Voices from Russia

Monday, 22 April 2013

Speaking Ill of the Dead

00 Margaret Thatcher caricature. 09.04.13




Following the death of Margaret ThatcherBritain’s first and, so far, only female Prime Minister… many in Russia are still struggling to understand the polarised reaction to her death back home. On Facebook, Russian playwright Yuri Klavdiyev praised Thatcher’s achievements, writing, “Rest in peace, Comrade Thatcher. You did for your country a thousand times more than [members of the Russian Occupy movement] have done for theirs”. Yet, whilst tributes poured in from landmark figures across the world, in Britain, the song Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead from The Wizard of Oz controversially reached no. 2 on this week’s BBC Radio 1 music chart. On the day of Thatcher’s passing, the Daily Telegraph announced that, given the volume of abusive messages it had received, it was blocking all comments on any Thatcher-related article. That was besides the street parties and other impromptu celebrations.

By her own admission, Thatcher had inherited a country rendered ungovernable by the influence of the trades union movement. Her solution was stark. Thatcher chose to pick a fight with their most powerful and, in doing so, break the will of the movement as a whole. The resulting 1984-85 conflict between the government and the miners’ unions at times bordered on civil war, with British police forces accused of acting more as militia than as law enforcement. That the government won is a matter of historical record. More subjective is the question of cost. Last week, former miner Darren Vaines told the BBC, “The cut went so deep, people have never been able to forget about it”.

When she came to power in 1979, Thatcher’s monetarist government was on a collision course with a young generation radicalised by the extreme politics of the late 1970s. As the government lurched to the right, the educated liberal opposition would step to the left. Joe Strummer, poster boy of the New Left, wanted to illustrate The Clash’s Cost of Living EP with a picture of Margaret Thatcher’s face and a swastika. Alexei Sayle, firebrand of the early alternative comedy scene, joked, “In the old days, people used to be named after what they made. Carter if they made carts, Cooper if they made barrels, Thatcher if they made people sick”.

Many seized upon the Falklands War, which almost certainly saved Thatcher from an early resignation as her popularity waned, as an example of her political opportunism. To howls of popular protest, Thatcher also resisted sanctions against South Africa, branding the African National Congress a “typical terrorist organisation” and inviting apartheid-era President P W Botha on a state visit in 1984. Elsewhere, Thatcher proposed that the deposed Khmer Rouge retain their UN seat for Cambodia. Even after her removal from power, she continued to infuriate the left, calling for the release of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.

Last Tuesday, former Irish Republican Army chief of staff Martin McGuinness felt obliged to urge Republican households to stop celebrating the death of the IRA’s former “Number One Target”. Republican resentment of Thatcher grew throughout the 1980s, after her refusal to consider the political status of prisoners at Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison resulted in the deaths, by hunger strike, of Parliament member Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners.

Mass unemployment, climbing since the global recession of the early ’80s, snapped at Thatcher’s heels as she led the way toward her vision of a deregulated economy. Joblessness in Britain reached record highs not seen since the Great Depression. Dramatic cuts in government spending on arts, healthcare, education, and welfare, plus the deliberate sacrifice of many of Britain’s manually-intensive staple industries on the altar of modernity, further alienated an already-disenfranchised poor. All of this, coupled with the internal machinations of Thatcher’s own Conservative Party, would force Thatcher from office in 1990 amidst yet more riots (this time against her government’s poll tax).

For Russians struggling to understand the response to Thatcher at home, it may be useful to recall the polarising reactions to her Cold War contemporary, Mikhail Gorbachyov. Thatcher’s role in the end of the Cold War is debatable. Paul Dukes, professor emeritus at the University of Aberdeen, said, “Her role in bringing the Cold War to an end was probably not as significant as she and her admirers asserted. At least, the individual contributions of Gorbachyov and Reagan were far greater”. Yet, both Gorbachyov and Thatcher, though lauded internationally, engender, at best, mixed reactions on home soil. Gorbachyov, with his surname a global byword for postwar tolerance, only polled 0.5 percent in the first round of the 1996 presidential election. In a 2011 opinion poll, 47 percent of Russians claimed “not to care about him at all”. A significant 20 percent, reported “active hostility” to the former Communist General Secretary. As Gorbachyov leads the eulogies to Thatcher, he may be watching the dramatic reactions to her death unfold in Britain with one eye fixed firmly on his own legacy.

15 April 2013

Simon Speakman

Moscow News


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Hugo Chávez, a Man of His Time

00 Hugo Chavez. Venezuela. 08.03.13


Like almost any other outstanding leader, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías polarised society, and assessments of his political legacy will differ dramatically. His rise to international fame was evidence of major shifts in global politics… before him, the presidents of countries like Venezuela rarely became global stars. The feeling that liberalpolitical and economic models had come to dominate the global stage prompted a search for an alternative model. No wonder Chávez and his ardent advocacy of “21st Century Socialism” resonated with left-wingers all over the world, especially in places where discontent with American domination was growing fast.

* “Liberal” is used in the European sense… that is, policies advocated by Anglosphere “conservatives”… that’s why most Americans “misread” Russian political and social commentary. “Conservative” in Russian terms denotes paternalistic nationalism, not godless right-wing laissez-faire buccaneer crapitalism.

No matter what his opponents say about the political system in Venezuela under Chávez, it was definitely not a one-party dictatorship. Overall, Chávez was quick to see that dictatorships were becoming outdated at the end of the 20th century. People around the world, from Eastern Europe to East Asia, from southern Africa to South America, demanded the right to influence their rulers. However, Bolivarian Socialism is unlikely to survive long after Chávez’s death. Like secular socialism, it’s good for redistributing incomes… oil-rich Venezuela will have enough funds for redistribution in the next couple of decades… but it can’t encourage economic efficiency or private enterprise. Chávez’s large-scale foreign policy initiatives will soon wither away, because Venezuela won’t have enough money to satisfy its global ambitions, no matter how high the oil price.

However, this does not mean that Chávez was king for a day, one who didn’t influence the course of history. It may sound shocking, but Chávez wasn’t unlike Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, even though they were diametric opposites politically and very different human beings. Nevertheless, a closer look at these two military men, both of whom became presidents, reveals one more thing they had in common… their policies, even though discarded by their followers, changed the political stage by adding new elements to it.

Chilean President Augusto Pinochet launched neoliberal reforms that revived a Chilean economy undermined by years of shoddy governance, one that the socialist experiments of Salvador Allende Gossens almost finished off completely. Of course, Pinochet’s repressive methods aren’t acceptable, and his economic excesses soon became evident and had to be dealt with. No one mourned his departure, and he spent the last few years of his life hiding from international justice. However, when he ruled the country, he and his supporters promoted a policy of economic responsibility, which is still working. From 1989, when Pinochet left the post of president, until the end of the 2000s, left-wing forces took power in Chile; that is, the dictator’s former opponents, supporters of the man he deposed, Salvador Allende. Yet, Chile remains an efficient state with a stable economy, and the changes launched by subsequent democratic governments haven’t eroded the healthy foundation laid by Pinochet.

The situation in Venezuela is completely different. Chávez added an important element… justice… to Venezuelan politics. Compared to other Latin American countries with a similar social structure, Venezuelan society was extremely segregated, with a haughty aristocracy looking down on the impoverished masses. These masses elected Chávez because they saw him as one of their own, and in response, he turned his policy around to face the poor. You can’t keep redistributing wealth forever, so Venezuela’s policy will change. Yet, even if right-wingers came to power, they’d be unable to ignore what Chávez taught the people, which is to fight for their rights, and, so, these forces would have to maintain the social aspect of their economic policy and, possibly, even strengthen it. Now, “justice” is one of the biggest words in global politics. People demand it when they’re dissatisfied with their country’s economic system and when they question the political privileges of the “chosen” countries, such as the permanent members of the UN Security Council or the G8 nations.

An extravagant and sometimes even grotesque person, Chávez inspired many people in Latin America and influenced global politics through them. The new leaders who’ve come to power in neighbouring countries follow in Chávez’s footsteps by catering to the poor majority. There may not be a future for the inflammatory anti-Americanism of Hugo Chávez, but leaders from Chile and Argentina to Brazil and Mexico have shown that they won’t toe the American line, as their predecessors did in the past. Hugo Chávez was a man of his time. Now that he’s gone, the world won’t only remember his revolutionary statements, but it’ll also remember the measures he implemented to the benefit of his country.

01 Fyodor Lukyanov RIA-Novosti15 March 2013

Fyodor Lukyanov



Wednesday, 12 September 2012

12 September 2012. 9/11 Has a Whole Different Meaning in Chile


On 11 September 1973, rightwing military officers (egged on and supported by Langley) toppled popularly-elected President Salvador Allende Gossens in a coup. President Allende was killed in the rightist rebellion… and his killers (and their children) still sit in high places. Officially, his death is a “suicide”… but some forensic experts concluded that it wasn’t. My view is simple… the soldiers in the coup weren’t careful, they killed Allende when they were supposed to capture him, and the suicide fable is a convenient lie to be told until all the major parties in the coup are dead. “Money talks and bullshit walks”… that’s why such lies gain currency… and not just in Chile, either…


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