Why diplomats have to be more humane than national, as seen from Kramatorsk in Ukraine’s conflicted East

by Andy Kozlov, (@KozlovAndy, LinkedIn)

Why would you want to cut off the Rwandan representative from the live feed during the broadcast of the United Nations Security Council deliberations on Crimea? Harare, Zimbabwe-based human rights analyst Takura Zhangazha (@TakuraZhangazha) observed this to take place during the March 2014 vote in which “Africa’s weak placement in global politics starkly demonstrated itself.”

UN General Assembly Vote on Ukraine’s Territorial Integrity. Blue: Yes/For; Dark Grey: Abstain; Light Grey: Absent; Red: No/Against. The only African countries to vote against the resolution were Sudan and Zimbabwe. And what about the BRICS?
UN General Assembly Vote on Ukraine’s Territorial Integrity. Blue: Yes/For; Dark Grey: Abstain; Light Grey: Absent; Red: No/Against. The only African countries to vote against the resolution were Sudan and Zimbabwe. And what about the BRICS?

This happened last month. Then on April 7th, the world remembered the victims of the Rwanda genocide, talked R2P (responsibility to protect) and tweeted massively that we haven’t learned anything since the 1994 massacre.

Mid-April, the reality TV came to my hometown of Kramatorsk in Eastern Ukraine — and usually in a state of near-sleep — which turned it into the next subject of international speculations on whether the Russians are seriously moving west. “Will the world protect the obscure tribes inhabiting the basin of the Donets River? Is this the new Cold War?” If it is I wish it doesn’t make us in northern Donetsk Oblast cry, only laugh. Laugh the way residents of  a small New England island town would in 1966 while watching this American comedy directed by Norman Jewison:

At the moment, it is impossible to pencil out a clear course for the region which has been hijacked by various kinds of crony capitalists since Ukraine’s independence in 1991.

On my way to the tennis court, I could enjoy another sunny spring day in Kramatorsk today. The gusts of the apricot-bloom-scented breeze. The noisy kids playing after school in the yard of my nine-floor apartment block make me want to believe that tomorrow I will not have to closely familiarize myself with the Ragnar’s Urban Survival: A Hard-Times Guide to Staying Alive in the City. This is despite the tense situation in the neighboring town of Slovyansk, 12 km to the north. But.. if I end up having to master the survival guide, this can make me — at least in theory — a more competitive UNHCR staff. And the job of the UN Agency for Refugees is to walk out of job, make people fleeing conflicts a mere fact of history.

During my driving class early in the morning, we didn’t meet any road blocks. Around 4 pm my father and I have both noticed the back-to-normal traffic load on the road between Kharkiv and Rostov-on-Don that cuts through Kramatorsk and passes by Slovyansk.

In the murky waters, disturbed by those in pursuit of their national interests, the value of human life always gets discounted. The events like the Rwanda genocide and its spillover in the DRC; the ongoing wars in Syria, CAR and Somalia and the 1990s events in former Yugoslavia all paint a vivid picture, regardless of the landscape.

The steppe vegetation outside my window brings back the memories of my time as a literacy project volunteer in Zimbabwe’s bush. The Southern African nation celebrates its 34th anniversary today. The independence is partially credited to the comrades in the Soviet Ukraine and Russia, official supporters of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa.

Courses held in the Soviet Union have been of four main types – para-military training, military engineering, radio (usually at Simferopol in Crimea and Odessa), and intelligence (in Moscow). Para-military training has also been given in Bulgaria, North Korea, and the Arab Republic of Egypt. While in Zimbabwe back in 2011, I ran into a retired Zimbabwean general who shared with me some pleasant memories of his time as a youthful trainee in Crimea. Burning pieces of wood clicking in the bonfire, as we spoke outside his compound near the border with Botswana.

Look at the UNGA Crimea vote map above and yes, Robert Mugabe’s envoy in New York sided red. A decade before Rwanda, Zimbabwe had its own genocide, Gukurahundi. While the world looked the other way, North Korea followed its ‘national interests’ and sent troops to massacre the civilians in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland region.

North Korea have voted red on Crimea. The country that, according to the latest 372-page study by UN, forced a mother to drown her just-born baby in a bowl of water.

Asked whether he believed the North Korea Inquiry report would change anything immediately in that Asian country, Michael Kirby, an Australian retired judge, recalled a UN mission he led in the early 1990s to report on human rights abuses in Cambodia, some years before that country’s eventual UN-led tribunal on Khmer Rouge crimes. He said: “Bearing witness, collecting the stories, recording them and putting them there for future use can sometimes bear fruit a little later.”

“But how confident can Kirby be that action will follow?” wonders Jonathan Freedland (@Freedland) of The Guardian. He argues:

Any UN plan – even a referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court – would hit the immediate obstacle of a Chinese veto in the security council. .. Did a recent report laying out comprehensive evidence of the suffering of detainees at the hands of the Assad regime in Syria spark a worldwide demand for action, with demonstrations outside parliaments and presidential palaces? It did not. Perhaps mindful that any call for UN action would be blocked by a Russian veto, the chief response was a global shrug. Now, after Iraq and Afghanistan, [people’s] belief that if they only shouted loud enough, they would eventually get the international powers to act, has vanished.

The take on the Ukrainian crisis jotted down by Timothy Garton Ash, another Guardian contributor, in China highlights another hurdle in humanity’s way to becoming more humane.

Ukraine was a long way away – and, frankly speaking, the positives of the crisis outweighed the negatives for China. What’s more, the United States would have another strategic distraction (after al-Qaida, Afghanistan and Iraq) to hinder its “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region, and divert its attention from China. And, cold-shouldered by the west, Russia would be more dependent on a good relationship with Beijing. As for Ukraine – which already sells China higher-grade military equipment than Russia has been willing to share with its great Asian ally – its new authorities had already quietly assured the Chinese authorities that Beijing’s failure to condemn the annexation of Crimea would not affect their future relations.

Russia’s two other partners in the so-called Brics group – Brazil and South Africa – both abstained on the UN general assembly resolution criticising the Crimea referendum. They also joined Russia in expressing “concern” at the Australian foreign minister’s suggestion that Vladimir Putin might be barred from attending a G20 summit in November.

Monocle’s foreign affairs editor, Steve Bloomfield here:

Brazil, highly critical of western action in Libya, made a strong intellectual case for respect for human rights being linked to respect for sovereignty. When the United Nations General Assembly voted to support Ukraine’s sovereignty Brazil failed to join the 100 nations in favour. They, like India, chose to abstain. One imagines that if the US had annexed a part of Mexico, Brasília would not have sat quietly on the fence.

Who knows, if Sérgio Vieira de Mello, Brazil’s son who had often risked his life for the promotion of the humanitarian cause, was still alive maybe he could inspire Russia’s Sergey Lavrov to be less national and more humane in his reasonings.

In the H1N1 age, diplomats’ inactions speak louder than their words. The world is pronouncingly being told to forget the human drama amidst all this national interest talk and the short-sighted concern caused by geographic proximity. Paired with the country interest, resentment at centuries of western colonial domination stops the shrinking world from realizing the urgency of collaboration, as the ever increasing number of problems transcends borders of some 190 countries.

Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, recently suggested that “the smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China.” Well, it could easily be someone from Slovyansk, a community becoming a case study for the Stockholm syndrome, collective phycosis and, accidentally, civil society resurgence in a region where demonstrating for your rights had not been a habit shared by many even a couple months ago. But which diplomat will feel responsible to secure Slovyansk residents from the carnal violence? The gunmen sitting in the Slovyansk city council are reportedly unwilling to accept the April 17 Geneva deal.

The world as a whole will win if it fosters more goodwill ambassadors at the expense of nation-framed diplomats. The geographic distance could increasingly be a plus as far as balanced negotiations are concerned.

To downplay the gory and militant imagery of Russian and Ukrainian videostreams, here is a somewhat balanced report by Press TV, a 24-hour English language news organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting:

Zimbabwe’s Takura Zhangazha again:

We may be a weaker continent but we are not weak global citizens. And we must consistently lay claim to this global citizenship by shouting from Mt Kilimanjaro: “no return to the past of the Cold War. It does not help the world to move forward.”

No matter what becomes of Crimea — a Tibet, Western Sahara, South Sudan or the German Democratic Republic as we observe it in 2014– the trend globally has been clear: the world on the whole is becoming a better place as individuals on all continents grow healthier and more educated in ever larger numbers.

Steve Bloomfield once more:

While reporters scramble to hear the latest press conference from John Kerry or William Hague, few would make a similar effort to get the views of India’s external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, a man so well known around the world that you’re not entirely sure if I’ve just made him up. India will have a new foreign minster next month. Let’s hope it’s worth learning his name.

A time will come when the Foreign Minister of Russia or any other international power –be it soft or hard — will not just be a “tough, reliable, extremely sophisticated negotiator” unwittingly drawing the world’s attention to the double standards applied to the Comoros. A goodwill ambassador we want to see in Kramatorsk tomorrow will be a human being using her/his knowledge, skills and international connections to effectively alleviate the suffering and overcome miscommunication, and using this intention as a guiding principle to substitute the touted national interest.

As the military jets circling above my hometown have become a routine view over this week, I tell myself to keep calm and “bear witness, record the stories and put them there for future use.”

You can write to Andy Kozlov on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com

See also:

Kramatorsk. A Global Intersection

Discussing the isolation/insulation of Donbass aesthetics with an industrial photographer from Eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian Gangnam Style: Hyundai gets Ukraine wrong, apologizes. While FEMEN topless-climb up South Korean bullet train at Kyiv

Steppes In Figures #5: Ukraine and the world

Freelance Diplomacy and Small States

Not-your-usual faces of African diplomacy

A different world map

Video Games Are Mapping Your World I

TV and film help UNHCR to raise refugee issues awareness in China, Ukraine as well as Japan

Sri Lankans cover Zimbabwean engineer helping Mongolians in sustainable Ninja-Mining, while Estonians document Eastern Ukrainian kids digging for coal

For Chornobyl with Love: strumming Ukrainian pain in Japan and relieving that pain in Japan

Successful designer in Syria and internationally, asylum-seeker in Ukraine. Hussam Al-Yamani defies the odds, opens Mediterranean cuisine restaurant in Kyiv’s Podil

Multikulti Ukraine


Switch on Ukraine! – To then do what?

How Ukraine is providing the world with high-end IT solutions. Via Uruguay’s Montevideo

We feed the world — the Ukrainian way, that is

My North Korean film classes in humanity and creativity

The 10 Commandments of Development Communication

What a young Ukrainian expert in international relations can learn traveling for 15 days with 450 people by Indian train

Ukraine’s own ‘Zaha Hadid’ introduces the gentrifying Eastern Europe to the Iranian-inspired design

Mounteering Nigerians and the Cossacks of Ukraine

Nigerian engineer creates dozen job opportunities for Ukrainians in Kyiv

Soviet, a South African brand

South African training for Ukrainians

The worst music with the best intentions? Insights on a Zimbabwean fundraising tune for Somalia

General History of Africa gets more non-European dimensions

These reporters and media execs shape English-language reader-s perception of Ukraine

On international reporting

The challenges of reporting on sustainable development in Ukraine. What is this ‘sustainable development,’ by the way?

Eebra Toore’- came to Ukraine to play a Somali pirate boss against the Russian marines

The most remarkable Japanese person who dedicated himself/herself to Africa’s development is anonymous

Bad bad video! Or what we-ve learned from KONY 2012 to change the world for better

North Korean artist turns from propaganda to pop art


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