“You are a stubborn bastard,” a Yale classmate of mine writes from the wilds of Virginia, where he, an Englishman, has been thrown by the hand of fate and now lives what I imagine as the life of an early colonist. “Your writing remains as difficult to penetrate as ever. Though,” he adds benevolently, “I admire begrudgingly its richness.”
Chris has written with his usual engaging frankness after a sneak preview of my European Diary column in next month’s issue of Chronicles. There I say that “since 1984, when Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in Russia, I have taken the view that the clever understand what transpires there without need for fresh explanations, while the daft, no matter how ingenious one’s explanations or persuasive one’s reasoning, will understand as little as they did in1948, when Orwell’s novel was written.”
“I distinctly remember that at that time (1984),” Chris writes, “and indeed before, when we were in more consistent contact, that you were entirely convinced that nothing had changed, nor ever would, with respect to Soviet behaviour, and now, with Mr. Putin in place, you may well be vindicated. Indeed you gave me the impression that you would not write – nay, not even speak – about Russian politics, because their cause, as you saw it, was an unwavering ‘done deal.’”
Chris is right. The upcoming column is something of a watershed for me, as this is the first time in 30 years that I address an American audience on post-Soviet politics. In England I persisted longer, and did not clam up on the subject until well into 1990s.
“In 1984 I concluded that the new junta, which had taken power from the Communist Party while Brezhnev was still alive, was intelligent enough to allow the Russian people whatever temporary latitudes might be regarded as freedoms of speech and expression – just as, more recently, Beijing has allowed the Chinese people some conditional latitudes hailed as economic freedoms. And since, as a result of such misconstruction, the daft conclusion that Russia was now a free country had become the universally accepted view, I stopped writing about the wickedness of the Kremlin. The new junta, I thought, had understood Orwell’s thesis better than his Western biographers. The Kremlin was too clever for the West, and that was that.”
The point I make in my column is that, however ruthless and clever its leaders, of late the new regime has blundered, which gives me hope and unties my writing hand. The West’s continued somnolence is more precious than rubies – certainly more than the Crimea, and possibly the whole of Ukraine. The West’s continued investment in Russia speaks louder than words – ugly words like expansionism, Finlandization, or annexation. The West’s continued disarmament is a worthier objective than the eradication of independent internet sites or a wholesale clampdown on dissenting opinion.
Ukraine annexed? Rubbish. Europe as a whole is what is to be annexed, indeed what has been in the process of being annexed for nearly a generation.