Archive for ‘ideology’

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Obama’s Visit to Hiroshima

A carefully thought-out and written → article there. Quoting single lines or paragraphs wouldn’t provide an accurate account of James Fallows‘ reflections on U.S. President Barack Obama‘s planned Hiroshima visit.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Is the Left right after all?

Thanks for → asking, Mr. Moore. It’s only a first step, and a late one at that, but if the left is as dumb and if conservatives are as smart as you claim, I’m sure you’ll arrive at some good conclusions. Will you continue to ask these questions after Brexit, too?

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Related

Bigoted elite, Charles Moore/Telegraph, March 4, 2016

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

DPP: a Need to Control and to Trust Tsai

Very few things can be taken for granted. Tsai Ing-wen‘s presidency will have to address issues from pension reform and social issues, to relations with China and efforts for economic-cooperation agreements with countries in the region, beyond Singapore and New Zealand.

From tomorrow, many things will be different from preceding presidencies. But one thing will not change at all: Beijing’s latent aggression against the island democracy will stay around.

Tsai will probably try to avoid anything that would, in the eyes of many Taiwanese people and especially in the eyes of Washington or Tokyo, unnecessarily anger Beijing. That in turn may anger some or many of her supporters.

But in tricky times, Tsai needs loyal supporters, who are prepared to believe that she has the best in mind for her country, and that she has the judgment and strength to make the right choices.

There will be disagreement, and there will be debate, which is essential. But underlying these, there needs to be loyalty within the Democratic Progressive Party.

Probably, there will be no loyal opposition – there are no indications, anyway, that the KMT in its current sectarian shape will constitute that kind of democratic balance.

The DPP itself, and maybe the New Power Party, too, will have to take much of that loyal-opposition role – at least until July next year.

Distinguishing between blind faith and loyalty will be a challenge for people who support the president elect. But if Tsai’s supporters expect her to perform well, they themselves will have to play their part, too, in terms of judgment, strength, and faith.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Be very Afraid …

… counter-revolutionary students in public squares!

The PLA is here to kill, kill, kill you with responsibility!

Remember June 4, 1989.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Beijing: Foreign Experts wanted to avert more PR(C) Disasters

Life’s hasn’t been nice to China Radio International (CRI). The propaganda juggernaut hasn’t been mentioned in the nation’s chairman’s new year addresses in recent years (as had been a time-honored custom during previous decades), it had been described as a bottomless pit of waste by Keith Perron (a former CRI presenter himself), and the international broadcaster’s borrowed-boats strategy probably caused some chuckles in the industry, too. Other “international” media outlets from the Middle Kingdom aren’t really effective either. Whenever they catch attention, it’s for anchors losing it, or similar not so-work-related reasons – at least in Western countries.

CRI’s German service is a brilliant example of how propaganda on a foreign audience simply can’t work. On the past two Sundays, they broadcast the same edition of their “listeners forum”, with just one listener quoted there (maybe he was the only one who wrote in), and later on, a “report” on electrical power supply in Tibet (also the second time on two consecutive Sundays). That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any listeners – some actually appear to be listening religiously, and Beijing’s propaganda is in no position to abandon these early Christians. But it appears to be a small flock. And given the truthful (and therefore highly unpleasant) representation of Beijing’s attitude towards Tibet, for example, it can’t be a big audience.

If you, as a government or collective dictatorship, can’t bring yourself to destroy some quarters of the state-owned industrial sector (as prescribed by the neo-liberal foreign press), you certainly cannot break an unsinkable aircraft carrier with thousands of jobs up, either. But you can still do two things. Measure number one is to keep the ineffective bathing tub*) in your coastal waters, while venturing into international waters with some international expertise. That, at least, appears to be on Xi Jinping‘s mind – Xi is the guy who hasn’t mentioned CRI in his new-year addresses.

And while the foreign expertise is going to work for you, you can kick all those foreign correspondents out who treat China unfairly. That would be measure number two. In fact, measure number two has been practiced for ages.

(On a private note, I’m not sure if putting lipstick on the pig will really make the pig look nicer, or more convincing. But then, the pig has little to lose – and I’m going to watch the experiment with some curiosity.)

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Note

*) Given the wide range of languages and target areas, there may be CRI brances which are a success story, in terms of feedback from the audience, etc.. But I haven’t heard of them yet.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

The Mass Line and the Common Netizens: Where You go, We will go (to Listen to You and to Correct You)

An apparently centrally compiled news article on Tuesday, published or aired by Xinhua newsagency and CCTV‘s Xinwen Lianbo evening news among other media outlets, provided details from a Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatization conference in Beijing on Tuesday morning. The session was chaired by Xi Jinping (referred to in the article in his capacities as secretary-general, state chairman, central military commissions chairman, and central lading group for internet security and informatization group leader), and the list of attendants included both his informatization group deputy leaders Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, other leading party members, and/or experts or stakeholders like Wu Manqing (吴曼青, a Chinese Academy of Engineering fellow as well as a chief engineer at China Electronics Technology Group Corporation), and Jack Ma (马云), Alibaba Group CEO.

As China Media and Copyright notes, the full text of Xi Jinping’s speech wasn’t published, but the blog, apparently run by a Dutch Master of Chinese studies, provides a full translation of the a/m news article. The newsarticle had also caught the attention of The Independent and Reuters.

From the article, as translated by China Media and Copyright:

Xi Jinping pointed out that our country has 700 million netizens; this is an extraordinary number, and an extraordinary achievement. Our country’s economic development has entered a new normal, the new normal requires new drivers, and the Internet can have great potential in this area. We must strive to promote the converged development of the Internet and the real economy, let information flows drive technology flows, financial flows, talent flows and material flows, stimulate the optimization of resource allocation, stimulate the increase of productivity of all factors, and let it play a positive role in promoting innovation and development, transforming economic development methods, and adjusting economic structures.

习近平指出,我国有7亿网民,这是一个了不起的数字,也是一个了不起的成就。我国经济发展进入新常态,新常态要有新动力,互联网在这方面可以大 有作为。要着力推动互联网和实体经济深度融合发展,以信息流带动技术流、资金流、人才流、物资流,促进资源配置优化,促进全要素生产率提升,为推动创新发 展、转变经济发展方式、调整经济结构发挥积极作用。

[…]

Xi Jinping pointed out that we must build a good online ecology, and give rein to the network’s role in guiding public opinion and reflecting the popular will. To realize the “Two Centenaries” struggle objective, it is necessary that all of society acts with one heart in all aspects, and it is necessary that the people of all ethnicities in the entire nation think in the same direction, and devote their energies in the same direction. Netizens come from among the common people, once the common people went online, popular sentiment also went online. Wherever the masses are, there our leading cadres must go as well. All levels’ Party and government bodies, as well as leading cadres, must learn how to march the mass line through the network, regularly go online to look around, understand what the masses think and want, collect good ideas and good suggestions, and vigorously respond to netizens’ concerns, relieve their doubts and dispel their worries. With regard to the broad netizens, we must have more tolerance and patience, we must timely take up constructive opinions, we must timely help where there are difficulties, we must provide timely propaganda and explanation to those who don’t understand the situation, we must timely clear up matters for those with muddled understandings, we must timely resolve grievances and complaints, we must timely guide and correct mistaken viewpoints, to let the Internet become a channel to understand the masses, stay close to the masses, and get rid of worries and overcome difficulties of the masses, and let it become a new channel to carry forward the people’s democracy and accept the people’s supervision. To those online criticisms that stem from good intentions, to Internet supervision, regardless of whether they concern Party or government work, or whether they concern leading cadres individually, regardless of whether they are gentle and mild or whether they are hurtful truths, we must not only welcome them, we must also earnestly study and learn from them.

习近平指出,要建设网络良好生态,发挥网络引导舆论、反映民意的作用。实现“两个一百年”奋斗目标,需要全社会方方面面同心干,需要全国各族人 民心往一处想、劲往一处使。网民来自老百姓,老百姓上了网,民意也就上了网。群众在哪儿,我们的领导干部就要到哪儿去。各级党政机关和领导干部要学会通过 网络走群众路线,经常上网看看,了解群众所思所愿,收集好想法好建议,积极回应网民关切、解疑释惑。对广大网民,要多一些包容和耐心,对建设性意见要及时 吸纳,对困难要及时帮助,对不了解情况的要及时宣介,对模糊认识要及时廓清,对怨气怨言要及时化解,对错误看法要及时引导和纠正,让互联网成为了解群众、 贴近群众、为群众排忧解难的新途径,成为发扬人民民主、接受人民监督的新渠道。对网上那些出于善意的批评,对互联网监督,不论是对党和政府工作提的还是对 领导干部个人提的,不论是和风细雨的还是忠言逆耳的,我们不仅要欢迎,而且要认真研究和吸取。

Much of the news article reflects comments by Xi Jinping about global competition and China’s position there, and even expresses an interest in foreign talents, in that not only we welcome foreign Internet enterprises, as long as they abide by our country’s laws and regulations, but

We must establish flexible talent incentive mechanisms, let talent making contributions feel a sense of achievement and a sense of gain. We must build talent structures and systems with global competitiveness. Regardless of from which country or region they come, as long as they are excellent talents, they will be usable to us.

要建立灵活的人才激励机制,让作出贡献的人才有成就感、获得感。要 构建具有全球竞争力的人才制度体系。不管是哪个国家、哪个地区的,只要是优秀人才,都可以为我所用。

As usual, Xi is presented as a people person, and his academic and professional interlocutors play along pretty well in the CCP choreography:

Xiao Xinguang shaking hands with Xi Jinping

Click above picture for video

Xiao Xinguang in particular can hardly secede from part with his secretary-general.

And Tang Xujun (唐绪军), head of the news and propagation research institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, counted himself lucky to have been there, as he wrote in an article for People’s Daily:

I was fortunate to attend the Internet Security and Informatization conference chaired by secretary-general Xi Jinping, and, with my own ears, listen to secretary-general Xi Jinping’s important speech, from which I benefitted. As an internet and new media researcher, I was deeply impressed by secretary-general Xi Jinping’s elaboration detailed remarks concerning the construction of a good internet ecology and guidance of public opinion, and [the internet’s] reflection of the popular will.

有幸参加了4月19日习近平总书记主持的网络安全与信息化工作座谈会,亲耳聆听了习近平总书记的重要讲话,受益匪浅。作为互联网和新媒体的一个研究者,我对习近平总书记关于要建设网络良好生态,发挥网络引导舆论、反映民意作用的阐述印象深刻。

What is the popular will? Although academic views of the definition of popular will are varied, with different emphasis, there is this fundamental consensus: the popular will is the masses’ public expression, in particular places at particular times, of basically unanimous viewpoints and opinions concerning particular public affairs. [Popular will] is a form of democracy.

什么是民意?尽管在学界对民意的定义五花八门,各有其强调的重点,但基本一致的共识是:民意就是人民群众在特定的时空,对特定的公共事务公开表达的基本一致的观点和意见,它是一种民主的形式。

The Chinese Communist Party is the vanguard of the Chinese working class guided by Marxism. It’s objective is to wholeheartedly serve the people. Therefore, it pursues no personal interests. As early as in 1945, Mao Zedong, answering Huang Yanpei‘s question about how the CCP could escape the [defining treadmill of successive dynasties- my interpretation of 历代王朝兴亡周期率问题], pointed out that “we have already found a new road. It’s democracy. Only when you let the people supervise government, the government will not dare to become compacent. Only when people assume responsibilities, the problem of good governance dying with its founder will no longer emerge. From there onwards, all generations of CCP leaders have always emphasized the mass line of listening to the voice of the people, and to undertake great work to investigate and research its manners. [This last sentence is my very vague and hardly accurate translation of what it probably means – JR.]*)

Since the CCP’s 18th national congress, the CCP’s central committee with Xi Jinping as the secretary-general, mass line education and practice has become a more important starting point for the new era’s state affairs management, with the people at the center, listening to the popular will, and being in tune with the popular sentiment.

中国共产党是以马克思主义为指导的中国工人阶级的先锋队,其宗旨是全心全意为人民服务,因此她没有自己的私利。早在1945年,毛泽东在答黄炎培关于 中国共产党如何跳出中国历史上历代王朝兴亡周期率问题时就指出:“我们已经找到新路,我们能跳出这周期率。这条新路,就是民主。只有让人民来监督政府,政 府才不敢松懈。只有人人起来负责,才不会人亡政息。”从那以后,中国共产党的历代领导人都始终强调“倾听人民的呼声”“大兴调查研究之风”“走群众路 线”。党的十八大以来,以习近平为总书记的党中央更是以“群众路线教育实践活动”作为新时期治国理政的抓手,一切以人民为中心,听从民意、顺应民情。

Tang tries to reconcile the variety of opinions expressed on the internet with the party’s goals by basically re-stating Xi Jinping’s demand that it is necessary that the people of all ethnicities in the entire nation think in the same direction, and devote their energies in the same direction (see blockquotes further above), and that cadres listen to online opinions.

The internet being the biggest variable (最大变量) party cadres face, the internet must be “embraced” to achieve the “postitive energy” [do a browser search →there] mentioned by Xi Jinping, writes Tang.

All the same, Tang seems to like his secretary-general better than the internet and, in perfect internet-ecological terminology, expresses his misgivings about the latter:

This particular feature of the internet [that everyone can be a communicator] has greatly widened individuals’ and all kinds of societal organizations’ channels of expression. Any individuals’ or groups’ information and opinion can disseminate quickly and broadly, and even exceed the disseminational and expressonial powers of traditional media. A tiny event can become big through the internet, and an incident with great influence on the real world, and some grass swaying in the wind online may affect social stability online.

互联网的这种特性,极大地拓宽了个人及各种社会组织的表达渠道,某些个体和团体的信息传播与意见表达可以更迅捷地广泛扩散,甚至具有乃至超过传统媒体 的传播力和表达力。一个微小的事件通过互联网的放大,有可能成为现实中的一个影响巨大的事件,线上的风吹草动也可能影响到线下的社会稳定。

The answer? The main point in “guidance of public opinion” by the respective party and government levels, according to Tang, is to seize (issues? movements?) in a timely manner, while they are still small (因此,各级党和政府应对网上民意、引导网络舆论最重要的就是要做到“及时”, 抓早抓小).

Countless incidents in recent years have restated one lesson over and over again: delayed responses have lead to loss of control. Another point is categorized treatment [of online events]. The demands from the masses are various. There are reasons for all of them – the constructive and interest-led ones, the ridicule, and the angry ones. As service providers, all party and government levels must have a focused “fitting key” [for all situations], to respond in an appropriate way.

近几年无数网络事件反复验证了一个教训:贻误时机往往就意味着失控。其次是要分类对待。人民群众的诉求各种各样,有提出建议性意见的,有维护个 人权益的,有吐槽的,有骂娘的,各有其缘由。作为服务者,各级党和政府就必须有针对性地“一把钥匙开一把锁”,做到应对有方,举措得当。

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Notes

*) Two notes here.

  1. The last above sentence is a very vague and hardly accurate translation of mine – corrections and suggestions to improve it are welcome.
  2. What Tang Xujun refers to as Mao’s reply to Huang Yanpei is translated as the “Cycle” conversation in this Wikipedia article [accessed April 22]:

In 1945, Huang travelled to Yan’an to meet Mao Zedong and they had a conversation. In this dialogue, Huang noted that history is a testament to an observation that no form of government — an empire, a kingdom, a republic, and so on — had ever been able to break out of a cycle of rise and fall.

Huang said,

I’ve lived for more than 60 years. Let’s not talk about what I’ve heard. Whatever I saw with my own eyes, it fits the saying: “The rise of something may be fast, but its downfall is equally swift.” Has any person, family, community, place, or even a nation, ever managed to break free out of this cycle? Usually in the initial stage, everyone stays fully focused and puts in his/her best efforts. Maybe conditions were bad at the time, and everyone has to struggle to survive. Once the times change for the better, everyone loses focus and becomes lazy. In certain cases, as it has been a long time, complacency breeds, spreads and becomes a social norm. As such, even if the people are very capable, they can neither reverse the situation nor salvage it. There are also cases where a nation progresses and prospers — its rise could be either natural or due to rapid industrialisation spurred by the yearning for progression. When all human resources have been exhausted and problems crop up in management, the environment becomes more complicated and they lose control of the situation. Throughout history, there are various examples: a ruler ignores state affairs and eunuchs use the opportunity to seize power; a good system of governance ceases to function after the person who initiated it dies; people who lust for glory but end up in humiliation. None has managed to break out of this cycle.

Mao replied,

The people form the government; the government is the nation’s body. A new path lies ahead and it belongs to the people. The people build their own nation; everyone has a role to play. The government should pay attention to the people and the political party should perform its duty to its utmost and govern with virtue. We will not follow in the footsteps of those before us who have failed. The problem of a good system of governance ceasing to function after its initiator’s death can be avoided. We’ve already discovered a new path. We can break out of this cycle. This new path belongs to the people. The government will not become complacent only if it is under the supervision of the people. If everyone takes responsibility, a good system of governance will prevail.

Footnotes and the translated text can be found →there.

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Related

→ Successes to the Grassroots, January 29, 2014
→ Open the Skies for the Young, May 5, 2013
→ Become a Network Security Advisor, July 31, 2009

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Monument Policies (1): Poland

As Poland celebrates 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland, the country’s right-wing government is pushing the country’s European heritage as the EU steps up its criticism, writes Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international media platform. The news article seems to reflect the general angle of the German press on Polish current affairs quite well, although  milder than some German-language reports, even at DW itself, where a headline in February read Polen: Muslime unerwünscht (“Muslims unwelcome”, a choice of words that triggers memories of “Jews unwelcome”, a notice on many German doors, especially once the Nazis had come to power. Dirty German history at Poland’s expense, in only two words.

Coverage on Poland

DW: How ugly of you, Poland

Not all is well between Brussels and Warsaw, as an article by DW correspondent Barbara Wesel reflected in December, after the Polish government’s attack on the country’s supreme court, and its state media:

Polen is the biggest net recipient of EU funding in all of Europe. And Warsaw is wrong if only sees the European capital as the main cashier’s window. From there, obligations accrue, too. The number one obligation is to observe the rules of the club. If Jarosław Kaczyński believes he can impudently defy them, he needs to be disabused. Unfortunately, there are barely ways of imposing official financial sanctions, but maybe all sorts of mistakes can be found in future Polish project proposals… Rudeness like that of the Law-and-Justice party chief needs to be answered with rudeness.

Polen ist der größte Netto-Empfänger von EU-Fördermitteln in ganz Europa. Und Warschau irrt, wenn es in der europäischen Hauptstadt nur die Hauptkasse sieht. Daraus erwachsen auch Verpflichtungen. Erste Pflicht ist auf jeden Fall, die Regeln des Clubs einzuhalten. Wenn Jaroslaw Kaczynski glaubt, er könne sich frech darüber hinweg setzen, muss er eines Besseren belehrt werden. Leider gibt es in der EU kaum Möglichkeiten, offiziell finanzielle Sanktionen zu verhängen. Aber vielleicht finden sich ja allerhand Fehler in künftigen polnischen Projektanträgen… Auf einen so groben Klotz wie den polnischen PiS-Parteichef gehört ein grober Keil.

This kind of creative anger – probably indicative of the general mood among the political class in the City of Brussels – is a somewhat unpleasant sight, especially when Germans wield the financial club. Nothing is forgotten in Poland: no pressure, no words, which above all shouldn’t come from German mouths, will dissuade us, German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Jarosław Kaczyński in January.

Kaczyński’s policies may be facing widespread opposition in Poland by now – but with comments like these, he may be able to reach some of his opponents, too.

Brussels and Berlin seem to understand that. While wide swathes of German press coverage is pulling Polish policies to pieces, German and EU diplomacy remain … well … diplomatic.

And the real dark clouds, from Warsaw’s point of view, are gathering in the West, from the direction of another complicated neighbor. That would be Russia. When it comes to the Katyn massacre, for years, “the blame for the killings was alternately attributed to the Germans and the Russians”, a Radio Poland continuity announcement informed the station’s listeners on Wednesday (7th minute), Poland’s official day of remembrance. The report that followed the announcement was more accurate, stating that the Soviet Union (the Soviet NKVD) had been responsible.

In the same broadcast, German journalist Boris Reitschuster is interviewed (20th minute) about his latest book (to be published on Friday, April 15) about Putin’s Secret Army. (Whatever may be said about the book (in terms of reliability or otherwise), conservative press people appear to be fans, while liberal and leftist publications don’t display nearly as much fascination.)

There was no official mention of the tragedy in Poland during the communist rule nor much was said in the West, which is also guilty of concealing evidence of the Stalinist crime,

Radio Poland said on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s this mood that defines the current mission of Polish remembrance policies: 500 monuments to the Soviet soldiers, who drove the German Wehrmacht out of Poland in 1944/1945, are scheduled to be demolished (CNBC) or removed (Newsweek).

It’s not the first action of this kind, but it is now reportedly the Polish state Institute for National Remembrance (INR) that calls on regional authorities to dismantle the monuments. It could become a comprehensive measure.

And at the same time, Polish media discuss the positive symbols that shall replace those from the communist era. A Radio Poland press review, still on April 13:

Back to Rzeczpospolita now which claims that President Lech Kaczyński, who was killed in the plane crash in Russia six years ago, deserves a dignified memorial in the Polish capital. Having in mind, however, deep divisions in Polish society surrounding the circumstances of the crash, it is not a good idea to erect such a memorial in front of the presidential palace, as is proposed by the Law and Justice Party. The Rzeczpospolita columnist thinks that hospitals, schools and libraries built from public funds and named after the late president would be a better way of remembering President Kaczyński, and of bridging the divides within Polish society.

The presidential palace in Warsaw may have to wait for its copy, but this what the presidential memorial might look like.

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Notes

纪念“卡廷惨案”受害者的橡树, CRI, April 14, 2016
Instructions Importantes, CRI, April 12, 2016
Lech Kaczyński, 1949 – 2010, April 10, 2010

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Germany: Is “The Ivan” Back?

The Russians are coming was a standard line when I was a child. Sometimes, everyone into the blockhouses would be added. it was meant to be fun, but there was an underlying fear in it.

Another term for Russians in general would be The Ivan*) (probably an echo from “Ivan the Terrible”). At least in West Germany, fear of Russia was part of collective post-war identity – much more so than in Britain or France.

There may be many possible explanations for this, and I tend to believe that it was a combination of several factors (Germany being subject to allied, including Soviet, control being one that lasted particularly long) was one of them. West Germany’s existence and raison d’être as a frontline state was another. And then, there was a widespread inclination among many Germans to see their country as a victim in the first place, rather than as an initiator of Nazism and boundless war.

By 1983, it had become evident, at least in certain quarters, that the USSR had lost most of its expansionary power. In terms of soft power, Moscows message had become about as attractive as athlete’s foot, and in military terms, the “Evil Empire” was grossly overestimated.

But there was a narrative, and as usual (when the narrative is well crafted), it prevailed over facts. On March 31, 1983, US president Ronald Reagan told a Los Angeles World Affairs Council Luncheon that

In the last 15 years or more, the Soviet Union has engaged in a relentless military buildup, overtaking and surpassing the United States in major categories of military power, acquiring what can only be considered an offensive military capability. All the moral values which this country cherishes-freedom, democracy, the right of peoples and nations to determine their own destiny, to speak and write, to live and worship as they choose—all these basic rights are fundamentally challenged by a powerful adversary which does not wish these values to survive.

Der Spiegel, back then a center-left and liberal German newsmagazine, took issue with Reagan. While the USSR was certainly no paper tiger, and while it was true that Soviet military had seen a huge push during two decades under Leonid Brezhnev (with American military budgets being  reduced by some 2.5 percent per year during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter presidencies), the USSR’s military power wasn’t as strong as first reported.

Shortly before a paper was published by US secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger (also in March 1983, and supportive of Reagan’s March-31 remarks), the CIA had retracted all its US statements concerning Moscow’s military budget:

military expenditures had been overestimated by fifty percent. Rather than by three, four, or more percent, there had been growth by a maximum of two percent since 1976.

Such subtleties, however, didn’t put Ronald Reagan off-message. His story remained the same; the Soviet Union was about to put an end to [a]ll the moral values which this country cherishes.

Fourty-year-old statistics like those debted in the early 1980s are hard to verify (or falsify). But in at least one respect, the Spiegel authors, in 1983, were wrong: contrary to what they believed (quoting “experts”), America proved able to finish the USSR off in a gargantuan arms race, and the factors that lead to the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991 were pretty much the weaknesses that the Spiegel authors themselves had pointed out less than a decade earlier.

The rest, as they say, is history. The world, from Alaska to Siberia (the long way round, of course), and from Pole to Pole, happily awaited huge peace dividends. After all, we had reached the end of history.

But Russia felt squeezed by NATO – understandably, the Baltic nations and Poland had felt rather urgently that they needed a strong reassurance against potential future Russian expansionism. (Not everyone appeared to trust the story about the end of history, and besides, a democratic society doesn’t necessarily live in a peaceful, unaggressive state.

Germans have viewed Russia – and the Soviet Union – differently since the mid-1980s. By 1987, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had overtaken Ronald Reagan, in terms of popularity here. That didn’t change after the USSR’s demise: while Gorbachev was seen as a failure, or even a “sellout” of sourts, among many Russians, Germans considered him “the” man who had made German unification possible. And Boris Yeltsin‘s Russia, even if not looking terribly respectable at the time, certainly didn’t look like something to fear either.

In an article in Germany’s weekly Die Zeit, a Moscow correspondent stated in May 1994 that once again, a majority of Russians considered the end of the USSR a greater calamity than its beginnings, and that Russian reformers had not been successful in “learning from the West”, as stipulated by Yeltsin two and a half years earlier.

Yeltsin had to accept that the safeguarding of authority, which had for centuries been based on expansion rather than on enlightenment, could not be redesigned with a new constitution alone.

Jelzin hat einsehen müssen, daß Herrschaftssicherung, die seit Jahrhunderten durch Ausdehnung statt durch Aufklärung erfolgte, mit einer neuen Verfassung alleine nicht umgestaltet werden kann.

Only pacts and compromises with conservative forces could save the “autumn” of Yeltsin’s presidency, the correspondent wrote.

In economic terms, a Stratfor paper dating from November 1999 suggested that veterans of perestroika, such as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, could strip the oligarchs of their wealth and influence, and enact more centrist policies.

To quite an extent, this seems to be what Vladimir Putin‘s presidency has done. In its early years, it continued the ideological consolidation started by Yeltsin himself, and his administration began to implement a policy that the “Zeit” Moscow correspondent described as west-oriented as a matter of principle, but moving away from America in particular. […] In America, however, the “Zeit” article quoted Yeltsin, forces were concentrating that would like to keep Russia in a state of controllable paralysis. That said, Putin  – in the eyes of investors – may have arrived at a point similar to Yeltsin’s, by now. Too little appears to move, economically.

When reading the press these days – certainly the German press -, you might be forgiven if you think that Russian policies had fundamentally changed since the 1990s. But they haven’t. There has been a remarkable Russian continuity – and a tendency in the West to disregard realities in Russia, and in its remaining sphere of influence.

When late German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle told Moscow in December 2013 that it was “not appropriate” for the EU “to ask third parties for permission before inviting the Ukraine to develop into Europe’s direction”, this represented widespread western- and central European illusions.

Russia, too, is a European country – most Russians live on the European continent, and Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Volgograd not least, are European cities. The discriminatory – and self-centred – approach of equating Europe with the EU has done much to its recent crises, be it on its eastern, be it on its northwestern boundaries.

There is an important difference to make: it would have been unethical if NATO had refused Polish or a Baltic country’s accessions, and it would have been particularly unethical if Germany a main author of Polish partition and loss of the Baltic states’ sovereignty,- had demanded such a refusal.

But in Ukraine, there had been no consensus to join an alliance with the West. In a row, administrations closer to Moscow or closer to the West had been elected, but there had been no continuity. There was Russian intervention, but there had been unwarranted Western interference prior to that. I have no doubt that any Russian leader, be it Putin, Yeltsin, or Gorbachev, would have reacted just the way Putin did. That was no matter of conviction; it was a matter of geopolitics.

Now, Germany’s federal government intends to counter Russian espionage, propaganda, and disinformation in Germany, writes German daily Die Welt. What they mean is, that Russian and pro-Putin publications have blown several issues in the news – issues that have recently troubled many Germans – out of proportions, or given them a slant that favored narratives from the fringes, rather than the much-conjured “center” of German society.

If the German public can be persuaded by domestic propaganda to swing back from a rather “russophile” (since the 1980s) to a rather anti-Russian attitude again (as from the 1940s to the 1970s) remains to be seen. But if the political class have their way, it is going to work that way.

That said, there are surprises, once in a while. In May 2015, Joachim Gauck, not particularly famous for being a friend of the Russian people, gave a speech in the Westphalian town of Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock, a prisoner-of-war campsite during World War 1 and, more notoriously, World War 2. What Gauck said, was this:

We have gathered here today in Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock to recall one of the worst crimes of the war – the deaths of millions of Red Army soldiers in German prisoner-of-war camps. They died in agony without medical care, starved to death or were murdered. Millions of prisoners of war for whose care the German Wehrmacht was responsible under the law of war and international agreements.

Saying that was laudable, especially as most Germans I know aren’t even aware of this chapter in their history. But there is a catch: to say something only once hardly changes anything. Only regular repetition – as anyone with just a faint idea of how propaganda works can tell you – will make sink inconvenient truths like these sink in. Most Germans I know aren’t actually aware of the scale of German warcrimes against Soviet war prisoners. And to make the warprisoner story sink in isn’t deemed desirable: neither by most of Germany’s media, nor by the German population in general, many of whom would like to see a Schlußstrich, a “final stroke” underneath the complete chapter of Nazism.

Some time in the early 1980s – prior to Gorbachev’s tenure as Soviet party secretary -, the West German foreign office published a booklet for use in school classes. Our school was a rather conservative environment, but the booklet made it into our classroom anyway. Titled “Aufrüsten-Abrüsten” (Armament-Disarmament), it was a try to educate us in foreign politics, and I don’t remember much of it. But there was a remarkable line in it which basically said that, no matter to which conclusions we, as school students, might come concerning the Soviet Union’s role in Europe, we should develop some sympathy – even if not necessarily acquiescence – in the light of the past.

I guess that this booklet had much to do with the man at the helm of the foreign office at the time – Hans-Dietrich Genscher, German foreign minister from 1974 to 1992, who died on Thursday. As phobic as West German feelings against the “East” might have been back then, there seemed to be an understanding, at least in some substantial quarters of the political class, that you can’t have peace without trying to understand those who may (or may not) become your foes, and that your own decisions may matter in the process.

This understanding may no longer be here, and I’m wondering how much misery it may take before we will regain some common sense.

____________

Notes

*) Max Frisch, in his novel “Homo Faber”, raised a modest monument for German anti-Russian sentiment, in the shape of an, as it turns out later, otherwise/actually/mostly quite likeable German philistine:

No German desired re-armament, but the Russian forced America into it, tragically, which I, as a Swissman […], couldn’t judge, because I hadn’t been to the Caucasus, he [the German] had been in the Caucasus, he knew the Ivan, who could only be taught a lesson with weapons. He knew the Ivan! He said that several times. Only possible lesson through weapons!, he said, because nothing else would impress him, the Ivan —

I peeled my apple.

Distinction between Herrenmenschen and Untermenschen, as advocated by the good Hitler, was, of course, nonsense; but Asians remained Asians —

I ate my apple.

Kein  Deutscher  wünsche  Wiederbewaffnung,  aber  der  Russe zwinge  Amerika  dazu,  Tragik,  ich  als  Schweizer   (Schwyzzer, wie  er mit Vorliebe sagte)  könne  alldies  nicht   beurteilen,  weil  nie im Kaukasus gewesen,  er sei  im  Kaukasus gewesen,  er  kenne den Iwan, der nur durch Waffen zu belehren sei. Er kenne den Iwan!
Das  sagte  er mehrmals. Nur durch Waffen zu  belehren!  sagte  er, denn alles andere  mache  ihm keinen Eindruck,  dem  Iwan   –

Ich  schälte meinen Apfel.

Unterscheidung   nach  Herrenmenschen   und   Untermenschen, wie’s  der  gute  Hitler  meinte, sei  natürlich  Unsinn;  aber  Asiaten bleiben Asiaten –
Ich  aß meinen Apfel.

____________

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