Russia Bashing And The Game of Historical Equivalence
(Letter sent to the International Herald Tribune)
It is the international political game for August 2008 to find an equivalent for the situation between Russia and Georgia after the recent conflict. For example, William Kristol has referred to the 1924 Georgian uprising against the USSR (“Will Russia get away with it?“, IHT, Aug 11).
President Mikhail Saakashvili has not been the only one comparing Georgia with Czechoslovakia in 1938 (James Traub’s “Between Georgia and Russia, tinder is lit“, IHT, Aug 10) although he has gone as far as mentioning Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, the Soviet crackdown in Prague in 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 (AP’s “Georgian President’s Russia claims raise eyebrows“, IHT, Aug 14).
Today, Gunnar Hökmark, European Parliamentarian, and Johnny Munkhammar, both of the European Enterprise Institute, suggest “the paralles with Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968” may be “not that far-fetched” (Letters, IHT, Aug 25), whilst Simon Sebag Montefiore makes some eery references to that greatest Russian of Georgian origin, Iosif Dzhugashvili (also known as Stalin) (“In the Shadow of the Red Czar“, Aug 25),
I am afraid most of these commentaries suffer from the tunnel vision that afflicts the victims of their own propaganda.
The root crisis in Georgia has been lasting since 1991, and it is about defining the borders of a newly-minted independent State irrespectfully of the ethnic composition of its regions.
The real parallel should therefore be with the Versailles conference of 1919, that literally re-drew the map of the world after World War I, nominally in the name of peoples’ self-determination but practically in light of narrow-minded goals mostly by France and the United Kingdom.
Far from being given the freedom and the new world order promised by US President Woodrow Wilson, many peoples found themselves the losers in the great game of the Powers, including the Chinese, what are now VietNam and Laos, the Kurds, the Palestinians, the vast majority of Africans. Others (such as the Albanians) were luckier, and got to get or keep their independence, again due to mere geopolitical calculations and not out of the liberal values purportedly championed by the West.
Once again, in 2008 in the democratic minds of US and European Union politicians some populations are “in” (eg the Kosovars, the Georgians) and others are “out” (the Ossetians, the Abkhazians).
If anybody can find any logic behind that, apart from political machinations between Powers, it would be nice to hear.
And by the way…Mr Sebag Montefiore sees Putin as the heir of Stalin, with the latter’s ghost almost trying “to get out” of his tomb. Why no mention of the real culprit then, the man that has done most to inspire Russia to become a World Power?
And not, I do not mean Czar Peter the Great, rather his enemy of 1709, that King Charles XII of Sweden that managed to lose his own Empire, against Peter, at the Battle of Poltava, thereby kick-starting almost overnight the dream of an Imperial Russia.