Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Czech president's pragmatism too much for Ukraine

...and a new wave of anti-Russian hysteria in the West...

Czech president Miloš Zeman has given a talk in the Council of Europe – a human-rights organization covering European countries including Ukraine and Russia – in Strasbourg. He repeated that the sanctions against Russia are counterproductive.

Zeman asked his guards to "remove the Czech Television cameraman, otherwise I will kill him" ("I will kill him" is obviously just the standard slang for "he raises my subjective level of dissatisfaction") which created some extra responses.

But aside from his description of links between the Armenian genocide and the Islamic terrorism, he has also discussed Crimea, criticized Khrushchev's decision to incorporate Crimea to Ukraine, and said that "its incorporation to the Russian Federation is mission accomplished". He enumerated several top politicians and former politicians who agree with him that an "attempt to take Crimea from Russia would lead to a European war" which should be avoided. See TASS for a nice sketch.

He recommended Russia to compensate Ukraine for its lost territory – either by money or by fossil fuels. In this way, Zeman managed to unite most Ukrainian politicians and some Russian politicians in their anger. While his view is sensible and pragmatic – of course, reasonable people should be able to figure out some "fair solution" and compensate the real world's deviation from this "fair solution" financially – he indicated that the Ukrainians are prostitutes who are eager to sell their organs for the money; while the Russians are thieves who have done something wrong and must pay something for it now.

These negative reactions simply reflect the existing and nurtured tensions between Russia and Ukraine. If they were willing to look at things impartially, like e.g. Zeman, they could see some approximate "objective reality" that is the same for Russians and Ukrainians, and something may be done to calm the situation down and improve it.

Well, just to be sure, the reaction in Kiev was far more angry than the reaction in Moscow. In Moscow, Leonid Slutsky picked a compromise when he appreciated Zeman's de facto recognition of Crimea as a part of Russia, he didn't accept the need to pay anything. ;-)

While some Russian politicians have praised Zeman's realism, Klimkin from the Ukrainian foreign affairs said that there was no need to discuss rants by this "bastard and alcoholic". Instead, the Ukrainian forces should focus on those who dared to invite Zeman to the Council of Europe. Hardcore Czech critics of Zeman's were pleased by these harsh words towards our head of state, of course. A more official reaction from Ukraine is here.

I am sorry, Mr Klimkin, but Zeman is a directly elected head of a member country of the Council of Europe. That's why it's natural to say that he's normally welcome in the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe isn't owned by the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs and for this reason, it's just plain silly for officials in that political organ of an unsuccessful country at the periphery of Europe to suggest that they could decide who may speak and who mustn't speak in Strasbourg.

Incidentally, while Trump is still identified as a pro-Russian agent of a sort by the U.S. media, his White House actually banned Zeman, his Central European fan, from visiting the White House – the visit had previously been promoted for a long time – because either Zeman or his immediate environment is too close to Russia and that's bad. I can't believe this new level of Russophobia in the U.S. Not only the Russian politicians are banned. But even NATO members' leaders "accused" to be vaguely "connected" to some Russian interests through several fuzzy links are still banned in the White House – and such a White House is still considered too pro-Russian. Holy cow.

Another staggering example of the ongoing anti-Russian hysteria in the U.S. was the "scandal" of Russia's purchases of some $100,000 worth of ads at Google or Facebook:

As Czech economist Pavel Ryska quipped, "this time, the Russians have outsmarted 17 U.S. counter-intelligence services by paying for ads like everyone else". I added that Putin has also outwitted NASA by driving a car, and not a rocket, to his office. What's going on is that totally mundane deeds are presented as a scandalous cataclysm just because they're made by a Russian.

The insanity of this hype is just staggering. I would estimate that the anti-Russian journalists themselves are getting tens of millions of dollars for their weird articles against Russia (and I am not even talking about the billions in extra profits that the defense or offense industry is probably getting because of that hysteria) – and the basis for all these claims is $100,000 in regular ads? Moreover, these ads were completely innocent and most of them didn't even back Trump or the usual policies associated with Trump. It's just so insane. If these people are so hysterical even about the very mundane event when a Russian entity buys some ads in a regular way, why don't they introduce the same laws as the Nuremberg Laws in Germany of the 1930s? This widespread U.S. anti-Russian hysteria is at least as out of proportion as the German anti-Semitism of the mid 1930s.

Many of these controversies may be described as a collision of pragmatism and realism on one side – and Zeman and Russia may arguably be counted (regardless of the imperfections that I see in both) to be members of this camp, and the same partially holds for Trump; and the fanaticism and mass brainwashing of the public on the other side – which is the camp defined by the "mainstream" journalists in the U.S. and Western Europe. Between the U.S. Civil War and a moment during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's tenure, the Democrats and Republicans have basically switched their positions on most issues – the meanings of these two parties' brands (and the geographic locations of their strongholds) got permuted.

I think that in recent years, we are witnessing the same switch when the meaning of the "West" and the "East" is getting permuted in a very similar way. I didn't predict such a reversing of polarity back in 1989 because there's something surprising about it. But such a switch isn't unprecedented in the history so it isn't "quite crazy" from the viewpoint of the eternity if it's happening again.

Meanwhile, last night in Catalonia, President Puigdemont showed that he was a very refined politician. After some talks to EU's boss Juncker, he gave the anticipated speech in the Parliament. He celebrated what their independence movement has achieved, said that it has earned the right for independence – without actually saying that they "are" independent – but he immediately "suspended the independence" for a few weeks to have time for negotiations. The pro-independence lawmakers have approved that proposal.

Madrid called it a "tacit" declaration of independence, rejected the idea to talk to some Untermenschen such as the Catalans, and it seems that even this cute P.R. stunt with no real consequences is too much for Madrid. Madrid demands even this declaration to be revoked, otherwise it will apply "extraordinary measures", perhaps the Nuclear Option 155.

To say the least, Puigdemont has managed to attract millions of viewers to the TV screens and convince all the reasonable viewers that he's the reasonable side of this tension that actually provides us with a chance to peacefully solve this political situation. If Madrid uses some harsh tools even as a revenge for this cute 1-minute independence that Catalonia has enjoyed, it will have proven that it's a fascist regime and an institutional bully that doesn't respect the basic freedom of expression of its (so far) citizens. Regional leaders and deputies in civilized European countries surely have the right to say "we're independent for a minute" during their speeches and in their documents, don't they?

So even though the shift that Puigdemont has created is very subtle and a disappointing for all those who wanted straight independence from last night, it may still be too big a move for Madrid, and that's really sad.

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