Viewpoint: Thoughts on the road to unfreedom

The Ukrainian flag. Image by Jorono via Pixabay
March 31, 2022

‘Do not obey in advance’

By Joyce Woods

Sadly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was not surprising to me. Horrific and frightening, but not surprising.

In 2018, I led a class that explored the book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.” I then read “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by the same author, Yale professor Timothy Snyder. The detailed history in the book is prescient about current events in Ukraine.

Snyder learned Eastern European languages in order to gain knowledge directly from sources, rather than have them interpreted (or misinterpreted) by ideologues.

The relationship of Ukraine as it relates to Russia and “the road to unfreedom” is explored deeply in the book, as is the “grand project” of “Eurasia” which Putin announced in Izvestiia on October 3, 2011. (It pushes for the demise of the European Union (EU) and creates a union unhindered by rule of law, democracy or human rights.)

The book also explains that, in the early 2010s, fascist thinkers (Ilyin, Dugin, Prokhanov, Glazyev ) were promoted in the Russian “mainstream” media by Putin. They promoted the idea that “annexation” of Ukraine and Belarus was a “necessary condition” of the “Eurasian project.” This was also defined as necessary by Russian fascists from the Izborsk Club, a Russian fascist think tank founded around that time.

The 2013 “Foreign Policy Concept” signed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with special endorsement of Putin, included changes in accord with “Eurasianists” fascist goals. The people of Ukraine have been dealing with Russia’s attacks ever since. From cyber attacks to FSB (successor to the KGB) snipers killing 100 protesters during the Maidan Revolution in 2014 to actual invasions and illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory.

It’s surreal that Putin and Russian anti-Semitic fascists accused Jewish Ukrainians of being fascist especially since many of Russia’s allies are fascists or proto-fascists. American white supremacists Richard Spencer and David Duke are examples. Snyder calls this “schizofascism”: actual fascists calling their opponents fascists.

According to Snyder, prior to the adoption of the idea of “Eurasia” by the Russian oligarchs, Russia spoke favorably about the EU and NATO. In 1999 Putin approached NATO to cooperate with Russia on common security problems. In 2004, he spoke favorably of future EU membership for Ukraine. In 2008, Putin attended the NATO summit in Bucharest.

There are those in the U.S. who have also abandoned a vision of democracy and worked to “deconstruct” our government (in the previous administration, for example), hoping to cause enough disaster to allow for armed conflict which, in their view, would allow for the rise of “illiberal” governance. They too push for the destruction of the EU and the NATO Alliance. 

So why care? Because there’s never been an authoritarian government that had potential for freedom. Democracy may be imperfect, but without democracy, there’s no possibility of freedom.

Rule Number One in “On Tyranny” is: “Do not obey in advance.” Snyder wrote, “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”

The brave people of Ukraine know that rule and are refusing to obey the tyrant in advance.

Joyce Woods is a longtime resident of Ashland. Email Executive Editor Bert Etling at or call or text him at 541-631-1313.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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