Monday, August 04, 2008

Turning Point

Legendary Soviet dissident and exile, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, died on August 3 in Moscow. He was 89.

Solzhenitsyn is best known for his Nobel Prize-winning "Gulag Archipelago," a three-volume novel/testimony about the Soviet prison camps. He spent eight years in the camps, a decade in internal exile, and 20 years of exile in the West, 1974-1994.

I would like to quote a portion of an interview he gave to the German magazine Der Spiegel, in July 2007; asked about the difficulties in relations between the West and modern Russia, he replied:

"I can name many reasons, but the most interesting ones are psychological, i.e. the clash of illusory hopes against reality. This happened both in Russia and in West. When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. Admittedly, this was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by the natural disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.

This mood started changing with the cruel NATO bombings of Serbia. It’s fair to say that all layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when NATO started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by literally millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one fell stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.

So, the perception of the West as mostly a "knight of democracy" has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals.

At the same time the West was enjoying its victory after the exhausting Cold War, and observing the 15-year-long anarchy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. In this context it was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a Third World country and would remain so forever. When Russia started to regain some of its strength as an economy and as a state, the West’s reaction - perhaps a subconscious one, based on erstwhile fears - was panic. (emphasis added)

Another shock to the Russians came when the Yeltsin government fell for NATO's bluff in June 1999 and betrayed Belgrade. Russian generals bypassed the Kremlin to try and salvage the shameful "peace" (which NATO interpreted as surrender, and acted accordingly), but their gambit ultimately failed when Washington was able to prevent additional troops and material from being flown in.

But by subjugating Serbia, the Empire "lost" Russia. Just six months later, Yeltsin was out, and Vladimir Putin was in. A strange coincidence? Solzhenitsyn did not seem to think so. He knew both Russia and the West all too well. I tend to believe him.

1 comment:

david montoute said...

So something good did come out of the dirty Kosovo war after all (besides NATO losing its "invisble" Stealth fighter of course).