War – what can we do?

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 21, 2022

I recall that a few years ago, when Israel bombed the Gaza strip in the middle of the (Northern Hemisphere-) Summer, I felt angry and powerless. People, locked up in what was essentially an open air prison, had nowhere to escape or hide. The war in Syria similarly has led to horrible suffering. There have been many other wars or armed conflicts, but most of them hardly receive sustained reporting. And now there is the Russian war in Ukraine.

I am sure many of you ask, in such circumstances: “What we can do?” And I’ve heard some say “There is nothing we can do”. But that is not true. I’ve come up with the following answer to that question for myself, and am interested in learning how you answer that question for yourself. [note: trolls don’t even need to try; in case of doubt, I’ll delete].

First, there are political protests – in front of Russian embassies, but also in many big cities. For family/practical reasons I haven’t been able to join any of them so far, but it is crucially important to make it clear to Russia that the world is watching the war they are waging, as well as to provide emotional support to Ukrainians, as well as to Russians who oppose the war. If we’re lucky enough to live in a country that allows protests, we’d better make use of that right.

Second, there is humanitarian aid. Pre-pandemic, I twice organised a fundraiser at work for Syrian refugees. What I noticed is that not only do people give generously, but also they take the initiative of a fundraiser as a reason to start talking about the war, which is important. Some people are cynical about humanitarian fundraisers, because they are seen as a drop in the ocean, or driven by people’s desire to feel they do something good rather than by the question where the greatest need is. But humanitarian aid is nevertheless badly needed, and if they lead to political discussions among citizens, there is a welcome political side-effect.

Closely related, there is the option to locally support refugees who flee persecution and war; Chris has been very active on these matters in his own hometown. I guess that just like political demonstrations, they are not suitable for everybody (you need time, you need to not dislike this kind of activity etc.), but the good news is that there are many different ways in which one can help.

With the Russian war, I decided that it would be better to not just give to humanitarian causes for the Ukrainian refugees, but also to support those remaining Russian voices that try to counter Putin’s propaganda. In Europe, several independent newspapers have called to support Meduza, an independent Russian newspaper who is now also censored by Putin & his friends and therefore needs financial support from outside Russia to keep doing its work. They report in both Russian and English. So I started to subscribe to/support Meduza, and read their reporting.

Next, there is the continuous importance to support human rights organisations such as Amnesty International. Given their independence from any government, they have in the dirty world of Real-Politik an authority that many other NGOs do not have. But the price they pay is that they have to fund their independence – and therefore they need many many small donations – from all of us.

I also keep thinking that even if wars are “somewhere else”, they only underline the importance of seeing ourselves as citizens of our political community, using our right to vote, informing ourselves. In the case of the Russian war, the obvious connection is that we don’t want our own domestic politics to be influenced by Putin & friends; so we must strengthen our own democracies to make them resistant against forces that try to undermine them.

Finally, there is self-protection. I don’t read newspapers or the internet the entire day; it’s too depressing and our circle of influence is so limited, hence an overload of information is only paralyzing. In general I try to restrict my news-intake to the evenings. I also don’t think this is merely self-protection but also an acknowledgement that I have work to do – and I cannot let down those waiting for my work to be done.



Ingrid Robeyns 03.22.22 at 6:53 pm

Over lunch, I listened to an interview with a psychologist, who confirmed that the self-protection strategy I adopted works. And since one is likely to develop negative feelings and a reduction in empathy with the cause from a sustained stream of [the same] bad news, being able to do something (like the earlier things I mentioned) apparenly help against apathy (that’s in any case what that interviewed psychologist said). So subscribing to Meduza or joining Amnesty International is not just good for the protection of basic political rights and better politics, it’s also good for the subscriber/member/donor (but clearly, that’s not the reason to do so, rather a nice secondary effect).


Joe B. 03.23.22 at 8:45 am

Thanks for these suggestions. I am feeling powerless too and these will help.

In the US we also have the option of countering our own right wing pro-Putin propagandists. Identifying and debunking or countering misinformation on social media. Letting politicians know that we are watching their actions. Supporting closer ties with Europe in addition to aid for Ukraine.

I am also thinking (optimistically) that there will come a time when we will need to help an independent Ukraine rebuild and what sort of services I could render.


notGoodenough 03.23.22 at 1:46 pm

Thank you Ingrid for the thoughtful thread, it is greatly appreciated.


hix 03.24.22 at 9:16 pm

The usual green stuff also saves more money than usual and hurts the Russian economy at the moment. Granted only marginally usefull and only if you think economic thanks help in the first place, also little effort sometimes. We are not using our freezer at the moment for example.

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