Being consistent has the consequence of being predictable, a quality welcome, perhaps, in husbands and dogs, but somewhat a defect in journalists – at least as far as their readers, desirous of truth yet relentless in pursuit of variety, are concerned.
Those who have followed my political commentary in these posts – next Wednesday, as it happens, will be exactly one year since my blog began – can easily predict what I will have to say in the wake of Minsk. “He’ll call it another Munich.” For they have read time and again in this space that the terrorists who have seized the Crimean peninsula and the borderlands of Ukraine have no more legitimate claim to them than ISIS has to Iraq, or Hitler’s Germany had to the Sudetenland or to Austria, and consequently they will not be surprised to hear from my lips that the Minsk accords have all the distinctive “peace with honor” features of a sham by which Western leaders allow dictators to pacify public opinion in democracies.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there is something else I have to say this week. On the Ukrainian Rada’s internet site a few days ago there appeared a statement announcing a new law going through parliament, put forward by a deputy of the majority party, one Igor Artyushenko. The law mandates criminal prosecution, with jail terms for offenders, of those who would cast doubt upon the identity of the perpetrator in the annexation of southeast Ukraine, or “public denial or justification of the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine in 2014-15,” as the hapless framers have put it.
Now, I have no quarrel with the Rada’s proclamation of January 27, endorsed by 271 parliamentary deputies, whereby Russia has been officially recognized as the aggressor in the ongoing annexation. I have no quarrel with martial law, twilight curfew, press censorship, emergency conscription, detention without trial, or any other drastic measures, great and small, by which a nation may mobilize in view of a clear and present danger. But shooting a suspected enemy agent on sight and asking him questions later is a wartime tort hallowed by history; whereas writing a law to forbid the public expression of a private opinion is an atrocity that is uniquely a creature of the totalitarian age.
War justifies many things, but thought control isn’t one of them. The West has survived, and become the byword of civilization, because Galileo – censured and even, in his final years, placed under house arrest, albeit in conditions that many a modern billionaire might envy, for gainsaying the dominant orthodoxy of his day – was never jailed. Though enjoined by the Inquisition to abandon the perverse Copernican view “that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either verbally or in writing,” as well as to read the seven penitential psalms once a week, he could still say “Eppur si muove” (“And yet it moves”) without fear of having his nails torn out with hot tongs.
It was during his confinement to the villa at Arcetri in the balmy Florentine hills that Galileo wrote The New Sciences, a book without which there would have been no Einstein – as Einstein himself acknowledged when he called it the fountainhead of “modern physics, indeed of modern science.” And without Einstein there would have been only a Nazi or a Soviet atom bomb, with consequences too obvious to elucidate.
The totalitarian fashion of persecuting intellectual dissent has long spread to the West, of course, and in many countries of Europe today a man can no longer deny that the Sun revolves around the Earth or, for that matter, vice versa. To the nations, ancient or newfangled, who take up this fashion, I offer in malediction the prophetic words of Gobineau: “I do not say to them you are to be forgiven or condemned, I say to them you are dying.”