Thursday, March 10, 2005

These are our friends - part 1

The killing of Aslan Maskhadov, the last properly elected president of Chechnya (and not by 99.9% of the vote either) and the one separatist leader who has consistently called for negotiations with the Russian government, ought to have turned our attention to what is going on in Chechnya. No such luck.

The common European foreign policy in construction has no time to deal with what amounts to a concentrated policy of the complete destruction of a whole people, carried out by a government we spend our time being nauseatingly friendly to. Yes, indeed, I am talking about the government of President Putin, the man Europeans do not want to upset in any circumstance.

We still do not know what, if any, effect Maskhadov’s death will have on the situation. Previous deaths of this kind exacerbated it and, in any case, Russian intransigence had contributed to him losing a great deal of his authority to Shamil Basayev, an undoubted and self-confessed (except that he says it with pride) terrorist and mass murderer.

In the meantime, Chechnya and her capital, Grozny, have been destroyed; the people live in the direst poverty (not by UNICEF but ordinary human standards); those young and not so young men who have not been killed, imprisoned or murdered by torture have disappeared into the mountains to wage a constant war of attrition, and, in return, the Russian troops have been waging a savage war on the women and children who have remained in accessible places.

The media has been kept out of Chechnya and the surrounding areas, such as Dagestan and Ingushetiya and only reliable reporters have been given any stories at all, even on the subject of the increasing terrorist attacks in the rest of Russia.

During the Beslan siege, which, incidentally, has still not been properly examined and explained, the two journalists with any credibility at all, Arkady Babitsky and Anna Politkovskaya, were prevented from reaching the place, in the latter’s case by the administration of a near-fatal dose of poison.

No explanation has ever been given as to how and why it happened that more people were killed by Russian troops or died as a result of their activity both in Beslan and in the Moscow theatre siege.

The western world does not want to know about Chechnya or what is going on there. Even Secretary of State Rice and President Bush managed not to raise the subject too obviously during their separate meetings with their Russian counterparts, though each spoke admirably firmly about the gradual and not so slow destruction of basic democratic principles in Russia.

As the French philosopher and author AndrĂ© Glucksman wrote in an otherwise admiring open letter to President Bush in Monday’s Wall Street Journal Europe (before Maskhadov’s death had been announced):
“You did not let the word Chechnya be heard. Remember Grozny, Mr President, once a city of 400,000, the first capital to be razed by a European army since Hitler punished Warsaw in 1944 Think of this small people, less than a million inhabitants, which has lost between a fifth and a quarter of its population over the last decade. In proportion, imagine France being bled of 13 million people,America of 60 million.”
Going through the bloody and unhappy history of Russia in Chechnya, the merciless slaughter by the tsarist generals, Stalin’s deportation of the entire nation to the Gulag and, finally, Putin’s methods of “anti-terrorist struggle”, Glucksman gives an interesting explanation for Russian behaviour:
“The main reason for Russian cruelty in the Caucasus, Tolstoy ahd already spotted, is pedagogic. What matters is to make an example and to teach the Russians themselves what it costs not to follow ukases.”
In other words, as General Yermolayev said in the early nineteenth century, the freedom-loving Chechnyans might contaminate the Russians with that disease.

President Bush, according to M Glucksmann, should demand that President Putin “set himself free from this ominous tradition” and to “help him get out of an autocratic whirl into which he is sinking”.

Furthermore, it is the duty of the leader of the free world to remind the Russian leader pubicly, that
“… in these times in which, against all odds, information does come through, a people that annihilates one another cannot be free itself”.
Well, whether President Bush will listen and act, remains to be seen. He has certainly shown himself a good deal tougher on the whole subject of Russia than the EU, who, apparently, exerts its “supersoft power” in a way that is practically unnoticeable. Indeed, according to Mark Leonard, the British guru of “supersoft power”, the EU has influenced legislation in Russia, unlike those nasty and useless Americans, who clearly cannot get anything right. (Tell that to the Iraqis.)

M Glucksmann sees things differently. He is, by his own account, obsessed with the tragedy of Chechnya. But he sees no point in addressing the European leaders, who do not believe in freedom or, even, ordinary human decency.

What they believe in is
“Peace at any price, peace before all, peace even out of the graveyard.”
If that means the oppression and extermination of inconvenient little or not so little nations then so be it. The European Union and its member states will extend their “supersoft power” by sucking up to the dictators. And if there is trouble nearer home? Well, the Yanks will come and rescue us. Won’t they?

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