Mrs. Marge Glad, the most wonderful of history teachers, and the indispensable instructor of my youth, might now say, “Well, I said the Peace of Westphalia was mighty important.”
She should know better than most as her family fled Europe for America during WWII.
What she had to say about that treaty filled lectures with the truism of what was designed after the Thirty Years War. It should be recalled now as the threat of Russia overtaking Ukraine increases. As the crisis now mounts the essential foundations of what was once viewed as a major demarcation in European history deserves a shout-out.
As does the teacher who allowed me to deepen my awareness and love for history.
The treaty is much noted for what seems stunningly simple ideas and concepts we take for granted today. At the top of the list was the concept of a state or nation being sovereign. Each state was allowed to set its own governing process be it kings or parliaments, and pray to its own religious beliefs. Placing officials within other states for ongoing diplomatic talks were seen as a way to bridge differences. What was designed created a system of balance so that power of a new type–accords with one another–could be used to counter military threats.
Much has changed since the 1600s and as we know wars consumed Europe and caused massive reactions worldwide. But there is no denying that the foundation of Westphalia still rings true.
Russian President Putin has designs on reviving a chapter of history that can not be remade. The old Soviet Union and the forced subjugation of peoples and cultures that had no reason, other than brute force, to be joined together will not be allowed again by the international community.
While Ukraine is a central part of the historical narrative for Russia the military moves by Putin to strangle the republic can not be accepted. There are those who will bend to the autocrat and claim the West is to blame for pushing the NATO umbrella.
But, I would argue it is Putin’s vision of grandeur about a region captured from the Ottomans during the reign of Catherin the Great that should not now be relitigated through the use of tanks and missiles. One can assert the West should have been more inclusive of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Or we could just say, as is proper with any madman, that it would be cheaper for Putin to just talk with a psychiatrist.
Putin prides himself on being a student of history. Until, that is, the collapse of the USSR. Then he seems to have stopped reading. It was very evident that all of the ethnic and culturally diverse people clamped down by Moscow for decades wanted their own state, their own government, their own say in their own affairs. When given the chance they bolted with the fall of the USSR.
Almost a modern Peace of Westphalia.
My favorite teacher, Mrs. Glad died many years ago. While she was still teaching I visited her late one afternoon in her classroom. I had worked in radio and then moved on to my time in the statehouse. She sat behind her desk and I was back in one of the desks that are a trademark in such rooms. I thanked her for making a difference in my life. She truly did make a difference.
Tonight, I wish Vladamir could have had her in his formative days as a student, too.
And so it goes.