the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2005 May 14


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If one can just get past the fact that he is an odious, tyrannical imperialist, Владимир Путин has the charm of being one of the world’s truly great agents of irony. I fancy myself a connoisseur of the medium; Путин has a genius for it. He demonstrated this yet again in his annual address before the federal assembly.

Прежде всего, следует признать, что крушение Советского Союза было крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века.

By my recollection, the breakdown of the Советский Союз took place in the twentieth century, a time span in which there were a number of geopolitical occurrences that might easily be called catastrophic. More than one of them involved Россия, if we generously (and probably falsely) assume that it was only Россия to which Путин was referring. Путин was making this statement in a formal address, carefully considered, before his own parliament, as his government was preparing a grand memorial to the Советский Союз’s sacrifice during World War II. Leaders from all over the world attended as Россия reminded them of Hitler’s invasion of Россия, and the staggering death toll. Catastrophic, you might say. That death toll owed even more to the peculiar ruler of Россия at the time, Иосиф Сталин, than it did to Hitler’s invasion; and Сталин caused death on a comparable scale quite on his own during the rest of his reign. Also catastrophic, you might say. The Cold War with the United States led to forty years of proxy wars around the globe in which death and oppression were common on both sides. Catastrophic again. And yet all of these, in Путин’s view, fell short of the devastating impact of the loss of much of Россия’s former empire. You think the death of tens of millions is bad? Imagine no longer being able to tell the Lietuviai what to do. Inconceivable horror.

Десятки миллионов наших сограждан и соотечественников оказались за пределами российской территории.

Colonization is a hazardous practice. For decades there was a deliberate colonization of the empire by Русские with the ultimate aim of complete cultural and political Russification of its entire territory. Such policies inevitably bring ethnic conflict. It would take, perhaps literally, divine intervention to settle the competing land claims in Palestine alone. Those who colonize must know that their service to the nationalist ideal comes with risk. One day, they are living in relative luxury, exploiting the labor and natural resources of a distant land, feeling privileged by destiny and superior birth; the next day, they “find themselves” in a distant land where they have no special privileges. It is no wonder that, after recovering from the shock of such an unpredictable event, the Русские in the Near Abroad have awakened to the burdensome injustice of their own plight. It is otherwise so unlike Русские to feel sorry for themselves.

Как суверенная страна Россия способна и будет самостоятельно определять для себя и сроки, и условия движения по этому пути.

It is no secret that Путин himself has no idea of what democracy really is. He is hoping, with some historical justification, that Россия also has no idea. The idea of a nation deciding on the timeframe and conditions of its movement towards democracy is flabbergasting nonsense of the sort that only a fascist like Путин would give voice to. If a nation is truly making its own decisions, then it is already democratic. There is no way for a nation to determine for itself the timeframe and conditions of its movement if it is not democratic. If a nation is moving towards democracy and some force is determining the timeframe and conditions, then that force is clearly a minority dominion. Путин and his power clique may well want to move slowly towards democracy under the condition that the clique does not lose control, in which case the state becomes democratic only when, and remains democratic only so long as, the clique is genuinely popular. In that sense of democracy, Россия is indeed democratic. Путин is popular and in power at the same time. He has achieved that by stifling any independent viewpoint in the country and feeding the population a diet of propaganda and outright lies; but he is popular. The fact that he would have claimed to win any recent election anyway must be beside the point.

Some day decades from now, some filmmaker will produce a historically-accurate biopic on Владимир Путин. I can already imagine the audience’s reaction: “I didn’t really mind the exaggerated oppression and killing; after all, you have to take liberties to make a good farce. And it was just so funny.”



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