Many of us born in Eastern Europe feel like our worst fears are coming true in Ukraine. I have been following the situation there nonstop.
Eastern Europe used to be almost all communist. I was born in Communism, it collapsed when I was the age of seven, and by ten, I was brought over to the U.S.
I got just enough of a taste of that system to remember it's one of the worst possible economic systems we've devised as a species. The old country is still suffering in its wake as one of the poorest countries in Europe.
But purely on paper, as a theory, Communism can sound good, which is why some kids in the west today flirt with its ideals—a dangerous flirtation.
I was fortunate enough to see where that easily corruptible system leads with my own eyes. It leads to people disappearing for no reason and with no trial. It leads to government raids on homes to take away possessions. It leads to people being imprisoned for their religion, as happened to our Christian home.
Many countries got rid of the communist economic system, but in many of them the same people remained in charge—the very same corrupt and amoral humans. Now no longer called communists or run by dictators because that's unpopular, but they go by more modern labels like "Presidents," "Oligarchs," and so on, and their economies are "capitalist."
But here is the thing, some countries did entirely shed Communism. Ukraine was one of them. They got to taste a couple of decades of true freedom.
At the prospect of becoming a vassal state to Putin and enslaved people again, the Ukrainians seem willing to do anything to avoid that fate. Even lay down their lives. The videos on Social Media of their heroics, fighting against all odds, are inspiring. The videos of what Putin's invaders are doing are horrifying.
If you aren't from Eastern Europe and didn't live under those leaders, it may be hard to understand how that's slavery. But in those systems, under those leaders, they tell you what to watch, listen to, and think. Then they siphon your labor and your possessions at will for the good of the "state." All for nothing in return.
But the fundamental flaw, the Achilles heel, of those types of leaders is that they treat humans as disposable resources. Even their own people. Humans become resources that are meant to be plowed, shaped, and used not too different from piece of land.
But motivated humans can invent, create, and do incredible things. They can even change the world.
How can they do their best work if they are slaves to their governments?
Those systems always seem to produce leaders that are out of touch with reality. Leaders that treat information asymmetry as an advantage. But with people on the same mission, that's not an advantage; it's self-sabotage.
Long-term transparency always wins, no matter how harsh or hard it may be.
Those leaders would rather look the part than actually play the part.
We can see the staggering differences between the two leaders of Russia and Ukraine.
Zelenski, the president of Ukraine on the left, shows us that one of the best things a leader can do is just be in the trenches with their people.
This whole conflict is giving us a massive lesson on leadership. We've overcomplicated the hell out of it here.
The Ukrainian people are also showing us why democracy and freedom are the most precocious things we have in the west. They are reminding us why they are worth fighting for.
They have suffered immense cost so far to uphold those ideals, to not become slaves again, and it's unclear to me how this ends.
But Putin once told a story about cornering a rat that may give us a clue how it ends:
"There, on that stair landing, I got a quick and lasting lesson in the meaning of the word ‘cornered.’ There were hordes of rats in the front entryway. My friends and I used to chase them around with sticks. Once I spotted a huge rat and pursued it down the hall until I drove it into a corner. It had nowhere to run. Suddenly it lashed around and threw itself at me. I was surprised and frightened. Now the rat was chasing me. It jumped across the landing and down the stairs. Luckily, I was a little faster and I managed to slam the door on its nose.”-Vladimir Putin
Putin himself is now looking increasingly like that cornered rat lashing out. I've prayed for the Ukrainian people every night since this conflict started.
I hope they can beat back Putin's invaders.
Even though that cornered rat may lash out, I can tell you from personal experiences that once we humans get a taste of freedom, it's hard to go back to slavery. The Ukrainians may have to slam the rats nose on the door.