Who is My Neighbor? The Crisis in Crimea

Each Wednesday, the Editorial features analysis of a news story from the week.

I don’t turn on NPR as often as I probably should, given that I graduated with a degree in religion, ethics and politics and that pretty much covers most of what NPR reports on in a given day. So it was strange to turn on the radio on the final stretch of my drive to work and hear that there was a crisis in Crimea. Russia had, according to the steely voice through my car speakers, moved into the significant Crimea region with a military presence. In the days that have followed, the news seems to come from every angle. Russian president Vladimir Putin has made overtures about Crimea joining Russia; Germany’s Angela Merkel has issued a strong warning to Putin rebuking those overtures; pro-Russian demonstrators are making noise in the Crimea. Ukraine has an interim government after the ousting of its former president, and between knowing not nearly enough about the significance of Crimea geographically or geopolitically, it seemed almost easier to retreat. It would be easier to turn off NPR, stop looking at the newspaper, and stop Google searching for BBC articles about the situation.

What I want to talk about, though, isn’t the particular situation in Crimea. There are more than enough articles that detail the situation, and I have not yet read enough of them to feel as if I have a complete picture. There is an article in The New York Times that discusses how Ukraine is pursuing diplomatic negotiations with the United Nations and the United States. The BBC reported on March 10 that there are rivaling rallies in Crimea for pro-unity or pro-Russia, while we await the region voting to secede or not next week. The BBC also provided this helpful explanation of why Crimea serves as a flashpoint between Russia and the West.

Crimeans will vote on March 16 whether to remain an autonomous state within Ukraine or to join the Russian Federation. Photo via aol.com

Crimeans will vote on March 16 whether to remain an autonomous state within Ukraine or to join the Russian Federation. Photo via aol.com

I’ll admit, my lack of knowledge of international relations feels acute when I sit down to try and understand what is happening thousands of miles away. I did manage to get my dad to pull out an atlas and show me where Crimea is. I tried to read those articles I just pointed you towards. And more than once I gave up halfway through, sure that I wouldn’t understand it well enough to know how or what to think about the situation, what was right, what was just. And if I can’t figure it out, I kept thinking, what good is trying? If we don’t have an answer, why should knowing the question be so important?

Maybe you sometimes feel this way, too? Maybe the questions of domestic policy, of health care or immigration or President Obama’s perpetual gridlock with Congress seem easier to manage and understand, and we’d rather leave the international questions to the experts.

But if Christianity has any meaning in politics at all, it must be here. The radical and transformative teaching of Christianity is that we are neighbors. And no, not just in our cul-de-sacs, our churches, or our states. We are neighbors across oceans. We are neighbors across languages. We are neighbors across the wires of misunderstanding and incomplete thinking. We are neighbors who have to fight for understanding of the geography, of the politics, of the cultural and historical reasons that this situation arose.

If we are neighbors, if what happens in Crimea matters to us because we have been charged with a real care for the world, for the people who walk on it, then we are responsible for learning. I don’t think this means we have to know what opinion to have or what to believe is right or not. I don’t think we have to arrive, trumpeting an answer of justice. I certainly don’t have one in this situation. But I do know this: answers are not the only reason to know the question. Another reason can be that we love our neighbors.

So let’s get out our maps and Google the stories and plow through the nuances of this unfolding crisis.

Because that, too, is a kind of love.

-Hilary Sherratt is a recent graduate from Gordon College, where she majored in Religion, Ethics and Politics. She is currently working as a grant writer at Gordon, and loves all kinds of writing. She hopes to eventually get her PhD in theology or history. She blogs about everyday life at http://thewildlove.wordpress.com and tweets at @hilarysherratt