[The following email was originally sent by Petro Sukhorolskyi to the World Futures Studies Federation Listserv on 28 February 2022]
Thank you for your concern and sympathy about the situation in Ukraine. The support of our country from almost all the world’s nations and establishing an international coalition against Russian aggression are very important for us.
In this regard I’d like to highlight some points which I believe are crucial to the understanding of current processes and future perspectives concerning the war in Ukraine.
First of all, I have a deep feeling that this war is a truly postnormal phenomenon as it was described by Ziauddin Sardar. Though it has been predicted by military experts, the powerful and reasonless attack of the Russian army turned out to be a bolt from the blue for most Ukrainians, Russians, and people all over the world. Numerous Russian troops on the borders of Ukraine were the real black elephant, which president Biden and others tried to disclose. But this is not the only black elephant in the room. There are a number of other inconvenient truths that the world prefers not to notice. This, for example, extremely high level of aggression, xenophobia, great-power chauvinism, and imperialism in Russian media that has been backed by the government for a long time. One cannot fully understand and feel this by using exclusively English sources (even Russia Today). It is necessary to have a good command of Russian and to penetrate deep into the context. To illustrate the consequences of this, it is enough to say that Stalin – one of the most cruel and bloody tyrants in the history of human civilization – has a great support among the Russians (in 2021, 70% – treat him positively and 50% – admire and respect him). Some independent Russian sources testify that today the most popular figures in Russian politics are the leader of the communists Ziuganov and extremely radical politician Zhirinovsky, who permanently calls for occupying Eastern Europe and sending troops “to Berlin”.
Under such conditions, it is important to avoid looking at the situation from the Russian point of view. It is quite common for postnormal times to try to reduce the complexity of the system and to explain extremely complex phenomena by using simple theories and models. In international politics it happens when a complicated issue with deep historical roots is regarded as if it had one side only. This means taking into account the point of view of dominant countries in the region and the almost complete disregard to internal processes in “small” countries and the peculiarities of their culture, history, and society. For example, the situation in Ukraine is often depicted as an element of the great confrontation between Russia and the West in line with the theory of Huntington (which is irrelevant to postnormal times). On this basis, it is believed that only western and Russian points are of great importance and a Ukrainian one can be deduced from the previous two and fully understood.
So-called great powers have much more experience and resources to communicate their position and this fact is often ignored even by experts and scholars. Besides, nowadays everything is changing rapidly. Neighboring countries, even if they were similar in the past (though it is often similarity between the tyrant and the victim who lived under the same roof for a long time), now begin to move fast in different directions. Thus, reliance on Russian discourses which are filled with manipulations, myths, and lies is a great problem especially in the case of Ukraine.
For example, assertion about the civil war in Ukraine is one of the key elements of Russian propaganda, which is used to justify its aggression. Actually, there is no civil war in Ukraine, and it is highly improbable in the future. There has always been some part of the population oriented towards Russia, but it is constantly decreasing as the Russian image of totalitarian empire headed by a bloodthirsty “tsar” is not appealing anymore. After the madness of February 24, 2022 this part of the population has been reduced to a minimum. Though there obviously are collaborators with the enemy, as it is in almost any war, it does not apply to the masses of the population in any region. Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine in the large majority of cases don’t identify themselves as Russians and don’t want to join Russia (no matter how Russia dreams about it).
(By the way, two years ago I tried to show the complexity of the situation in Ukraine by using causal layered analysis)
Another deceptive myth is “peace with Russia” or “negotiations about peace”. Under current circumstances, Russia will try to replace the conversation about its specific and numerous crimes by an eternal theme of war and peace. The peace with the aggressor, who threatens the world with a nuclear bomb and at this moment continues to commit numerous war crimes, is impossible. We can reach a temporary truce only, after which we can expect a new and more terrible round of crimes.
Concerning postnormality, it is worth saying that today’s war is the continuation of the same story which began in 2004 during the Orange Revolution (according to Sardar it is an example of chaotic postnormal behaviour). It is called Maidan and it means Ukrainian struggle for independence from Russia and from its obsessive influence. It is very difficult to describe Maidan, you have to be there to understand. One of the bloggers said that it is like carbon powder which under strong pressure turns into a diamond. For a time, society becomes extremely organized and efficient without any leadership from above. This is really amazing and lead to victory in a seemingly hopeless situation. Today, it has left Putin with nothing but undisguised crimes against a civilian population and a nuclear bomb.
There are many other extraordinary signs of postnormal times in Ukraine. It is enough to mention the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019 when a comedian from TV was suddenly elected president and the sole leader of a parliamentary majority. But what is even more astonishing and postnormal, is that during the war he turned into a true national leader with the support of 91% of the population and successfully resists the much more powerful military empire.
I hope my considerations would be helpful for a better understanding of the current situation in Ukraine and future prospects.
[A response was sent, via the WFSF listserv, by Jordi Serra del Pino, Deputy Director of the CPPFS, later the same day on 28 February 2022]
Thank you very much for the insight. It is truly a postnormal event. But, then again, the world is becoming more and more postnormal.
I would add a couple of elements in your analysis, that are relevant for a postnormal perspective: First, the growing presence of contradictions – always a clear sign that postnormalcy is on the rise – and, second, the need to account for multiple perspectives. While I agree that it is important to avoid oversimplification, we do need to acknowledge the Russian perspective. This does not mean to condone or, even, to accept it. Just understanding that there is always more than one side and, precisely because of existing complexity, we do need to understand Russian motivations, if nothing else, to better counter them.
Since you brought up the notion of the black elephant, quite correctly in my opinion, I think that we can also add the black jellyfish in the form of the unexpected and fierce resistance by local people against invaders.
Let me know if there is anything I can do.
[Sukhorolskyi responded on 1 March 2022]
Thank you for your support.
Yes, you are quite right about black jellyfish. Popular resistance springs out suddenly and all the attempts to predict or reproduce it for big money have failed miserably. Russia tried to reproduce this phenomenon for its own benefit, but the results are much poorer despite the huge amount of money spent on such projects. However, it turns out that for Russians to imitate black jellyfish is still more effective than using old approaches like an open war of the state against the state. The same applies not only to methods of warfare but also to the weapons. For instance, in the current war Turkish unmanned combat aerial vehicles – Bayraktars – give a significant advantage to the Ukrainian army and have already helped to destroy a lot of Russian military vehicles. Therefore, a rapid development of such technologies is to be expected after the war.
Concerning Russian perspective, it’s worth reading the article of Russian state media “RIA novosti”, which was written beforehand to celebrate the victory of the Russian army, but then it hasn’t obviously been published. It can be found in the web archive. (It’s in Russian but internet translators may help to understand the main points.)
Petro Sukhorolskyi is an associate professor at Lviv Polytechnic National University, Ukraine. Sukhorolskyi is a futurist who studies the influence of information technologies on human rights, democracy, and international law
This is only the beginning of the polylogue on the postnormal situation that has irrupted around the Ukrainian-Russian War in the past four months. We with Insights invite you to ask questions and join the discussion. Over the next several weeks, contributors will be writing about the postnormal characteristics that surround this evolving conflict.