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A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: When will they ever learn?

27mindaviews sojourners

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 February) — It had been predicted for months. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (born 7 October 1952), Russia’s authoritarians strongman was poised to invade the sovereign nation of Ukraine, despite all the warnings from the United States and all other NATO-affiliated countries (mainly of Western Europe) declaring openly about imposing sanctions if ever Putin pushes through with his war plans.

It came to pass that three days ago, the prediction finally took place as tanks and other war weapons began to invade territories inside Ukraine. And for days now, all global TV networks and local mass media have been reporting on the progress of this invasion, which for most Ukrainians, is tantamount to an ambitious plan of a super power to occupy a smaller neighboring country.

It does not help that there are separatists who are pro-Russia and have openly declared their wish to be affiliated with the mighty Russia rather than stay within Ukraine’s democratic Republic. This has provided Putin with the false legitimacy that Ukraine was oppressing its own people and they are out to liberate them from the Ukrainian government led by President –  Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky (born 25 January 1978), who they now refer to – rather ironically – as “neo-Nazis.”

At this stage of this war which could spread across Europe, there are TV anchors and political scientists who are predicting that this is but the start of Putin’s desire to reclaim what used to be the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.(USSR), that is to re-establish a Russian Empire across Eastern Europe (including countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria,  Belarus, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia).  

If that happens, a full-scale European war could erupt which then could bring in all the NATO countries directly involved in the war, including having their own soldiers supporting Ukrainian military against the Russian invading forces.  One can only imagine how this full-scale war would translate in terms of the numbers of casualties, both the soldiers and especially the civilians caught in the crossfire.

If this war expands, clearly the world’s attention would be focused on the impact of this war, a haunting reminder of the 1960s-70s at the height of the Vietnam War, which for the millennials and Gen-Z of today is already ancient history. But for those of us who were the youth of the world in that era (the same times which “are a-changin..” in the words of one of the songs composed by the Nobel laureate, Bob Dylan), that war which ravaged Vietnam brought us to a new and heightened awareness of the reality of geo-politics. But it also aroused us to unite across the national boundaries to march in the streets and to protest against U.S. imperialism which accounted for their brutal treatment of the Vietnamese civilians – ironically as proven time and time again – to supposedly defend democracy.

The Vietnam World galvanized the global youth as they began to take an action to promote peace which translated into protesting against any wars, especially the Vietnam Wars. Their engagement in these anti-war protests would spread across the various generations from even children to the elderly and expanded its influence over practically all the sectors of society especially of civil society organizations (media, academe, the church and artists/cultural workers).

Some of the most powerful avenues of protests were those spearheaded by artists and performers including celebrities. Thus in the music world, everyone from Bob Dylan to Joan Baez to Peter/Paul/Mary up to the Beatles composed, sang and popularized anti-war anthems. One of the most popular was the anti-war anthem – Where have all the flowers gone? – composed by Pete Seeger interpreted by almost all activist-singers and echoed through students’ demonstrations and even church rituals. The haunting lyrics included where did all the flowers, girls and soldiers gone and the refrain was – “When will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?

From their concern about the Vietnam War, the youth then moved on to other social issues specific to their own countries from the rise of student university fees to corruption in their governments. Thus erupted Paris 1968 the student movement which spread across this city of Love turned city of mass protests! That then spread across the world, including here in the Philippines. Immediately after that was the First Quarter storm that gave birth to a mass youth movement in the country never seen before, the legacy of which is still alive until today.

As we are more concerned with the coming May elections, the memory of that First Quarter Storm is very much alive as the activists of the 1960 – 1970s generation are doing their best to campaign against the return of the Marcoses to power. For, there is an imminent danger that the Marcoses are poised to return to Malacañang and reclaim the authoritarian powers that were put to an end when they had to escape the people’s wrath when EDSA 1 was in progress, more than three decades ago.

The question now arises: will the Filipino youth of today repeat history? That is, like the youth of the 1960s – 1970s who – awakened by their concern of the Vietnam war – saw the evil of the Marcosian martial rule and protested against US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. Could this war in Ukraine be the trigger that could push the Pinoy youth – touched by what is and what could still be taking place in Ukraine – to prove the skeptics that they are not the skeptical, apathetic and a-political millennials they are labeled as such?

Only time will tell.  But for now, we need to be in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We pray for peace and begin to reflect on how we – no matter if they are so far away from us and we have our own issues at home – can sustain the dream of a humanity dreaming of peace in the world! (Miss Universe contestants: here is your chance to repeat the mantra of your wish to have world peace!)

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is the most prolific Mindanawon book author, tackling subjects on peace, ecology, anthropology, theology, among others.  In the past three years, he authored four books: “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019; Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Spirituality in 2021 which won the Catholic Book Awards and two other books in Cebuano, “Mga Lumadnong Sugilanon nga Mahinuklogon” and “Ang Dagayday sa Pananhong Nanglabay” under his pseudonym, Melchor M. MoranteHe writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents]

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