A question I’ve been asked more than once by friends/family in Australia is whether the Europeans will keep supporting the Ukrainians during the winter, as the price of gas becomes an issue or the inevitable Russian counter attack ensues. There’s this feeling that the Europeans’ solidarity with the Ukrainians will inevitably crumble.
The best way to answer this, I decided, was by way of a metaphor.
On a bike ride in The Netherlands recently we stayed with a couple living just outside a village in the south of the country. A place remote from the big cities and, Europe at large. The man, an easy going affable kind of guy, was crazy about old American cars from the 1950’s/’60’s. This was his all consuming passion outside of working. He had recently bought himself a fully reconditioned 1959 Cadillac.
I wasn’t a car fiend – on the contrary, I had no interest in cars and much preferred to be on my bike. However, when I was a kid, I used to go to my uncle’s car yard every Saturday morning and wash and polish motor cars. I was a car nut then – and above all, I was crazy about American cars from the 1950’s/’60’s – Buicks, Chevies and Fords – especially the Ford Fairlane – and of course, Cadillacs. I loved the scale and flamboyance of these cars, with their big bonnets and tail fins. Intuitively I felt that such cars were manufactured during a time of boundless optimism.
So when this friendly Dutchman told me about his Cadillac I immediatly asked to see it. As we discussed the Cadillac, he realised I knew something about them. That broke down the barrier of strangeness between us.
At one point, in the evening, as he and his wife and Anya and I sat outside drinking beer and looking out over the nearby river and chatting, the conversation turned towards The Ukraine. Suddenly he became rather passionate – and not about old American cars.
‘Those people (i.e in The Ukraine) are fighting our battles. Here we are in western Europe, safe and sound, and they’re dying and suffering. We owe them and God help us if we ever betray them!’
That I told my friends in Australia was what so many people in Western Europe thought deep down inside. Most of them – including us – did not talk about it a great deal with others. I mean there was only so much madness in this world that any of us could deal with. One had to lead a normal life or at least try to.
Keeping up appearances was important.
But in our hearts, in the backstreets of our minds, we knew it: the Ukrainians were fighting our battles.
We would not, could not, betray them. They were us.
Even someone seemingly detached from the world, living in another time, a time of optimism and big ostentatious cars, knew that.
Knew it better than anything.
We could not afford to betray them