Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 13, 2014

Using yesterday’s problems to understand today

Lana Bellamy
The Independent

ASHLAND — If I asked you to point out Switzerland on a world map, could you? What about Morocco? Austria-Hungary?

Just kidding, Austria-Hungary is not a country any more.

I wager a guess that many Kentuckians, and Americans in general, could not answer the above questions correctly—whether they be young or old.

The question combo challenges a person to think both geographically and historically, two subjects that seem to be neglected or forgotten in school and post-grad life.

But they are both equally important to understanding the world we live in today.

For instance, to understand the current Ukraine crisis, both proximity, culture and history must be considered.

Some of you may have heard talk of the Ukraine crisis eventually escalating into World War III. If this idea sounds absurd to you, maybe you are not giving appropriate attention to history and geography.

Starting with the basics:

Ukraine is virtually divided into East and West, with Westerners more receptive to European customs, the East preferring Russia.

To the south lies the Crimea Peninsula, where 60 percent of citizens identify themselves as Russian.

Crimea was part of the Soviet Union until after World War II when it was reunited with Ukraine, which was added to the European Union.

In the east, Ukraine depends heavily on natural gas from Russia. So when the European Union invited Ukraine to join ranks, the West cheered and the East clung to Russia, in order to keep its gas supplier.

With the country split, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych denied the EU invite, remaining  trade partners with Russia — a decision that sparked violent protest.

The information in the previous two paragraphs is current, but the preceding three paragraphs are all based on history and geography.

Without the background information, fighting among East, West and Crimean-Ukrainians would not make sense. Without knowing about Russia’s relationship with Crimea in World War II, the loyalty to Russia would be confusing.

Now that we can all agree history and geography are equally important, can we find where the disconnect between informed and isolated lies?

Can it be found in the school systems that may not work these subjects into the curriculum frequently enough?

Or do the school systems give them the appropriate amount of attention, but just cannot engage students enough to make the information stick?

It is possible the problem could be disassociation with foreign cultures? Not many generally travel to Russia or Ukraine from the United States — kind of out of sight, out of mind?

Either way, there is extreme conflict brewing in East Europe-West Asia. There are still many factors in the way of international relationships, Russian President Vladimir Putin, European history and global dynamics that need to be considered on this topic.

Maybe World War III will not erupt from this crisis, but history and geography are important in predicting what may come next from this unstable region.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.