Saturday, 17 November 2018
Snyder's recent history: inevitable v eternal + hope
The first of many intriguingly phrased ideas in Yale Professor Timothy Snyder's The Road to Unfreedom is the notion that 'the politics of inevitability', the belief in the progress of capitalism and/or history, is collapsing, or has collapsed, in the face of 'the politics of eternity', 'manufacturing crisis' and 'drowning the future in the present': 'eternity politicians deny truth and seek to reduce life to spectacle and feeling' . Perhaps it might better be called 'the politics of neverland', and of course its chief manipulator is Vladimir Putin.
Snyder's orderly chapters positing a series of oppositions offer essential summaries of how we got into this mess, going back beyond the essential turning point - Putin's essential failure in the Russian election of 2012 and how, to deflect, he spread his country's latest breakdown worldwide in an increasingly successful strategy - to roots in Russia, America and Europe.
If you only read one chapter, as a European it would have to be the third. Only a master historian could take us so succinctly to the essence of the EU project. He then points out that 'the EU's vulnerability was the European politics of inevitability: the fable of the wise nation', the fact that not only young east Europeans but others everywhere else on the continent - and above all in Britain - were not educated to see that their countries were doomed 'by structure' 'without a European order...As a result, the fable of the wise nation made it seem possible that nation-states, having chosen to enter Europe, could also choose to leave'.
Revelatory and gobsmacking to me was Putin's manipulation of fascist ideology, starting with a 'philosopher' of whom I knew nothing, Ivan Ilyin. Lest one thinks this overstated, the quotations from Putin and Kremlin pundits show how it became state ideology. State scumbags' laughable running-down of western countries as subject to Satanic gays and Jews, their fantasy of Eurasia with Moscow at its centre appealing to an imagined 'primal Slavic experience', would be funny if it hadn't gone down well with the Russian people. And all this because Ukraine decided to throw in its lot with a properly European future.
The most jaw-dropping example here is of the Izborsk Club, inaugurated in September 2012, chief point of its manifesto 'Russia does not need hasty political reforms. It needs arms factories and altars'. A lunatic fringe? No, a club of heroes according to the Kremlin:
One of Russia's long-range bombers, a Tu-95 built to drop atomic bombs on the United States was renamed 'Izborsk' in honour of the club. In case anyone failed to notice this sign of Kremlin backing, Prokhanov [fascist novelist and Izborsk Club founder] was invited to fly in the cockpit of the aircraft. In the years to come, this and other Tu-95s would regularly approach the airspace of the member states of the European Union, forcing them to activate their air defence systems and to escort the approaching bomber away. The Tu-95 'Izborsk' would be used to bomb Syria in 2015, creating refugees who would flee to Europe.
Snyder doesn't just state and imply, he can get very angry. In the fourth (Ukrainian) chapter, 'Novelty or Eternity', he paints such a moving picture of Ukrainians of all ages flocking to join the citizens of the Kyiv Maidan that I wish I'd gone out to witness this incredible event before the Kremlin triggered the massacre (that it was oddly reported in the UK press is explained later by Snyder). Then he unleashes his ire on the lie machine that would deny the achievement:
Russians, Europeans, and Americans were meant to forget the students who were beaten on a cold November night because they wanted a future. And the mothers and fathers and grandparents and veterans and workers who then came to the streets in defence of 'our children'. And the lawyers and consultants who found themselves throwing Molotov cocktails. The hundreds of thousands of people who broke themselves away from television and internet and who journeyed to Kyiv to put their bodies at risk. The Ukrainian citizens who were not thinking of Russia or geopolitics or ideology but of the next generation. The young historian of the Holocaust, the sole supporter of his family, who went back to the Maidan during the sniper massacre to rescue a wounded man, or the university lecturer who took a sniper's bullet to the skull that day.
Our great chronicler of conscience is also a master of coining the right phrase: 'implausible deniability' for the Kremlin's lies (I remember the first time I realised that Putin was going to break all rules of international diplomacy, when in early 2014 he declared 'we have no intention of rattling the sabre and sending troops to Crimea', then did just that; 'schizo-fascism' ('actual fascists calling their opponents fascists'); 'cruci-fiction' for Alexander Dugin's outrageous lie about a three-year-old boy crucified by Ukrainian soldiers in Sloviansk, which drummed up volunteers to fight for Russia in eastern Ukraine from all over the former empire; 'strategic relativism' for faltering Russian state power trying to hold on by weakening others, the 'winning' of 'a negative-sum game in international politics'; 'sado-populist' ('a populist...is someone who proposes policies to increase opportunities for the masses, as opposed to the financial elites. Trump was something else: a sado-populist, whose policies were designed to hurt the most vulnerable part of his own electorate').
Then there's the myth of 'Donald Trump, successful businessman', saved by Russian money from 'the fate that would normally await anyone with his record of failure'. Let's just hope that fate has merely been delayed, and is coming soon, to the Horror Clown, Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and many others.