Youval Noah Harari: "None of us would be alive if Putin was in charge in the 1980s"
And if there is a name that will be written in the history on the death certificate of Russian Empire, it will not be Mikhail Gorbachev, it will be Vladimir Putin. We see more and more countries, unfortunately, copying Putin, also shifting money from healthcare, from education, from welfare to defense, because they have no choice. I’m personally appalled when I’m hearing these calls to stop reading Russian literature or things like that. I’m just reading Russian literature right now. Maybe none of us would be alive today anywhere on the planet if somebody like Putin was in charge in the 1980s.
Hello my name is Mikhail Zygar. Please subscribe to this Youtube channel because every week I speak with the unique guests. And today I’m going to talk to Yuval Noah Harari, one of the best historians and writers in the world. Thank you, Mr. Harari, for your time. That's such a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for Inviting me.
Yeah. Let's start with. With not political questions, but philosophical ones. Okay We've been so sure that the future that is expecting of us is very different from our past, that we're going to face very different problems compared to the previous.
Just as you've described it in Homo Deus, the AI algorithms, all those new technologies and all those new issues connected with technologies or values are going to be our major threats and major dangers in future. Now, can we say that our future is over, that future we were preparing ourselves for is not long available? And we are coming back to the Middle Ages: we have the war and we have the same all the same old problems and the old future, not the new one. [ I think it's actually worse. We still have the new problems, whether it's AI, whether it's climate change, we still need to take care of them. And at the same time, we have the old problems coming back, which is really terrible.
But but there is no choice. We have to deal with it. You know, when you look back, I don't know, five, ten years - the humanity was living in the most peaceful and prosperous era in history, not because there was a change in the laws of nature and war became impossible or because of God - it's a miracle. No, it's because humans have worked hard to build institutions, to build a new kind of global order, which wasn't perfect, but which was better than anything we had previously. And it prevented it provided a certain measure of protection against wars, against famine, against pandemics.
And then, unfortunately, we began to neglect the older that we've built, we began to neglect these institutions. You know, it's like you build a dam over a river and you have control over the river. There are no longer any floods. And then you start to neglect the dam, the cracks, there are pieces falling from it.
You do nothing. Eventually the dam breaks and you have a terrible flood. And this is what is happening over the last few years. Countries around the world, including the countries that built the international order, like the UK, like the USA, they neglected the order that they built and now it's falling apart and we have the old problems rushing back in again. We have the pandemic again, we have war now. Famine is returning and it's a manmade famine.
It's not a natural and natural catastrophe. It's manmade. It's political famine. It's coming back. And we also still have to deal with climate change. We still have to think what do we do with AI.
The new problems are still waiting for us. [0 And right in the beginning of the war, you were pointing at the fact that the military budgets, the defense budgets are increasing in all countries in the world are ready to start growing them. And now we see that after four months of the war, like the military budgets are really high and like everyone is focused not on the new technologies or not the green economy, but on the defense budgets. What is the new future with that budgets on weapons and armies. And if the governments have armies and weapons, that means that they have to use it.
[ Well, they don't have to use it, but it's more likely. they are supposed to. You know, again, you look back ten years, 20 years and... Many of the achievements of humankind in fields like health care, in fields like a new action were because military defense budgets were very, very low in historical terms.
Now, for most of history, the biggest item on the budget of every king, every czar, every khan... The biggest item on the budget was the military: armies, navies, fortresses. Most of the money went there, and they spent almost nothing on education and health care and welfare. In the early 21st century it was really amazing to see that the average defense budget of all the countries in the world is something like 6%, 7%, which is a historical low. And this released a lot of funds, a lot of money to invest in schools, in hospitals, in teachers, in nurses. And now it's going back again.
The defense budgets are skyrocketing. And the money that should go to teachers and nurses and doctors, it goes to tanks instead. And if you want to see… I mean, Russia is leading the way in this.
The way that Putin has built his military machine is because for years he has been neglecting the health care, the education, the welfare of the Russian people and shifting the money partly to build himself palaces and yachts, but partly to build tanks and missiles. And this is why such a rich country in resources like Russia provided such poor services so its citizens, because the money went to the army. And now, because of this war, we are seeing more and more countries, unfortunately, copying Putin, also shifting money from healthcare, from education, from welfare to defense, because they have no choice. You have to defend yourself.
And this is a race to the bottom, because if one country increases its defense budgets, then immediately the neighbors start to get worried and they also raise their defense budgets. And then the first country says, hey, now they are doubling their defense budget. I must triple mine.
And all over the world you see this snowball effect, and I hope we can stop it. You know, if Putin is not allowed to win, if Putin loses his war in Ukraine and the world sees that he is losing the war, I think we still have hope of preventing this snowball effect. Because if he loses, you know, it's like any social norm that you break... like you have a bully coming and breaking a social taboo. So everybody is watching to see what will happen.
If the bully gets away with it, then people realize that's it: the social norm has been broken, the order is collapsed and you'll see more and more bullies copying him. You'll see more and more Putins around the world. But if he loses, and if it's clear to everybody that he lost, then the norm actually gets strengthened. But you have dictators around the world looking what happened to him and realizing, no, we shouldn't do this because it will be very costly, it will be very painful for us to do it. So we still have a chance to save the old order and even strengthen it and build a better order. But that depends on the decisions people make.
I mean, as a historian, it's something I keep telling people, is that you can't predict the future because the future is not determined by some laws of history. The future is determined by decisions people make. If now, in the coming weeks and months, people make one type of decisions, there will be one future. If they take different decisions, they'll be a different future. [0 Right in the beginning of the war, you said that Putin has already lost, no matter how successful his military operation is.
Do you still think that the outcome of the war for Putin is undecided? [ I said it in relation to what I understood to be the true war aims of Putin. From the available evidence and from what he himself said, like in the declaration of war, it seemed very clear that the aim of the war was to annihilate the Ukrainian nation. That Putin has built this fantasy in his head. That there is actually no such thing as the Ukrainian nation.
He built this fantasy that Ukrainians that were just Russians, that they want to be part of Russia and that there is only this small gang of Nazis headed by a Jew that is preventing this and in this fantasy that he just needs to invade Ukraine. And within 24 hours, Zelensky will flee the country. The Ukrainian army would surrender and the Ukrainian people who are actually Russians will throw flowers on the Russian tanks and he will rebuild the Russian empire of Stalin and Catherine the Great and Peter the Great.
And in this, he completely failed. And it doesn't. And even if he continues to win some battles on the ground and conquers this city or that province. This war aim is unattainable because it's based on a fantasy. What now everybody around the world knows: when the war broke, many people in the world didn't even know where Ukraine is. They weren't even sure.
Is it a real nation? It's not a real nation. No, there is no doubt. Everybody knows that Ukraine is a very real and courageous nation fighting for its life. When the Russians came, Zelensky did not run away. The Ukrainian army is fighting like lions better than anybody expected, and the population is throwing Molotov cocktails on the Russian tanks, not flowers. And, you know, you can still conquer cities and even provinces, but you will never be able to absorb them into Russia and reconstitute the Russian empire in Kiev, in Lviv, in Odessa, because the Ukrainian people just don't want it.
And this was something that was not completely... This was the biggest question mark when the war began. How would the Ukrainian people actually react? And some people, not just Putin. Some people thought they would just do nothing.
They will just accept it like it happened in 2014 in Crimea and in parts of Donbass. This was the biggest question mark. And and now there is no question mark. There is an exclamation mark. It's very clear that the Ukrainians don't want to be part of Russia. And this is something that Putin cannot change.
So his dream of reconstituting the old Russian empire, he just can't accomplish that. And if there is a name that will be written in history on the death certificate of the Russian Empire, it will not be Mikhail Gorbachev. It will be Vladimir Putin. He's the ones that really destroyed any chance of reconstituting the big Russian empire.
Because, you know, when Gorbachev left office, Ukrainians and Russians, they were not enemies. They separated in a friendly manner and in a family manner when the USSR when the USSR collapsed. And they still had very good ties. But now, with his own hands, Putin is making Ukrainians and Russians enemies for generations and ensuring that there is no way under this agreement or that agreement that the Ukraine could be, again, part of Russia. And in this sense, he has already lost the war. Even if even if he still has the military power to conquer parts of the Ukrainian territory.
[0 Yeah. Look, there is some kind of paradox. It seems to me that on the one hand, according to what you've written and according to the all the values of the modern world, the nations are imaginary. It's all fiction. And in today's world, the value of a human life is probably much more important, much more sacred than the state interests.
Hmm. But what we see in reality during this war is that Ukrainians are eagerly sacrificing their lives for the sake of their nation and their state. So for them, state interests and interests of their nation is more important.
And actually, the whole world, the whole liberal world, thanks them for that position. Is there some kind of inner conflict between our own values and our own understanding? [ No, I think we need to understand when we say that or when I say that the nation is a story... It doesn't mean it's not real. It doesn't mean it's not important. The most important things in the world... Though, money is also a story.
You know, money, you can't eat it. You can't drink it. But because everybody believes in the story of money, we can use it to build trade networks.
Similarly, a nation, it's not a real entity, an objective entity like a human being or like an elephant or like a tiger. A nation can't feel anything. It doesn't feel sad. It doesn't feel happy because it's not an animal with a mind and with emotions and feelings. It's a story that millions of people believe, and that's not a bad thing to do.
To give it another example. You know, football is also a story. You can't play football unless everybody agrees on the same rules.
Now, what is the rules come from? We invented them. It's a story we created. Now, the question to ask about these stories that we invent is, are they doing good in the world? Are they helping people or harming people? Now, the nation is one of the best stories that people ever created - if we understand it correctly! The correct understanding of what is a nation and what is nationalism.
A nation is about loving the people around you. Your compatriots, even strangers that you don't know that live on the other side of the country because you care about them. For instance, you're willing to pay your taxes so that they can get education and health care. This is good nationalism to pay your taxes.
And if an enemy invades in order to kill them or to or to enslave them. Then you're willing to risk your life to protect them. And this is the true understanding of of of nationalism and patriotism, as is love for your compatriots.
Now, there is a wrong understanding of nationalism, either as hatred. That the main thing about nationalism is hating foreigners and hating minorities. Why I'm such a big patriot - because I hate foreigners. No, that's not.
That doesn't mean you have to pay your taxes. That's a much better proof that you a nationalist than if you say that you hate foreigners. And similarly, another wrong understanding is to imagine a nation as some kind of, I don't know, some kind of big spirit, but as a big honor. And if anybody insults my nation, then I will go to war and kill them for the honor of my nation. And nation, again, doesn't have a mind.
He doesn't feel anything. If you say something nasty about some nation, it doesn't get insulted. It can't. It's not human beings that can be insulted.
So to start a war and to kill people for the honor of the nation - this is a misunderstanding. And what we see in the war in Ukraine is exactly this clash between two very different understandings of what a nation means. I mean, if Putin was a real Russian patriot, he would have taken all the money he invested in tanks and missiles and whatever and used it to provide good health care services to the poor, the Russian people. Like, how many months do you have to wait as a typical Russian citizen to get an MRI test? If you have some I don't know, some disease or whatever. Cut short: this time this is patriotism - building a tank to go and bomb the cities of of a neighboring country because you think it insulted you, whatever.
This is not nationalism. And I think that people around the world, when they see the images from Ukraine, they sympathize. They admire the Ukrainians because they see the good, the positive face of of nationalism: people fighting and sacrificing their lives to defend their compatriots from being killed or enslaved by a foreign tyrant. [0 But at the same time, I think there is one more ideological and cultural clash or misunderstanding. For example, when Joe Biden called President Zelensky on the first day of the war and proposed to evacuate him from Kiev, and he expected Zelensky to agree because according to his mindset, probably human life is more sacred than the state.
And like sacrificing so many people for the sake of the state, probably it's not worth. Or when Henry Kissinger in Davos says that Ukraine has to stop the war and to sacrifice all the territories occupied by Russians just to achieve the peace like Ukrainians should trade land for peace. The old formula.
And Ukrainian society, or at least the majority of Ukrainian society, does not agree because according to them, they cannot let all those territories to be occupied. [ So I know with regard to the offer to Zelensky on the first day of the war, I think the US really didn't believe the Ukrainians have any chance that they thought that the Russians will just take over in 24 or 48 hours. So they thought: okay, let's just get Zelensky out so he can form a government in exile and continue to resist from outside. [ Very surprised and very... And they were astounded - how well the Ukrainians have been fighting. And, you know, the realization that actually Ukraine can win the war on the battlefield.
They just need to provide them with with the weapons, with the supply or with the money. And the Ukrainians can actually win the war - this was an amazing realization for the Americans and for NATO. They expected the Russians to just, you know, take over easily within within a few hours or a few days. And this suggestion of trading land for peace and so forth.
I think, you know, part of it is that the Ukrainians, understand very well that they can't trust. If they negotiate out of a position of weakness, then it will just be feeding, you know, more and more chunks of your body to this hungry bear. And it will not stop there. I mean, there will always be another excuse to grab more land - in two years, in four years, in six years.
It's okay, you give up 10%, 20% of your territory. There is a cease fire. There is a peace agreement. For how long? For two years? For five years? And then when the West is distracted by some internal struggle or some opportunity arises, then the Russians can again say - "hey, but part of the peace agreement was that the Ukrainians respect the rights of the Russian speaking people in Ukraine. And they now close this new newspaper, or they now did this or they now did that. So this is a violation of the peace agreement.
We invade again". And you need to reach a point when you can really trust the peace agreement. It's not just a matter of of territory. It's above all else, I think, a question of trust. And, you know, as a historian, one of the lessons that I take for many events like this in the past. It's very difficult to read the mind of another leader of a foreign government.
What do they really want? The first principle is - listen to what they actually say. Don't try to second guess them. If they say something that they want, then the first step is to accept it. Maybe again, you find new evidence that proves that "no, actually they want something else". But it's the first step - listen to them. And when you read that, the only you listen to what Putin himself says in his declaration of war in 24 February and again and again afterwards in many more speeches and on Russian television: he says that the aim is to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.
Denazification. What does it mean? He didn't say "I'm starting this war to secure Russian control of Crimea and Donbass". No, the aim of the war is to denazify Ukraine. Now in the West, people just brushed aside as a propaganda. No, it can't be that he really believes that Nazis are controlling Ukraine.
Why not? He's saying it with his own mouth - believe him. Unless you have some very strong evidence that he's lying. This is the war aim (?) to denazify Ukraine.
So giving this piece of territory, that piece of territory is not going to satisfy it. And again, it goes really back to history. It's just that for decades, even in Soviet times, you had this in Russia this message that the greatest achievement ever of of the of Russia was fighting and winning against the Nazis. Only the 1930s, 1950s even the Soviet regime had the feeling that the future belongs to socialism.
So much of the propaganda was about the future. "The future is ours. Then in the 1960s, 1970s, it turned out that the future is... they missed the future. That socialism is being left behind, the Soviet Union is being left behind by the West.
And then they started focusing not on the future, but on the past. Again and again, instead of talking about the glorious future, they began talking about the glorious past, the glorious Great Patriotic War when we defeated the Nazis. Again and again, how we defeated the Nazis. And it created the impression that the best time ever was when we fought the Nazis.
This is what was the best moment in our history. And it went for decades. You you bring people up on this idea that the best time ever is when before the Nazis. So what's the conclusion? Let's do it again. Let's recreate the Second World War again.
Let's recreate the war against the Nazis. And this is what what is happening right now. So I think it's a mistake to kind of impose this rationalist interpretation that this is just a war to secure control of Donbass. And if Ukraine just gives the Russians Donbass, we will have peace. No, it's a war about fantasies in people's heads, a war about the fantasy that the Ukrainian nation doesn't exist and a war about the fantasy that there are still Nazis in Ukraine, and Russia needs to denazify it. And, you know, coming from the Middle East, I know perfectly well that people do fight about fantasies.
They don't just fight about these rational aims of to secure oil or whatever. No, people very often fight to the death about fantasies. And in those situations, it's all very difficult to achieve peace by these rational means of let's just give up a little territory. [0 You know, it's very ironic that as two historians, we share the same worry, that obsession with history might be very dangerous. And the very long history of Middle East proves that repeating the traumas from history might be very.. might end with very bloody consequences. And the same is happening with Russia.
Do you think that there might be any outcome? And when we start trying to analyze, how can that historical experience and how that obsession with history can be transformed into something, something different? Is it is possible to try to imagine how that focus on the past can be stopped and people could start thinking about the future, knowing that the focus on the past deprives them from the future. [ You know, the past is important. I am historian, and I am not in favor of people just completely abandoning history. But the main problem is that we need to be honest about our history, and it is extremely difficult for every nation in the world. Almost every nation tends to kind of build a very distorted image of its past.
A very selective memory remembers only either the moments of glory or the moments when we were victims. And it forgets the moments when we were cruel, when we made mistakes. When we were the aggressors. Very one sided view of history. And it's kind of.. It's almost kind of manic depressive that either we are these miserable victims that everybody is attacking and stepping on and then humiliating or we are the greatest heroes.
[ And the people do the same. Yes. That's not only about nations, but also about peoples people's memory. Certainly. And you know, if you're a single person, so if you go to a therapist and the therapist will tell "you, look, this is not exactly true, what you're telling me about your personal life, it's more complicated".
So, you know, nations in a way, also need therapy, but it's very difficult to do therapy on the level of a nation. You know, a politician, at least in a democratic country, that will tell the people the truth about their history, the whole truth is 100% chance of losing the elections. People don't want to hear. It's too painful.
It's too complicated. So, you know, you have cases like Germany after the Second World War that was kind of forced by the victors to come to terms to acknowledge its crimes. But this is very, very rare. Most nations are unwilling to take an honest look at themselves and the past. And, you know, with all the talk about Nazism and fascism and, you know, people don't really even understand what the words mean.
So one way to understand what is fascism? Was it what is Nazism? It's when you look in the mirror and you see something perfect. That's a sign of danger. Part of the fascist story is that the nation is above everything else, and the nation is perfect. It can never be wrong. The nation is about above truth. The nation is is above...
It's above everything. So if you need to lie about the history of the nation, do it. And, you know, many people think that, you know, fascism was terrible. So they were monsters.
And when I look in the mirror, I don't see a monster. I see something beautiful. So I can't be a fascist. It's exactly the opposite. It's when you look in the mirror and you think that your nation is perfect, it's better than everybody.
It never does anything wrong. It's always the victim. It's always the hero. Then you're in the greatest danger of falling into the fascist trap.
[0 what you are describing is really disturbing because we all see that. Let's not call it fascism, but populism, nationalist populism or let's call it Putin style populism, or Trump style populism is about is becoming very popular among the globe. And we see that we were expecting and we are being told that Russia is being isolated by the whole world. But practically we see that that's not exactly true. Many big nations - probably they are denouncing the war in Ukraine - but we see and we feel that they want to be like Putin: the president of Brazil and prime minister of India. And we can name all those countries, all those big nations where populism is becoming more popular and more like the population wants it.
Population is voting for that.. not fascism so far, but very dangerous ideologies. And conservatism in America - also like the latest scandal with the Supreme Court - also is showing that there are some unexpected changes in our values. What can we do about that and how can we react to that? How can we describe that global protest? [ I mean, first of all, yes, Russia is definitely not isolated - it has many friends in the world. So not in Europe, not Finland, not Poland.
But it has China, it has India, it has Brazil, it has a lot of friends. And this wave of populism... I think it's very important not to fall into the trap of thinking about it in binary terms as an "either or"-choice. Because this is the populist thinking. I encounter a lot of liberal friends who, for instance, have a very negative views about nationalism and patriotism. And that's a mistake - it is a falling into the populist trap.
Because the populists are telling us... a part of their appeal is they create this kind of binary situation when you have nationalism and you have liberalism and they are opposites, they are enemies, and you have to choose. And a lot of people, when they are giving this choice, they say, I'm a patriot. So if being a patriot means that I'm against liberalism, then I'm against liberalism. And that's a complete mistake. We should not fall for this.
There is no contradiction, as I explained before, between nationalism and liberalism. They often go together very well. They are both about the idea of liberty, of freedom, of people, and you see it in Ukraine. That they are what the Ukrainians are fighting for - it's for a liberal nation. They want to be independent from Russia and they also want to be a democracy with human rights, with civil rights. There is no contradiction, you don't have to choose between the two.
You have to choose between the two if you think that nationalism is about hating minorities and foreigners, which is against liberalism, and then you have to choose. But if you realize - no, nationalism is not about hating anybody, it's about loving your compatriots, then you see it goes together very well. And similarly, populists tell us that you have to choose between nationalism and globalism, between being a patriot, and between cooperating with foreigners, with other countries. And again, people always say - "well, if this is the choice, then I'm against all these global corporations and I'm in favor of patriotism". And again, it is a complete mistake. And we see it in Ukraine.
The Ukrainians are fighting partly to join the European Union, to cooperate with foreigners. They don't think that if you're a good Ukrainian patriot, then you must oppose the European Union. If nationalism is about loving your compatriots, then there is nothing wrong in cooperating with foreigners because very often this is the best way to take care of your people. Like there was in pandemic.
And I know some Germans invent a vaccine. So you wouldn't say, well, this is a German vaccine, this is a foreign vaccine. I don't want it.
I'm waiting until we have a patriotic Israeli vaccine or patriotic Ukrainian vaccine. No, this is ridiculous. As a good patriot, I want to have this German vaccine to help my fellow Israelis. And similarly in many other situations also.
Being a good nationalist means cooperating with other countries for common purposes. And I think diffusing this binary thinking is a very important step in order to stop this populist wave. [0 What do you think about the reaction of the global community, of the European Union of the West to the to the war? Because it seems to me that in the beginning you were very optimistic. You said that you expect that all the cultural wars should be over and the West should be united against such evil as the war.
And you were expecting Germany to become the leader and to show us the new type of leadership. Do you think that Germany is doing well and do you think that the West as such has stopped the cultural war and is unified? [ No, I didn't say I expected it. I said it was my recommendation. Yes.
But if Western countries ask me what should be the first item on the things we do other than sending immediate help to Ukraine, then the first item is stop the culture war in the West between conservatives and liberals and so forth. And unfortunately, it is not happening. We see the culture war in the US, for instance, with the Supreme Court now, and the abortion debate is just intensifying. And then this is a terrible thing, because if the West stands united, it has nothing to fear from Russia or China or anybody else.
But if the West starts fighting among itself, then it destabilizes and destroy the order all over the world. So unfortunately, it's not happening. Still, I think at least with regard to the war, the West has been more united and more active than anybody imagined before the war began. And I hope it will continue because this seems to be a long war. I think the West should make a very strong commitment, not just to win the war, but also to win the peace, which means not just to help Ukraine defend itself, but also rebuild itself after the war.
And the West should make the commitment now so that Ukrainians know that they have a good future waiting for them. That is worth fighting for. And also, I think the West should make a commitment to the Russian people that, you know, this is not a war against the Russian people. This is not a war against Russian culture. This is a war against to stop the Putin regime.
The aim is not to march on Moscow. The aim is not to cut off Russia from the West - Russia is part of the West. It's part of Europe. I'm personally appalled when I'm hearing these calls to stop reading Russian literature or things like that.
I'm just reading Russian literature right now. I am reading the Kolyma Tales by Shalamov I think is name. Very, very powerful and very timely texts about what could be the end point of totalitarian regimes. And yes, at the moment, the West should unite to stop the Putin regime and his war machine. But it should be clear that down the road, if the Russian people take different choices, they are still part, of course, of the global community, but also of the European community.
[0 I understand that. That's a question you should ask or anyone should ask me. Not I should be asking you, but do that. What do you think about the reaction of the Russian people? Russian people who are not protesting, who are not trying to stop the war, we don't see... And actually, if you ask me, I'm I'm deeply shocked with the fact that we don't see a clear sign of the vast majority of Russians to be to be shocked by this war.
We see a lot of people paralyzed. We see a lot of people scared to death. We see a lot of people pretending that they see nothing. But it's very hard to see such a reaction.
And especially it's very hard to see such a reaction for Ukrainian people who obviously now cursing Russians as such and blame the whole nation for that terrible war crimes. [ Yeah. I hope that the war will not lead to a long term hatred between the people. Because, again, coming from Israel and from the Middle East, I know the terrible price which such long term hatred between people brings. This war started as the war of just one person, of just Putin. Unfortunately, it is becoming a war between nations.
It is kind of sowing seeds of hatred in the minds of millions of people that could, you know, last for generations. After Putin is long dead, the hatred might still be there. I hope it doesn't happen, but it could. But that's that's one of the worst things that can happen.
And I'm not in a position to kind of recommend to people in Russia right now what to do, because I've never lived under this kind of dictatorial regime where.. You know, in Israel, I can criticize the government. I can write things against the occupation in the occupied territories.
I can go to demonstrations and my life is safe. My job is usually safe. It's still possible to do this.
I don't know what it's like to live under something like the Putin regime, and I don't think it's fair for me to sit here and kind of tell them, Hey, you should do this, you should do that. What I can say again from the position of a historian is that part of the power of of a dictatorial regime is that it makes people feel helpless. If you feel I can do anything and this is always wrong, there is always something you can do.
Maybe not a big thing, but there is always something you can do whatever you are. You know, anybody who is part of a big system, say, of a bureaucratic system that always weighs in, in a small way to kind of put sticks into the wheels of the system. To lose an official form, to delay something. There are always ways to do that, especially people who live under a dictatorship. They are the experts on how to do these things. So even if you feel that I can't risk going out to a public square with a big sign "stop the war".
If I think hard, I think that, you know, Russian people are very smart in these things. They are able to find ways, small ways to kind of prick the regime and put these little sticks into the war machine. [0 You once said that if you have to choose historical character whom you admire the most, you would pick Mikhail Gorbachev because he's the man who saved us from the nuclear war.
From the apocalypse. Do you still think that Gorbachev did everything right? And do you still think that that soviet Union collapsed with Mikhail Gorbachev? Or now we we have to face the truth that that imaginary Soviet Union is still collapsing. And what we see is is not bloodless end of Soviet Union 30 years ago but the real bloody war ending that Soviet empire that was not eliminated by Gorbachev. [ To a large extent you are right - that the war now, this is actually the war of the collapse of the Soviet Union. But with regard to Gorbachev, you know, I never thought that everything at this was perfect. And even there was a lot of still bloodshed and misery during the process of collapse.
But when you think of the stakes, the biggest empire in history with the biggest army that humans have ever created and enough nuclear weapons to destroy the whole of humanity several times. And the Soviet leadership, and especially Gorbachev leading it, managed to kind of crashland this airplane without destroying humanity. And looking at what's happening now, I think I even admired Gorbachev even more because if you think that if there was somebody like Putin in the Kremlin in 1989 or in 1991, he would have given the order to the Red Army to fire.
Maybe none of us would be alive today anywhere on the planet if somebody like Putin was in charge in the 1980s. And in order to save the kind of dysfunctional Soviet system, he would have decided to use military force. Because the amazing thing about the collapse of the Soviet Union - they had the military force. The Red Army was the biggest army in the world. It was loyal.
If an order to fire was given, they would have fired. And the Soviet leadership made a decision not to try to save themselves, not to try to save the system with military power. And I found that this is very admirable to be able to give up so much power. Peacefully instead of trying to hold on using all the bayonets and all the missiles and all the tanks that you have. And I don't think it's fair to blame Gorbachev for what is happening right now, because Gorbachev left a relatively peaceful legacy. He managed to kind of orchestrate this crash landing in a way that Russians and Ukrainians and Belorussians and others, they separated relatively peacefully.
Feeling that the kind of agreed on this separation and now they each going their own way, still remaining friends, still being able to collaborate. And this was the legacy he left. And you see places like Ukraine, you'll see places like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, and you see that people took this legacy and started building functioning democratic countries, peaceful countries which are not interested in military occupation and wars and invasions. And Russia too - for a time - took this path.
And then certain people and above all, Putin, took other decisions. History is not deterministic. There was nothing deterministic about the decision to say "Okay, 30 years have passed. Now let's try to use military force to rebuild the Soviet Union". There was nothing deterministic about it. It's a political decision of a couple of people, maybe just of of of one person.
And they could have made a different decision. [0 Probably we should come to the last question, and I will ask you to think of some... It's hard to think about that, but we have to think about some positive scenarios. Because we have a lot of scenarios in our minds of how things could get worse. The nuclear strike from Putin or some other war starting China against Taiwan or just everybody is spending all their money to produce weapons. But even let's try to imagine some optimistic scenario of way out, of stopping the war of Russia being transformed into something more decent than it is now.
[ You know, I think that, you know, humanity is now on the verge, on the edge of the precipice, on the edge of the abyss. What we are seeing now during these last two years, we saw the three big enemies of humankind coming back. Pandemics, war and now famine is also spreading around the world because of the war. [ That's like riders of apocalypse. Yes.
And this is all manmade. Previously in history, when you had famine, when we pandemics - this was a natural disaster. Nobody could do anything about it. This is not the case now.
It is manmade. With the pandemic it didn't start... I don't know how it started.
But if there was global cooperation we have now the science and technology to stop pandemics. If you have enough global cooperation, similarly with the famine that we are now seeing spreading because of the war, it's a political famine. It's not a natural disaster. It's a famine which is caused by political decisions. We can stop it.
And I hope that when people see these three big enemies of humankind coming back to attack us, they realize it's dangerous. We need to move back from the abyss. We need to join forces and build a better global order that will reign in.
Famine and plague and - we can do something agains that, it's now within our power. And if we do that, we can actually create a much better order than the one that existed in the early 21st century. We we have the technology, we have the science, we have the economic resources. We just don't have the political wisdom. So I hope we get that when we see the dangers we are facing. And specifically when I think about Russia I don't have any hopes of the current regime - it proved itself to be completely untrustworthy.
But I still have a lot of hope and trust in the Russian people. That made so many important contribution to humankind. Both, yes, in helping to defeat the Nazis in the Second World War, but also in fields of culture and science and medicine over all generations.
And I think the Russian people have the ability to choose differently, to choose different people, to head it, to choose a different regime. You know, and it's first and foremost, just think egotistically about your own interests. How come such a rich country provides such poor health care services and other services to its citizens? And I think that the Russian people are often told that, I don't know, "it's deterministic, it's the climate, it's history, it's whatever". It's not, it's just human choice. Even if you had a dictatorship for centuries - you can always choose differently next time.
The Ukrainians did it. Ukrainians lived under the same dictatorial regimes for centuries under the czar and then under the Communists. And then they chose "no. This time will have a democracy.
This time will invest in hospitals and nurses and not in tanks and missiles". And I think this is the maybe why Putin is really afraid of the Ukrainians is above all because of that. Because if Ukraine becomes a prosperous democracy, then a lot of Russians will think, hey, if they can do that, why can't we? [0 Thanks so much. That was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.
Really thrilling conversation. Thank you all.