I grew up in what was then called the Cold War and everything was simple: we, the West – that was the U.S. Great Britain, France and the rest – were the Good Guys, and the East – the USSR and its various satellite states, as well as those who aligned themselves to it in return for financial support – were the Bad Guys. Looking back, it is all very reminiscent of the ‘cowboy films’ at the time: the Good Guys road white horses, wore the trousers over their boots and worse cool hats, and the Bad Guys road black horses, tucked their trousers into their boots and wore rather sillier hats. And just like the morality conveyed in those cowboy films – Rin Tin Tin, Gene Autry, Annie Oakley, Roy Rogers, The Cisco Kid et al – the Cold War – well, ‘narrative’ is the buzz word at present (and although I don’t want to use it because I don’t like using buzz words, I can’t deny that it has become a very useful word) – was equally as facile. What we did was Good because we were the Good Guys: QED. And what they did was Bad because they were the Bad Guys: again QED. But, oh were life really that simple, as I have since discovered.
This is not the place to retail the various iniquities of which the West is guilty, but a short list of them over the years would include invading Iraq twice (‘because it was there’ as we Brits like to justify many of our escapades) and destabilising countries because it suited our interests (for example, getting rid of the elected government of the Iran and installing the Shah to make sure we could keep our hands on Persian oil). But before the East gets all hoity-toity and self-righteously smug, their list of misdemeanours is equally as unimpressive (invading Hungary and the then Czechoslovakia, and also toppling governments, that kind of thing). Both sides were also not above murder and assassination, although the West insists it never indulged in that kind of thing (which makes taking out that nice Mr Bin Laden rather difficult to explain).
So far, so banal, and what is the chap on about? Well, this morning my brother alerted me to the fact that the Voice of Russia is now available online. It also has a website which you can find here. The Voice of Russia is Russia’s equivalent of the U.S. Voice of America and, quite possibly, our very own BBC World Service (although the Beeb – ‘Auntie’ to those who really can’t stand the Corporation – vehemently denies any such thing and insists that the World Service is solely there for the betterment of our coloured cousins with the sole objective of saving their souls. Nothing like the – allegedly CIA-funded Voice of America at all, old chap, and if you are inclined to believe such a thing, well, it’s a pretty poor show, if one might be so blunt! I mean what harm can there be in passing on to all and sundry the latest Test cricket scores?) The thought occurred to me, as it increasingly does these days which is admirably summed up by the French phrase ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’. It’s like going back in time.
. . .
I have no idea how Boris Berezovsky’s life ended, but from what I have read the most likely explanation is that he hanged himself. But there is also the poisoning by radiation (worthy of a modenr-day Agatha Christie, that one) of one of his associates, the former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko, which we Brits are blaming on his former employers, the continuing crackdown on anyone who thinks Vladimir Putin is a bad egg and dares say so in public, and a general sense that Russia is reverting to type. How, for example, to explain its support of Syria’s Assad and apparent opposition to the West’s promotion of the ‘rebels’ ?
Actually, that’s a very bad example, but I did introduce it for that very reason. The current Janet and John thinking here in the West is pretty much along the lines of our Cold War analysis and equally as duplicitous. Assad was and is (he’s still alive and kicking) a nasty piece of work. And who can blame his brave people from rising up and attmpting to overthrow him ? First off, the ‘opposition’ in Syria is about as united as a family of Irish topers at a late-night drinking session. None of us really knows who is on whose side, and even if we knew that we still would not know why. But we do know that, for its own reasons, Iran supports Assad and supplying him with men and materiel, and that Saudi Arabia is supporting the ‘opposition’ and is dong the same for them. So what at first blush would seem like a war of liberation in Syria looks rather more like a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance in the area. The same thing is going on in Iraq whose Sunnis and Shi’ites will not get a single night’s peace until Iran and Saudi Arabia call it a day.
The West, which just loves to cover its intriguing with the fig leaf of ‘bringing democracy to the world’ is also supporting the Syrian ‘opposition’ and so, as though by default, Russia has taken up Assad. It also helps that with Assad in charge, Russia would have far more useful access to the Mediterranean (which is also why they want to keep Cyprus in their ambit). So it would seem it is also something of a proxy confrontation – I’ll use that word rather than ‘war’ – between the West and Russia. As I said, ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’.
. . .
I would dearly like to visit Russia, and meet its people. I would dearly like to spend more than a tourist week there. I should like to live among them, learn their language and get to know how they tick. As it happens I would also like to do the same with many other nations, not least with our Yankee cousins. My point is that so much of our ‘knowledge’ of countries and their people is nothing of the kind. I can read the Economist and the ‘serious’ newspapers as much as I like. I can listen to From Our Own Correspondent till the cows come home, but nothing would beat going there and making up my own mind.
I’m intrigued by Russia. I intrigued that – apparently – a great many of its people are really not that bothered about whether or not their system is ‘democratic’. As long as things wend their way, as long as they have work and can keep warm, can socialise with as much vodka as is necessary and as long as official life keeps out of their hair, the system is fine by them. Is that true ? I really don’t know and don’t have any way of knowing, but it would be interesting to meet ordinary Russians for myself and find out for myself. There were the days, of course, under the Soviet regime when people such as me were regarded as potential ‘useful idiots’ who could be invited over, wined and dined, shown the sites, perhaps if that was our bag, be introduced to a very pretty Russian woman or two, then returned to our country of origin to spread that word that things aren’t all that bad, if only we could get to understand each other. (The small ads of the New Statesman used to carry adverts for two-week coach trips to Poland which were ridiculously cheap, and I was sometimes tempted to go merely because they cost so little, but was put off buy the thought of spending almost 24 hours stuck in an uncomfortablte seat next to some comrade eulogising about ‘all them corn fields and ballet in the evening’)
I don’t doubt that ordinary Russians have just as skew-whiff a picture of Britain and its people as we do of Russia and her people. Judging from today’s Voice of Russia web front page things aren’t looking too good in Britain at all. Funny that. Especially when we play the same game.