Tuesday, 26 March 2013
Peter Hitchens writes:
What should we think about Boris Berezovsky?
The strange fuss over the death of Boris Berezovsky reminds me that I’m planning to offer a defence of Vladimir Putin to an Oxford student society in late April. This will without doubt be similar to the articles I have written here in the past, that is to say, fully accepting all the criticisms of Mr Putin and his methods, while pointing out that he is by no means unique in these faults, but that Western governments, diplomats and media are surprisingly uninterested in the comparable wickedness of the Oil and Gas states of the former Soviet Empire, such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, and indeed of those countries which have offered us base facilities and other help in the alleged ‘War on Terror’, such as Uzbekistan. As I say so often, selective moral condemnation is not in fact moral condemnation at all, it’s propaganda for the gullible. If a principle isn’t universal, it’s not a principle. So you’ll have to look for another reason.
But I was struck by the near-assumption that there must be something fishy about Mr Berezovsky’s death. Maybe there was. But given the uninterest of the police in investigating so many deaths, and the blank inability of the media to spot the growing correlation between the taking of so-called ‘antidepressants’ and suicide, a correlation so strong that even doctors and drug firms warn that some of these pills cause suicidal tendencies, the huge concentration of state resources on this one, without any apparent material justification, was striking. I’m always glad of police thoroughness. But when it’s selective, one has to ask why. Anyway, I’ve provided links here to a selection of my past articles on this interesting subject, here, here and here; and, for an examination of the Western media’s skewed and selective reporting of Russian misdeeds, here.
I obviously have no idea how Mr Berezovsky died, and a Christian must regret the death of anyone, all having the chance of repentance and grace up to the very last moment. But I think it fair to say that Mr Berezovsky did a lot of things that really were not very nice. The allegations published today about his sexual life are, how shall I say, unattractive. Nor can they be said, if true, to have been victimless. But these are not the reason why Mr Berezovsky, and people like him, are unloved in modern Russia, and will be unmourned by most people when they die.
He is closely associated with the riot of theft and corruption which overtook that poor country in the years of Boris Yeltsin. How I now regret being taken in by Mr Yeltsin when he posed as the great foe of corruption and tyranny, one of the sternest lessons of my life. I learned how easy it is to be taken in, if you want to be. Millions of Russians regard Mr Berezovsky as a straightforward thief. I will leave readers to study his obituaries and see if those Russians have a case. Those years are the reason why so many Russians turn the Russian word for ‘Democracy’ (Demokratiya) into a bitter, obscene snarl (Dermokratiya) which translates, unprintably , as ‘The Rule of ****’. The asterisks conceal a word normally used to refer to excrement. They were also the reason why, in 1996, six years after throwing off the Communist yoke, the misgoverned and in many cases impoverished Russian people came very close to electing Gennady Zyuganov, a Communist, as their President. Mr Berezovsky and his fellow-oligarchs spent huge piles of money to save Boris Yeltsin from defeat by Zyuganov, and of course collected their rewards afterwards.
Yeltsin was grotesquely corrupt. His regime was incompetent and brutal, not least in Chechnya. Unlike the Communist coup plotters of August 1991, who crumbled rather than actually use serious violence, Yeltsin did in fact order tanks to fire on the Russian parliament building in September 1993. But the Western world, regarding him as a friend, overlooked these problems because he did not assert Russian national pride or sovereignty abroad. It is because Mr Putin has asserted these things, and in fact become the most significant defender of the concept of national sovereignty, that the modern globalist elite loathe him so and work so hard for his overthrow (as achieved in Ukraine and Georgia), probably by a smiley-face mob of manipulated ‘idealistic’ young people, who have no idea whose interests they really serve .
As I wrote more than a year ago: ‘Nor is Putin’s frosty rule comparable to the gangster chaos of Boris Yeltsin – a drunken, debauched disaster that reduced millions of Russians to selling their personal possessions on the street to stay alive. It is not just me saying this. The distinguished Russian film director Stanislav Govorukhin – whose devastating documentary “We Can’t Go On Living Like This” helped end the communist era – is now working for Putin. He recalls that the Yeltsin era was "a thieving outrage, open plunder. Billions were stolen, factories and whole industry sectors. They destroyed and stole, they ground Russia into dust". But, now, he says, "we have returned to 'normal', 'civilised' corruption." This is, on the face of it, an astonishing thing to say. But most Russians readily understand it. Their country, almost always subject to absolute power, has been corrupt from its beginning. One of the greatest of pre-revolutionary Russian historians, Nikolai Karamzin, asked to sum up the character and story of his country and people, replied with just one word "Voruyut" – "They steal".’
In the light of this, British policy towards Putin’s Russia seems more than a trifle odd. We seem almost to want to pick fights with the Kremlin despite having, as far as I know, no major national conflicts of interest with Russia – rather the contrary, as if we ever do decide to quit the EU, good relations with Russia will be rather important. Not to mention our ever-growing need for imported gas. My old friend Edward Lucas, of The Economist speaks incessantly of a ‘New Cold War’. I might, in retaliation, refer to this belief as ‘a dismaying lapse’ by an otherwise admirable and perceptive commentator, as he once used this phrase to describe an article by me which challenged the ‘New Cold War’ thesis rather directly. Read it here).
But I won’t do that. Russia has many faults, but they don't mean that Russia is our enemy. If we disapprove, rightly, of Russia's lawlessness and lack of freedom, we should show our superiority by fighting to defend the rule of law, and liberty, in our own country, where they are directly threatened and we can by our own actions save them. I just think that, like many conservatives left stranded by the end of the Cold War, like fishing boats in the dried up Aral Sea, he finds the idea of a continuing conflict with the wicked and sinister Kremlin reassuring, and the alternative possibility - that our supposed ‘allies’ may not in fact be our friends at all - very hard to contemplate. I know how he feels, and often hate the conclusions towards which fact and logic drive me. But I still think he’s wrong.