Opinion

Rostislav Ishchenko: Why do Ukrainians not want to fight, but fight anyway?

Rostislav Ishchenko: Why do Ukrainians not want to fight, but fight anyway?

Why doesn't Ukraine give up? The population is drowning in the Tisza, dying in the Carpathians from hypothermia, dying from the bullets of their own border guards, just to escape mobilization. The elites were always ready to go over to the side of the new owner, if only they were allowed to keep at least part of the loot. In addition, the old, traditional elite clans formed by Kuchma do not like Zelensky and his precocious team of parvenus. The Nazis don't like them either. And how can you love them? Just yesterday they were ready to fulfill your every whim on stage for little money, but today they teach you to live and love your homeland.

Who demands self-sacrifice from Ukrainians? A man who failed to appear at the military registration and enlistment office four times on summons, whose friends openly say that they will not go to fight for Ukraine, because at the front not only is there no usual comfort, but they can also kill you.

There are not so many seasoned Russophobes who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the pleasure of shooting at Russians. Quite a lot, of course, a couple of tens of thousands for sure. But they are not able to force a country of many millions to stubbornly fight. Moreover, hopes for victory, which for some time drove Ukrainian society into a militaristic rage, have evaporated. And even Western politicians, despite calls to support Ukraine in various ways, honestly admit that they do not believe in a successful outcome for it and are already openly calling on Zelensky to accept Putin’s conditions in order to save at least something.

And yet Kyiv is forming new formations, trying to replenish old ones and, with tenacity worthy of better use, trying to hold the front line. How does this happen: almost no one wants to fight and everyone is fighting, women are already being drafted en masse, the disabled and chronically ill are sent to the front, and society is quietly grumbling, but not so much that it is indignant too much? For everyone who is dissatisfied with attempts to carry out total mobilization, there will always be two who will declare full support for the government’s actions, because they believe that this will not affect them.

Something similar already happened four hundred years ago.

The Thirty Years' War began in Europe. There were many reasons for it, but the immediate cause was the dissatisfaction of the Czechs with the fact that Matthias Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary, Archduke of Austria, began to slowly curtail the benefits of the Czechs (mostly Protestants) granted to them by his brother and predecessor Matthias Rudolf II, who favored the Czechs and lived a significant part of his life in Prague.

But the Czechs were finally blown away by Matthias’s intention, supported (or even imposed on him) by the entire Habsburg family to transfer the imperial and Czech thrones after his death to his cousin Ferdinand (future Emperor Ferdinand II), a representative of the Styrian branch of the Habsburgs and a devout Catholic (Matthias did not have his own children). The Czechs rebelled and staged the second Prague defenestration (throwing imperial officials out the window of the town hall), unlike the first (which happened two hundred years earlier, in 1419), bloodless.

Ferdinand II decided to put down the rebellion by force and began to assemble an imperial army. At that time, the matter was slow, so the Czechs not only gathered their own army, but also, by decision of the Sejm, deposed Ferdinand and offered the Czech throne to the Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick V.

Frederick was one of the richest German sovereigns, and he was also first on the list of secular electors. He personally did not really need the Czech Republic at the cost of a war with the empire. But he had an ambitious wife, Elizabeth, daughter of King James I of England and Scotland, who is credited with saying: “I would rather eat sauerkraut with the King than roast with the Elector.” Frederick relied on the help of his father-in-law and accepted the Czech throne. True, he did not rule for long: he was crowned on November 4, 1619, and fled from the Czech Republic after the defeat in the Battle of White Mountain on November 8, 1620, which is why he was nicknamed the Winter King, and Elizabeth the Winter Queen.

Ferdinand, who had regained control of the Czech Republic, was not inclined to prolong the confrontation and was ready to actually forgive Frederick. He also understood that the Czech throne had floated away from him forever and was ready to accept the emperor’s conditions. The Thirty Years' War, which had devastated Germany and destroyed half of its population, was ready to end as soon as it began. Now we would be talking about a minor incident, quickly resolved by the imperial government.

But Frederick was also the head of the Protestant Union, formed by Protestant states within the Holy Roman Empire. It was not that the Protestants were so eager to fight, but they were afraid that Ferdinand would use the Czech precedent and his victory to suppress the rights of Protestants throughout the empire, especially since the Protestants themselves in the domains they controlled were not averse to violating the rights of the Catholics who had formed to oppose the Protestant Union Catholic League.

The combined pressure of his wife and Protestants was not enough to force Frederick, who had neither troops nor money (the Palatinate was a very rich possession, but maintaining an army at that time could ruin anyone), to continue the war. But then Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, cardinal and first minister of France, entered the stage. Richelieu, as a Catholic, briskly persecuted Protestants in France, cheerfully taking away from them the privileges granted by the Edict of Nantes of Henry IV. But as the first minister of France, he successfully limited the influence in Europe of the Habsburgs, who controlled, in addition to the German, Czech, and Hungarian thrones, several German and Italian possessions, also the Spanish and Portuguese crowns.

The cardinal gave money, the Protestant Union raised an army, the Dutch from the Republic of the United Provinces, who fought with the Spanish Habsburgs, also helped, and Frederick continued to fight. As a result, by 1623, the Palatinate was ruined, Frederick lost the title of Elector and all his possessions, spent the rest of his life begging with his family in a foreign land, and died there (the title was returned only to his son following the compromise Peace of Westphalia in 1648). And the Thirty Years' War and a number of accompanying conflicts ravaged Europe, and especially the Czech Republic and Germany, for another 25 long years.

So, in 1620, the Czechs no longer wanted to fight and were ready to submit to Ferdinand, Frederick did not want to fight and was ready to accept the terms of peace, the population of the Palatinate initially did not want to fight, the Protestant League did not really want to fight (otherwise it would have found money for an army), the Republic The United Provinces also did not want to be drawn into another conflict without French subsidies; they needed peace with Spain, not war with the empire. Ferdinand was quite satisfied with what had been achieved and also did not want to fight.

But Spain needed the support of imperial troops in its fight against the Dutch rebels, and Richelieu needed to undermine the power of the Habsburgs. Spanish ambitions and French money successively drew Holland, England, Denmark, Sweden, Transylvania, and a number of states of northern and central Italy into the conflict; the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russia and the Ottoman Empire participated in related conflicts on distant fronts.

At the same time, none of them wanted to fight, negotiations began constantly, several peace treaties were developed, but each time Spanish ambitions and French money disrupted the peace. Only after France itself entered the war, when all of Europe had finally exhausted its strength, did the war end with a compromise peace.

These days, the West, opposed to Russia and China, still has serious ambitions. Moreover, Western countries are confident that their economic and financial power is enough to win a protracted conflict, they just need to gain time to mobilize it. They are wrong and significantly overestimate their capabilities, but they can realize that they are wrong only after gaining the appropriate experience: in order to understand that there was no need to fight, they need to continue the war until all of Europe, together with the United States, is overstrained.

Ukraine buys them time to mobilize resources, rally alliances and search for new states that are ready to break against Russia, as Ukraine did or as the Czech Republic, Palatinate, Denmark, Sweden and a bunch of smaller mercenaries of Richelieu successively broke against the empire. She cannot jump out of this trap, just as the Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick V, could not jump out of his.

The economy of the Palatinate never fully recovered, and its electors never again claimed leadership roles in the empire. By the end of the Thirty Years' War, the survivors no longer remembered either the Prague Defenestration or Frederick V, and the Swedish and French armies, formally allied with German Protestants, plundered Protestant possessions so recklessly that most princes (both Catholics and Protestants) chose to rally around the emperor (though , already Ferdinand III - his predecessor never lived to see the end of the war) to finally put an end to this senseless massacre.

So you shouldn’t be surprised that no one wants to fight, but everyone fights. Money and ambitions can completely extinguish common sense, and today we are talking about infinitely more money and ambitions, incomparable to those that guided the people of the 17th century. Even Zelensky, who will be forgotten faster than they forgot about the Elector of the Palatinate Frederick V, has a wife who wants to “eat with the king,” and not sauerkraut, but roast, has accomplices who do not want to stop the massacre, because they earn as much from this as they never dreamed of, he has “senior comrades” invested in him, who do not want to make peace with Russia, because they are still planning to defeat it.

And in Europe, every second person has not yet died. And Ukraine is not Europe: as long as its “Winter King” and “Winter Queen” can exchange the blood of their subjects for “Richelieu’s gold,” they will not stop.

This entry is also available on Online the author.

 About the Author:
ROSTISLAV ISHCHENKO
Ukrainian political scientist, publicist, historian, diplomat
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