Travelling

I’ll be abroad for the next few days, and without an internet connection, so there will be a brief pause in blogging. Normal service should resume on Tuesday.

 

 

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Bad legislation

A lot of bad legislation has been floating around the world’s parliaments lately.

First up is a bill before the Russian Duma to decriminalize certain acts of domestic violence. As The Independent explains, if the law is passed:

… battering a spouse or child will become punishable by a fine of less than $500, a nominal 15 days of ‘administrative arrest’, or community service. Only broken bones or concussion, or repeated offences, would lead to criminal charges.

The bill  follows a Supreme Court ruling and previous legislation which seemed to punish violence within families more heavily than violence committed by non-family members. In seeking to rectify this apparent discrepancy, the bill’s drafters have gone rather too far, however.

Commenting on the bill, Vladimir Putin distanced himself from its provisions. ‘Look, it’s better not to spank children and not to cite any traditions as justification. There’s too little distance between a spanking and a beating’, he said. But he added that, ‘unceremonious interference with the family is impermissible.’

This would suggest that the legislation is not Putin’s idea, and that he doesn’t much like it, but also that he isn’t inclined to use his authority to stop it. That in turn rather undermines the theory that everything which happens in Russia is due to Putin’s personal initiative. It also suggests that Russia is perhaps a bit more ‘democratic’ than often claimed. But at the same time, it’s not a ‘liberal’ democracy, and if it were even more democratic, it might actually be even less liberal.

Second up is a bill introduced in the Ukrainian Rada by 33 deputies from a variety of political parties, including the ruling Poroshenko Bloc. If passed, this would strengthen the position of Ukrainian as the country’s sole official language. As Vzgliad explains, the bill restricts the use of Russian language to 10% of total output on TV and radio, and

… would make the use of Ukrainian obligatory in all spheres of state and social life, and also in the mass media. The document proposes a total Ukrainization – the Ukrainian vernacular would become mandatory for the organs of state power and for education, teaching in universities will be exclusively in Ukrainian … All mass cultural undertakings would be obliged to take place exclusively in the state language. Theatrical shows in other languages would have to have Ukrainian subtitles, the circulation of newspapers in other languages could not be greater than of those in Ukrainian.

The bill also proposes the creation of a language inspectorate which would impose fines upon offenders. It is expected that the Rada will vote on the bill in February. As various Ukrainian and Russian commentators have pointed out, if passed, the bill will signal that Kiev has turned its back on the idea of reintegrating Donbass. It could also further destabilize and divide Ukraine at a time when the country desperately needs to remain united. For these reasons, I would be astounded if the Rada was stupid enough to make the bill law. Most likely it is just a form of nationalistic posturing. We shall see.

Third, Mark Levine, a member of the California legislative assembly, says that he will introduce a bill ‘to change school curricula to include the role of Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election. “Students need to understand how Trump’s policies are colored by the way he rose to power”, said Levine.’ Again, I interpret this as political posturing rather than as a serious attempt at lawmaking. But, it is rather sad that democratic politicians think that they can dictate history curricula to suit their own personal agendas.

Finally, in December last year, Canadian MP Kerry Diotte introduced a private members bill to ‘designate the eighteenth day of May, in each and every year, as “Crimean Tatar Deportation (‘Sürgünlik’) Memorial Day” in recognition of the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944.’ That this was a Russia-bashing initiative, rather than a matter of historical record, was clear from the speeches of some of the MPs who backed it. ‘This memorial day will be part of the international effort to counter Russian propaganda, which seeks to rewrite this region’s history and wipe out every trace of Crimean Tatars’, said Tom Kmiec MP. ‘Putin has embarked on a policy of imperial expansion into neighbouring countries and the rehabilitation of the cult of Stalin. Seductively beautiful Crimea has truly become a “Peninsula of Fear” for the indigenous people of this “Blessed Land”,’ said Borys Wrzesnewskyi MP. And so on.

Fortunately, this last piece of legislation failed when the House of Commons refused to allow it a second reading. Let us hope that a similar fate awaits the others laws above.

One thing Trump is right about

Originally posted on CIPS blog here.

Throughout the Cold War, the amount of military violence worldwide grew steadily, reaching a peak in 1992. A major reason was interference by the superpowers in local conflicts. The proxy wars that resulted when the United States and the Soviet Union backed one side or the other in any given country dragged wars out longer and killed an ever-increasing number of people. When the Cold War came to an end, these proxy wars ended too, and the magnitude of worldwide conflict plummeted. Bad relations between the major powers are bad for everybody.

Sadly, proxy wars are now making a minor comeback. The most notable example is Syria, where Iran has backed one side (the Syrian government) and Saudi Arabia and Qatar have backed the other (the rebels). As if that weren’t bad enough, Russia and the United States have also gotten involved. Rather than co-operating against a common enemy, the former is backing the government, and the latter is backing some of the rebel groups. As a result, the Syrian civil war is proving to be prolonged and bloody. Once again, the lesson is clear — disagreement between the USA and the Russian Federation is bad for everyone.

This might seem obvious, but it apparently isn’t. Donald Trump’s desire to mend fences with Russia has made him a target of abuse from his political enemies and from the security studies commentariat. But in this regard, Trump is far more sensible than his numerous critics. In response to their complaints, Trump said on Twitter that, “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think it is bad!” He is entirely right.

Meanwhile, there are forces pushing the Canadian government to use whatever influence it has in Washington to try to sabotage Trump’s attempts to seek rapprochement with Russia. Following Chrystia Freeland’s appointment as Canadian Foreign Minister, the Latvian and Ukrainian ambassadors to Canada publicly urged her “to encourage the incoming Trump administration not to become too cozy with the Kremlin.” According to the Canadian Press,  “The envoys also say new Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland can deliver that message to Washington because of her strong network of contacts in the U.S., as well as her past experience as a journalist who reported extensively from Ukraine and Russia.”

Just what benefit Canada would derive from pressing the Trump administration in this way is not clear. Relations with the new American government are likely to prove tricky enough without adding any extra complications. In any case, a better relationship between Russia and the United States is something we ought to be encouraging, not trying to prevent. Better relations between Russia and Canada would also be useful, and ought to be a priority for the new Foreign Minister. Here’s hoping that Ms. Freeland has the good sense to see the bigger picture and to ignore the ambassadors’ appeal.

 

 

Friday book # 51: All the Russias

This week’s book was published in England in 1902. The author, Henry Norman, was at that time the Liberal MP for Wolverhampton South. A former journalist, he became Assistant Postmaster General in January 1910 before losing his seat in a general election a few days later. In December 1910, he returned to Parliament as MP for Blackburn, but never held ministerial office again. I wonder if there is anyone in British history who has been a minister for a shorter length of time.

Given that we are just a few days away from the hundredth anniversary of the February Revolution, which overthrew Tsar Nicholas II, Norman’s conclusion is interesting, if only as an example of the perils of making predictions about Russia. I suspect, though, that many modern Russians may agree with the final paragraph. Norman wrote:

I am no believer in any revolutionary upheaval, though, of course, the possibility of social disorder cannot be overlooked. … She [Russia] may, of course, fall upon war with an equal Power, and this would be to her the greatest of all calamities at the present stage of her development. But I am certain that it is her ruler’s fixed resolve to ‘seek peace and pursue it’. Certain minor and distinct difficulties undoubtedly await her. … My own conviction, however, is that these and other difficulties and dangers are small in comparison with Russian strength and resources. No one who can remember the past can doubt of her future. … The character and aims of the Tsar himself warrant the happiest auguries.

Russia is going ahead – that is my conclusion. It is foolish and unscientific to judge her solely by the foot-rule of our older and different civilisation. She should be measured by a standard deduced from her own past, her own period, and her own racial character. Then it will be clear that she stands, so far as virtue and vice go in a national development, very much where the rest of nations do. … It must be clear that the twentieth century must count Russia as one of the greatest factors in the movement and development of human society.

norman

PS. There will be no Friday book next week, as I shall be travelling.

 

Farage, Bannon, Dugin, & Trumputinism.

Unfortunately, since the BBC doesn’t let people outside the UK access its programs online, I wasn’t able to watch Monday evening’s episode of Panorama entitled ‘Trump: The Kremlin Candidate?’ I have therefore had to limit myself to an article on the BBC website by what appears to be the main journalist behind the episode, John Sweeney. Captioned ‘Who are the figures pushing Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin together?’ the article makes me realise that I didn’t miss very much by not seeing the show, except perhaps to have an opportunity to excoriate another piece of dismal reporting.

Sweeney says of Trump and Putin that, ‘the two men think alike’. He adds:

Mr Trump’s belief in American traditionalism and dislike of scrutiny echo the Kremlin’s tune: nation, power and aversion to criticism are the new (and very Russian) world order. You could call this mindset Trumputinism.

Three men have egged along Trumputinism: Nigel Farage, who is clear that the European Union is a far bigger danger to world peace than Russia; his friend, Steve Bannon, who is now Mr Trump’s chief strategist; and a Russian “penseur”, Alexander Dugin.

With his long hair and iconic Slavic looks, Mr Dugin is variously described as “Putin’s Brain” or “Putin’s Rasputin”. …Mr Dugin is widely believed to have the ear of the Kremlin….

Messrs Farage, Bannon and Dugin are all united that the greatest danger for Western civilisation lies in Islamist extremism. …

The danger is that in allying yourself with the Kremlin in the way they fight “Islamist fascism” in say, Aleppo, you end up siding with what some have called “Russian fascism” or, at least, abandoning democratic values and the rules of war and, in so doing, become a recruiting sergeant for ISIS.

Yikes! So Farage, Bannon, and Dugin are not only the architects of the new international order, but they’re also recruiting sergeants for ISIS (whereas, of course, Anglo-American military interventions in the Middle East haven’t helped ISIS recruit people at all!). It’s quite a claim.

Now, I can’t say that I know much about Steve Bannon, but the idea that either Trump or Putin has been strongly influenced by Nigel Farage strikes me  as quite preposterous. Even more so is the idea that he is somehow responsible for bringing the two together. Farage as the creator of the new Russo-American alliance? Give me a break!

As for Dugin, I have to ask Sweeney, ‘Are you serious?’ ‘Widely believed to have the ear of the Kremlin’, Sweeney says. Widely believed by whom, I wonder. Not any scholars of Russian affairs that I know. Most people dropped the ‘Dugin as Putin’s brain’ meme several years ago once it became clear that it was obvious nonsense. I typed the word ‘Dugin’ into the search engine on the website Kremlin.ru, which contains all of Putin’s speeches. ‘Your search returned no results’ it told me. Putin has never mentioned the man, not even once. It’s a bit of a stretch to claim that he’s one of the major forces ‘egging on Trumputinism’.

Panorama has been running since 1953. It averages a little over 2 million viewers an episode. It pains me that so many Britons would be subjected to analysis like this without having the chance to hear anybody tell them what utter rot it is. After walking out of an interview with Sweeney and his team, Dugin tweeted that the BBC reporters were ‘Utter cretins. … Pure Soviet style propagandists.’ I have to say that I sympathize.

The Russian soul and the toxic West

I’ve spent the last week ploughing through the 1,400 pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Writer’s Diary. (Boy, that guy knew how to churn out the words!!) The experience has left me pretty well acquainted with the writer’s views on the Russian People (with a capital ‘P’), Europe, the Eastern Question, and Russia’s universal mission. I’ve also just finished writing an academic article which discusses, among other things, references to Dostoevsky in Vladimir Putin’s speeches. And now by some quirk of fate, the international press has produced not one, but two, articles saying that Dostoevsky provides the key to understanding Putin’s politics.

A year or so ago, the press was all over Ivan Ilyin, saying that he was the man you had to read to understand Putin. Before that they said it was Aleksandr Dugin. No doubt a year from now it will be somebody else. But there is a bit of truth in the Dostoevsky meme since Putin has quoted and mentioned Dostoevsky in his speeches on numerous occasions.

So what is being said of the Putin-Dostoevsky connection?

Continue reading The Russian soul and the toxic West