Saturday, August 4, 2012

I do so hope that Draghi, Monti, Merkel, Samaras, Rajoy and the rest of that sorry bunch realise whose future they are dicking with: I take these things personally. And I’m a Scorpio. Then there’s a new kid on the block, one Alexander Bastrykin: hello, Alex, and what to you to for a living?

I have a 13-year-old son and in many ways he seems to take after me. I was rather facetious as a lad, and so is he. Naturally, he is, to use the phrase metaphorically rather than literally, his own man I and I would hate to find that I am somehow manipulating him into my own image. I always think it rather sad when fathers try to mould a son or mothers a daughter into their own likeness. It is as though, having batted on a bit and no longer being the fresh young things they once were, they are somehow trying their hand at having a second youth. That kind of thing can always end in tears or, at best, stymy the development of our offspring so that it doesn’t take its natural course sooner rather than later. And the sons and daughters so treated rarely, if ever, thank you for it. So I am at pains to avoid that particular pitfall, and if I say he seems to take after me in some ways, I merely mean that, almost by chance, we seem to share one or two similar traits.

But one thing he does do, or rather one thing his presence on this earth as my son does - he is not actually ‘doing’ anything - is to remind me of what I thought and felt growing up. So, for example, if he and I are driving anywhere, it always takes me back to when I was sitting in the passenger seat and my father was driving. But I am not about to write some quasi sentimental piece about ‘growing up’ or ‘like father, like son’, but - apropos the whole bloody ‘euro crisis’ - to try to recollect the slow process by which I became aware of the world, its problems, its wars, its silliness and the making of history.

The first time I became aware of ‘world events’ was when I was less than ten and kept hearing about ‘the Baghdad Pact’. Without looking up what it was, I can’t say I know what it was (although once I have written this I shall spend a few minutes googling it and finding out. I suspect it must have come after the Suez crisis because I was not aware of it at the time, unsuprisingly as I was just six years old. I also have vague memories of the Cyprus Crisis, someone called General Grivas and Eoka and a certain Archbishop Makarios, but I had no idea what was going on.

Incidentally, what I do remember is that the crisis lasted for several years and was very bloody, with Makarios being an especially recalcitrant negotiating partner, but that when the settlement came, it happened very fast and Makarios suprisingly caved in to a certain extent. Several years later, and again I can’t remember when, my father, who had obscure links with Britain’s security services - it might well at that point have been merely that one or two of spooks were drinking buddies - told me that the end came when MI6 established and gathered proof that Makarios was a homosexual paedophile and informed him that unless he started playing ball, this information would be made public. Makarios suddenly played ball.

I became a little more aware of ‘world events’ during the Cuban missile crisis and the building of the Berlin Wall, though as a 13-year-old, the age my son is now, I was oblivious to any subtleties of what was happening and still, as I and many others had been brought up to believe, thought of the West as The Good Guys and the Reds/Communists as The Bad Guys.

So when this afternoon my son was looking at a new wall chart showing the map of the world which my wife has bought, started looking for Syria and asked a question or two about the conflict there, I tried to convey that ‘all is not quite as it might appear’. I informed him - I hope correctly - that Iran supports Assad for its reasons, the US supports the rebels for its reasons, Israel would dearly like there to be no resolution of any kind for as long as possible for its reasons, and Russia and China are opposing the West’s view of the conflict for their reasons and concluded by telling him that at a national level different states always do what they think is in their own national interests irrespective of their public declarations. How much of this he understood, I don’t know. And I might well be completely adrift in my analysis. Again, I don’t know. My point is that, at 13, he is beginning to realise that there’s more going on in the world than Lego and Fifa 12, and I should like to make sure that his able to grasp sooner rather than later that, at best, what goes on at that level is not black and white but a rather nasty and very murky monochrome.

I must confess that although I undoubtedly had opinions as a grew older - who doesn’t? - it wasn’t until I turned 40 that I began to take more than just a passing interest in ‘world events’, but that since then that interest has grown considerably. I have also become very aware of the importance of what can only be called ‘the facts of the matter’ and that what is really going on is rarely what we, we the public, are led to believe is going on - as someone once said ‘news is what doesn’t appear in the newspapers’. What has added to my interest is that I know have two children, one 16 next Tuesday and the other 13, and that were once I didn’t really give a flying fuck about the future - of this country, of Europe and of the world - I do now. For example, I should like both of them to have pretty uneventful, though, I hope interesting lives. I want them both never to have to face need - if they decide to try to become rich, that’s their business: all I want is that they don’t face need - and, all things being equal, I hope they lead contented lives. So when various fuckwit politicians play fast and loose with the British, the European and the world economy for now discernibly good reason, I do get very irritated.

All this was brought on by tonight reading a comment piece in The Economist along the lines of August being the calm before the storm as far as the euro, the eurozone, Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and who knows what else is concerned. The only peace of mind I have is that at this point my son, at 13, doesn’t have a clue as to what is going on and that just as I survived the Cypris Crisis intact, so will he survive all the silliness about the euro. The problem is that if, as I fear, Britain, Europe and the world is in for a very torrid time economically - and all that it will entail: political instability is always more likely the less stable an economy is - he and my daughter might not enjoy the contented life I wish them for quite some time.

. . .

In the interest of balance, I have been playing Devil’s Advocate and trying to see the euro crisis from the side of those who hope and believe it will all work out. And with the best will in the world none of it adds up any longer.

I fully understand the argument that the eurozone must be preserved because the economic consequences of a break-up would be catastrophic. But I simply can’t understand why several millions of young people, sick people and elderly people should be made to lead miserable lives in order to avoid a catastrophe which would see them lead miserably lives. Can no one else see the lunacy with which the whole euro problem is now shot through?

Then there’s the argument that if debts were ‘mutualised’, the markets would be calmed and it would become easier again for Spain and Italy to borrow money. But why on earth should the Germans and the Dutch and the Finns and whoever else shoulder the burden of others and pay off the debts of others? And that is a question they are asking themselves. In a way it makes perfect sense that they should insist that debtor countries should cut back drastically on their spending if they want to be lent more money to tide them over. But as those cutbacks entail - see above - misery for millions of young people, sick people and the elderly, is that really a viable solution? As for ‘European solidarity’ the Dutch go to the polls this September and the Germans in September 2013, and I do wonder quite how attractive the electoral slogans will be if they are meant to convey: work harder and enjoy life less, the Greeks need your money.

Not a euro problem as such, but a problem for the European Union are the increasingly undemocratic ways of the prime ministers of Romania and Hungary. What with the best minds Europe can find dealing with finding a solution to the euro crisis, just how much thought is being given to waking up to the news one morning that either or both countries have taken a leaf out of the Communist book and locked up the opposition. Fanciful? Oh, I really do hope so.

. . .

I read two things this week, one of which just has to be complete bollocks. I first read that both Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox church is calling for clemency for those three members of Pussy Riot who held an impromptu punk concert in a church and called for Putin’s removal. Well, there you go, I thought.

A day or two later, I read that both Putin and the Russian Orthodox church have called for the sternest sentence possible the courts can sentence can impose on those unfortunate three women. So which is it.

Then I read of Alexander Bastrykin, the of head of ‘the Investigative Committee’ - Russian committees always give me the willies - and the arrest he sanctioned of one Alexei Navalny. This chap happens to be a blogger and an anti-Putin activist, but apparently his arrest was not as a result of cruel things he said about Putin but for allegedly running a gang which has stolen a great deal of timber. My first instinct is that the charge is so
Who are you looking at, mate? A word of warning, sunshine . . . 
utterly outlandish, so far beyond the realms of fantasy, that there must be some truth in it. But this being Russia, I swiftly decided to hold judgment until my second, third and fourth instincts make their presence felt.

Mr Bastrykin is, apparently, the coming man in Russian security circles in that business is doing rather well for the FSB and they are rather disinclined to rock the boat. So, step forward Mr Bastrykin. See if you can’t do better. Just a few days before his arrest, Mr Navalny accused Mr Bastrykin of ‘fraud and corruption’. That was apparently not a very good move, especially if, like Mr Bastryki, you have a very natty uniform.

According to the Guardian, Mr Bastrykin is something of a card. He was rather put out by the activities of a Sergei Sokolov, the then deputy editor of a newspaper called the Novaya Gazetta (the New Gazette? Just a wild guess) and last June had a one-to-one meeting with him in a forest where he is said to have threatened to have him killed. It’s all probably stuff and nonsense and nothing but a misunderstanding, although Mr Sokolov would not be convinced by such an innocent explanation and has since left Russia for greener - and possibly less dangerous - pastures.

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