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Zeman, Genscher, Kissinger: Ukrainian civil war analogous to the Spanish one

Czech president Miloš Zeman is visiting Leipzig, East Germany, where they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in the GDR.

He teamed up with two former political heavyweights – German minister of foreign affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP: 1974-1992, longest serving on record, now 87 years old) and with Henry Kissinger (GOP: 1973-1977, now 91 years old), a U.S. Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize winner (ceasefire in Vietnam) from a time when the award wasn't discredited yet.

They completely agreed about the primary point in Ukraine:

What is happening in Ukraine is primarily a civil war.
It's nothing new but what's somewhat original is Zeman's analogy.

Zeman compared the ongoing events in Ukraine to the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939.

He would say:
Spain has also witnessed a civil war despite some interventions by the Russians and the French from one side; and by the Germans and the Italians on the other side. In spite of these interventions, no one is claiming that it wasn't a civil war. No one is calling it a German, Italian, Russian, or French aggression. It was a conflict when a Spaniard fought against another Spaniard, obviously with some help from their foreign allies.
People love to compare the situation to lots of other events – like the 1938 occupation of the Sudetenland or the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion to Czechoslovakia. But none of these comparisons really makes much sense. It's a civil war so of course a comparison to another civil war, like the Spanish one, is obviously much more meaningful and accurate.

Zeman would also stress the importance of free elections (which he is eagerly expecting) for the future of Ukraine, emphasizing that a rally on the Maidan square that has ousted president Yanukovitch can't play the role of such elections. "As you know, many rallies have taken place on the same square and many other squares in Ukraine over the years. The message of many of these rallies was the opposite one," Zeman said.

It's frustrating to see that those guys who have understood and still understand some of the basic things about politics have been "hasbeens" for decades while these days, politicians who have some clue may only be found in not quite dominant "powers" such as my homeland and be sure that sensible attitudes are rare here, too. ;-)

Incidentally, on September 30th, Genscher appeared on the balcony of the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague which used to be the West German embassy – nowadays, an important building in the German history because that's where the East Germans began to emigrate en masse right before the intra-German borders were opened. This time he didn't have to say anything to receive some applause.

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reader Eclectikus said...

It is a legitimate comparison whenever you have in mind some nuances (the Spanish Civil War was a true fraternal war, without cultural and ethnic differences among the contenders and without territorial claims) and an essential difference: there weren't any major country culturally linked with any of the two sides in the Spanish Civil War, ie the support to the two contending sides by fascists and communists were merely tactical and more related to international political fronts, in no way related to cultural ones.

By the way, (as usual) be careful reading Wikipedia version of Spanish Civil War, that is the "progressive" version, in force since the eighties, but deep as biased and manichean as the official version of the victors of the war in the forties. Things were much more complicated and there were a major grayscale.

reader Uncle Al said...

Kissinger was a hissing cobra amongst asp holes. One cannot sing his praises too highly.

reader Gene Day said...

I agree that the analogy (Ukrainian and Spanish Civil Wars) is imperfect for exactly the reasons that you give.
Nonetheless, it is a civil war, which, unfortunately, is far from free of foreign interventions on both sides. At least Russia has much more intimate interest in the Ukraine than does the West. I think any neutral observer would agree that Russia has shown admirable restraint in this situation.
A peaceful settlement is more likely, not less, because of Russia’s influence. The same cannot be said of the West.

reader Gene Day said...

Oh, yes one can!

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Eclecticus, I have lots of problems with your claims. The difference between the sides was flavored by ideology only for tactical reasons? Huh? Francisco Franco was a deeply ideological fascist shocked by the emergence of democracy in Spain at some point, and he fought for a very analogous arrangement of the society as the duce and perhaps the Fuhrer. I can't believe that you would say it was just a pair of two factions with no major differences in ideology.

reader Eclectikus said...

Well, yes and no Lubos... Francisco Franco was closest to fascism that communism, of course, but 1) he was loyal to the Republic, and was made ​​Commander-in-chief before the war; 2) identifying Republic (and republicans) with democracy is just a meme, the killings of Catholics (not just priests and nuns, ordinary citizens) were daily, and the murder of Calvo Sotelo by agents from the Socialists Party (PSOE) was an essential trigger for war; 3) once time finished the War, the fascist character of Franco was diluted, and only remained authoritarianism (indeed the true fascist party, Falange Española, was deceived by Franco and never reached real heights of power; 4) even this totalitarian model was even more diluted from 1960 and imperceptible from 1970-1975 (Tardofranquismo).

In other words, we shouldn't see the Civil War as a confrontation of Democrats (republicans) against fascists (nacionalists), democracy was already broken during the second Republic, and republicans were severely contaminated by communism and completely infiltrated by the NKVD of Stalin. If Franco had lost the war we would become another country by the Iron Curtain, we would have participated in the Second World War, and the future would have been very different to what we enjoy today.

That said I quite agree with your views on Ukraine, and I also think that the weakness of Western leadership has worsened the conflict ... but whenever a comparison of this type (e.g. between different wars) is necessary to bear in mind the nuances and temporize.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Come on, Hitler was also made the commander-in-chief before the war. And Franco's regime got diluted? It had to because Hitler was kind of spanked in 1945, you know, so Franco couldn't continue with anything very similar.

None of the two sides was holy - and none of the sides in Ukraine is holy, either - but they're still very different, and from various perspectives, one side is much more saint than the other.

reader Eclectikus said...

But I did not say that there weren't political differences between the two sides (obviously there were, even still there are "the two Spains"), but that the external support to spanish factions were tactical (perhaps a rehearsal for the Second World War) and related to international political fronts (fascism vs. communism) and much less for a "struggle for democracy" (neither side represented the Democracy).

reader Luboš Motl said...

OK, but NATO's support for the current Kiev regime and Russia's support for the Eastern republics is then tactical in exactly the same sense, whatever the sense is, isn't it?

The broader point I am making is that you haven't found any qualitative difference between the two situations and you seem to crawl like a jellyfish to obscure this fact.

reader Eclectikus said...

LOL, yes... but because I didn't claim any qualitative difference, just some nuances, and a main difference, by the way not in dispute in your critics.

reader fugee said...

what do they gain from this shitty comparison? all I see is that important nuances are lost.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sorry, the most important point is that none of the hypothetical or real nuances is more significant or more important than the zeroth-order classification of the events, namely that it is a civil war, not an aggression.

It is surely vastly better to ignore nuances than to be confused about this *very basic* question, right?

reader davideisenstadt said...

eh...what did you want from kissinger? he inherited a way in vietnam, one with more than a half million troops in theater, one started by eisenhower and expanded by kennedy and its kissinger's fault?
not the french? not the catholic church? not the previous THREE presidents whose efforts left the US mired in that conflict?
what should he have done?

reader Eclectikus said...

I respond to your edited reply in this other comment (Sorry lubos, I didn't see it until now). Listed by nuance in no particular order:

- There was no Spanish side culturally linked to a foreign power. What I've learned from your posts about Ukraine is that there is a historical (cultural, linguistic, economic ...) legitimacy on the East side of the country to claim maintaining relations with Russia. This never happend on the Spanish War, and this is in my view the main difference. There is no claim on your part for this point, because it can't be.

- Of course there was territorial fronts during the war, as in any present, passed or future war... but this fronts wasn't cultural (or ethnic). There were nationalists and republicans homogeneously distributed throughout the Spanish geography, and the various war fronts depended more on chance than any other consideration.

- Even the Spanish areas with own language (Catalonia and the Basque country) were divided 50% (with somewhat trend to the nationalists side, i.e. Franco). Ukrania has a clear division between russian speakers and the west. This clearly not happens in Spain.

- Moroccans can't be considered a political front on the Spanish War, just happens that Franco started the war beginning from territories colonized from Spain (from Sahara, anecdotally where I born), nothing important happened there from that early time (neither ethnic nor cultural issues, the war was in the mainland).

- Of course that "grayscale" is the basis state of any political conflict, Ukrania, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Syria, Egypt, and any other country you can think about. My original point was just remarking some of this particular grays, in this very particular case.

- Another point I've learned in your posts about this issue is the imposibility of isolate the history of the countries involved. Well, to assume that the Spanish Civil War was a struggle between democracy and monarchy, fascism and communism, forgetting that Spain was a kingdom where the sun is not hiding just a few decades ago, and where the very liberalism was born (in some way) during the Spanish Constitution of 1812, is a very biased point of view, or simplistic more well.

And now we can discuss the importance of these aspects when comparing the two wars ... but it would be ridiculous because we agree on the essentials: these are precisions in second or higher order in terms of Taylor series, and the essence of this debate is that both wars are civil wars (something that many people would not recognize, but I do), the most sad and cruel type of war.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Don't be silly, Eclecticus. Mussolini's Italy felt at least as close to Franco's Spain as Putin feels to the Novorussian republics, and Mussolini has provided Franco with a giant amount of aid between 1936 and 1939 that completely humiliates everything that Russia could have done for Novorussia.

Moreover, the cultural proximity of Italy and Spain is analogous to those among the Eastern Slavs, and I often have hard time to distinguish the Italian and Spanish language. They're closer than e.g. Spanish and Portuguese, agreed? I can only say which language has gracias and which has grazie if I think how it could be spelled and add an extra minute of thought.

The duce and the Generalissimo were almost twins! It's completely silly for you to suggest that the Kremlin is closer to the Novorussia guys than the two fascist Romanic leaders were in the 1930s.

The frontline in Eastern Ukraine doesn't copy the boundary of Russian speakers. If you tell both sides that it should, the leaders of Novorussia will surely thank you because the Russian speakers dominate at roughly 3 times greater territory than what the NAF forces currently control.

Of course that "grayscale" is the basis state of any political conflict, Ukrania, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Syria, Egypt, and any other country you can think about. My original point was just remarking some of those particular grays, in this very particular case.

Right, and my criticism of you was and still is that you choose to see certain things - such as the grey scale - in some civil wars and not others even though they are clearly present in both, and pretty much equally.

Quite generally, too many people use very different words for totally isomorphic situations and events, depending on which side they stand (or imagine to stand). It's perfectly legitimate for the people in Novorussia (and, less directly, their mostly individual allies in Russia) to imagine that they are fighting in a war analogous to the Spanish Civil War, and they are fighting against an analogous regime to Franco's fascism. This is really the point of all these analogies and everyone who tries to pretend that this is not a legitimate and understandable attitude is a demagogue of the highest caliber.

reader BMWA1 said...

IRC in Ukraine agrees with Zeman and Motl (Forbes Ukraine interview):

reader Eclectikus said...

Well, looks like we do have a "second order" disagreement, don't we? ;-)

Yes, you can make the parallelism between Mussolini and Putin, but it does not eliminate the nuances, in this particular case that Italia has nothing to do with Spain since the fall of the Roman Empire. Similar languages? Yes, true, but not more than Portuguese (I've worked both with Portuguese and Italian people and I have always had more problems with the later ones), and very close to French too. Seems to me a pretty different case of the links of Russian speakers in Novorussia with Russia itself.

My comment about the nuances between the two wars was only to give a reference of the matter as seen from here, I have not even quantified the importance of them, and I insist, we can argue about its importance, but what is not possible is to eliminate them as nonexistent.

You say:

"This is really the point of all these analogies and everyone who tries to pretend that this is not a legitimate and understandable attitude is a demagogue of the highest caliber."

I remind you my first words in this thread:

"It is a legitimate comparison whenever you have in mind some nuances... ",

and so, there is no problem with the legitimacy, discussion is then in the nuances ... and, again, these are only details of second order.

And finally, I think reducing the Spanish Civil War as a simple struggle of Republicans (the good guys) against fascism, is too simplistic, is similar to the vision, mainstream in the West and most especially in Spain, that Ukraine (the good guys) is struggling against Putin post-communist imperialism. And this parallelism is also legitimate, and probably wrong as you've written multiple times throughout this year.

reader Patrick M. Larsen said...

As we could see in the last couple of months the United States demonstrated its ability to surpass any opposing opinions or views in the mass media and be the unquestionable judge of who is right, who is wrong, who is guilty and what should be their punishment.

Given this, can you possibly not see what it would lead to if they succeeded at establishing global nuclear monopoly with capabilities to destroy entire nations without the slightest chance of deterrence?

I it's fine. They want peace an prosperity for the people of the world. -- otherwise they would probably pursue ideologically motivated sciences to regulate world economics just as the soviets tried.

and there's this other thing:
The United States of America is the Land of the Free and Home of the brave.

What a relief. For a brief moment I thought I don't like the US government (hence mentally ill supporter-of-terrorism to-be-executed-before-asking-questions)

reader jim z said...

So what was Kissinger's fault?

Every comic got laughs by saying his name, back then.

So what did he do wrong? With hind sight, what did he say that was wrong?

reader Michael Gersh said...

Lumo - You say "Hitler was also made the commander-in-chief before the war." But it is not true. Hitler had a tension between himself and the High Command. The internecine battle, ultimately making Hitler CinC after the German defeat in the invasion of Moscow and the relief of Halder and Von Runstedt is the subject of any number of books written by the Generals and ministers who were there at the time. Decenber 19, 1941 was the date, a year after the war had begun and Poland and France had been conquered.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Why is almost everyone so unbelievable irrational, Michael?

I just said a trivial historical fact that Adolf Hitler became the German commander-in-chief, the head of Germany's armed forces, before the World War II.

This is a completely trivial fact. You can easily find out when it happened *exactly*.

Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, then the Minister of War and one of those who created the Hitler oath, or the personal oath of loyalty of the military to Hitler became the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces while Hitler remained Supreme Commander. Following the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair in 1938, Hitler assumed the commander-in-chief's post as well and took personal command of the armed forces.

It happened after the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair

in early 1938. How can you possibly think that some vague comments about some tension or unrelated events from 1941 can be relevant for the fact that it's 100% accurate to say that Hitler became the German commander-in-chief before the war? I can't believe this complete lack of logic.

reader Michael Gersh said...

There is quite a body of analysis over how Hitler was able to act as direct commander of the Wehrmacht. It was quite a change for them. While dilettantes may say that your date is correct, those who study this stuff, including yours truly, know better. I would never tell you that my conception of multiverses can inform yours. You have obviously never studied military history intensively. In certain circles this is important stuff. Not trying to pick an argument with you, but some things are either right or wrong. Time Magazine may agree with you, but the facts are what they are, and serious military thinkers have spent an untold amount of time and effort trying to understand exactly how Hitler undermined the command structure of the Wehrmacht, so that this can never happen again. Government leaders should never have control over tactics - their brief extends only to strategy.

reader Luboš Motl said...

By self-confidently labeling yourself a military expert, you can't change the basic historical fact. It is an absolutely well-defined question whether Hitler was the commander-in-chief by the end of 1938 and the answer is an unequivocal Yes. No amount of subtleties can change it to a No. Subtleties are everywhere but Yes is still very different from No.