#9 - JRL 7206
French Philosopher Criticizes West's Leniency Toward Russian Human Rights Abuses
31 May 2003
Commentary by Andre Glucksmann, French philosopher and essayist:
"Russia: the Coronation of the Godfather"
In "The Man Without Qualities," a novel that no diplomat should be unaware of, Robert Musil relates the last hours of a Europe destined to explode. Vienna, capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, is mobilizing its elites. Emperor Franz Joseph, who ascended the throne in 1848, will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of his reign in four years' time. Everyone who counts in Vienna, Europe, and the whole world are going to glorify "the emperor of peace."
Grand speeches need grand words and grand deeds. The charitable offer their good works, the moral their lofty thoughts, and the poets their poems. A "Committee for the Development of an Initiative for the 70th Anniversary of His Majesty's Accession" declares: "Austria-World Year will open under the auspices of "'Capital and Culture.'" No one ever knew what this grandiloquent label covered. There was no time. Sarajevo sounded the end of the game.
Who at the dawn of the 21st century hears the echo of the nascent 20th century? Why does our Europe, the leading economic power of the world, which prides itself on its foreign refinements compared with the transatlantic roughnecks, worry about an Austria-Hungary devoted to "Capital" and "Culture"? Musil called the boundless unease that took over the best minds "parallel action." Their total commitment remained "parallel," so self-sufficient that their chatter stretched out endlessly without ever encountering reality. "We were like travelers in sleeping cars who wake only at the moment of the collision." Only a man without qualities or a desperate Chechen would have the idea of comparing the jubilee of Franz Joseph to the apotheosis of Vladimir.
The swankiest leaders of the planet land in Saint Petersburg 30 May. The city of Peter the Great is hosting for its 300th anniversary 45 heads of state, 13,000 foreign guests, and 2,000 journalists. All will raise a glass to the health of the master of the house, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who has been putting the finishing touches to his apotheosis for three years now.
The VIPs will be staying alongside the banks of the Gulf of Finland, in the Konstantin Palace, the president's seaside residence. They will travel by yacht, on the official pretext of avoiding causing any inconvenience to the city dwellers, who have been excluded in fact from the festivity. "The facades of the old buildings lining the avenues that the official motorcades will take will be covered with trompe l'oeil billboards that conjure up awful associations of ideas with the Potemkin villages," mocks Konservator, the liberal periodical of the Venice of the North. . . ." Does that remind you of nothing? The Crimea, Catherine II, her sumptuous cruise where the crowned heads were cajoled by ambassadors, favorites, men of letters, and other duty flatterers. Potemkin, the minister and lover [of Catherine the Great] erected pasteboard stage sets where triumphed order, prosperity, voluptuous pleasure. And the majesty of an empress intoned by a people in rags, appropriately and harshly admonished.
In 2003 the illustrious guests will neither glance at nor think of the suffering population, half of whom vegetate below the poverty line. They will not visit the thousands of abandoned industrial sites where the men are out of work and drink and where the women try to feed their children even if it means prostituting themselves along the main thoroughfares. They will not see the neglected children who shelter in the station concourses looking for a customer.
Our officials will clink glasses with the top brass who are bathing the Caucasus in blood. They will dine by candlelight with the oligarchs who are "privatizing," in the event "piratizing" and confiscating the country's wealth. For their greater profit and the glory of a spy they have made king. These corrupt individuals, less than 20 of them, having succeeded in the space of 10 years in bringing off the greatest holdup in contemporary history, place their new fortune in the West's tax havens.
Let us talk business. The Kremlin's agit-prop emphasizes that GDP has been gradually going up for the last two years, forgetting to point out that this is due to the good performance of world oil prices (until when?). The "fundamentals" of the Russian economy are dismal, international experts note, the flight of capital continues. It does not matter! Jacques Chirac hopes to recruit Vladimir for his independent Europe. The Brussels authorities fantasize about a euro zone stretching from Porto to Vladivostok. Germans for and against nuclear energy are in agreement on building the world's largest atomic trash can in the Urals. Western Europe imagines itself colonizing Russia, "modernizing" it, it says -- a more politically correct euphemism. Who will colonize whom remains guesswork? On this point Warsaw, armed with its experience, has a different take: the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis evokes bitter memories.
Let us talk "antiterrorist struggle." Putin will present his heroic colonial and genocidal deeds as so many exemplary contributions. Whatever the pacifists may say, the Americans come across as pipsqueaks in the Iraq-Chechnya demolition contest when Russia takes pride in ruins as far as the eye can see and the dead number in hundreds of thousands.
France (private? public?) offers its antiwar comrade a tower "for peace," 17 meters of endless engraved "peace" incantations. "Na zdorovye!" Champagne and Chechen blood mixed to spice up the cocktail. Emmanuel Kant referred to an inn prettily named "Eternal Peace" that abutted a cemetery. The irony of the Enlightenment thinkers will be cruelly missing from the festive table.
Forgiving Russia, ignoring Germany, punishing France. Armed with this precept, George Bush (and his entourage of 700) will also come to be buddy-buddy. How long will he neglect, behind the rogue states that he condemns, the sponsor states that sustain them? Would North Korea become a nuclear state without the complicit silence and material assistance of China, Russia, and Pakistan? Saddam Husayn benefited until the last days from Moscow's advisers and weapons? Who is selling atomic power stations to Iraq?
Once the oompahing is over, cold thinking will be necessary. Yes, the nuisance value of Russia is immense! The world's second largest arms merchant. The second largest nuclear arsenal. The largest floating wealth with an unparalleled capacity for corruption. Yes, it is necessary for these reasons to negotiate with Putin, but without renouncing in advance the idea of teaching him good democratic manners.
Russia has been torn apart for centuries. On the one hand, despotism and autocracy. On the other, the love of freedom spread by the heroic Russian culture, without which Europe is an orphan. Our rulers should cede nothing on human rights! They should demand that the country respect the treaties that it has signed! The war in Chechnya is not a detail that you drown out in an exchange of smiles. Peace in Chechnya is crucial to the democratic future of Russia. Ilyas Akhmadov, the pro-independence minister, proposes the disarmament of the Chechen forces and the linked withdrawal of the Russian troops. Condemning terrorism from wherever it may come, wishing for third-party mediation, an international mandate, and [UN] buffer forces, and putting off the independence/federation alternative until later, he outlines an authentic antiterrorist peace. In Saint Petersburg the democracies would do themselves credit by taking account of this. It is not for them to handle Putin considerately, it is for the president of the Russian Federation to behave in a way that does not insult humanity.