Sunday, October 22, 2006

Frankly Speaking

Writing in EJ ("The Hedgehog"), political and military analyst Alexander Goltz reflects on Putin's remarkable outburst of tacky male-chauvinist rhetoric in the presence of Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and comments that with such speech and behaviour - always presented with the jesting innuendo of a true poshlyak (the nearest translation here is perhaps "slob") - Putin is only displaying to the Russian public what is in his mind: the sort of sentiments a majority of them can agree with and sympathize with. Crucially, the message is also directed towards the outside world. Indeed, from now on, wherever he goes, the president can be assured of a hostile reception from a picket of feminists. This also is intentional - the medium and the message both say that the Russian government and its head will not be deflected from their natural character by considerations of political correctness or common decency. And this, Goltz suggests, was the real meaning of Putin's words and behaviour in Moscow and Lahti last week. If you want Russian gas and oil, or want Russia to help you (as in preventing Russian missiles being sent to Hizballah by Syria), you will accept any kind of humiliation that Russia wishes to throw at you, and say thank you.

At the same time as Putin was conducting his Gogolian dinner-seminar in Lahti, his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was delivering a contribution to a more conventional seminar in Moscow devoted to the theme "For the Future of Democracy". Goltz gives a quotation from this homily:
The head of Russia's foreign ministry addressed the question of the the danger of "party-political apathy", which in his opinion had enveloped Europe: "We should all reflect that it is possible to resist this challenge. After all, nature abhors a vacuum. And a political vacuum immediately starts to be filled with ideas, which are occasionally not harmless and are indeed harmful, preventing healthy social development. Nationalism and populism, xenophobia and intolerance, the various manifestations of misanthropy - all these are completely real threats ."
"It's as if," Goltz observes, "he had sketched this picture from nature, looking at the Kremlin from the window of his office on Smolenskaya Street."
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