Putin & The Permanent Things
Vladimir Putin gave a major speech in Russia the other day. The whole thing is worth reading. This part leaped out at me; he’s speaking of Russia’s traumatic 20th-century history:
We need to heal these wounds, and repair the tissues of our historic fabric. We can no longer engage in self-deception, striking out unsightly or ideologically uncomfortable pages of our history, breaking links between generations, rushing to extremes, creating or debunking idols. It’s time to stop only taking note of the bad in our history, and berating ourselves more than even our opponents would do. [Self-]criticism is necessary, but without a sense of self-worth, or love for our Fatherland, such criticism becomes humiliating and counterproductive.
We must be proud of our history, and we have things to be proud of. Our entire, uncensored history must be a part of Russian identity. Without recognising this it is impossible to establish mutual trust and allow society to move forward.
Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.
The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.
What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of migration. Without the values embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values. One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.
How have we come to a point in which a former KGB agent who now rules Russia sounds more sensible and realistic, from a culturally conservative point of view, than any leader in the post-Christian West? Vladimir Putin, defending the permanent things! It’s stunning.
And this, from the Q&A afterward, on the unrealism of Western universalism. He’s talking about the West’s threats to throw cruise missiles at the Syrian dictator:
VLADIMIR PUTIN: See, they say there is no democracy in Saudi Arabia either, and it’s difficult to disagree with that. Nobody is getting ready to bomb Saudi Arabia.
The issue is that we establish a trusting dialogue with Americans and Europeans so that we can listen to each other and hear our respective arguments.
“Evil must be punished. There must be a democracy.” Look at what happened in Egypt: there was a state of emergency there for forty years, the Muslim Brotherhood was forced underground. Then they were allowed to come out into the open, elections were held and they were elected. Now everything is back like it was before. Once again the Muslim Brotherhood has been pushed underground, and there’s a state of emergency. Is this good or bad? You know, we need to realise that there are probably countries and even entire regions that cannot function according to universal templates, reproducing the patterns of American or European democracy. Just try to understand that there is another society there and other traditions. Everything in Egypt has come full circle, came back to what they started with.
Apparently, those who committed the now famous military actions in Libya were also inspired by noble motives. But what was the outcome? There too they fought for democracy. And where is that democracy? The country is divided into several parts which are run by different tribes. Everybody is fighting against everybody else. Where is democracy? They killed the US ambassador. Do you understand that this is also the result of the current policy? This is a direct outcome.
There followed some discussion in which French and German representatives disputed Putin, and pointed to the doctrine of Responsibility To Protect — this, as the justification for the Western attack on Libya, and the potential Western attack on Syria. To this, the eminent foreign analyst Dimitri Simes, who emigrated to the US from the Soviet Union in 1983, had a choice response:
DIMITRI SIMES: Responsibility to protect is a very good principle. I know that in the West, we follow it to the letter. For example, I heard that Germany broke off diplomatic relations with Egypt when they killed one thousand mostly peaceful demonstrators supporting their lawfully elected president. I’m joking of course; Germany did not break off relations. The United States did not impose any sanctions, and did not even stop supplying arms. And I must say honestly, I have no problem with this, because I am a political realist: that’s how the world works.
Indeed, I think it would be a mistake for the United States to let Egypt fend for itself. But we must be honest with ourselves. I will never forget when I read about 1862, that France and England, particularly France, were giving Alexander II lectures regarding so-called Russian soldiers in Poland. At the same time, England and France were colonising Africa, using the most brutal methods imaginable.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, let’s take a swing at the Europeans, with their double standards…
Hey, I’m not about to join the American cult of Putin, but sometimes, the man makes a lot more sense than our own leaders.
UPDATE: Come on, people, I am not a Putinist. He is far too authoritarian, for one thing, and I don’t see him as a Christian philosopher-king. Give me some credit, willya? My point is simply that it’s very, very strange to read a speech given by a Russian leader — an ex-KGB agent at that — and to hear a cultural conservatism that one never hears from our own political leaders. The great short book by Pope Benedict and Marcello Pera, Without Roots, covers a lot of the same ground. One just doesn’t expect to hear these themes sounded by Vladimir Putin. Is he a cynic? Maybe. Probably. But I wish our politicians thought and talked about these things.