope that those who visit Bois de Jasmin come here to forget their worries, to discover simple pleasures that can lift our mood, to talk to other passionate people in a cozy, friendly environment. If a drop of perfume can brighten up our busy, stressful lives even slightly, then such small pleasures are necessary.
So, our jasmine forest will continue blooming, but today I want to hope for a peaceful resolution and remember my Ukrainian great-grandfather. That’s the two of us in the photo above. He passed away in his 90s, when I was in my late teens, and I was lucky to grow up with him in my life. He lost a limb fighting on Russian soil in WWII, and he always said that it was a small price to pay for peace. In later years when conflicts erupted in the Soviet block countries, my great-grandfather refused to ascribe labels. “Whatever language they speak or to whatever god they pray, they’re people, first and foremost,” he said. Now this belief is something worth protecting.
[There have been numerous publications on Ukraine lately, but here are a few thoughtful, balanced articles: today’s opinion from New York Times, 5 Things You Should Know About Putin’s Incursion Into Crimea (short but to the point piece), Decoding Ukraine (how to sort through the conflicting and confusing reports, a great article from Slate), How Europe Should Respond to Russian Intervention in Ukraine (an opinion piece by Yale Professor Timothy Snyder, a noted historian on the region).]