"A two-part essay on the reality you discover when you just open your eyes and think for yourself"
By Gilbert Doctorow, gilbertdoctorow.com (September 30, 2023)

In recent days I have read in one of the Opposition media platforms that thinking for yourself is actively discouraged by most all political regimes because it makes people hard to govern. Built into that generalization is the assumption, I believe false, that people would want to think for themselves if they could. Regrettably from my experience in life, most people I know, including all of my relatives save my spouse and my progeny (a point of pride) prefer to “go with the flow” and not enter into conflict with people around them who are content with state propaganda.

Be that as it may, for those brave souls who ignore conventional thinking, I offer today a two-part essay that they should find agreeable reading.

The war in Ukraine is a typical tragedy because young men are dying

The question mark is my commentary on what you hear time and again from those who would be humanists, people with a conscience for whom war represents old men sending young men to their deaths. Their hearts are in the right place; their minds are not. None other than the doyen of the American school of Realists, Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, has mentioned in passing how young men are dying fighting in Ukraine.

Those who say this have obviously never looked closely at Russian or Ukrainian videos from the front. If you do so, you reach an entirely different conclusion: that this war is being fought by males aged 30 and over, with a very large contingent over 50.

As regards Ukrainian males, youth has fled the war to seek refuge in Western Europe. I see them, hear them with their girl friends or wives shopping near me in Brussels. The Ukrainian armed forces today have a very large contingent of males who are dragooned off the streets of Kiev and other cities and force marched onto the field of battle. These are the gaunt and worn faces I see among prisoners of war on Russian television. The ongoing mobilization is chaotic and driven only by the need for cannon fodder.

As regards Russian males, the video images of those standing in line to sign up for military service, voluntarily I note, are not kids and include a lot of folks bordering on retirees. Why? Because the older they are, the more Russian men have a memory and respect for the Soviet past, for their own family’s heroism in WWII, and so the more patriotic they are today. Skinheads in Russia do not go off to war. I suppose they go underground.

What I am saying is guesswork. I have seen no official figures whatsoever on the age complexion of the present Russian armed forces. But I am making an educated, as opposed to a “wild guess,” based on what I have seen.

My willingness to believe what Russian journalism is presenting on television is heightened by the fact that the words these soldiers are saying to the broad public rings true. Forget the “fog of war.” That pertains most to machinations of Washington, London, Berlin and Kiev. The Russians are, remarkably, letting their soldiers say that this is a tough war, that they are frightened going out each day, but they do it nonetheless out of respect for their oath when they entered the service and out of respect for their forebears. Not one of them is a callow youth. None of them would correspond to the Oxbridge youth who went off to war in England in 1914. Looking at the faces of their non-commissioned officers, l see only men in their mid-30s and 40s

What you learn speaking to the owner of a neighborhood Polish food store in central Brussels

In the past, I have commented on how I use taxi drivers and barbers as a vital source of market information when I make my periodic visits to Russia. Our relations are anonymous. It is unlikely we will ever meet again and in these circumstances, people talk.

But the rule of learning more from talking to ordinary people than from reading mainstream media applies most anywhere, not just in the Greater St Petersburg. This morning’s interchange with the shop owner when I picked up some groceries at a nearby Polish food store in central Brussels was a case in point.

Over the course of several years, I have been regularly buying Polish delicacies from this store. Why? Because if you put aside politics and the ambitions of elites in history and today, and instead look at what is on the dining table, Poles really are very close to Russians. If you are used to having real kefir for breakfast and real sour cream for your mushroom soup, and real barrel-style deli pickles to go with your shot of vodka, then a Polish store is a must for your average Russian in the diaspora.

What has struck me in recent months has been the sharp increase in prices in this store. The result has been the de-listing of some products that have become totally unreasonable in price. I think for example of one of my favorites, Polish ‘hand made’ stuffed cabbages (goląbki) that are sold four to a plastic container, weighing perhaps one pound and suitable as a main course for a family of three. The price has risen from about 4 euros to about 6 euros. The product is priced now beyond the budget of your average Polish Belgian and no longer is being carried.

I struck up a conversation with the store owner, in French, I add, because my conversational Polish is not up to discussions of price inflation. She agreed that the price rises in Poland and in what Poland ships to Belgium have been dramatic. Indeed, she said that she is considering closing her store at year’s end because the goods are now too expensive for her clients compared to local and West European products in ordinary Belgian supermarkets.

I suggested that she do what another Polish store nearby has done: put on her shelves products targeting the Ukrainians among us, who seem to be fairly wealthy. She showed some interest. In fact, that other Polish store has a lot of new goods with Cyrillic labels imported either from Ukraine or made in Germany for the Ukrainian “refugees” living there.

Is there a political dimension to these observations? They do raise the question of how the Law and Justice Party (PiS), as the party in power, can win the forthcoming national elections of mid-October. In the past couple of weeks we have heard how PiS implemented a ban on importing Ukrainian grain in order to protect their farmers, whose votes are badly needed if the PiS can assemble enough deputies in the incoming parliament to form a (coalition) government. But I do wonder where a government can expect re-election when it has been running annual inflation of over 20%, with still worse figures in the food sector.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023