Saturday, August 23, 2014

For Europe: Finlandization's Revenge or a Eurasian Identity?

In 1989 my book Une autre Europe, un Autre Monde, was published in France by a small academic house, after being rejected by all the progressive publishers. It foresaw the reunification of Europe, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the rise of China (erroneously predicting greater democratization, however) and called for the creation of a Eurasian Community of Communities to include what I named before the fact as “a Europe of Thirty”, the Soviet Union, China, Japan and India, five giant entities that would balance each other out, eliminating the perceived need for Europe to be protected from the Russian Bear by the United States.
The book came out resolutely against then First Secretary Gorbatchev’s suggestion that not only the Soviet Union, but also the US and Japan, should be part of a large ‘European House’.  
<blockquote>The URSS, a giant that reaches to the Pacific, is still not part of Peter the Great’s Europe, even though Russians are considered as Europeans in contrast to Asians and Muslims. But whether in Europe or Asia, the URSS is too large to be included in any group, too immense to be primus inter pares. Poland, Bulgaria and Romania today constitute Eastern Europe, while Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary make up Central Europe. To cling to the formula ‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’, which would make Russia its Eastern region, is not only outrageously ethnocentric, implying that Europe is white and Christian, it prevents us from building a credible European future.</blockquote>
Though today Gorbatchev’s vision is not mentioned in reference to Vladimir Putin’s project for a Eurasian Union, one cannot discuss the latter without referring to the former. Or rather, at the risk of appearing too pretentious as a woman who twice eschewed academic credentialization, one cannot discuss Putin’s dream without considering the message of  ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’.
Regarding the Soviet Union, the French historian and founder of the Annals school Fernand Braudel wrote: 
<blockquote>The destiny of this country which is located in the middle of the Eurasian landmass has been that of an immense frontier-zone between Europe, which it protects, and Asia, whose ever more brutal assaults fell upon it. Russia’s invaders - Mongols, Turks, Arabs - were nomads. Its merchants, city people, travelled the immense territory, but refrained from visiting its peoples. Thus, it is no surprise that while Westerners think that democracy equals the right to emigrate, the Russians, huddled together because of their geography, have always seen emigration as a betrayal.</blockquote>
I noted that “It took Levi’s, a non-violent invasion, to change that mentality”, and that “while so many changes are happening in the USSR, Europe remains attached to its old criteria, seen as immutable even in the space age, locating the European frontier at the Urals, a holdover from a time when Nation-states did not yet exist, but only peoples, when it was necessary, as Braudel wrote, ‘to separate light from darkness, barbarism from civilization, as peoples moved from East to West.’”
I held the first copy of my book on the day the Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989. Western Europe still consisted of only twelve countries and was called The Common Market. The latter chapters of the book proposed ways in which East and West could be reunited, forming a larger entity. Two of my neighbors in Paris at the time were a German-Italian couple, with whom I shared champagne that night, and they were sure I was being overly optimistic when I announced without the slightest hesitation that Germany would be reunited within a year. (It happened in October of 1990.) 
Although my elaborate plan for a gradual building of confidence between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe had proved unnecessary, during that year I spoke out in EU meetings in Brussels for an accelerated entry of the newly independent countries into the European Union. French President Francois Mitterrand wanted the project put on the back burner, having also tried to delay the reunification of Germany, that country having invaded France three times in the last century. My book accused France of continuing to fear Germany while condemning it for what were at the time its pacifist policies vis a vis a Soviet Union, preventing Europe’s two largest countries from forming the center of a revitalized Europe and delaying its independence from the United States. Since the end of World War II, Washington had consistently portrayed the Soviet Union as an existential threat to Europe, falling back on Finlandization (a soft, economic takeover), when predictions of Russian tanks rolling unopposed across the European plain failed to be taken seriously in the face of NATO’s massive buildup.
Fast forward to the present: Gorbatchev, though a hero in the West, was swept away by his own people, to be replaced by a man who became a joke, but not before presiding over a Washington-directed economic overhaul that left Russia weaker than at any time in its history. When Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, declared that the end of the Soviet Union was the biggest disaster in history, he was referring to the costs to ordinary citizens of that dislocation. American politicians seized upon that remark to condemn his idea of a Eurasian Community as an ill-disguised plan to recreate the Soviet Union, resubjugating hapless neighbors.
Washington’s deliberate distortion of this project is facilitated by the fact that most Americans ignore the fundamental difference between a socialist worldview and that of a capitalist empire. A fundamental part of the socialist ethos is a privileging of negotiation over armed conflict, and as a logical consequence of this, a conviction that there must ultimately be some form of world government. That of an empire is to ‘do what it takes’ to ‘get the job done’ of aligning the periphery with the center’s plans.
(Russia is no longer a socialist country, but as I have written before, it has not thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and hence should be labelled as an aspiring social-democracy that has yet to develop an advanced parliamentary system such as exist in Northern and Western Europe. That socialist social policies have been maintained or reaffirmed is illustrated by the desire of Russians living in Ukraine to rejoin the mother country, whose social benefits are better than those of its oligarch-ruled neighbor.) 
The conviction that international relations should prvilege cooperation over con-frontation is reflected in everything that Putin writes or says - including his consistent refusal to be dawn into a conflict over Ukraine -  and forms the bedrock of his Eurasian project. Alas, the intellectual foundations for Putin’s dream are never discussed, being way too complicated for your average American reader - not to mention his average political representative who didn’t even know where Ukraine was newscasters began pinpointing it on a map. By systematically dismissing Putin’s pronouncements as propaganda, Washington can declare that his plan is a threat to Europe, the West in general and the United States in particular. In fact, it is no more a threat than was the plan I outlined in 1989: both, however, could free Europe from American hegemony.
Putin’s Eurasian Community, which would include China, India, Iran and eventually the countries of the Middle East (he just invited Turkey to join while clinching economic deals in the wake of U.S. sanctions), with Europe as an equal partner, would be a close cousin to my idea of a Eurasia composed of a Thirty nation Europe, the URSS, India, China, and Japan, in which the URSS would have been simply one of five giant entities and therefore a threat to none.
As things stand today, Russia has re-cemented the ties it had forged with China during the early postwar years, after a tense period that lasted from the mid-fifties to the early eighties, when the two leading Communist countries each feared the other. Today the United States sees each of them as a threat for different reasons: Russia contains within its immensity a veritable cornucopia of minerals and other scarce resources, while China is set to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy with the next year. Washington is said to have revised its estimate of the China threat from the 2020’s to the near future. And when Russia and China created the BRICS - inviting India, Brazil and South Africa to join with them - their combined threat became existential. Hence the plan to double down on NATO’s eastward march, via Ukraine, with Georgia next in line, weakening Russia before confronting China. 

In the twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe has only deepened its subservience to the United States, as illustrated by its abject decision to impose upon Russia sanctions that compound the disastrous effects of the 2008 economic meltdown on its welfare state. Washington will try to persuade the Europeans that dependence on Russian energy is Finlandization’s revenge, but they should hope Putin succeeds in his Eurasian project, because that would offer them another opportunity to replace Atlantic subservience with an equal partnership with the other continental giants.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fareed's Screed

The American media campaign against Vladimir Putin reached a new low last Sunday when CNN’s Fareed Zakaria turned his attention to the Russian President’s trip to Cuba.  It happened a month ago, but was presented as news. In the current propganda war against Vladimir Putin, anything goes, for even New York Times readers have only the sketchiest knowedge of international affairs. Fareed mentioned the U.S.’s fifty plus year long embargo, failing to mention that Cuban exiles centered in Miami have campaigned successfuly to prevent it from being lifted and normal ties instituted.
Successive American Presidents, with that particular morgue gifted only to them, have repeated the conditions that Cuba must meet in order to be treated like any other country in the world. It most not only ‘democratize’, holding ‘free and fair elections’, it must release its few political prisoners, some of whom were trying in one way or another to overthrow the state, others being Americans on missions to facilitate that under-taking. Cuba has been holding elections to its parliament for decades, however Fareed doesn’t mention that.  What he does acknowledge is that Raul Castro recently introduced some privat ownership of businesses as well as the right to buy and sell property and even to purchase foreign automobiles.
However, now this ‘progress’ counts for naught, given that Putin and Raul Castro discussed the possibility of reopening Soviet era listening stations ’90 miles from the US’, in the consecrated phrase.  Never mind that the US has pushed NATO to the Polish border with Bela Rus and overthown the elected Ukrainian president, after trying to effectuate regime change in Georgia a few years ago. Russia, having forfeited its place ‘in the international community’ by accepting a referendum in Crime overwhelmingly in favor of rejoining Russia, cannot hope to enjoy the benefits of effective sovereignty. 
But America’s initiatives vis a vis Cuba are another matter. In Fareed’s unique version of history, the ’special period’ that Cuba faced when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early nineties, depriving it of vital oil supplies, endured right up until Putin came and embraced Raul Castro. When a fellow Communist, Hugo Chavez, came to power in Venezuela, Cuba’s oil problems - and several others - were solved.  But things aren’t going so well in Venezela these days (Fareed fails to mention the U.S. role in that situation), so Cuba needs to strengthen other contacts. 
In reality, Havana and Moscow did not break off relations after the fall of the USSR and as soon as Russia recovered from the chaotic period under Yeltsin, it renewed its economic support to Cuba. President Putin and other high officials made several trips to Havana, and Raul Castro visited Moscow in 2009. 
But never mind reality, according to Zakaria, the fact that during this year’s visit Putin forgave ninety percent of their debt is nothing for Cuban’s to rejoice about, because that only strengthened the ‘remaining hard-line communists’ in the government who are holding back Cuba’s transformation to a full-fledged capitalist country. 
Inadvertently, Zakaria confirms that capitalist Russia is no less a threat to Washington than the Communist USSR. Though never stated, the reasons are clear: not only does Russia’s size and extraordinary mineral wealth give it an advantage over the United States in the current race for resources. In order to bring his country up to the West’s level of development, while tolerating outrageously rich oligarchs, Putin believes that government has obligations toward the 99%, and supports other governments that espouse that conviction. 

Washington brought down Europe’s welfare state via the economic meltdown of 2008, and Fareed’s screed is part of its campaign against Russia. With his most solemn face and authoritiative voice he can make the outrageous claim that Putin’s continuing support for a socialist government ‘ninety miles from America’s shores’ justifies the continuation of the blockade. Relying on the MSM’s versions of the facts, his viewers don’t know that most of the world is not only on Cuba’s side, as it has been for decades, but also, and increasingly, on Putin’s.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ukraine's Broader Impact

Anyone who has witnessed European farmers drive their tractors into the center of Brussels and dump crops in front of EU headquarters, knows the hold they have on legislators. Much of European agriculture takes place on family farms and the EU has had to create special rules and subsidies to keep its food producers happy.
Since 2008, the US has caused immense suffering across the EU by allowing Wall Street a free rein, and as I’ve written before, I believe this is partly a deliberate attempt to eliminate the welfare state. For information about its benefits are finally seeping through decades of media silence, making American workers wonder why they can’t have one too. The latest installment in America’s use of the EU for its own purposes consists of getting it to impose sanctions on Russia, with which, since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has developed close commercial ties.
Washington succeeded in getting the individual EU leaders, notwithstanding their better judgement, to vote together in Brussels to impose sanctions on Russia, by claiming that Russia ‘took over’ Crimea, a land that had historically been part of Russia except for a few decades after a Soviet leader gifted it to Ukraine, and whose inhabitants, largely ethnic Russians, voted in an internationally monitored referendum to rejoin the mother country. The accusation makes a mockery of US interventions around the world to impose hand-picked rulers, however it had fifty years of fear-mongering behind it: since the end of World War II, Western Europe has lived under a constant barrage of   propaganda warning that Soviet tanks are about to take it over, with the countries of Eastern Europe held up as hapless examples, in a rewrite of large pages of history. (The Yalta agreements on spheres of influence and the fact that those countries, still living under more or less feudal regimes, had significant communist and socialist parties.) During the entire Post-War period up until the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S. diplomates, aided by a powerful propaganda apparatus (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, etc.), continued to warn European leaders that Russian tanks were poised to overrun their defenseless lands, justifying American-manned bases and NATO. 
Not only is Washington still living those bygone days, its chosen ally in Kiev is imitating the enemy it’s trying to defeat, an imaginary Russian Communism, by adopting legislation reminiscent of the Iron Curtain, banning Russian broadcasts into Ukraine, and now, declaring that a fleet of 280 aid trucks carrying 2,000 tons of aid, including grain, sugar, medicine, sleeping bags and power generators, will be denied entry to assist the victims of its aggression in the east of the country. In what seems eerily like a vindication of all those Cold War warnings of an imminent Russian takeover of Europe, the drumbeat is as absurd now as it was then. According to The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/13/russia-aid-convoy-reach-ukraine-within-hours); 
“On Monday, NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said there was a ‘high probability" of a Russian attack which might happen under the guise of a humanitarian operation’…. Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said in a statement on Wednesday that ‘no humanitarian convoy from Putin will be let through the Kharkiv region…A provocation by a cynical aggressor on our territory cannot be allowed’, he said.” On Tuesday, the French president, Fran├žois Hollande, told Putin in a phone call that he had ‘grave concerns’ about Russia's ongoing unilateral mission in Ukraine…..and “Andrei Illarionov, a former economic policy adviser to Putin who is now a fellow at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington, told the Ukrainian publication Gordon on Monday that any humanitarian convoy to Ukraine would be a sign of Russian aggression aimed at supporting the separatist cause.”
It seems clear to me - and probably to many others whose vision is not clouded by propaganda - that Kiev’s aim is to rid eastern Ukraine of its Russian inhabitants, and that Moscow, understanding that this is the lesser of all evils, welcomes them to Russia instead of starting World War III. And yet, in a move that should provoke international outrage, but hasn’t, Kiev has banned Russian broadcasts into Ukraine, contradicting everything liberal democracy is supposed to stand for.  (The almost irrelevant OSCE did say TV ban needs to be reversed.) In another demonstration of its ridiculous behavior, the Ukrainian parliament voted to freeze all Russian assets, ban Russian internet activity, prevent Russian goods from entering the country, threatening to also block entrance by Russian citizens and giving Security personnel the right to shoot without warning.
Such behavior is explained by the presence, within the ruling coalition, of self-proclaimed Neo-Nazis. (Though they shout their beliefs from the rooftops, the Western does not report them.) Recently, Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov special battalion, who in June described Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's decision to cease fire in the east of Ukraine as a strategic mistake, declared in a commentary titled:  “A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen,” that “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival.” A former history student and amateur boxer, Mr Biletsky also heads the Ukrainian parliamentary group called The Social National Assembly (for Social National, read National Socialist…).
Even more than the horrific pictures of the Ukraine tragedy circulating on the web, declarations such as these - and there have been many since the early days of the coup - show that Ukraine is not only not part of Europe, it is not even part of the 21st century: its ‘liberals’ have accepted to rely on the extreme-right’s thugs, failing to realize that even those in the West who agree with them would not publicize the slogans of Nazi Germany.  
Meanwhile, a few more cracks are appearing in the sacred Atlantic Alliance: Latin America, Washington’s ‘backyard’, is stepping into the sanctions breach, ready to sell the foods Russia can no longer buy from the EU.  And as Poland and Lithuania get ready to sue the EU for their export losses, Putin is negotiating a free trade zone Egypt’s new president, former General Al-Sisi - a good example of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ that is sure to cock a snoot at Washington, not least because it suggests that Putin’s planned Eurasian Community could also be open to the Arab world.