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The NATO defense ministers, including the government I serve, Latvia, have decided to send more weaponry to Ukraine to fight the Russians, including fancy battle tanks. There is total unanimity that the war should continue within the military leadership. They recognized that is the only way to stop President Vladimir Putin. He will not go quietly into the night and go to his villa in Sochi, drink cognac and enjoy his pension.
Not so with the public at large. While I have no fear that our military will stop seeing Russia as a threat, I fear that more broadly we are entering the stage of "Ukraine fatigue."
In Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 1975 book "Warning to The West," he writes: "Communist leaders [ex-KGB officer Putin, remember, is one] respect only firmness and have contempt for persons who continually give in to them."
For Solzhenitsyn-challenged people, he was the most prominent Russian dissident ever. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Among his many writings "The Gulag Archipelago" was perhaps the best known, and revealed life in communist concentration camps and the inner workings of the Russian soul.
Solzhenitsyn wrote that "on our crowded planet there are no longer any internal affairs." He noted how Soviet leaders said, "Don't interfere in our internal affairs. Let us strangle our citizens in peace and quiet. But I tell you, interfere more and more. Interfere as much as you can. We beg you to come and interfere."
So how far has the enthusiasm for helping Ukraine fallen since the Russian invasion of February 2022? Two famous Minneapolis Ukrainian stores went all out. Kramarczuk's deli baked up thousands of cookies in blue and yellow, the national colors of Ukraine. And Surdyk's stocked cases of decorative bottles of Stoli vodka in Ukraine's national colors (Stoli is now made in Latvia). Stores started stocking pierogies. And throughout Minnesota, sports contests would begin with Ukraine's national anthem, with Ukrainian flags and lapel pins popping up everywhere. Russian sport teams and players were blackballed all over the world. And my own phone kept ringing with invitations to come and talk about Ukraine, NATO and Latvia with its 140-mile border with Russia.
I must admit the Ukraine war helps us Latvians make our cause and plight better known.
But we live by our fickle news and social media cycles that are more given to social issues like LBGTQ rights, the latest shooting deaths or abortion debates. We are so wrapped up in our own violence fatigue.
The war made conservative commentators angry. We need to focus on the invasion of our own borders, not the one in Ukraine, they argue. But the migrants crossing the U.S. border aren't dropping bombs and threatening to take over.
Solzhenitsyn concludes: "You have to understand the nature of Communism and the Russian mind-set. The very ideology of Communism is that anyone who doesn't take what's lying in front of him is a fool. If you can take it, do so. If you can attack, strike. That countries and entire continents continually repeat others' mistakes — with a time lag. What one people has already endured, appraised and rejected suddenly emerges among another people as the very last word. Western youth enthusiastically mouth the discredited clichés of the Russian nineteenth century, thinking that they are uncovering something new."
Let us end with these sobering thoughts from Solzhenitsyn as we go about our daily lives buying groceries and gas and taking our kids to school. "I understand that you love freedom, but in our crowded world you have to pay a tax for freedom. You cannot love freedom for yourselves alone and quietly agree to a situation where the majority of humanity spread out over the greater part of the globe is subject to violence and oppression."
John Freivalds, of Wayzata, is honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota.