Virtue signaling over Ukraine

I have always been opposed to virtue-signalling. It seems an easy way of supporting the current narrative and opposing any thoughtful opposition to it. And it does not require any exertion – of the mind, muscle, or (usually) wallet.

Of course, these days the virtue signaler simply blocks or cancels anyone who wishes to make a thoughtful comment on the issue.

12 responses to “Virtue signaling over Ukraine

  1. Hi Ken

    While there can be virtue signalling and in some cases an element of ‘the current thing’, that’s not the whole story with Ukraine.

    I grew up in the UK and was given those duck and cover lessons at school about what to do in the event of a nuclear war. One chilling moment was realising that if bombs hit London, the city would be vaporised but those of us in the nearby countryside would have lingering, painful deaths. Quite a burden for a 7 year old.

    If there was going to be a war, it would have been with Russia rolling its tanks across the European plains.

    Later I was briefly in the Territorial Army, our training, including wearing chemical weapons suits, gas masks and preparation for nuclear attacks was all about dealing a Russian attack on Europe. Marching 40 miles wearing that suit, carrying a backpack and gun is not something I will forget in a hurry.

    Russia was always the threat. When the Berlin Wall game down the threat diminished, but it never went away.

    Ukraine may have been part of the USSR at that earlier time, but watching Russian tanks rolling across the Eastern European plain is the very essence of what kept Europeans awake at night for decades. This is not that different.

    Sure it’s a long way from New Zealand or from the US which is where that video looks like it comes from. Even so, the fear is real. Putin has already said he doesn’t intend to stop at Ukraine, so what we are seeing is, quite literally, our fears being acted out.

    We may yet be dragged into a bigger war.

    So yes, maybe there are cool dudes jumping on the current thing bandwagon, but there are a lot more people who worry this isn’t some distant, abstract cause.


  2. Of course, virtue signally is “not the whole story with Ukraine.” I am working on a more in-depth analysis but, in the meantime (and because I am finding computer work difficult at the moment because of stroke) I thought this satirical video did underline that most people’s reactions to this war are not based on any understanding of the issues.

    But thanks for your comment, Bill. Please don’t think I am being unreasonably provocative (I can’t handle a detailed response at the moment) but you raise the bogey man of “Russia rolling its tanks across the European plains” as if it is a justification for the current hysteria.

    My historical recall was that the last time Soviet (including Ukrainian and other Soviet nationalities) tanks rolled across Europe was in the war of the 1940s. We should be eternally grateful for that as those tanks played a key role in defeating Nazism and liberating nations imprisoned by the Nazis.

    This is relevant to the current war because of the rise of ultranationalism and neo-Nazism in Ukraine. People like Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevychin who were responsible for thousand of murders of Poles, Jews, Russians, Byelorussians, etc., before and during the war are now treated as national heroes in Ukraine. Any intelligent analysis of the current war must include a recognition of that.

    I agree this issue is not “some distant, abstract cause,” and the thoughtless virtue-signally does treat it that way.
    In effect, even in New Zealand/Aotearoa, we are also at war. We face widespread censorship and loads of disinformation. I have been following the situation in Mariupol where the neo-Nazi Azov battalion has almost been defeated. The evacuees (who had been used as human shields by the Ukrainian/Azov forces) give a consistent story about how they have been treated and welcome the help, evacuation corridors, and humanitarian aid from the Donetsk Militia and Russian forces. The information is harrowing. The death and destruction are horrible but the information our media presents on this is really distorted to fit an approved narrative. Patrick Lancaster is probably the only English-speaking reporter on the ground in the Donetsk region – he is doing a fantastic job, but his reports and videos are ignored by our censored media.

    We are also going to suffer the economic and financial consequences of the global reset. So, no, it’s not an abstract issue. Much wider than Ukraine.


  3. David Fierstien

    Russia is clearly in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, signed by Russia, the U.S., and the U.K. in which they agreed to:
    1. Respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders.
    2. Refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine.
    3. Refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics.
    4. Seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, “if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used”.
    5. Refrain from the use of nuclear arms against Ukraine. (whatever “refrain” means)
    6. Consult with one another if questions arise regarding these commitments.


  4. David, you should have noticed that this post was about virtue-signalling. I realise you have your own hobby horses but have you anything useful to say about that?

    I am interested to see how the virtue-siganlliers who have banned the letter Z react to the latest Russian provocation.
    Russian provocation


  5. “My historical recall was that the last time Soviet (including Ukrainian and other Soviet nationalities) tanks rolled across Europe was in the war of the 1940s. We should be eternally grateful for that as those tanks played a key role in defeating Nazism and liberating nations imprisoned by the Nazis.”

    Poles and other Eastern Europeans would disagree they were ‘liberated’ by the USSR. They swapped one imperialist oppressor for another. Poles tell of Russian tanks being used to keep the population under control.

    Finns would also disagree. Russia still holds a Finnish province.

    I was at primary school in 1968 when the Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Hungary was before I was born.

    “you raise the bogey man of “Russia rolling its tanks across the European plains” as if it is a justification for the current hysteria.”

    No, the invasion and war crimes are justification for the current response. To reject invasion and war crimes is hardly hysteria.

    To slander Ukrainians as Nazi is simply to repeat Russian propaganda. How can a nation with a Jewish president be Nazi?

    And while we are talking about virtual signalling… isn’t that precisely what Putin is attempting when he lies about going to Ukraine to de-nazify the place?


  6. Bill, can you clarify? Are you not pleased that Nazi Germany was defeated, that concentration camps were liberated, and captive nations were freed as a result of the war in the 40s? And are you resentful that the Red Army played a key role, some would say the key role in that defeat? And are you not thankful for the Soviet people who lost such vast numbers, mostly civilians, in that conflict?

    I really have to ask that because your comment comes across as being resentful at the Nazi defeat and resentful of the huge sacrifices made by our allies in that defeat. Some clarification is necessary. I would not like to come away with the wrong idea. There have been so many attempts to rewrite the history of that war lately and to make excuses for the current crop of neo-Nazis in Ukraine.
    It is sad that you describe the liberation of eastern Europe as exchanging “one imperialist oppressor for another.” The occupation is eastern Europe by the USSR after the war may have been unfortunate for many, but it is certainly excusing fascism to equate this with the Nazi occupation of those countries during the war.

    But your concentration on Eastern Europe during the cold war period makes me realise I was actually wrong with my claim. The last time we saw Soviet tanks roll across Europe was at the turn of the 1980/1990s when the USSR withdrew their military from Eastern Europe. The leadership of the USSR recognised their occupation was untenable and withdrew after getting promises from the US that they would not move NATO membership any further east. And that broken promise is a key issue in the present conflict.

    I think it is easy to be biased and one-sided by concentrating of the fears Soviet moves may have for your generation without realising there is a similar, parallel, mirror-image, concern amongst Soviet, and now Russian, people about the western moves during the cold war period. The movement of NATO east right up the Russian borders and recent withdrawals of the US from important arms control mechanisms and the building of offensive missile bases in Romania and Poland which could seriously undermine the nuclear stalemate that prevent nuclear war are very concerning to Russians – and to many western experts knowledgeable about these issues. The threat of Ukraine joining NATO (while not really on the cards) was an existential threat for the Russian Federation – and the naïve pro-Ukraine lobby here completely ignores the text of the OSCE declaration on that problem (see “CODE OF CONDUCT ON POLITICO-MILITARY ASPECTS OF SECURITY – 1994).

    It is also very clear now from the evidence coming out of the current war that Ukraine was actually a de facto NATO members It’s a subject for another discussion but I think it is naïve to see the bogey man of Russia as “justification for the current ([minority western] response.” This conflict has much deeper causes and far more dangerous possible outcomes. It’s been coming for a while

    Finally you say – “To slander Ukrainians as Nazi is simply to repeat Russian propaganda. How can a nation with a Jewish president be Nazi?” If you are attributing such nonsense to me then you have not read what I have written, and you claim amounts to a smear. Really, I hope that is not what you think of my thoughtful arguments that would be sad.

    To be clear, I have never said “Ukrainians are Nazis!” Never. And you have been uncritically accepting disinformation if you seriously think that claim is made by any credible Russian leader. I will have to complete my article analysing the ultranationalist/neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine as these sort of claims are just nonsense.

    If you had followed the overthrown of the elected government in 2014 and the role of the neo-Nazi groups like Right Sector with their transformation into military battalions of the National Guard like the Azov and Adai groups, you would not resort to this sort of statement or smearing me with that claim. If you had watched at the time, you would have seen that the movement of the Ukrainian military into Donbass and the activities of the ultra-right groups were strongly opposed by many Ukrainians who were able to see the hateful, racist, ideology the groups had. It is silly to claim “Ukrainian are Nazis” but it is simply a fact that the neo-Nazis/Ultranationalists have a huge amount of influence, and especially military influence, in Ukraine. This revival of fascist heroes arose out of the rebirth of nationalism in the 1990 and 2000s and it has been a real obstacle to the acceptance of Ukraine into Europe as a modern multi-ethnic nation.

    As for Zelensky – he was overwhelmingly elected on a peace platform and attempted to get the nationalist military groups to withdraw from Donbass – but he was put in his place. That is why he has turned out to be such a disaster as a statesman. Have a listen to Richard Sakwa’s analysis in the video I present in my recent article Some sense on the Russia-Ukraine war (

    Also, if you have the time listen to the description of the ultra-right/ultranationalist/neo-Nazi problem in Ukraine by the historian Tarik Cyril Amar who worked for some time on Lvov which has a history of the massacre carried out by the Banderite groups like the OUN during the 1930s and 1940s. (Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych are now considered national heroes in \Ukraine – much to the anger of the Poles whose parents and grandparents were slaughtered by these people) –

    It is important to listen to these experts as there is so much censorship now – a lot of information we get on the horrible war is false.

    Finally, I will leave you with this image of the annual march held in Kiev to celebrate Stepan Bander’s birthday.

    I hope you can understand why I object strongly to any idea that you should see my thoughtful concern for the activity of racist, Neo-Nazi groups as slander. It is far from that. This issue needs to be discussed rationally without such misrepresentation.

    Bandera birthday


  7. 1. Of course it was a good thing that the Red Army helped defeat Nazi Germany. How could you possibly read my comment as implying anything else?

    2. The USSR occupied Eastern Europe for decades. Few people living there regarded them as liberators. It’s no accident those countries were keen to join NATO.

    3. The countries of Eastern Europe chose to join NATO precisely because they feared Russian imperialist aggression. They have been proved right. Now Finland and Sweden will join NATO. It is a defensive pact. Yes America has a role, yes America broke its promises, but those newly democratic countries knew precisely where the threat lies.

    4. You imply Ukraine is Nazi by causally including mention of the neo-Nazi battalion. Highlighting that is an important part of Russia’s propaganda, which conveniently forgets there are also neo-Nazi elements in Russia and a track record of anti-semitism.

    For that matter we now have active neo-Nazis in New Zealand. They were prominent in the protests earlier this year. And there’s anecdotal evidence they had financial support from Russia. Russians are definitely behind many of the misinformation campaigns.

    By many definitions Russia may be regarded as a fascist state. It is clearly not a true democracy with many opposition politicians in prison and anti-war protestors beaten and imprisoned.

    5. Ukraine may not be perfect, no-one is, but there is no justification for an invasion, no justification for war crimes. Putin is a monster, Russia is fighting an imperialist war, the war of an oppressor.

    6. So let’s get back to ‘virtue signalling’. If the people who side with the victim against violent war criminals are virtue signalling, what would be a term to describe Putin’s apologists in Western society? Would it be “vice signalling”?


  8. Sorry, Bill. Today is not a good day for me head-wise (a result of my stroke) and I can’t really face computer work. Your points are important and deserve a response which I will get onto when feeling better.

    But at this stage can you please accept that when you say of me “You imply Ukraine is Nazi” you are being disrespectful. I have made it clear that I have never said anything of the sort – far from. Please don’t resort to such defamation or smearing because it prevents an honest discussion.

    I have never claimed or implied Ukraine is Nazi. The facts of neo-Nazi influence and activity, especially in the military, in Ukraine are well recognised by sensible people capable of resisting the group thought and censorship we are now subjected to.
    It is impossible to have a rational discussion about the war, its origins, and the disastrous effects on Ukrainians if simple facts like this are ignored. Or worse, if people referring to these facts are attacked and smeared for referring to them.


  9. David Fierstien

    ” The facts of neo-Nazi influence and activity, especially in the military, in Ukraine are well recognised by sensible people capable of resisting the group thought and censorship we are now subjected to.”

    It should be self evident that people who understand the significance of evidence based critical thinking, also understand the imortance of documentation. . . . ‘I said it, and therefore it must be true,’ is symptomatic of arrogance and lack of respect for the intelligence of your discussion partner.


  10. David, the question of the legality of the current invasion of Ukraine has been raised here so I will comment on that.
    Noticeably no one is really arguing the case by referring to the legal justifications given by the leadership of the Russian Federation. That does not surprise me. Such legal claims are merely a formality – the are larger issues at stake.

    I have made clear in other forums that I believe this current war is illegal. In my lifetime this has also been the case with other invasions and wars. The US invasion of Vietnam and bombing of Indochina were clearly illegal. As was the US invasion of Iraq, the NATO attacks on Yugoslavia and Libya. The same with the invasions of Afghanistan by the US and the USSR. There have also been several invasions or “police actions” of the US in central and southern America.

    All are clearly illegal in the sense that although the aggressor countries argued their case (as the Russians have argued in their case now) using article 51 of the UN charter, alliance responsibilities and the prevention of “genocide” (as the Russians have argued in their case now) no reasonable court of law would accept these arguments. I think the US aggression against Syria stands out as I don’t believe the US has made a legal justification for their aggression – for many years they just denied they had “boots on the ground.”

    But no one is interested in the legal arguments – because the determining factors are not legal – they are the national and geopolitical interests of the aggressor country and their allies – even if only the perceived interests.

    One could, and should, discuss the national and geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation, the US and NATO countries in the current war. This helps us understand why it has happened and how the situation could be resolved.

    But there is also a more important wider issue – the reaction of a minority of countries (the global north) to the war in Ukraine. This has a strong effect on us, our security, human rights and our standard of living.
    I have not seen in my life such an extreme reaction. The global north yawned at the US aggression in Vietnam and Iraq. There was no widespread censorship of the sort we have now. There was no widespread ethnic prejudice against the US as we have now against the Russian Federation and anything Russian. (Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky, for Christ’s sake). We didn’t then abandon such important democratic fundamentals and opposition to collective responsibility – taking actions against ethnic groups because of the actions of their political leaders.

    More important to me is the docility of our populations. We simply do not seem to have an anti-war movement anymore. Neither do we have any genuine movement in the defence of liberties like freedom of information, the rights of individuals not to be subjected to collective responsibility or the real defence of ethnic-racial rights. I believe these problems precede the invasion of Ukraine but the long term effects will be disastrous. As will the effects on us of the economic and financial war precipitated by the US.


  11. David, if you want documentation then wait for the article I am writing (sorry about my illness which is holding things up). However, surely you are not unaware of the growth in ultranationalism and neo-Nazism in Ukraine after independence. That is known by anyone who has followed the events there. And how else can one sensibly explain the huge loss of civilian life in Mariupol where the neo-Nazi Azov battalion has been based since it was formed after the overthrow of the elected government in Kiev 8 years ago?

    You could read for yourself one of the may documented studies on the revival of neo-Nazi gotrusp since 1990. For example, this study says in its abstract

    “During the past decade, particularly under the presidency of the third Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko (2005–2010) there have been repeated attempts to turn the leading figures of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) into national heroes. As these fascist organizations collaborated with the Nazi Germany, carried out ethnic cleansing and mass murder on a massive scale, they are problematic symbols for an aspiring democracy with the stated ambition to join the European Union.”

    Rudling, P. A. (2107). The OUN, the UPA and the Holocaust: A Study in the Manufacturing of Historical Myths. The Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies, 2107.

    I can provide a pdf of this and similar studies if you cannot find it yourself.


  12. Sorry again, Bill. I will have to respond in dribs and drabs. I’m still having tiresome problems with keyboards. you say “Ukraine may not be perfect, no one is, but there is no justification for an invasion, no justification for war crimes. Putin is a monster, Russia is fighting an imperialist war, the war of an oppressor.”

    It’s easy to say “Putin is a monster” – it is far harder to support that claim with evidence. I will just treat it as an emotional outburst – but warn that it is impossible to understand what is happening without using evidence and rationality.

    I am surprised you limit your judgment of the situation in Ukraine to “Ukraine is not perfect.” That’s a truism of any country but given the importance I expect a better level of analysis.

    We keep getting told that Ukraine is a democracy and this is a fight between a democratic Ukraine and a totalitarian (even fascist) Russia.

    This ignores completely that the legally elected government of Ukraine was overthrown in a coup in February 2014 – a coup led by ultranationalist/neo-Nazis including groups like the notorious Right Sector. (Incidentally, there is strong evidence tying the US to this coup because they wanted to override the EU-brokered plan of early elections agreed between the pre4sident and the opposition).

    Since 2014 many political parties have been banned (but not the neo-Nazi groups). During the May 2014 presidential elections (ne4essary to overcome the problem of an illegal government) one of the main opposition candidates was beaten up (the assault was videoed) and had to retreat. A common story in Ukraine since 2013/2014.

    Political parties in Ukraine are a bit of a joke. The country and the Rada are run by oligarchs (a strong similarity with Russia in the bad years of the 90s). Often oligarchs get seats in the Rada simply because it prevents criminal prosecutions.

    The leader of the main opposition party (polling high as Zelensky lost support) was arrested last May, his party made illegal and his possessions taken. Including the closing down of the media outlets he owned and ran. Zelensky did a clean sweep recently banning 11 political parties – but not the neo-Nazi ones.

    Political assassinations are common in Ukraine (often instigated by the neo-Nazis or their supporters in state institutions. A very embarrassing recent assassination was that of Denis Kireev – one of Ukraine’s team negotiating with the Russians. He was arrested by the SBU on charges of treason but shot to death during the arrest.

    One could go on – it was touch and go if Zelensky’s predecessor as president, Poroshenko, would be arrested when he returned from an overseas trip in February. Like others, he was facing a charge of treason.

    So I am completely cynical about how our news media presents Ukraine. Especially compared to their treatment of Russia. To paraphrase you “Russia may not be perfect” It has real problems developing a good parliamentary and electoral system (the criminality of the 90s hasn’t helped), But even now when repressive laws have been introduced in the war situation there is not the widespread illegal capturing and murdering of people we see currently happening in Ukraine.

    With that understanding one should be able to see why I simply do not trust our news media. It supports the widespread censorship and promotes fake and misleading reports.

    It is so true that truth is the first casualty in war – we can see that every day in our media. But rationality is a very close second and I believe we can see this in the way people have accepted fake news, disinformation and censorship without a murmur of protest. I find that disgusting.


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