Tuesday 28 September 2010

The winter of bureaucrats

History moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform; it always has. It’s like the tension between tectonic plates: for prolonged periods, for generations even, little seems to be happening on the surface, at least anything of any significance, until the underlying pressures can no longer be contained, with earth-shattering consequences.

The revolution of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the revolution which brought the end of communism across the whole of the old Soviet block was an event of unparalleled significance, I have little doubt the most important historical event in the lives of most who may come across this blog. It was as significant in its own way as the European revolutions of 1848, as significant…and as disappointing.

The fall of communism offered the prospect of a new birth of freedom, as well as an opportunity for a new and better understanding of Russia, emerging from decades of sclerotic bureaucratic tyranny. But the springtime of peoples was smothered in a new blanket of bureaucratic tyranny, softer but no less invidious, in the onward advance of the European Union, not anti-democratic, just post-democratic. It’s the one-dimensional Europe of the one-dimensional man, something anticipated long ago in the thinking of Herbert Marcuse.

Not only this but also the opportunity for a better understanding with Russia was squandered by a process of gung-ho pseudo-imperialism which saw Western expansion into Eastern Europe. It saw the support of various ‘coloured’ revolutions which had the effect of belittling and humiliating one of the most important nations in Europe, deliberately so, it seems to me. The consequences of this could be clearly seen in the conflict between Russia and Georgia, a piece of adventurism on the part of the latter, encouraged by the irresponsibility and ignorance of the European Union and NATO. If the Putin state is a Frankenstein monster, something I have little doubt over, it is our Frankenstein monster.

These thoughts were brought in reading a first class feature article in the Mail on Sunday by Peter Hitchens, who reports from Sebastopol (The world’s most absurd city.) Sebastopol is part of the republic of Ukraine, though its inhabitants, like most of the inhabitants of the Crimean Peninsula on which it stands, are of Russian ethnic origin.

The thing that Hitchens neglects to mention is that although the Crimea is geographically part of the Ukraine it was politically part of Russia, at least until it was ‘gifted’ away by Khrushchev and the then leadership of the Soviet Union in 1954. Hence the absurd situation where few in Sebastopol, the main city, speak any Ukrainian, though they are obliged to have street sign in Ukrainian, just as the schools are obliged to teach Ukrainian history, which has been given a distinctly anti-Russian slant. The whole thing is bizarrely absurd, a potential source of future trouble, all the more worrying because Sebastopol continues to be an important base for the Russian as well as the Ukrainian navies.

Hitchens makes reference to the ‘New Cold War’ in which Russia was cast as the enemy, a war in which ‘we’, the European Union, were going to extend ‘our’ rule deep into former Soviet lands;

Well, if there was such a war, we are losing it because ‘our’ side is misguided and wrong, and because it was always absurd to try to dislodge Russia from the great plains of the Ukraine and the shores of the Black Sea. In this part of the world Russia just is. You might as well try and shift the Himalayas with a bulldozer.

I completely agree with his assessment that our treatment of Russia since the fall of communism has been unbelievably stupid and crude. It was this stupidity that created Putin, Hitchens continues, and his shady, corrupt state. Russia was never a threat to our freedom. While we watched the bear dance liberty here and across the rest of the Continent was being eroded by the ghastly apparatchiks in Brussels in their relentless pursuit of uniformity where there is only difference. The promise of 1989 has been betrayed. The springtime of peoples has turned into the winter of bureaucrats.


  1. The following contribution from Adam is being posted by request. There are things that one cannot do, even on BlackBerry. :-))

    Sorry I couldn't resist(I'm not a patient man) here are my comments--I cannot post them on a new blog from a phone(only as a follow up) so if you'd not mind publishing for me--it's much appreciated. First of all, I agree with the vast majority of what you have to say--all of it brilliantly put. Here though are some areas of contention 1. The EU is post-democratic and deeply anti-democratic 2. Georgia acted in as the aggressor in their genocidally motivated war on South Ossetia--this not just according to me but the official EU report and as you know the Germano-centric EU is now natural ally of Russia 3. This isn't so much a disagreement as a something to take note of. Whilst Krushchev gifted Sevastopol to the Ukrainian SFR in the year 1954, this had no real meaning till 1991 as the SFRs were administrative units merely disguised as republics. 4. Putin is not Shelly's monster--he has listed Russia into a greater prosperity than she has ever known. He defends his citizens at home and abroad--(he's learnt for Palmerston well in this regard--however ironic this is given how anti-Russian he was). The West have made him a monster only in blinded western eyes. He remains more popular than any leader since the Revolution and for good reason, indeed. As for the rest it is spot on--even the bits I disagree with are frankly written more concisely than Hitchens(a man I enjoy reading very much) God Preserve the Tsar I've an idea--after Putin's next stint as President, he should do as Franco did and posthumously restore the Monarchy.

  2. Thanks, Adam. I think Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia was wrong but I don’t agree for a moment that it was ‘genocidally motivated.’ Putin’s prosperity is shallow, riches narrowly distributed and often by semi-criminal and nepotistic means. It’s a gas bubble waiting to burst. Russia continues to be a weak giant, an argument that I think I might supplement tonight. Putin has been right in many ways for Russia but for all the wrong, corrupt neo-Stalinist reasons. There is no Tsar, apart from Tsar Vladimir. There will never be a Tsar again. History moves on.

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  4. Adam, you are blind to the structural weaknesses of the Russian state. Anyway, yours is a proposition that will be tested by time. The Second Republic was was the briefest of interludes in Spanish history, lasting from only 1931 to 1939. The Franco state was always premised on an eventual restoration of the monarchy. There is no widespread support for a restoration of the monarchy in Russia; it's been gone too long. Putin will attempt no such gesture, another statement that will be tested by time.

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  6. Russia is (alas) now a "virtual superpower", reduced largely to shows of strength that have little substance in reality, with Putin as a real life He-Man, albeit one with a good selection of poisons on hand.

    Even that clip of them planting a Russian flag on the North Pole was interspersed with clips from, of all things, "Titanic". For goodness' sake!

    And I agree with you, Ana, and Hitchens, but with some qualifications. The "New Cold War" approach, put forward, of late, particularly, by Edward Lucas (why the Economist reappointed him as their man in Russia I have no idea), is really foolish. And in some ways I find the expansion of NATO far more of a provocation than the EU.

    But the problem is also that Russia chooses to behave in the way that it does; and also that even in the early 90s it had a President who was happy to turn the guns on his parliament, killing 150 therein, before stripping it of power (to weaken the old Communist order, for sure), and to let loose a reign of brutality on Chechnya that really did aid the growth of extreme Islamist there and in neighbouring territories.

    I might also argue that the Eastwards expansion of the EU may well prove, eventually, and with help from, among others, us (come on Mr Hague pull your finger out), and not least the Poles and the Czechs to be the weakening of the deepening, centralizing, nature of the Union. But we are still a long way from that being so. And letting near-failed states in like Bulgaria or Romania was definitely a foolish move.

  7. Yes, thanks, Dominic. I just wish our diplomats had greater imagination. It's sad to see so many lost opportunities. We could have nurtured Russia in such a way that might have helped reduce instability and suspicion, at least I like to think so.

  8. I think there was one (very) great diplomatic success, back in the early 90s, in this part of the world: that is, persuading Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to give up their nuclear weapons.

    But I certainly also lament the lost opportunities, and posit that it is certainly, clearly, overwhelmingly, desirable, that relations between us and Russia are not clouded by suspicion or fear.

    Part of me is a Russophile, but another part of me despairs as how cruelly Mother Russia has habitually treated, and continues to treat, her children, and, in certain regards, how little respect there is seems to be for human life there. (I could exemplify this in many ways, if I had time...)

    This was one reason why I was overwhelmingly enthuisastic about the "orange revolution" (but not the coup in Georgia, or either of them in Kyrgyzstan) and indeed Yushchenko (and it wasn't really a revolution: merely ensuring that the democratic process was upheld); however inept and useless a president he proved, the fact remains that Ukraine became a much safer, law-abiding and freer place, during that intermission of five years. Whereas now, only eight months in Yanukovych's reign, we already have the first journalist "disappearance" reported.

    (Crimea...is more complicated)

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  11. I suffer from the same ambivalence; I think everyone who knows Russia must to a degree: a recognition at one and the same time of grandeur and tragedy, of nobility and depravity. My ambivalence is reflected here in these two blogs!