by Andreas Chenvainu In response to the war currently raging in Ukraine, Bergen held a teach-in inside the technology building to raise awareness of the historical context of Russia’s invasion, and the potential responses those in attendance might take.
The first session was led by speakers Vanda Bozicević and Maria Kasparova with Emily Vandalovsky-Maria Makowiecka as a moderator. The topic of discussion was their personal perspectives on the conflict currently raging in Ukraine as the Eastern-European nation resists Russia’s invasion.
For session two, Professor Kieth Chu explained the historical events that led to the current crisis. According to Professor Chu, the tensions Russia had regarding NATO are rooted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Chu explained that the post-soviet borders in Europe were seen by a certain number of Russians, Vladimir Putin most relevantly, as a setback to be corrected. Chu said that Putin believes that Russia has a sense of “Manifest Destiny,” calling “to reconstitute the Russian Empire,” a course that would involve destructive wars that Putin has proven willing to initiate. Chu says Putin’s actions are not surprising given his anxieties about NATO’s expansion since the fall of the Soviet Union, but he also stated that today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union. “It’s no longer the ideological colossus or the military colossus perhaps that it once was,” he said, even if it still has nuclear weapons. As a historian, Chu believes some different courses of action could have been taken to avoid this particular conflict. “If Ukraine was included in NATO, it’s very unlikely that Putin would have invaded, but that was going to be very difficult to do.” When asked by an audience member what would happen in the scenario Russia occupies Ukraine, he said it was unlikely that the international community would recognize neither the puppet state Putin would install in the country, nor his claim to the region, as legitimate.
Professor Peter Dlugos led session three and offered several political and non-political philosophies to offer lenses with which to view the conflict, including Realpolitik, the “Just War Theory,” and pacifism. Ironically, according to Dlugos, Putin is technically following the “Just War Theory,” though Putin’s justifications are weak at best.
Dlugos was extremely critical of the realism, or “Realpolitik” stance, his main issue being that it posits that morality has no bearing on war. “Realism is the view that ‘might make right,’ in a way,” he said of Realpolitik, “which is to say there is no right or wrong outside of power.” According to him, this is not just a moral failure that disregards human well-being, but in his opinion, a pragmatic failure as well. He argued that its cold stance towards human life leads to thinking which in turn causes behaviors which might even trigger nuclear war. According to him, Putin is using “Realpolitik with a veneer or Just War,” by lying about supposed fascist crimes in Ukraine. An alternative he offered was pacifism. “We need to tread very lightly, I think, if we want to avoid another war,” he says. He believes the U.S. has been successful at this so far. “We’ve been criticized for it, but I think it’s been smart as well.” Dlugos argued for a stance known as “Transformational Pacifism,” the idea we need to “That doesn’t mean war or self-defense is not needed,” he says, “but that “as a humanity, as a globe, we need to move in the direction of peace.” He advocates we need to become a peaceful people as a species through education and reform.
As a transition between sessions, a student read the poem, “The Peace Pipe,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Counseling services were offered for session four, with Eileen Purcell giving advice. Though most of the attendees had already left, she recommended the remaining students who might be distressed by the situation to think about them and what they can control in their lives, and if necessary, to visit the counseling department to discuss their feelings. However, according to Professor Yi, one of the event’s organizers, there were no students in attendance who needed counseling services related to the Teach-In.
The event was closed by Andy Krikun, Susanna Lansangan-Sabangan, Heidi Lieb, and Dan Sheehan, who played a selection of songs fitting of their hopes for the moment and in hopes of a peaceful future for Ukraine, notably included John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
There is another Teach-In planned for April 19 for further exploration of the war in Ukraine.