The port city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine does not appear on most people’s mental maps of the world. But the heavy-industrial town of less than half a million is regarded as a key strategic target of Putin’s imperial “Novorossia” project. It is home to some of the largest industrial plants in Ukraine, and is a vital port on the Sea of Azov. As a recent slaughter launched by Russian-backed rebels left 30 dead, 100 injured, homes ruined and civilian districts destroyed, the question is: why should we care? Here is an interesting comparative historical analysis by a Ukrainian MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the journalist Mustafa Nayyem…
24 January 2015 ~ Mustafa Nayyem
It seems that an epoch of military-political deja vu from World War II has dawned. The Sudetenland and Munich agreements have already happened, in March last year after the referendum in Crimea. Now we are getting closer.
In the spring of 1939, an article appeared in the French newspaper L’Œuvre by the well-known politician Marcel Déat – with the headline, “Why die for Gdansk?”
In this article, Déat insisted that for France it was not necessary and would even be harmful to side with Poland in an armed conflict with Germany over Gdansk.
The myopic ideas of Déat were supported by almost all the elite of France, including the intelligentsia and right-wing radicals who sympathized with Hitler. (True, he was not supported by 80% of the French, who demanded the entry of France into the war in defense of Poland. But they decided not to consider this.)
What is important, Déat called not only for a refusal to stand up for Poland, but also insisted that after the unification of Gdansk, fascist Germany would temper its appetites, and a small piece of Poland could stop Hitler’s expansion.
It happened the other way around. On September 1st, 1939, German troops launched an attack on Gdansk, and a day later the city became part of East Prussia. The date of the fall of Gdansk went down in history as the beginning of World War II.
Regardless of the different historical pasts of Mariupol and Gdansk, today the parallels between them are manifest. Both Gdansk and Mariupol are port cities. Both cities are approximately the same area, with almost the same populations (a little less than half a million).
Today’s events in Mariupol vaguely resemble Gdansk in 1939. The war is already on the threshold of Europe. Too many losses have been incurred by the parties, whose ambitions ran too deep, who had too much desire for revanche and revenge. We can deny it and pretend it is a private conflict, but this is not the case. After the smiling forgetfulness of Russia over the Budapest agreement, there arose a cynical and deliberate ignorance of yesterday’s agreements.
How deep and far this disease will go depends on the awareness and power of Europe to recognize realities and stop living myths. In the European home has appeared a gun, which no one knows how to handle, and which sooner or later will discharge.
So that it is not necessary tomorrow to go there with a machine gun, it is possible that – today – it would be enough simply to demonstrate that machine gun. Fast talk and criminal delay could lead to Mariupol becoming the Gdansk of the 21st century.
P.S. I have already written on my blog that in December 2014 Mariupol and Gdansk became sister cities.