THIRTY SIX years ago, early in the new year of the tiger, the Filipino people deposed a hated dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, who had to flee for his life, like a coward, under cover of darkness. Aided by the U.S. Government, Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii, where he would spend the rest of his life.
This new year — of The Tiger — seems to be opening with a different story from that of 36 years ago, when a relatively bloodless revolt deposed a dictator. This month an authoritarian power, Russia, is invading a fledgling democratic country with a land area no larger that the State of Texas, but with a much, much smaller economy. Russia’s economy is ranked 11th in the world, while Ukraine is 50th. Russia’s invasion is unprovoked yet Putin claims that Ukraine is a threat to Russian national security. Russia’s invasion is unprecedented since the 2nd World War when Hitler began invading neighboring countries in Europe.
We know the outcome of the People Power Revolution against Marcos. The People Power Revolution of 1986 set an example globally of how people, when they come together and coalesce in the thousands can overcome obstacles that appear insurmountable, and force a democratic transition often ignored by those who wish to remain in power. It demonstrated quite literally how people power, or the power of ordinary people — not armies–can bring about revolutionary change.
During his 1995 visit to the Philippines, Václav Havel, revolutionary idol of the Czechoslovakian uprising and later president of the Czech Republic, took note that People Power had been an inspiration to him and his fellow Eastern European dissidents. People Power has come to symbolize a peaceful, spontaneous popular uprising that topples authoritarian rulers without resorting to violent revolution.
What we are seeing in this year of the tiger is the use of war for political gain and territory.
Putin claims that NATO, a military alliance of Western European countries, having added a few Eastern European countries to its ranks after the break-up of the Soviet Union, notably Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and etc., is now a threat to Russian national security. This may well be, if NATO Countries were hostile to Russia. This is a big if, since NATO countries are interconnected with Russia via economic and cultural ties. E.g., much of Europe, especially Germany are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas exports. And in some cases, such as the operation of the International Space Station (ISS) joint projects require sharing of information and technology. Cooperation and the settlement of conflict through diplomacy and negotiation are really the norms thru which war is avoided and the peace is kept. Russia and Putin have violated this norm thru the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,
Putin’s Ukraine invasion is at best a high risk gambit that NATO countries will not be able to craft a unified pushback against the invasion. After days of fighting, all indications are that the invasion has unwittingly pushed NATO member countries whose relations have been somewhat contentious lately, to adopt uniform economic sanctions against Russia.
Even worse vis-à-vis Russia is that some member countries have been pushed to re-armor themselves. Germany and Norway have broken with long standing tradition to not give arms to parties in conflict; they are now going to send arms to Ukraine. Germany is also significantly increasing its military budget. With Putin’s threat to use its nuclear arsenal, and Ukraine expressing some regret over giving up its nuclear arsenal upon the break-up of the Soviet Union, some countries may now seek nuclear capability as a deterrent to aggression. Ukraine most likely doubly regrets letting go of this arsenal since it gave it up over Russia’s assurances that it will respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Putin’s war on Ukraine harkens back to medieval times when warlords grabbed territory from their weaker neighbors without risking negative repercussions for their aggression. Putin started doing this with Ukraine in 2014 by invading and annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Now he wants to do it to the entire country.
But this is not the Middle Ages. We are so much more interconnected today. We are tied together by a globalized economy and its network of supply chains. Information, knowledge, and our social bonds are globally nurtured via the internet and various social media platforms. And not the least is global migration: most likely there is someone in your circle that has a connection with Ukraine (we have a colleague who adopted Ukrainian children). The invasion of Ukraine affects everyone (have you been to the pump lately?), every country, and most especially those who have direct economic ties with Russia.
The flip side to this interconnectedness is empowerment. We can do something.
The ultimate outcome of Putin’s war against Ukraine and the fate of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government still lies beyond the horizon, but it has re-unified the NATO alliance, and more importantly, it has unified Ukraine. Even Russian speaking Ukrainians are speaking out against the Russian invasion, dispelling Putin’s claim that he is doing this for Russian Ukrainians (who, he claims are oppressed in Ukraine). Russian soldiers are allowing civilian protesters to stop their tanks, reminiscent of when unarmed Filipinos stood in harms way to prevent the advance of Marcos loyalist tanks.
Aside from NATO member countries who are crafting economic sanctions, corporate giants like Shell and British Petroleum (BP)who hold investments with Russia are disinvesting. Exxon-Mobile is ending operations in Russia while Boeing is withdrawing from Russian aircraft projects. Elon Musk has assured Ukraine’s continued internet access via its starlink system of communications satellites.
Smaller countries are adding their voices to the protests by pointing out that Russia’s aggression violates the “sovereign equality of states,” a guiding principle of the United Nations.
The invasion of Ukraine is pushing the world towards a new geopolitical and economic order whose major outlines are still developing. A major aspect of this order is the moral condemnation of war mongers. Another aspect is the growing realization that our interconnectedness means that we can do something. And if we do it in concert, we might effect change.
When the year of the tiger dawned upon the Philippines 36 years ago, it unified Filipinos against a hated autocrat. An army general, and Marcos’ Defense Secretary declared open rebellion against Marcos. Filipinos unified with them; their creative and spontaneous actions, such as bringing food to the rebel soldiers in Camp Aguinaldo; priests talking soldiers into joining the rebels; unarmed civilians putting themselves in harms way against a convoy of tanks and other acts of unarmed resistance brought down the Marcos dictatorship.
Putin’s war is a violent conflict, where lives are being lost along with horrific human suffering and untold damage to places of human habitation. But I am hopeful that this new year of the tiger will reaffirm a lesson from 36 years ago, that a unified people (of global proportions this time) can prevail over the actions of a war mongering autocrat.
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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
Enrique de la Cruz is Professor Emeritus of Asian American Studies at Cal State University, Northridge.