To Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, Concerning the Ukraine

In the year 800, The Roman pope Leo III crowned Charles son of Pepin – Charlemagne – as King of the Romans. In 988, Basil II of Byzantine consecrated Vladimir Sviatoslavich, Vladimir the Great, the first Christian ruler of the Rus. Both introduced Christianity and an image of Roman heritage to vast reaches of the north.

Romans marched into the future with minds fixed on the past. The Greeks had trusted to eternity in the memory of the polis – in vain. For Romans, preserving the glory of Aeneas was worth any genocide. Lust for power became ritual, symbolized in the image of the four rulers – Augustus and Caesar of east and west, each with a dagger for the next.

But even as it collapsed in the west, Roman rule was transformed by Christianity. Theodosius, last Emperor of both east and west, repented publicly for a massacre his soldiers had committed; he was the first Christian prince to acknowledge the supremacy of conscience over might. Byzantines, and after them the Rus, contended with the judgement of the afterlife as well as the glory of the past.

A thousand years after Theodosius, Byzantium fell. Its scholars escaping sewed new life in the soil of Charles’ old kingdom, in Italy. The inner eye began to see a self whose form was dynamic. Pico’s God speaks to Adam: “Thou … in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hands we have placed thee, shall ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature.” People started, gradually, to look forward as well as back. After much bloodshed, citizens of Zurich and Munich, Vienna and Milan, Paris and Utrecht can share a heritage without sharing a nation, which is a shared, sacred past; for they can share a future together.

Vladimir Vladimirovich! Charlemagne sits in stone outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where, Mandelstam writes:

 … римский судия судил чужой народ

 … Romans gave laws to alien nations

Theodosius was an alien to the law of David and of Moses. Yet he could repent after the example of David. Vladimir the Great gave up rule in his own name to rule in the name of holy wisdom. You have said Russians and Ukrainians are one people, consecrated by Vladimir, your namesake. If you invade the Ukraine, hundreds of thousands will die; millions will suffer. Even so, the past will not give you the unity you imagine.

Accept the fruit of the seed from Byzantium, which sprouted in Italian soil. Do not force the people who remember Vladimir Sviatoslavich to live and die for the past. Live in peace: the future is also sacred. It bears the name of freedom.

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