We know them from the movies: the heroes who save the world from disaster in the nick of time. In real life, you sometimes look for them in vain. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows that the West needs new heroes.
BERLIN — In recent times, we speak more and more frequently about the end of globalization or even the beginning of de-globalization. The world in which the will to compromise and where unity prevailed unfortunately has definitively come to an end. It was February 24, and the unprovoked Russian act of war awakened us to a world dominated by conflict.
In order for the West — for us — to be able to cope with this reality, it is essential that we not only accept this notion, which is unpleasant for some, but that we also understand that with the era of globalization, another great era is also coming to an end: the era where heroes are not required.
It is true that in the era of peaceful globalization the heroic cult grew — but only really in the cinematic world than in real life. In movies, people work creatively with the idea of heroism, and directors and writers try to adapt a formulaic version of heroism to the new, diversified, but unified zeitgeist with remakes, such as the new version of "The Magnificent Seven."
Heroism vs. compromise
Reality, however, has been all about compromising in our recent past. And heroes were too individualistic to fit the scheme of compromise. It must be said that life in this world was very pleasant — a world without real heroes but with leaders capable of compromise, led by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The only downside is that it is now coming to an end. The Russian war of aggression demands a response other than understanding, patience and compromise, not only from Ukraine but also from the West.
The Russian war in Ukraine demands that we be strong and resolute. And that takes perseverance and courage. In other words, this war requires us to discover within ourselves a tendency towards heroism.
A placard depicts Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a "hero" and Russian President Vladimir Putin as "zero" in front of the Russian Embassy in London, UK.
Russia is the arch enemy
What this heroism should look like in practice — not in the movies — is only slowly becoming apparent. It is undisputed that the performances of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the efforts of Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers correspond to the highest standards of heroism that can be found in the West.
It is therefore not surprising that the Ukrainian heroes are spoken of in the highest terms in the West and that their heroism is a great inspiration and encouragement to the West, so that we too will not be afraid of the conflict with Russia — or at least we will be less so.
Our conflict with Russia is not primarily about human lives and gaining territory, as is the case with Ukraine. It's about our values and their future. After almost four months of war, it is becoming apparent that the conflict with Russia, both militarily and in terms of values, will last a long time. In all likelihood, it will therefore require various forms of heroism.
But for Ukraine to survive the war against Russia, it needs both military and economic support from the West. If the West — that is, us – is to hold its own in this conflict with Russia, it must have the courage to do what is right, and to do it for as long as it is necessary.
It will not work without good economic strategies that also ensure the elementary support of the population, as well as diplomatic skills that make it possible to get strategic partners on one's side, even in other parts of the world. In these areas, too, one will not be able to do without one's own heroes and the corresponding actions.
Invisible heroism is also needed
These heroes will probably not be as visible and exposed as the Ukrainian president or soldiers. They may operate in secret, and instead of weapons and strong rhetoric, they will use mathematical models, diplomatic language, or unorthodox ideas.
But they must all have one thing in common: they all must help the West overcome fear and survive — economically and physically — in a world "without Russia," i.e., without Russian raw materials and Russian help in the fight against climate change and terrorism. It is now clear that Russia can no longer be relied upon.
Every politician, chancellor, president or minister, every engineer, every diplomat who contributes to the fulfillment of this goal will be a hero. Maybe not like Zelensky, but no less necessary.
Because the same principle of “unity in diversity” also applies to heroism today – just as it does to the European integration process. German playwright Bertolt Brecht said: "Unhappy is the land that needs a hero." Yet happy or not, we need them now!
*Tomáš Kafka is the Czech ambassador in Berlin and also works as a writer and translator.