Stoicism of Mykolaiv in Struggle against the Politics of Resentment

October 7, 2022
Mykolaiv and its inhabitants were destined to become the key southern outpost of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion. Read our recent article to know more about this city.

Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius taught that all causes complement one great cause - fate. Mykolaiv and its inhabitants were destined to become the key southern outpost of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion – an unbreakable and die-hard symbol. However, this firmness has value taken its .

Mykolaiv is one of Ukraine’s most heavily-bombarded cities. The people of Mykolaiv endure cluster bombs and rockets almost every day and night. Alarms and explosions over the past eight months of war have turned into the soundtrack of life in Mykolaiv.

Since the occupation of Kherson, the invaders have changed their tactics towards Mykolaiv. At first, the city was shelled from multiple rocket launcher systems using rockets that spread cluster munitions all over civilian areas, which are prohibited by the international law of war. In that period, Mykolaiv’s southeastern districts suffered the greatest destruction. Later on, Russia would strike Mykolaiv with high-precision missiles. Lately, Russia has been bombarding the city with S-300 air defense rockets, adapted to be launched at ground targets.

Most of Mykolaiv’s residents have evacuated from the city, but residents who remain are constantly in danger.

Children and adults continue to die and be maimed by Russian bombs. The invaders are destroying schools, universities, theaters, enterprises, and city infrastructure. The essence of human nature is to fight to adapt to new environments. This is, after all, how mankind has managed to survive and thrive all over the globe. Mykolaiv residents have had to adapt to constant explosions. One morning, after a series of powerful rocket attacks, when I arrived at the site of a strike, I saw destroyed homes, broken windows, damaged roofs, and residents hurriedly sweeping broken glass and debris out of their courtyards, without waiting for municipal services. Of course, one could feel their embarrassment, but their most urgent issue was to clean up their courtyards and repair the broken windows of their apartments, because they had to go to work and collect drinking water.

Missile strikes are much more dangerous and lethal. When there is artillery incoming, one can shelter between two walls for safety. But when a missile hits a building, there is simply nothing one can do to survive. In Mykolaiv, people tell you that they are afraid to go to bed. Russia hits the city primarily at night or in the early morning hours, so morning does not come for everyone in Mykolaiv.

One frequently asked question is why Russia bothers with attacking schools, universities, theaters, residential buildings and shopping centers. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes observed that of all natural human emotions, the deepest and most "obligatory" is the fear of violent death. Putin's army deliberately attacks civilian and residential objects, seeking to spark the most basic human emotion - fear. However, Putin has been completely wrong in his judgments about Ukraine and Ukrainians. The dominant emotion of Ukrainians caused by the war has not been fear, but anger.

A sociological study by Gradus Research for the 31st anniversary of Ukraine's independence showed that the war has radically changed Ukrainian society, revealing its "antifragility," the secret of which stems from the fact that despite shock and stress, Ukrainians remain optimistic. Compared to last year's study, Ukrainians have turned from a "nation of the tired" into a "nation of stubborn optimists".

In many discussions of the reasons for the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is assumed that Putin made decisions based on delusional understandings about Ukraine and Ukrainians. It seems that his corrupt environment created a false picture for him, in which Ukrainians would meet Putin's army "with bread and salt" as liberators from Nazi enslavement.

In that sense, this judgment looks like a Russian narrative to shift personal responsibility away from Putin and blur it at the expense of collective irresponsibility.

In her book Chancellor: Angela Merkel's Amazing Odyssey, author Katie Marton offers a view of how the German leader came to understand her Russian counterpart at the Munich Security Conference on January 10, 2007. It became obvious to Merkel then that Putin was capable of mixing lies with threats, mocking, shrugging off difficult issues, and questioning the moral superiority of the West. He considers himself "the last great patriot."

At the end of the 1990s, the world experienced a third wave of democratization. 60% of the world's independent states turned into electoral democracies. Ukraine and Russia were certainly among this 60%. However, at the beginning of the 21st century, Ukraine and Russia’s paths of democratic development diverged. Ukraine continued down the uneasy path of democracy, while Russia began to slide into totalitarianism. The parade of color revolutions in the post-Soviet countries scared Putin. The events of the two revolutions in Ukraine made Putin clearly aware that an angry society and street protests could bring down even the most authoritarian ruler.

It was then that Putin greatly accelerated the process of eroding democratic institutions in Russia. The entire apparatus of government was methodically purged of officials and politicians whose views of how to govern the country differed from Putin’s. Instead, personal friends and colleagues were appointed to key positions. As a result, through the FSB, Putin began to control all aspects of Russia's social, cultural, political and economic life.

Through Putin’s United Russia party, the State Duma has been turned into a rubber-stamp parliament which approves Putin’s desired decisions as quickly as possible and, without hesitation, agreed to permit Putin to use Russian troops on the territory of foreign countries.

The Russian media have turned into mass propaganda tools that methodically zombify Russian citizens with a narrative about “Russkiy Mir” (which translates as both “Russian world and Russian ‘peace’”) their “great nation” ", the Bandera people, the Nazis, collective action, and the threat of the USA and NATO. The lack of access to independent media and internet restrictions have made TV news the only source of information for many Russians.

From a historical point of view, these processes are nothing new for Russia. The entire history of the Russian state, starting with Ivan IV, Peter I, Catherine II, Stalin, and Putin, is a history of autocracy. There were, on the other hand, some precedents of republican institutions and Western-style representative assemblies, offering a vision of certain alternatives.

The city of Novgorod was a vigorous commercial republic, closely integrated into Baltic trade, and served as a gateway for goods from Europe. The prince of Novgorod commanded an army, but his authority was limited by the viche, which had control over taxes, laws, and foreign affairs, and who could expel the prince. Eventually, in 1478, Ivan III conquered and annexed Novgorod to the Muscovite state, executing many of its leaders as traitors and expelling a significant number of boyar and merchant families.

The representative institution in the era of the Russian Empire was the Zemstvo Council, a council of nobles that resembled the Estates General of France or the Spanish Cortes.

This body met to approve military actions and levy taxes many times during the 17th century, until Peter I reduced it to nothing.

Representative institutions simply disappeared from Russian history until the appearance of the Duma, a legislative body convened in 1906 after defeat in the Russo-Japanese War.

The political organization of Putin's Russia is becoming more and more similar to that of a tribal society, in which the key element is a leader and an armed "support group" which are bound by a long-term mutual exchange of benefits. Therefore, it is obvious that the Russian military and special services are not fighting for Russia or the Russian people in Ukraine, but for Putin, united by strong family and personal ties, as well as by the fear of losing their privilege and wealth.

The 1991 and 2003 US campaigns in Iraq were dominated by the mistaken view that defeats on the battlefield would lead to the quick overthrow of Saddam Hussein, because his inner circle would quickly calculate that they would all be better off without him. But instead, the inner circle held onto the regime with surprising stubbornness. Therefore, today, when people speculate about the overthrow of Putin by his inner circle, we must recognize this as a false idea disproven by recent history.

We are all outraged by the unconscionably large share of Russian society that supports Russia's war and its crimes in Ukraine. However, one must consider how Putin talks constantly about the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century and how Europe and the US took advantage of Russia's weakness in the 1990s to push NATO to its borders.

He speaks with disdain about Western moral superiority and pushes his goal for Russia to be considered a great power.

Therefore, Russians today are convinced that the outside world does not properly recognize their identity. Russian society has become convinced that its estimation of its own glory and virtue is intrinsically worthy of value and respect, and that other countries have failed to give Russia what it is due. They do not see themselves as subjects of international rules and norms, but as an object to which other rules and norms (and the world community) must bend. Hegel taught that the struggle for recognition is the main driving force of human history, and thus it holds the key to understanding the emergence of the modern world. Dissatisfaction with one’s material situation becomes much more acute when a sense of indignity and humiliation is added to it.

That is why Bucha, Irpin, and Izyum happened. Russian soldiers brainwashed by propaganda about the greatness of the Russian people and the collective effort to humiliate Russia, seeing and comparing their own miserable standard of living with the prosperity in which Ukrainians lived, became enraged and began to plunder the outside world, refusing to realize the need to actually change their nation’s inner self. It is clear that the usurpation of power, the suppression of freedom of speech, the dismantling of the free press, and the formation of a ruling elite based on the criterion of personal loyalty, forced out the management specialists, experts and politicians in Russia with the ability to think critically.

However, internal changes in Russian society are possible, and the war itself, (specifically the defeat of Russia) will become a catalyst for the rapid formation of a new social group that will express dissatisfaction with current state policy, Putin's rule, and state of Russia’s economy. This non-elite social group will strive for political representation and the implementation of its ideas, and will also have a ruthless power to destroy the existing internal political balance.

Theoretically, the new social group will unite opposition politicians, artists, philosophers, scientists, small and medium-sized businesses (those which survive the burden of Western sanctions), as well as representatives of the current government, including oligarchs who will seek to guarantee their place in power.

In fact, leaders of tribal-type organizations do not hold absolute power. Such organizations are characterized by a high degree of interdependence between leaders and followers. Others can be put in their place if they cannot provide a steady flow of resources to their followers or deviate from and harm the group's interests.

Today's Russian ruling elites, led by Putin, use the politics of resentment to legitimize the war in Ukraine, mixing it with nationalism and a sense of offended national dignity. However, they are working for their own sake. After all, the corrupt and dirty electoral authoritarianism that reigns in Russia now is unlikely to reach the harsh dictatorships of Russia’s past. The history of Russia offers many alternative paths to freedom that can serve as a guide for reforms.

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, there has been a large-scale surge of patriotic sentiment among Ukrainians, a willingness to defend their country by force of arms, and a uniting of volunteer movements to help the armed forces and people affected by the war. Once again, Ukrainian society has demonstrated its commitment to the main social values ​​and its incredible ability to form horizontal social networks of interaction and solidarity.

The war has changed the essence of Mykolaiv. The invincibility and stability of our city has turned it into a heroic fortress of southern Ukraine. Under the daily shelling of enemy weapons, Mykolaiv is stubbornly and optimistically building plans for reconstruction after Ukrainian victory.

Oleksandr Bereza
Deputy of the Mykolaiv City Council , Head of Administration of the Central District of Mykolaiv