It was a quiet day in Trinidad so I opted to go have a beer, which of course lends itself to another beer. During that time I struck up a conversation with a woman who, when the invasion of Ukraine came up, she said easily that she supported Putin. Mind you, she did not say Russia, but Putin, which is interesting in how the world characterizes the conflict.
She knew I support Ukraine when she said it, and there was no animosity in how she said it, so I asked her why. She looked at me perplexed, and I said, “Well, we’re having a good adult conversation, we have different perspectives on something in another part of the world and I’m curious why you feel the way you do.” After a brief pause, she said she was tired of the United States hegemony that Putin talks about.
I nodded in agreement and said, “Yes, that is true, and the past few decades haven’t been the best for the United States and foreign policy.” Honestly, they haven’t regardless of how you feel about anything; domestic issues within the United States have echoed across the world in their conflicted ways with changes of Presidency, from George W. Bush to the present Joe Biden.
I continued, “Yet the killing of civilians, torture and rapes can’t be easy to support. Like in Bucha.” She looked down, conflicted, as I continued, “Most people I know don’t realize that the Ukrainians were colonized, and that their former colonial masters are trying to take them over again – which would be like the British showing up with warships here and pummeling civilian targets until we were a colony again.”
And that’s where the conversation becomes interesting in the Caribbean, and I imagine in Latin America and Africa. ‘Colonization’ is not an idle word, it is a loaded word filled with history, of economics, and of attempting to catch up while some maintain what is called a ‘colonial mentality’. It’s something I’ve heard in Latin America and Caribbean more than once, almost always associated with claims, real and some imagined (completely about personal biases), of racial subjugation, which is probably why Latin America and the Caribbean, and perhaps even Africa, don’t see Ukraine as a former colony of the USSR.
So I compared the Holodomor to the famines in India under British rule. Intentionality in both groupings is a matter of debate by people who like to spend time debating such things, but there is no question that they happened – and in the case of the Holodomor, roughly a decade after the Bolsheviks made a violently convincing ‘argument’ that Ukraine was ‘The Ukraine’. If you wish to irritate someone from Ukraine, call it ‘The Ukraine’. Depending on the context, you may be gently, firmly, or belligerently corrected.
Then I talked about the oil in the Donbas region, which I mentioned not too long ago, and about the messy aspects of democracy and free speech that aren’t permitted in Russia.
The conversation remained pleasant, not a discussion of who was right or wrong. There was searching the internet on mobile phones, and a sincere discussion that lasted for a few beers that morphed into China’s inroads into Trinidad and Tobago, about how economically China has been colonizing former colonies of other nations in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, and how that impacts what we hear. You don’t see much in that regard, but China has sway and where China has sway, the Russian voice is heard more loudly because of China’s benign status about the invasion of Ukraine. There is no form of ‘legal’ invasion, by definition an invasion is illegal. If you want to argue, feel free to tell me when an invasion is legal.
And this leads to the echo chambers of the Global South – in this case, the echo chambers of the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. People and nations within these regions know well what it’s like when someone else speaks for them and writes their history, yet because they are in the Global South they are most easily influenced by Russian media about fairy tale special military operations occur without the rape and torture of civilians. Yet those fairy tale special military operations where these things do not happen simply don’t exist. And without realizing it, without even questioning because the day to day issues of life keep the brain busy, they unconsciously support the attempted recolonization of those who have much in common with themselves, and in rebelling against one hegemony they support another.