What we need to know about Ukraine's history: Professor Timothy Snyder on the Radio Davos podcast 

Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History, Yale University, USA, speaking during the Session "Defending the Shared Space" at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 24, 2019. Congress Centre - Situation RoomCopyright by World Economic Forum / Ciaran McCrickard

Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History, Yale University, speaking in Davos

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
Kateryna Gordiychuk
Video Producer, World Economic Forum
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  • President Vladimir Putin has told Russians that history shows Ukraine has no 'tradition of genuine statehood'.
  • History professor Timothy Snyder counters that narrative, saying Ukraine is right to fight for its post-Soviet independence.
  • Subscribe to the Radio Davos podcast here.
  • Podcast episode page: https://www.weforum.org/podcasts/radio-davos/episodes/ukraines-history-and-why-it-matters.

In February of this year, Russia invaded Ukraine, creating a humanitarian and refugee crisis, and plunging the world into whole new economic and geopolitical uncertainties, just as we were starting to recover from the worst pandemic in a century.

But while the impact of the war, that still rages, has been felt all around the world, many of us may know little about Ukraine itself. A part of the sprawling Soviet Union until the Iron Curtain fell, it has been an independent state since 1991.

On this episode of the Radio Davos podcast, we hear from American historian Timothy Snyder, whose books include Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

He spoke to World Economic Forum Social Video Producer Kateryna Gordiychuk at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos in May.

Timothy Snyder on the history of Ukraine: transcript

Kateryna Gordiychuk, World Economic Forum Social Video Producer: What is the first thing that you think anyone should know about Ukraine today?

Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University: I think the first thing people should know about Ukraine is that the reason we don't know very much about Ukraine is that it's been so much in the middle of things. The depth of the tragedies of Ukrainian history is so great that we haven't really been able to perceive the country itself.

It's a country which comes out of empire. It's a country which has lost its political classes and its political chances over and over again, but which now, after 1991, after the end of the Soviet Union, really has had its first free generation and its first chance to build a democracy with that generation.

So the first thing to know about Ukraine is that the 21st century has given Ukraine a chance. And now Ukraine is facing a war whose aggressor seeks to take that chance away.

The depth of the tragedies of Ukrainian history is so great that we haven't really been able to perceive the country itself.

Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University

Kateryna Gordiychuk: As you mentioned, in 1991, the borders that we know today were fully formed. How has the idea of Ukraine's independence shifted through the years?

Timothy Snyder: Ukraine has a very old national idea, actually. The idea of Ukraine goes back into the 17th century at least. And one can talk about the history of Ukraine which is much older than that. The Ukrainian national movement comes from the 19th century and really it was a quite typical European national movement - anti-imperial, focused on the people as the subjects of of history.

Ukraine, unlike other East European nations, was unable to establish a state in the early 20th century after the First World War. Its statehood only really emerges in a durable way after 1991.

Since 1991, Ukraine has established a national identity, which is based, I think, around three basic ideas. One of these ideas is plurality, that the nation is not homogenous. The nation includes different religions, people of different origin, different languages.

The second idea that I think is characteristic of Ukraine is the idea of the future. So whereas Ukraine's neighbour, Russia, or at least its leaders, are obsessed with certain mythical ideas of the past, the national idea of Ukraine tends to be tilted more towards the future, towards what young generations can achieve, towards a kind of European destiny.

And I suppose the third part of [Ukrainian] identity is that orientation towards Europe. Ukrainians have the idea, I think correctly, that the nation state, important though it is, is not quite enough, and that if one wants to have a secure nation state, one has to have a larger association with the European Union.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: What I found very interesting is you said that there's this orientation toward the future. And when we talked about the borders only forming in 1991, that gives me the idea that perhaps the reason for that is because, although there's so much history, but there's not enough written history to clutch to, so the only way is to think ahead and try to build a better future. That is such a contrast from other parts of Europe who really seem to be very much attached to their history. Can you say a little bit more about that? That's such an interesting contrast to me.

There's no tension between caring about history and caring about the future. On the contrary, if you're attentive to your own history then you have a better chance of building a future.

Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University

Timothy Snyder: I really think there's no tension between caring about history and caring about the future. On the contrary, I think if you're attentive to your own history, then you have a better chance of building a future. I think if you don't know where you're coming from, you don't really know where you can go to.

I think the contrast between Ukraine today and Russia today is that Russia's leaders are obsessed with the idea of a myth in the past, which they think determines how the future is going to be. So there's a difference between a myth, which a tyrant uses to say who you are and what you have to do, and a history, which shows you structures but also possibilities. So I think Ukrainians are very much concerned about their history, but they're evaluating the past in a different way than perhaps Russia's leaders are.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: Very often today from Ukraine's leaders or even younger people, we hear soundbites from the war. They say that Ukraine's territory is very important to them. And in fact, President Zelenskyy always says we will not surrender any part of Ukraine's territory, and they hope to, of course, get back what they've lost. Why is this territorial independence so important to Ukraine and why is it also important to Europe?

Timothy Snyder: Well, it's a basic idea of the 20th century that when empires fall apart, states are formed and that we recognise states in their existing boundaries. The recognition of a boundary is very similar to the recognition of a state. So the violation of a state's territory is pretty much coterminous with or identical to the non-recognition of the state. So the border has a symbolic value of the state. That's why I think the border gives gives people a very clear notion of where they began and where they end.

I think other reason is even more symbolic. It has to do with standing for something and not surrendering. So if you start to make concessions about your own territory because there's been aggression, where exactly do you stop? How do you avoid inviting further aggression?

I think that's an idea which other countries would do well to think about on the Ukraine example. It's very easy for other countries to say, well, why shouldn't Ukrainians give away this or give away that? But we look at European history, for example Czechoslovakia in 1938 or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, giving away other people's territory tended to lead to worse things rather than to better things. And European countries are not talking about giving away their own territory. They're talking about giving away Ukrainian territory.

So the state is actually very important and the borders are actually very important. And even the European Union, although it's a form of co-operation amongst states, it's a form of co-operation amongst states which recognises them and their existing boundaries and may allow people and goods to move across boundaries, but it doesn't make those boundaries go away.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: During this time of two days in Davos, I've spoken with some politicians from Ukraine who've attended and all of them, similar to my own relatives who are currently in Ukraine, they always tell me history is repeating itself when it has to do with Ukraine. What does that mean, do you think, for somebody like you who's an expert on Ukrainian and eastern European history?

Timothy Snyder: As a historian, I would never say that history repeats itself, because if it repeated itself, that would mean we didn't have any power over it. If it really, if in the literal sense, repeated, that would mean that we are just marionettes and that history is some larger force. And that's not true.

That said, I understand what people mean. There are basic themes, basic patterns, in the history of Ukraine and the region which appear over and over again. One of them is the 'black earth' of Ukraine and the attempts by people to to control it or to use it, which goes all the way back to ancient history. So it's a very important theme in the early modern period when Polish power extends into Ukraine. It's a central theme of the 20th century, when both Stalin and Hitler are trying to exploit the black earth of Ukraine for their various projects. And of course it's a major theme now as Russia blockades the Black Sea and threatens to starve the world.

Black Earth by Timothy Snyder
Black Earth by Timothy Snyder Image: timothysnyder.org

Another way that one can think of history as having a pattern would have to do with what we were just talking about, which is the recognition of a state. The recognition that Ukraine is actually a state, that was something which was very difficult for Ukrainians to achieve after 1918. And now, once again, there's a power, the Russian Federation, which says that's not really a state and those boundaries aren't really real, and, by the way, that's not really a nation.

And the idea that Ukraine is not really a nation is, of course, a colonial idea which recalls all of European colonial history, but it specifically recalls the Second World War and the German or the Nazi attitude towards Ukraine, that Ukrainians were just a colonial people, all you have to do is overthrow their existing government and they'll be happy to serve you. That's very similar to Putin's idea in 2022, that there's just some kind of artificial elite which is ruling Ukraine, but there isn't really a Ukrainian nation. So if you can destroy that elite, the masses will be happy to be colonised and do what you say.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: Something that you said was really interesting in terms of the recognition of the Ukraine state. Has there been a period of time before 1991 when the people of Ukraine, maybe not the same territory as today, felt like they were an independent nation or sort of a community? And how did that work out for them?

Timothy Snyder: Yes, as I say, Ukraine has actually a pretty long history of national thinking. The Cossacks, Ukrainian Cossacks, in the middle of the 17th century, rebelling against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth or rebelling really against their local magnates, had something very close to a national idea. They were aware of economic exploitation and linguistic and religious difference, very much like a modern anti-colonial or national movement.

The 19th century is a time of a Ukrainian national revival, when the idea of the nation was vested in the people, thanks to activists like the historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky, who argued that there was a continuous Ukrainian history because there was a continuity of language and culture and certain ways of life. Regardless of who happens to rule the territory and the people, you can write history in terms of the people themselves.

In terms of attempts to establish Ukrainian states, there were two major attempts after the First World War. There was a West Ukrainian National Republic, and there was also a Ukrainian National Republic, with capitals in Lviv and in Kyiv respectively, and neither of those worked out because there were too many other powers. The West Ukrainian National Republic was defeated by Poland. The Ukrainian National Republic was part of a tremendously complicated conflict in which the Russian Reds, the Russian Whites were present, and in the end the Ukrainian National Republic was destroyed by the Bolsheviks. And so most of the territory of what's now Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. So there have been attempts to establish a Ukrainian state before, the 1991 attempt is the only one which has been durable so far.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: These examples are so emblematic. And they help us understand what you said at the very beginning, that it's always kind of been sandwiched in between empires and had to fight, but never really succeeded until recently.

Moving a little bit to the hunger element and how it echoes in history. In Ukraine we always learn about the forced famine Holodomor, which happened in the 20th century. It was first, a taboo subject. First, nobody knew about it. But then after Ukraine became independent, it's in all history books. And now we're seeing again that wheat is being used and not only to starve the populations in Ukraine, but the rest of the world. Now in the Middle East and Africa, some of those supplies are missing. What can we learn from Holodomor and how can it be applicable today, if if there's anything?


Timothy Snyder: Holodomor, the famine of 1932-1933, is a very important example of what we were talking about before, namely how history can be so dark that we don't see it. So Holodomor was not just taboo in the Soviet Union, it was very hard to know about it. Reporters at the time were not allowed to visit Soviet Ukraine.

There was only one reporter who actually visited Soviet Ukraine during the Holodomor and wrote about it under his own name. That was a Welsh journalist named Gareth Jones. There were a couple of articles without byines in The Guardian. But in general it was very hard for first-hand information to come out of Soviet Ukraine at that time.

People in Europe who tried to organise help for starving Ukrainians in 1933, such as the Ukrainian activist Milena Rudnytska who happened to be of Jewish origin, these people were called Nazis in general. Soviet propaganda was that if you mentioned the hunger in Ukraine, that meant you were an ally of Hitler. And if you tried to organise help for starving Ukrainians, the Soviets called it 'Hitler helfer'. So this idea of calling you a Nazi because you were concerned about Ukraine goes back all the way to the Holodomor.

It's an example of how difficult it was to actually speak about what was happening. And, of course, the people who died in the Soviet Union, in Soviet Ukraine, during the Holodomor were usually unable to leave any kind of a trace behind. And death by hunger is a slow death. And it's a death which is often preceded by social breakdown and mental breakdown.

So there were very few people who were able to chronicle Holodomor. The chronicles we have are often from people who were passing through for some other reason or from Italian or Polish diplomats, people who themselves were well-fed when the country around them was starving. We have relatively few. We have photographs, but we have relatively few photographs. And this is just my way of making the basic point that sometimes things are so dark that it's very hard to write their history.

Now, since 1991, the history of the Holodomor has become very well established. In the 1980s, when glasnost began, Ukrainians in what was still Soviet Ukraine, began to gather testimonies of people who were still alive. There was an American project to gather testimonies of survivors of Holodomor. And then after 1991, when the Soviet archives opened up, people were able to find the documentation, for example, from local party officials who were talking about the hunger and trying to figure out what to do.

So we now have a very strong literature about the Holodomor. It's a very well-established subject in history.

And I say all this because it's very important, I think, for Ukrainians to have their own family memories in some way correspond with the history that we know in public. And there are now important books, not just by Ukrainian historians, but also by Western historians. Anne Applebaum has written about this. I've written about this. And so there's a way now that the state of knowledge of the world can correspond to what Ukrainians know from their parents or grandparents or great grandparents.

And this is relevant to this war because Holodomor is a subject which is suppressed in Russia. The official version in Russia is that: sure, there was hunger, but everyone suffered, everyone suffered equally. And so if you try to claim that Ukrainians suffered more, you are a Russophobe. You're against Russia. And maybe you're a Nazi. The same old story.

And that difference in historical memory is indirectly one source of this war. Because the way that Russian memory politics works, it's impossible for Russians to acknowledge that others might have suffered under Stalinism or, for that matter, in the 20th century in general.

We can learn from all of this that it's very important to go back to the primary sources and to get these tragic histories right. We can learn from this that famine is both a specific part of Ukrainian history, but also that Ukrainian famine is part of a larger international history of political famine. The famine, the Holodomor, is actually a way for Ukrainians to make contact with other peoples. For example, in the global South, I think this is quite important, who have also suffered from political famine under different kinds of political systems. It's a Ukrainian history which actually opens up to a larger global history.

And then finally, this is important because, since classical times, Ukraine has helped to feed the world, and since 1991, this has been Ukraine's role, as the third or fourth biggest exporter of agricultural goods in the world. Now that Russia is blocking the Black Sea, there's an attempt not only to starve Ukrainians again, but an attempt to make the world break. It's an attempt to starve millions of people. I'm not sure what they hope to gain from this, but this is what they're doing.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: What stuck with me is the idea of memory politics. And this is something I see so much with my own conversations, with family and with the news I read, and then with perhaps some faraway relatives we have who live in Russia, and their memories and their understanding is different.

Today, what often happens is families are torn apart. If you are in Ukraine, if you are in Russia, you know different histories, you know different realities of the war, or, as Russia calls it, the 'special operation'. Why is this memory politics important and what does it have to do with disinformation as well?

Timothy Snyder: We need more history and we need less memory. This is a problem in general. In the United States as well people have trouble talking to each other because they have different ideas of what happened in the past. And the different ideas are based on different memory cultures. And we have a hard time generating a history that everyone feels like they belong to.

I mention my own country just to make clear that this is, I think, a problem for everyone and not just for Ukrainians and for Russians.

The reason why history is important is that history gives people a way in. So if you have a history of Stalinism, for example, then Russians and Uzbeks and Latvians and Ukrainians and Poles and everyone, have a way into the history of Stalinism. It may not have been the same in all places, but Stalinism as a subject allows people to come in from different angles.

But if you just say Stalin was a technocrat or Stalin was a manager, if instead of having a history of Stalinism, you have a narrow myth that happens to fit your own politics, I'm, of course, talking about the official Russian or Putin's version of Stalin, that blood may have been shed, but essentially he was a good manager, he was a good manager of Russia and that's how he should be remembered. When you have a version of the past which serves only contemporary politics, other people are, of course, excluded, and their family memories are excluded.

But for me, there's maybe even a more fundamental layer underneath this, which has to do not with the content of what was remembered, but with the idea of responsibility. One of the ways that Russian memory policy works is to say that we are never responsible for anything. It's always the outsider. So if you look at the way that the word 'Nazi' or the way the word 'Fascist' functions in Russian politics today, it's not a specific reference to anything Nazis or Fascists did. The word just means 'the outsider'. And so if Nazism or Fascism just means 'the outsider', it just means 'what other people do'. That means we can never do the wrong thing. Other people are always responsible. And so if you have a perfect myth which defines you as always innocent, then you never have to take responsibility. And then, no matter what you do, even if you invade your neighbour for no reason whatsoever, you're still innocent because your myth has taught you that you are always innocent. Your myth has taught you that evil always comes from the outside.

And that, unfortunately, is one account of what's happening today in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russians can invade Ukrainians, sincerely believing that they're going out into the world to kill Nazis or Fascists because the thought simply can't occur to them that what they're doing is actually Fascism or what they're doing is actually Nazism, because a perfect political myth takes responsibility away completely. It puts all responsibility on the side of the other.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: I'd love to also talk a little bit about Ukraine's future. It's important to know your history. It's important to learn from it. But what are some of the several things we can know about Ukraine's future predictions, perhaps from its past and its present?

Timothy Snyder: Rather than try to predict the future too specifically, let me just say some ways in which I think that Ukraine is an interesting 21st century democracy and some ways in which I think Ukraine is actually exemplary.

When people in the West look at Ukraine, we're often confused because we say, well, look, there are all these people and they're speaking these different languages and their history is very complicated and that's kind of a mess. But if democracy is going to work at all in the 21st century, it's going to have to work with complicated, multicultural situations. And, in that way, I see Ukraine as actually being a kind of model for the 21st century. So the way that other democracies will probably have to look, other capitals will probably have to look more like Kyiv does now, with more code switching and more adaptability to where other people are coming from linguistically.

And another way that I think Ukraine is exemplary for the 21st century, and that is in its defence of democracy. I mean, it's a very simple point, but we have gotten used to the idea that democracy is something that just somehow automatically comes with history or larger forces or capitalism. And that's all nonsense. That's never, ever been true. Democracy is the choice of the people to rule, so it depends upon values, ultimately.

And a value is nothing other than something for which you're willing to take a human risk. And Ukraine is now giving an example of that. Regardless of what happens in this war, Ukrainians are taking risks for values which are consistent with democracy, and that's something that everyone has to do.

Democracy is now in retreat everywhere. It's in retreat around the world. It's in retreat in particular countries like my own. And people will have to take certain kinds of risks.

So I'm happy. If you want, you can push me in. I'll talk more about the future. But for me, I think it's interesting to focus in on the Ukrainian present and how in some ways it's exemplary.

There's a third way too, which is generations. So it's very important for the generation of people who are in their 30s and 40s to break through and actually run countries because they are the ones, I think, who have a chance of handling the long term problems.

The war between Russia and Ukraine can be characterised in many ways, but one of them is as a generational war where people who are around 70 are trying to destroy people who are around 40. That's also true inside Russian politics, where you can understand the task of the Putin regime as to make sure that nobody who's in that generation, in their 30s and 40s, ever has any responsibility, that all of them, if they're any good, if they're interesting, they have to leave the country or they have to go to prison or they have to be quiet. The struggle between Navalny and Putin is also a generational struggle.

So Ukraine is interesting in a third way because that generation who are in their thirties and forties have actually broken through and are running the country. Which turns out to be a very good thing, especially in this war, because that generation is able to communicate with the rest of the world. And that generation has a set of values and a way of communicating, which actually works quite well with the rest of the world. But also, I think that generation has this notion of what Ukraine is. I mean, I'm speaking of Zelenskyy, but not only of Zelenskyy, their understanding of Ukraine, both as a nation with a clear political idea of what it is, but with all of this interior plurality and heterogeneity. And I think that's been very important.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: That's really fascinating to hear to me as well, as as a Ukrainian. Just analysing some of my memories of grandparents of teachers and how today people are more allowed to really have an opinion, build their own opinions, build their ideas of what democracy is or how they should lead their country, how they should participate in it or participate at all. Because when you're young, you're kind of not supposed to really participate until you're old enough to have an opinion and then give it to the public.

Timothy Snyder: It's really a turning point. There's a wonderful Ukrainian historian called Yaroslav Hrytsak, an absolutely world class historian and someone who has trained a bunch of excellent younger historians as well. And he's been saying for decades now that the key to Ukraine's future is that a new post-Soviet generation has to break through. They have to break through and they have to take power. And that has now happened.

And so one larger meaning of this war has to do with that generation. Can a country run by that generation make it? It's a ridiculously high standard - that you have to win a war against Russia - in order to survive. It's way too high of a bar. But that's one way of understanding this war.

It's a very important generation in Ukrainian history. You asked before about other attempts to establish Ukrainian state. This is the first one which has lasted long enough that you have a generation which is actually raised inside Ukraine. So when I think back to what was still Euromaidan, late November 2013, with the first time the police came out and beat the students, beat the young people on the street. And their parents came out, but not only their parents, and said, you know, you can't beat our children. But this notion of 'our children' wasn't just our biological children, it was also, this is the first Ukrainian generation that we've had in the sense that this is the first generation that we have raised in an independent Ukraine. And this is a kind of treasure, these young people, we have to preserve and protect. Those people are now the ones who are coming to power, who are in power. And that's very precious. So it's not just that it's young people. It's the first time the people whose dominant experience in life is an independent Ukraine are coming to power in Ukraine. That's very important.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: As a way of summary, perhaps. I would like to ask you about a recent piece you wrote for Euromaidan, I believe, and it's titled something like Ten Reasons Why Ukraine should Win the War. I wonder if you can tell me a little bit more about that and why you were compelled to write that piece and title it in that way.

Timothy Snyder: The reason why that piece arose, I gave a talk for the Ukrainian exhibition at the Biennale, which the nice people at Euromaidan then just wrote down. But the reason why I felt compelled to make those arguments is that I think there are times when it's not enough to be on the right side. You also have to think about winning.

And in the West, the first impulse with Ukraine - and this is to the credit of a lot of good people - the first impulse was 'we want to be on the right side, we want to show that we're on the right side'. On my street, on my block, where there are no American flags, there are two Ukrainian flags and they're in front of houses which have no Ukrainians in them. And that's, by the way, true of the entire United States right now. It's really striking. There's Ukrainian symbols all over America now in the countryside and big cities everywhere. It's really something extraordinary.

But being on the right side is not enough. You also have to win. And and that notion that Ukraine can win, or has to win, I thought, had to be pushed through.

Ukrainians in this way are different from the rest of us. From the very beginning, my Ukrainian friends were saying, you're worrying too much. It's going to be okay. We're going to win. From the very beginning, from, you know, February 25th, 26th, 27th, that's what my Ukrainian friends have been saying. I think that's a pretty general experience. Most Ukrainians think they're going to win.

The stakes are very high. The stakes include - 'can an armed tyranny destroy a democracy?' That hasn't happened for a very long time. And it shouldn't happen.

Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University

But from the from the outside, the idea that Ukraine could defeat Russia has been harder to process. And so it's been very important for me to try to argue that Ukraine can win, which I believe that it can, but also that it has to win, that the stakes are very high, that the stakes include - can an armed tyranny destroy a democracy? That hasn't happened for a very long time. And it shouldn't happen.

The stakes are things like - do hydrocarbon oligarchs like Putin get to run the world forever? Because if they do, there's going to be climate disaster and none of us are going to survive. Those are very high stakes.

Like we talked about before, the stakes are things like, is the world going to starve? Is much of the Muslim world going to starve this fall and winter because Russia's blockading the Black Sea?

The stakes are things like, are all of the people around the world who are on the extreme right and oppose democracy, are they going to be cheered and and buoyed up by Russian victory, or are the people who are in favour of democracy and counting votes and things like that, are they going to be cheered and buoyed up and supported by a Ukrainian victory?

I wanted to get this idea of a Ukrainian victory. We can't guarantee it. We can't be sure. But that's what we should be aiming for, not just being on the right side, but that victory is possible. And so long as it's possible, we in the West should be doing whatever we can do to make it as as possible as we can.

Kateryna Gordiychuk: Timothy, thank you for showing that the stakes are high as well and explaining exactly how it relates to the rest of the world. That's what I think a lot of people forget. My last question really is what is your message of hope, or the message you would like to leave, something for for world leaders? Something maybe for people here in Davos who are listening to Ukrainian parliamentarians, the president, what should they be doing right now?

Timothy Snyder: This Davos is a bit different from other editions of Davos, not just because there's a country at the middle of it, because there're individual people at the middle of it. I mean, Volodymyr Zelenskyy or the Klitschko brothers or the the amazing Ukrainian parliamentarians who are here, are being listened to not just as representatives of the country, but as people who have taken a certain kind of stand.

And I think it's that part which is most important. Davos, the whole idea of a World Economic Forum, has always rested on the notion that capitalism is going to save us, that there are larger forces out there that are going to save us, that there's a future that we know, and we just have to find the right terms and concepts for that future. But it's coming and it's going to be good.

Like everybody else, I'd like to have a good future, but I'm convinced and I've been convinced for a long time that a good future is a democratic future and not a technocratic future, and not a future where we imagine that somehow everything's going to come to us automatically.

And I've been convinced for a long time that that democratic future depends upon choices that people make, including risks that people take. And I think one of the reasons this year at Davos is different is that those of us who are taking fewer risks are learning to recognise those of you who are taking greater risks. It's not so much a source of hope. It's more a recognition of the way things are - that we're not going to make it without human agency.

I mean, this goes back a little bit to our conversation about myth and memory on the one side and history. So what Mr. Putin says is that he knows what happened 2,000 years ago and therefore he can tell you what has to happen tomorrow. That's not how history works. The way history works is we recognise the way things are, really. We recognise, for example, that there is no larger force that's going to make us democratic. That's not really true. If we're going to be democratic, it's going to be because we care about it and we value the structures. And some of us at important times are willing to take risks for those structures.

So that's not exactly hope. It's more a recognition of the way things are. But that recognition of the way things are also involves a recognition of what Ukrainians have done for the rest of us. So, you know, we're having a conversation and lots of conversations are going on and all of them are possible really because Ukrainians are struggling, because Ukrainians are fighting, because Ukrainians are taking risks. If Ukrainians weren't doing all of those things, this would be a much darker Davos. This would be a much darker spring in general, and I think it would be much darker for years and decades to come.

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