In our conversation last night, Orysya Bila – as I write in the shelter in Lviv because of Russians shelling western Ukraine – made a strong and urgent appeal to us to realize that we Dutch, Europeans, and not just they Ukrainians, are at war with Putin.
That also hit me with force when Putin remarked this week that he considers the sanctions against Russia as an act of war. My first thought was: ‘This is not just a declaration of war on the Netherlands as a state, but a declaration of war on the Netherlands as a nation of free and equal citizens. A declaration of war on me. ”I am at war with Putin, with Putin’s Russia.” It’s important to repeat that to yourself. To put your inner voice to work and begin to address yourself with this truth: “I am at war with Putin.” Give it a try. Just repeat it. It changes you. It’s a conversion.
If you are at war with Putin’s Russia – or anyone else for that matter – you cannot be at peace with yourself. This is not a call to give up ‘being at war’ for inner peace, but a simple factual statement. “I am at war with Putin” raises your self-awareness. It puts greater weight on solidarity with others waging that war, in your name – in my name. It increases the weight of moral questions to face. “Being at war with Putin” means leaving your humanitarian pose.
In short, if you say ‘I am at war with Putin’, it changes yourself. It is an act of self-constitution. it means I commit myself as a Dutch citizen to defeat Putin – with as few casualties as possible. The latter is the humanitarian side of this vow: “I will not rest until Putin is defeated and I will do my best to ensure that this is done with as few casualties as possible.”
You can see this as an empty vow, spoken too easily. I live in the Netherlands. Not in Ukraine. The sun shines. I have a beautiful house that still stands. I am not separated from my wife, because I may have to fight. I don’t hear the air raid sirens and the bombs falling every day. But I’m sure it’s not an empty vow. When I say ‘I am at war with Putin’ it draws me into a different language. I am not an outsider, but a participant. It forces me to different words… and actions. ‘Du mußt dein Leben ändern’ is the title of a book by Peter Sloterdijk. When the world changes, when Putin sets Ukraine on fire and declares war on me, I can’t be the same person I was yesterday.
“I’m at war with Putin” makes us all displaced people, like Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Stephan Zweig, Jean Amery, Anna Akhmatova or Charlotte Salomon. Displaced in a world in which we are no longer at home and have to reinvent ourselves. To create a world where there is no place for Putin. ‘Don’t give up Ukraine’ is our first assignment.