By: Dr Metod Berlec
We spoke with Prof Dr Andrej Fink, who is a lawyer in the field of theory of the state, constitutional and international law, and international relations, about the international events recently marked by the war in Ukraine. He taught public international law, international relations, and the history of international relations at the private Catholic University in Buenos Aires for 35 years, including as a full professor, and today he is a lecturer at the Catholic Institute – Faculty of Law and Business Sciences in Ljubljana.
DEMOKRACIJA: Mr. Fink, given that you have spent most of your life in Argentina, that is, in South America, I would touch on that continent first. I recently spoke in Ljubljana with your good friend Damian Ahlin, who is the president of the Slovenian Cultural Action, which is based in Buenos Aires. He told me that the economic situation in Argentina has been quite bad in recent years. How come? Argentina was considered one of the most successful South American countries decades ago.
Fink: Unfortunately, I have to confirm this information completely, and this with pain, because many residents there do not deserve this situation. Argentina just cannot get out of the cyclical problems of the last decades. Some hundred years ago, it was one of the most promising South American countries. It was also the most European country in Latin America, at least judging by the main cities, architecture, artistic and cultural creations. The level of its universities was comparable to European ones. It also won a few Nobel Prizes. Individually, its people are world-renowned scientists. Natural wealth (fertile pampas, classic good meat, also petroleum, gas, and other deposits) was a guarantee for unstoppable progress. Around 1930, however, a decline began, perhaps imperceptibly at first for a long time, but then more and more. The causes of today’s situation could be discussed at length. Although it has been on the verge of bankruptcy before, it has always recovered because it is a very rich country. Any other would have collapsed a long time ago. Otherwise, we can again ask what the existence of a country is based on: whether on purely economic foundations and indicators (these are undoubtedly necessary, primum vivere) or also on spiritual, psychological, and cultural ones. Sometimes natural wealth, paradoxically, can be harmful because it deceives, it appears to people as a light, which is deceptive. Well-being is always desirable, but life’s challenges are a source of strength that ennobles a person and gives him meaning and shows direction despite difficulties. Argentine history from at least the last half century could be a case study for many things in the field of political science.
DEMOKRACIJA: In early August, Colombia’s first left-wing president was sworn in. In general, it seems to me that Latin America, with the exception of Brazil, which currently still has a centre-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been turning quite to the left again recently, and it shows that people in this part of the world are quite receptive to left-wing propaganda. In 2015, you published a book in Spanish entitled South America in the World: Security and Values.
Fink: Yes. The book was published by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a renowned and very active foundation of the German Christian Democratic Party in Latin America. In the book, I analysed this region politically, but from a cultural point of view, which is a prerequisite for any kind of social security. If we talk about culture, we are talking about the values that people protect because they represent the foundation of their social and individual life. I estimate that there is a crisis in Latin America precisely in the field of common and generally applicable values. I notice some confusion, which is not from today, although today’s events and phenomena greatly help it. Already the French Revolution two centuries ago confused the independence processes there, which could have developed on the basis of their own, i.e., Spanish, ideological foundations. French revolutionary ideas were joined by British political and economic interests. Thus, young, new, and barely independent countries at the beginning of the 19th century, after 300 years of colonialism, continued to live in a Spanish de facto world, and ideologically and politically adopted new European and North American (USA) institutions. This caused and still causes an identity crisis, which is expressed in many ways.
In the 20th century, socialist and communist ideas began to flood the region. In the predominantly underdeveloped subcontinent, as it is called, it was easy to find “fuel” for these ideas, as this “underdevelopment” (a fancy word for various forms of poverty) was soon channelled into revolutionary movements. The subcontinent as such is naturally very rich, but this fact does not come to its proper expression due to the lack of education, schools, and the cultivation of organisational skills. They are sitting on wealth, but they do not know or cannot make it a means of progress and a better life for individuals and countries. Therefore, the “revolution” is an easy and successful lure to quickly achieve “freedom”, “welfare”, “national independence from the capitalist interests that are suffocating the people”. From at least the mid-20th century onwards, Marxist “liberation” guerrilla movements, both rural and urban, began to emerge throughout Latin America. They were successful in Cuba and won power, which they maintain to this day. Elsewhere, the whole process was more complicated and military-political fortunes fluctuated.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, even the guerrilla military movements in Latin America “ran out of ideological oxygen”, so they had to transform into new political movements. To put it briefly: they adopted the idea of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and started with an intellectual and media guerrilla, which is working quite well for them at the moment. In this way, a former revolutionary guerrilla, who as a young man roamed the Colombian hills and forests, came to power in Colombia through a legal, democratic way.
Of course, the process is unique in each country. For example, in Chile, the left-wing candidate Boric was also democratically elected. In Bolivia, the process is different again, as well as in huge Brazil, where elections will be held in a year and the result is unclear.
But as for the “susceptibility to leftist propaganda”, as you say, it is based mainly on poverty, lack of cultural identity (when you do not know what you are) and the exploitation of both by some (not all) political and economic leaders. This creates a “minestrone” in which it is very difficult to identify causes and effects.
DEMOKRACIJA: In the past, in connection with this continent, there was a lot of talk about the Monroe Doctrine, which was established by US President James Monroe in 1823, that is, about the American policy of opposing European colonialism in the Western Hemisphere. How are the interests of the great powers in South America today?
Fink: With the situation I painted in the previous answer – a naturally rich region, but with inefficient state managers – it is almost natural for predators of one kind or another to appear. The Monroe Doctrine wanted to ensure, and until recently did ensure, that all of Latin America was a sort of US backyard. Already during the Cold War, the Soviet Union invaded this space through Cuba, but the USA soon showed it its borders (remember the Cuban crisis of 1962). After the collapse of the USSR, Russian power dried up. Today, however, China is making strong inroads throughout Latin America (also Africa, by the way) and is creating positions for itself to be present all over the world.
DEMOKRACIJA: Well, if we jump to the Russian or Putin’s aggression against the independent European country Ukraine. It has a very varied history behind it, which Harvard professor Sergij Plohi writes about in his book The Gate of Europe – The History of Ukraine. Its territory has been under the rule of various political entities in the past centuries. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it has often been emphasised that this country lies at the crossroads between the West and the East. The American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, if I remember correctly, defined the dividing line between Western and Orthodox civilisation at the Dnieper River…
Fink: One could say about Ukraine, as they say in Mexico: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the USA.” It is bad for a country if it has a big and powerful neighbour next to it, with which it has had strong conflicts in history. From Putin’s aggression until today, many historical analyses have been written about the relationship between Ukraine and Russia. And at least since the time of Tsar Peter I, we can talk about the oppression of the Ukrainian nation and language by Russia. For three centuries, Ukrainians have been fighting for their identity. A lot happened during that time. After all, the Ukrainian nation is not so small (today there are about 45 millions of them). Depending on the parts that were under different political forces and also under several centuries of religious influence, the consequences of this division had different effects on his self-awareness. Be that as it may, Putin’s aggression has brought about the unification of the nation. From now on, it is illusory to think about any voluntary “fraternal” annexation of Ukraine and Ukrainians to Russia.
DEMOKRACIJA: As we know, Ukraine expressed its desire to join the European Union and NATO a decade ago, but the Russian Federation under the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed it. This led to protests in 2013-2014 that ousted pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. As a result, Russia started a hybrid war against Ukraine and by seizing the Crimean Peninsula and sending its troops to Donbas. It undoubtedly violated international law, the principle of the inviolability of borders and the principle or the right to self-determination.
Fink: It clearly violated international law, as well as the principles of the UN Charter. In any chapter you look, it is a violation. Violations of international humanitarian (i.e., war) law are particularly egregious.
DEMOKRACIJA: How do you view Putin’s actions? Somehow it seems that Putin is trying to achieve something similar as Slobodan Milošević, who wanted the Serbs to continue living in one country after the breakup of Yugoslavia; that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all Russians would once again live in one country.
Fink: An important indicator of Putin’s idea is his statement that “the collapse of the Soviet Union is the greatest tragedy of the 20th century”. A few weeks ago, the Russian defence minister reportedly announced the restoration of some kind of new and powerful Soviet Union. That alone seems impossible. But if we add to this “power” the former influence on the neighbouring countries, which were not only members of the USSR, but also members of the former Warsaw Pact, this is absolute “nonsense”. The Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria should be asked what they want. With membership in the EU and NATO, everything has already been said.
DEMOKRACIJA: With the Russian attack on Ukraine at the end of February, the question of whether the war could have been prevented was often raised. Did diplomacy fail in this case?
Fink: Developments show that Putin intended to do what he is doing today from the very beginning. He must have calculated that this whole adventure would be cheaper for him, maybe even free, if Ukraine surrendered immediately. But it did not. He had to foresee the war. Already the stories from Georgia and Ossetia, the illegal occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the accumulation of a large number of troops on the Ukrainian border indicated that war was in his plans. The comparison with Hitler is not unreasonable, there are many similarities between them. In such cases, war can only be prevented if the threatened party literally and in advance unconditionally bows to all the aggressor’s demands. Having said that, the question of diplomacy is almost irrelevant. It can be used, but only for “bluffing”. Reality will be as the force dictates.
DEMOKRACIJA: How do you view the response of the West, the response of the United States and the European Union? It is obvious that it is much sharper this time than it was in 2014-2015.
Fink: The response of the West is appropriate this time. In the beginning, it was somewhat hesitant, especially regarding unity in the EU, which had to be sought and convinced at the beginning, but soon after that, unity was achieved, and the common position was determined. They had no choice. Putin’s aggression was so brutal that everything was clear. That this is indeed the case is shown by Sweden and Finland’s application to join NATO, which has almost already been approved.
DEMOKRACIJA: Well, there are even estimates that there is actually a war going on in Ukraine between the United States and the Russian Federation. That is, on the territory of a third country…
Fink: Fictionally speaking, there is something to it. In all conflicts, the superpowers stand behind this or that actor. It is clear that Ukraine alone would not be able to defend itself sufficiently against a larger Russia, although it has performed excellently in many places. But, again: Russian aggression was so blatant and indefensible that the US saw that there was much more at stake here than just some Ukrainian territory. That is why the US is acting, but with the utmost caution.
DEMOKRACIJA: How do you see the role of the European Union in this?
Fink: The war in Ukraine is a test for the European Union. It is doing well at the moment. It and its member states are also aware that there is much more to this game than just Ukraine.
DEMOKRACIJA: Do you dare to predict the outcome of the war in Ukraine?
Fink: It is important how the powers will work in the world. Obviously, in this war, which it itself sought and found, Russia, as a supposed military superpower, greatly embarrassed itself. If the so-called West wanted to, it could tame it with relative ease. Without its own intervention, it would be enough to send Ukraine really modern and effective weapons of the last generation. If it has not done it (yet), it is because it does not want to obviously humiliate it, as Elder Kissinger advised. But of course – not humiliating does not mean letting Russia win. The West will not allow this, not least because it would mean blessing Russian aggression and almost acknowledging its leadership in the world. It is likely that the West will act very slowly, observing the development of war events and waiting for Russia to “cook in its own mess” or that “something happens” in Russia, be it an economic collapse, a political crisis of Putin’s system, some natural event, or a little military fatigue and final helplessness.
DEMOKRACIJA: In recent years, we have witnessed the tightening of relations between the United States and the so-called People’s Republic of China. A few days ago, this culminated in the visit of the President of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan. China still considers the latter as part of its territory. At the same time, I wonder why the West did not recognise Taiwan as an independent country decades ago? When China was not so powerful…
Fink: The events surrounding Taiwan are the result of history after 1945. Very condensed: until 1949, when Mao definitively took power over all of China, everything was still “up in the air” and very fluid. Already in 1947, the Cold War began to emerge. In 1950, the Korean War began. After that, any movement around Taiwan could be the fateful start of something worse. In addition, Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan occupied the seat of permanent member China in the UN Security Council. It was only in 1971, when Kissinger negotiated the exchange of Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan for Mao’s China, that the matter took on a different form. In all these developments, the recognition of Taiwan as an independent country was not possible.
The measurement of forces around Taiwan will continue. In the last fortnight of China’s military exercises, Taiwan has shown great deterrence, and so has its supporter the US. Here, I do not foresee any quick movements with decisive consequences. Let’s not forget the Eastern mentality that lives in those places…
DEMOKRACIJA: And finally. With the current international events, there is a lot of talk about the establishment of a new world order. As we know, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world was no longer bipolar, but unipolar, with the dominance of the United States as the only power capable of extending its military to any part of the planet. Some spoke of a “unipolar moment”, which should be coming to an end today. Can it be said that with the latest events we are witnessing the arrival of a new multipolarity? Or not?
Fink: More than “uni-” or “multipolarity”, it seems to me that the world order is more important at the moment, as a result of Putin’s aggression. I agree that we are already in a kind of multipolarity, especially considering China’s growing power and presence.
The EU and NATO (with the USA) in their views and actions derive from the established international legal-political order that emerged after the Second World War and, like it or not, they have legitimacy on their side. But Putin’s Russia, as already mentioned, violated all the rules of the game, which were established after 1945 with the Organisation of the United Nations. In fact, this organisation as we knew it is “no more” today, and only the form or only a shadow of what it was 77 years ago remained. The form must be preserved, because it is better to have it than not to have it, but it has lost all its content. If among the five permanent members of the Security Council, whose structure is supposed to guarantee world peace, there is such a hostile mood as it is today, then with all formality we can say that this is a “body without a soul”, because nothing animates it. What I just said is politically incorrect, but true. When the war in Ukraine ends (it will someday, but we do not know what that end will be), it will be necessary to reorganise the world and find a new “soul” that will enable international coexistence.
Andrej Fink was born on July 3rd, 1947, in the Senigallia refugee camp near Ancona, Italy to father Božidar Fink and mother Valentina Kovač. When he was eleven months old, he sailed with his parents on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, to Argentina, where they arrived in June 1948. His brother, baritone Marko Fink, and four sisters were also born in Argentina. One of them is the famous mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink Inzko. Prof. Dr Andrej Fink is a lawyer in the field of state theory, constitutional and international law, and international relations. He graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Buenos Aires. He obtained his PhD from the Faculty of Law of the Complutense University in Madrid. In addition, he also studied political sociology, international relations, and foreign trade in Madrid. He also graduated as a translator for the Spanish language at the Faculty of Law of the University of Buenos Aires. He graduated from the military college with a degree in strategy. His work experience includes 30 years of legal and translation practice. He also has 20 years of experience from the Federal Ministry of Justice in Argentina. For 30 years at the State University of Buenos Aires, he was a full-time professor at the Faculty of Law for the subject Theory of the State, which included the history of political thought. He taught public international law, international relations, and the history of international relations at the private Catholic University in Buenos Aires for 35 years, including as a full professor. He was appointed professor emeritus at this university. He has published many studies, articles and lectures in Slovenia, Argentina, and Spain. He is the author of two books and co-author of four.