Dave brings a whole new meaning to sitting on the fence

Our illustrious Prime Minister has been espied – and photographed, naturally – in a Bucks pub last Sunday, sitting on a fence and drinking Guinness.

Now that’s a sight for sore eyes. If you ever doubted Dave is ‘a genuine guy’, as described by the pub’s landlord, then you ought to be ashamed of yourself. If you ever regarded Dave as posh just because he’s related to the Queen, this photo opportunity ought to disabuse you of such notions. Bet you thought Dave was the kind of toffee-nosed bloke who drank nothing but Krug and Château Margaux. Well, you thought wrong.

There he was, pint of the black stuff in hand, shirt hanging loose, feet shod in trainers. Not only has Dave preached love for hoodies, he’s but half a step removed from being a hoody himself. Well, perhaps that’s going a bit too far. ‘Genuine guy’ is just right – you know, the kind who leaves the pub and drives home without realising he has left his little daughter behind.

Add to this karaoke, the computer game Fruit Ninja (which, according to a close adviser, he spends ‘a crazy, scary amount of time playing’), and affection for watching Danish TV dramas as his chosen ways of ‘chillaxing’, and there you have it: an eminently electable chap, slightly on the prole side of middle class.

Really, if focus groups show that a suspicion of poshness still lingers, one hesitates to suggest what else Dave could do. Perhaps beating Sam occasionally would be a properly populist thing to do. And then amusing his mates, policy consultants and a couple of hand-picked reporters, who just happen to have dropped by, with this one:

‘What do you tell Sam when she sports two black eyes? Nothing. She’s already been told twice.’

Laughter all around. Never mind the policies, feel the common touch.

And speaking of policies, Dave is as good at sitting on the metaphorical fence as he is at sitting on a literal one down the pub. I can’t tell you how many fences he has sat on in his policies and pronouncements, nor how many about-faces he and his mate George have performed with the agility of Torvill and Dean. Frankly I’ve lost count. And so have all those commentators who raise a hue and cry every time Dave spins a double Axel.

But as an ex-PR man, if a PR man can ever be an ex, Dave knows how to counter accusations of an excessive propensity to emulate weathervanes, or figure skaters if you’d rather. The first thing one learns in that profession is how to turn a negative into a positive. Thus, if a toothpaste tastes foul, that’s because it contains chemicals that are good for your gums. If a car is too slow, that’s because it’s designed for economy and ecology. And when Dave and George toss key policies aside like a wad of used Kleenex, that proves they ‘listen’.

To whom, if one may ask? To you and me? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met Dave, so he hasn’t had the chance to listen to me. Nor has he listened to millions of others. What he has listened to is focus groups and opinion polls. The ability to do so, and then obey with a dog’s fidelity, is a sine qua non of modern politicians, and they don’t come any more modern than Dave. Why, in the modernity stakes he could give even Tony a good run for his money, and that takes some doing.

I have news for our politicians: their job isn’t to listen. It’s to govern. And the great theoreticians and practitioners of England’s ancient constitution, Edmund Burke prime among them, knew the difference.

Burke’s ‘representatives, not delegates’ was a sublime understanding of our MPs’ true role. Every Englishman must have his interests represented – but not necessarily his wishes. We elect those people because presumably they know our interests and are capable of doing whatever is necessary to uphold them. Government by modern plebiscite or post-modern focus group is a constitutional abomination, and it is a constitution, not democracy, that’s the true antithesis of tyranny.

How things have changed; how the constitution has been abused. Dave isn’t solely or even primarily to blame for that of course. Many pre-war and most post-war governments have done their bit – to a point where the previous paragraph would sound heretical to most politicians and their flock. Their individual intelligence and attainment don’t even matter any longer.

For it’s not they who speak and act, it’s the Zeitgeist. Even if today’s front benches were filled with Burkes (they are, but the word is spelled differently), they wouldn’t be able to change much. Several generations of focus-group politicians have corrupted the public, and the public has retaliated by corrupting them back even more.

In light of all this, perhaps it would be a good idea if Dave and his fellow listeners spent more time down the pub than up in Westminster. They’d govern less that way, which has to mean they’d govern better.




Angela is getting annoyed: François just doesn’t get the point

A vague impression is wafting in off British newspaper pages that the Germans have had it with the EU project. Supposedly, they are so exasperated with the less frugal and industrious nations that they are prepared to tell them to shape up or ship out. There’s also a feeling that Angela Merkel is so at odds with her electorate that her position is becoming precarious.

Nothing can be further from the truth, and French papers seem to grasp the issues better, but then of course they have more at stake. Also, the French in general are more likely than the Brits to see the big picture without getting overly bogged down in small-print nitty-gritty.

The big picture has a photographic clarity so rare in modern political art. The purpose of the EU, as far as Germany is concerned, is to put Europe under German management. Political power, not money, is the ultimate prize, just as a gold medal, not money, is the immediate goal of any Olympic athlete. Every such athlete takes it for granted that, once the medal is over his neck, millions in endorsements will follow. But first things first: the original goal is primary, everything else is derivative.

It would be odd if other EU members, even France, felt as positive about the possibility of Germany’s political domination. They don’t. But they desperately need German money to stay afloat, and the money – whatever our papers are saying – is on offer. However, the offer comes with strings attached: by way of interest and finance charge, France is expected to do a Vichy. Déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra, American baseball coach and cracker-barrel philosopher, once said.

This is it in a nutshell, pure and simple. But the language of politics and diplomacy is seldom simple and never pure. And the European dialect of that language would make even Aesop sound too forthright. A translation from European into human is always necessary, and this is a service I’ll try to provide to the best of my modest ability.

Angela, as quoted in Le Figaro: ‘We need more Europe…’ [Since the geographic size of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, is immutable, this has to mean a more German Europe.] ‘…more budgetary union…’ [A German finance minister ruling the roost.] … ‘and, above all, we need more political union.’ [Like the one between Berlin and Vichy.] ‘We must, step by step, cede power to Europe.’ [Does this mean Germany ceding some of her power to Portugal, or Portugal all of hers to Germany? No translation needed there.]

In his response, Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s Minister for European Affairs, proved he is a fluent speaker of European too. France ‘favours the deepening of European integration. But institutional reform can’t take priority over the urgent need to respond to the crisis…’ [Just give us the dosh, Angie, and never mind your boche megalomania.] ‘Closer long-term integration of European nations will be impossible unless the EU demonstrates its ability to respond to the crisis.’ [It’s cash on the nail, Angie, or the deal’s off.]

‘Eurobonds must make a contribution to overcoming the crisis.’ [Germany must pay for everyone.] ‘The bonds will help catalyse the process of institutional integration.’ [No bonds, no integration.]

And then came the clincher: ‘We continue our discussions of this issue with our German friends and other partners to arrive, by the European summit at the end of June, at a ‘road map’, which is to say a method… of acquiring a clear perspective.’

What can be clearer than this? Pay up or shut up, Angie. If by 28 June your signature, preferably in blood, isn’t on the bottom line, might as well not bother with the summit. Then, and only then, your electorate will really land you dans la merde profonde. They know and you know what Germany really wants. Fine with us, but don’t think for a second you’ll get it for free.

Can’t you just see Angie squirming, ‘What’s this dummkopf on about?’ But deep down she knows exactly what François, the ventriloquist speaking through his dummy, wants. She knows what they all want – they want Germany to pay for what she has always craved: political domination. The method of payment is up to her.

A couple of times in the last hundred years Germany tried to pay for it in the currency of blood, but the price wasn’t right. Now she must pay for it in legal tender, and that just might do the trick. But pay she must, and pay she will. The question is, are we going to chip in?     



Watches’ Sabbath: the monastic habits of Russian chieftains

The news of Putin owning a collection of wristwatches worth about £500,000 made a brief splash in the British press. Much joy was found in drawing comparisons between that little treasure and Col. Putin’s official salary of £72,000 a year.

The comparison is spurious: it’s like comparing apples and condominiums. Since Soviet times the worst curse known to Russians has been ‘May you live on your salary only!’ In light of that folk wisdom, half a million quid in Swiss and German timepieces should be weighed not against Putin’s salary but against his reported 4.5% holding in the world’s largest gas producer Gazprom, his 37% of Surgutneftegaz and, by proxy, 50% of Russia’s largest oil trader Guvnor.

Do some quick sums, and Col. Putin’s combined wealth nears £100 billion, comfortably making him the world’s richest man. Suddenly, his timepieces begin to look the way a £10 genuine imitation Swatch would look to you and me.

Commenting on the good colonel’s affection for flaunting his wealth on his wrist, British reporters left out some local colour, a lacuna I shall now try to fill. The Russians, you see, are given to extremes, and this applies to the behaviour of their nouveaux riches. Everywhere people who fall into this category tend to live by the first commandment of poor taste: if you got it, flaunt it. But the Russians outdo Western nouveaux, and Westerners in general, in this character trait, as they do in most others. They swing within a much wider emotional and behavioural amplitude than any Westerners, and any quirk is in them multiplied by 10.

So how would a Russian nouveau flaunt it? He may own any number of gaudy palaces, but he can’t take them with him when shopping in Sloane Street or, for that matter, Red Square. He may have garages filled to the gunwales with Ferraris and Bentleys, but he can’t drive them into a party. How can he then scream at the world that he has just made it?

Women have it easy. They can wrap themselves in sable or lynx, but not so tight as to conceal millions’ worth of jewels hanging off them like baubles off a Christmas tree. Thus no matter where they go, everyone will see they’ve arrived. But what are their poor rich husbands supposed to do?

In the past, rich Russian merchants solved the problem in all sorts of baroque ways. They’d light their cigars with 100-rouble notes (about £3,000 in today’s inflated cash), bust up restaurants and pay 10 times the damage, give a waiter a small fortune for the privilege of smearing his face with mustard, defecate into grand pianos. Some or most of these excesses are still practised by the oligarchic small fry, but the really big fish, and certainly leaders of the world’s second largest nuclear power, have to be a tad more temperate.

Nor can they emulate their women and wear emerald necklaces, diamond tiaras and ruby rings, at least not in public. Now you understand that a £100,000 watch, tastefully half-covered by a cuff with competing, but not clashing, cufflinks of similar value, emerges as the only option.

Half a social step down from Putin you may see such messages of human worth as prison tattoos and two-inch-long fingernails, proving to all interested parties that their proud possessor doesn’t demean himself by physical toil. But that is a matter of style only: in substance, today all of Russian society is widely and deeply criminalised, which affects not just its morality but also its aesthetics.

Yet I can say one thing for Col. Putin: unsavoury he is, but at least he has never taken monastic vows. So if he wishes to amass untold riches and display their tiny particle on his wrist, more power to him – though it’s unclear how he can grab more power, at least not until he has rebuilt the old Soviet Union de jure, not just de facto.

Alas, even some Russians who have taken such vows can’t resist wearing a fortune under their cassock cuffs. Enter Patriarch Kiril, head of the Russian Church, who was recently photographed sporting a £30,000 Breguet at a press conference. Since all Russian senior clergy have to be monks, an outcry followed, and the Patriarch’s PR men came out fighting. They accused everyone who had commented on the timepiece of Russophobia, atheism and lies. The Patriarch, they claimed, had never worn the offensive item – and as proof they showed a doctored version of the same photograph, with no watch anywhere in sight.

Alas, meticulousness not being the dominant Russian virtue, their Photoshop artist overlooked an important detail: the reflection of the watch on the tabletop in front of His Beatitude. The picture became supernatural, as befits a prelate: only the shadow of an object, not the object itself, was in evidence.

The scandal became more virulent, and juicier details came to light. It turned out the monastic gentleman shares his palatial apartment with a woman first identified as his sister, then his cousin, then his distant relation, a progression that was bound to lead to salacious speculation.

Moreover, the Patriarch and his sister-cousin-relation recently filed, and won, a lawsuit against their downstairs neighbour. The chap had had some renovations done to his flat, and the resulting dust allegedly caused $1.7-million worth of damage to the Patriarch’s quarters. The lawsuit raised many questions, but one was particularly pointed: how could a monk who has taken a vow of poverty have amassed so much property that even a small damage to it is estimated in seven digits?

As I drew a distinction between the Patriarch and Col. Putin, it would now be only fair to point out a similarity. Putin’s rank was earned in the KGB, of which Kiril has been a lifelong agent, complete with a codename. That criminal organisation has converged with the criminal underworld to rule Russia in its own image. And power always cries out for its symbols, those communicating unassailable authority. In the past, that function was performed by raspberry-coloured stripes on KGB officers’ epaulettes. Not it’s watches.

So if you bump into an obviously well-heeled Russian at a party, ask him the time. He’ll be only too happy to oblige.






If you ever needed proof that the UN should be disbanded, here it is

What’s this foul smell in the air? Must be the alphabet soup of international organisations, all those UNs, EUs, UNESCOs, IMFs, PDQs, SOBs, you name it. Unlike your normal soups, this one has been rancid from the moment it was cooked, and now it’s positively fetid.

If you think there’s nothing wrong with the soup, smell the latest portion of insanity served up by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. Its quadrennial review welcomes the views of every member on how assiduously other members protect the inviolability of the human person. The assumption is that everyone’s opinion is equally valid, which is nonsensical whatever field you choose as a testing ground. In the area of human rights, it goes well beyond nonsensical and towards severe psychiatric disorder.

Thus Britain has been criticised for her abysmal record by, among others, Russia, Cuba, Belarus, Pakistan and Iran, those universally respected bastions of human rights. As Nazi Germany isn’t about any longer, she couldn’t take part in the review. Otherwise she would have criticised us too.

The Russians, for example, are upset by the excessive force our police use to deal with riots and also by conditions in our prisons, which ‘amount to torture’. I agree. Our policemen, hard as they try, still don’t quite resemble Carmelite nuns, and our prisons, while approaching the standards of sanatoria, still haven’t quite got there.

Yet Aristotle teaches that all knowledge is comparative. Adapting the Greek’s wisdom to the issue at hand, one has to question, however timidly, the Russians’ moral right to open their mouths on human or any other rights. In fact, only my justly famous tact prevents me from suggesting they take the words ‘off’ and ‘sod’ and arrange them in the right order.

For my sins, as if to atone for the accident of birth, I follow the Russian press regularly. So take it from me: honest cops there are far outnumbered by those who dabble in contract killings on the side. Propensity for sadism seems to be a job requirement in Russian law enforcement. Being arrested there for any infraction at all, a traffic violation, public drunkenness and especially taking part in anti-Putin protests, is all one’s life is worth.

People brought to police stations, and not yet charged with any crime, are routinely beaten and tortured within an inch of their lives, and often beyond that point. Sometimes the techniques applied leave the area of classicism and enter that of baroque.

For instance recently cops in Kazan raped a man with a champagne bottle kept at the station specifically for that purpose. Admittedly, if the bottle contained the treacly, well-nigh undrinkable Russian beverage larcenously called champagne, then that’s the only purpose it could have served. Still, the man died of internal injuries, and his murderers got away with a slap on the wrists.

Inmates spending a few months in Russian prisons often come out crippled for life, if they come out at all. And Lyudmila Alexeyeva, she of the Helsinki group, was savagely beaten last year by cops who were a quarter her age (she is in her 80s).

Alexeyeva was lucky she didn’t get killed. Under Putin, journalism, especially if practised in the opposition press, has become a daredevil occupation: at least 40 pundits have been dispatched in variously inventive ways, from drive-by shooting and defenestration to stabbing and nuclear terrorism (remember Litvinenko?). Even journalists who support seemingly innocuous causes, such as opposing the destruction of a forest in north Moscow, are left beaten up and maimed for life.

During the White Ribbon demonstrations in Moscow and elsewhere, police truncheons saw the light of day, with hundreds of demonstrators having their lights knocked out. And unlike our own Tottenham rioters, the victims hadn’t been smashing shop windows or setting cars on fire. They just shouted their humble requests for unrigged elections, which has to be a capital crime in Russia.

Everything that can be said about the Russians’ stand on human rights goes threefold for Belarus, which is independent from Russia in name only. And Cuba’s record is so exemplary that Miami has become a large Cuban city, its population made up of desperados willing to risk their lives only to escape from that paragon of human rights.

And yet, if we continue to practise what Aristotle preached, the Russians’ complaints sound almost legitimate compared to those coming from Iran and Pakistan. Their Halal beef with Britain is our poor record on multiculturalism, so manifestly inferior to their own. I shan’t carry on about their ethnic strife, responsible for thousands of deaths every year. I’ll keep silent on their mutilated and institutionally abused women, on their dissidents dangling off cranes – and I’ll even clam up on their murdered homosexuals.

Suffice it to say that when they have as many churches and synagogues as we have mosques (1,600-odd and counting – a difference of three orders of magnitude compared to the 1960s), then we’ll talk multiculturalism, and Britain’s record thereof. As things are, I’d rather talk about Christians and Jews being murdered in both Pakistan and Iran with monotonous regularity. And, as a secondary topic, I’d like to discuss the definition of cynicism, and how it ought to be reassessed.

Coming up next: Joey Barton’s lecture on good manners, Myra Hindley’s lessons on bringing up children, Dr Shipman’s advice on care for the elderly. We do have a lot to learn from all of these, so watch this space.

Meanwhile, may I suggest that we stop financing all those international talk shops whose sole purpose is to undermine the West? Let them pay for their own deranged harangues. 





Russia is making scary noises – it’s time we got scared

The good thing about evil dictators of modernity is that they make no secret of their aggressive intentions towards the West. The bad thing is that the West tends not to listen.

Neither Lenin nor Hitler ever bothered with subterfuge. The international socialist Lenin created Komintern, a giant subversive organisation run out of Moscow and explicitly devoted to deliver the world into Soviet concentration camps. Both Lenin and his accomplices, such as Trotsky and Bukharin, openly talked and wrote about world revolution as their desideratum, effectively declaring war on the West. The West’s reaction? Massive financial and technological support of the Bolshevik regime, eventually enabling Stalin to build a formidable military machine. That juggernaut was only a few weeks away from rolling over Europe, when Hitler’s pre-emptive attack pushed it back. When the machine was cranked up again, it could only gobble up half of Europe, something that upset Stalin no end.

Nor did the national socialist Hitler conceal his murderous plans, as any reader of Mein Kampf will confirm. The West’s reaction? Massive support of the Nazi regime, first ignoring its threat and then failing to deal with it early enough, say after the militarisation of the Rheinland, when Hitler could have been stopped dead at relatively little cost. The results of the Western tendency towards appeasement are well known. But the lessons of it aren’t well learned.

In strategic terms, the Putin regime today is roughly where Nazi Germany was in 1936 – at the accelerated stage of a rearmament programme. In addition to physical weapons, this includes metaphysical ones: propaganda aimed at creating the right frame of mind both in the country and its potential adversaries, in this instance NATO. Weapons are the domain of the Defence Ministry; propaganda is mostly the responsibility of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service), formerly known as the KGB First Directorate charged with dealing with the West.

Both have spoken in the last few months, in a forthright manner that distinguishes those who know their cause is just. The propaganda bit came in a 32-minute video clip put together by the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (known as RISI in Russian or RISS in English) and shown on Russian television on 13 March, 2012. The RISI, whatever its official status, is an SVR think tank, and it’s run by Gen. Leonid Reshetnikov, until 2006 head of the SVR Analysis Department. In those days his name was different, but then what’s in a name? He is still doing the same job, with a few added responsibilities.

For those of you who understand Russian, I do suggest you watch this bit of shrill war propaganda (http://www.riss.ru/vystuplenija_v_smi/?newsId=563). Others will have to rely on my digest of it, and I’ll stick close to the text, adding a few parenthetic remarks of my own.

The gist is that the West has always tried to destroy Russia because it was terrified by her growing might. It was the West, specifically America, that engineered the 1917 February Revolution that put an end to the monarchy. It was a dastardly Wall Street abetted by Britain that, using the German General Staff as a clearance house, financed the subsequent Bolshevik takeover.

It was the West that falsely accused the Soviets of unprecedented atrocities when its own record, specifically during the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, was no better. In the interests of scholarly integrity the clip doesn’t hold the United States directly responsible for those outrages, rather implying that all Western countries are tarred with the same historical brush, and have been since the Middle Ages.

[Just to keep the record straight, the Inquisition carried out about 30,000 death sentences in the 400 years it was in business. The Soviets murdered over 60 million of their own citizens between 1917 and 1987 (Source: Prof. RJ Rummel’s book Lethal Politics, 1990). Both figures are reprehensible, but the latter is 2,000 times more so, if my arithmetic serves.]

When the Soviet Union grew too strong for America’s comfort, explains the clip, she bribed Gorbachev, Yeltsyn, liberals, democrats, liberal democrats, oligarchs, emphatically including Boris Berezovsky, and other traitors into destroying the country and breaking it up into 15 feeble fragments. It then bribed them further into putting in place liberal reforms that brought Russia to her knees, fostering starvation, unemployment, homelessness, stray children and civil conflicts responsible for killing up to 600,000 people. [‘Up to’ are fraught words, covering in this instance the range from one to 600,000, but then the Russians’ actuarial techniques are notoriously vague when it comes to human lives.]

Now the West is worried by Russia’s growing strength under her great national leader Putin, and it’s trying to undermine her as best it can. Specifically, it finances and organises all those White Ribbon demonstrations against Putin, as proved by video sequences showing opposition leaders walking in the general direction of the US Embassy. [If it’s true that the Embassy can organise rallies involving hundreds of thousands, then my hat’s off to it. But, considering its rather limited resources and a long history of incompetence in such matters, perhaps the metaphorical hat should remain perched on my head.]

The West, according to the RISI, would dearly love to bomb Russia into docility or, preferably, the Middle Ages. Direct proof for such intentions isn’t offered, while the indirect variety supposedly comes from NATO’s action in Iraq, Serbia and Lybia, where not only poor Saddam, Milosevich and Col. Gaddafi but even the Colonel’s little grandchildren were brutally murdered. [Contextually, by the Americans and, by association, Russian liberals.] Russia’s friends Chavez and Assad are also under mortal threat. Yet the West can’t bomb Russia, considering her growing military muscle under Putin.

The video then reels off a few numbers, such as Russia’s GDP that under Putin has grown 10-fold [a parallel increase in world prices of hydrocarbons, Russia’s chief export, isn’t mentioned] and her military expenditure that has been increased by a similar proportion. The latter achievement is then illustrated by sequences, showing missile launches, and a few pieces of hard data. Apparently, Putin’s army is about to receive 60 new AA systems, 90 new types of warplanes and uncountable new missile systems, including those with a range of 5,500 km and those armed with 15 MIRVs.

The whole tone of the film is indistinguishable from Stalin’s, Khrushchev’s or Brezhnev’s war propaganda, and the nice xenophobic touches create just the right atmosphere. The Russians are implicitly told to be wary of the West and, above all, to support the Putin regime that won’t let the West get away with its sharp practices and murderous intentions.

By contrast, the report of Russia’s Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov to Putin, published on the government’s official website, is delivered in the dry, informative language of battleground briefing (http://premier.gov.ru/eng/events/news/18490/). Stab points aren’t used to formulate the tasks for Mr Serdyukov’s ministry, but they are implied. Here they are some of them, verbatim, and they do add credibility to the RISI video:

  • Massive and comprehensive modernisation of the Armed Forces. The state programme of modernisation until 2020 contains the relevant plans and by January 2021 we will prepare plans for the following modernisation programmes:
  • The development of weapons based on new physical principles: radiation, geophysical, wave, genetic, psychophysical, etc. [Most of these are internationally banned, but since when is that a problem?]
  • The implementation of the state armament programme for 2011-2020.
  • Ensuring dynamic development of military education, fundamental military science and applied research programmes. We have plans from 2012 until 2015; we will update them and prepare for approval.
  • Restoration of the former competences of military institutions and their integration with the evolving system of military education. [In other words, achieving the total militarisation of society that characterised Soviet years.]
  • The integration of military research and civilian science. We are planning to prepare the programme within this year, and as of January 1, 2016, similar decisions are to be taken for the next period. [In other words, militarising science and most economy, as they were in the Soviet past.
  • The strengthening of the integrated aerospace defence system of the Russian Federation. [That was called Star Wars when the Americans were developing it.] The plan of building the Armed Forces until 2015 has already been approved. By January 2016 we will prepare a similar plan for the development of the aerospace defence for the following five years.
  • Revival of the oceanic Navy, especially in the North and the Far East. We will prepare the plan during this year for the period starting in 2016, and the plan until 2015 has already been approved. [Strategic Navy is hard to describe as a purely defensive service, but that’s where the RISI comes in.]

Both the impassioned video and the deadpan Serdyukov report scare me. Do they scare you? If not, perhaps they should, especially considering that, though both are in the public domain, neither has been as much as mentioned in the Western press.

It’s not just the English who maul English with political correctness

A few days ago I wrote about Ukrainian racism in the context of the European Football Championship kicking off tomorrow.

In the process I drew the ire of some American Ukrainians who took exception to my calling their native land ‘the Ukraine’. One doesn’t normally think of the definite article as a word replete with offensive potential, though in this case I was aware that my provocative usage was going against the grain of PC consensus.

‘The Ukraine of what?!?’ demanded one reader. Just as I had been aware that the question would inevitably arise, the reader, a native speaker of Russian and Ukrainian, knew the answer to his question. It was thus not a straightforward request for information but the cry of a wounded soul. But I’ll still pretend this was a legitimate question and answer it for the benefit of those of you whose command of Slavic languages is somewhat uncertain.

In those languages, the word ukraina and its cognates mean ‘outskirts’, ‘borderland’, ‘march’. That’s exactly what the place always was in modern times, the outskirts first of Poland, then, since mid-seventeenth century, of the Russian Empire, later of the Soviet Union. Then the country became a quasi-independent entity after the statutory break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, and suddenly it wasn’t supposed to be the outskirts of anything. The extent of its real, as opposed to statutory, independence from Russia is a matter worthy of future discussion, but the point I wish to make now has to do with the English language, not Russo-Ukrainian politics.

The grammatical category of the article being nonexistent in either Ukrainian or Russian, in those languages the name of the country hasn’t changed since she acquired her quasi-independence. What Ukrainians wish to impose is a change in the way their land is described in the English language, and I refuse to accept that this is any of their business. In English, their country has been called the Ukraine for 300 years, and that’s what it’s still called as far as I’m concerned.

Had they actually changed the name of the place, calling it, say, Racistia, then we’d be duty-bound to follow suit. For example, Leningrad has reverted to its maiden name of St Petersburg, and it would be quaint to insist that in English it should retain its linguistic link to the father of all toiling mankind. Conversely, Peking will remain Peking and not Beijing for me because, however it’s pronounced in Chinese, it hasn’t changed its name since 1421. In any case, the English pronunciation of geographical locations has never slavishly followed their indigenous names. We say ‘Paris’, not ‘Paree’; ‘Moscow’, not ‘Moskva’, ‘Florence’, not ‘Firenze’, ‘Ingerland’, not ‘England’… disregard this last one. It’s a serious subject we’re discussing here, so levity has to be off-limits.

Diasporic Ukrainians do tend to play fast and loose with both language and history. For example, the inscription on the statue to Grand Duke Vladimir in London’s Holland Park identifies him as ‘Ruler of Ukraine’. Now Vladimir was a Scandinavian prince of the Rurik dynasty who from 980 to 1015 ruled Kievan Rus’, the first East Slavic state on the territory of what was to become the Russian Empire. The Ukraine as a geopolitical entity was at the time still half a millennium removed from being a twinkle in anyone’s eye. In other words, Vladimir was the ruler of the Ukraine, or Ukraine if you’d rather, in the same sense in which Alaric was the Chancellor of Germany.

If foreigners wish to destroy the English language using political correctness as their battering ram, they needn’t bother. We’re perfectly capable of doing the job on our own. Witness, among uncountable other outrages, the banishment of the masculine personal pronouns, invariably replaced by the third person plurals.

‘Under Hodgson every player knows their job’ was how a football writer for one of our top papers extolled the progress made under Ingerland’s new manager. Now one understands that in most instances the simple word ‘his’ would make every conscientious subject of Her Majesty roll on the floor frothing at the mouth. In fact, any film in which the egregious three-letter word is used should carry a warning, next to the one about strobe lights – for fear that the adverse effect would be the same.

But surely, this abusive word has been defanged in this case? After all, one can safely assume that every England player is a man, even though some of them do throw themselves on the ground and writhe in agony whenever an opposing defender comes anywhere close. But certain effeminate behavioural modes aside, their sex isn’t really in question.

Can we please use ‘his’ when talking about each one of them? No, we can’t. The God of Political Correctness is a vengeful god, and they is athirst.

Angela has decided she has played hard to get long enough

‘The world wants to know how we see the political union in complement to the currency union,’ said Frau Merkel at the G7 summit. ‘That requires an answer in the foreseeable future and Germany will be a very constructive partner.’

Allow me to translate from Eurospeak, for those of you are still sane enough not to have mastered the dialect. The Germans have allowed themselves to be talked into something they’ve wanted all along: European domination or, if you want to nitpick, a federal state under Germany’s aegis. One day I’ll ask someone to explain the difference, but perhaps not today.

That must have taken the acme of political and diplomatic skill, especially if you compare their present and previous attempts to unite Europe. That bully the Kaiser tried to ride roughshod over the rest of Europe, only to find that Europe would have none of that. Hitler too tried brute force, at first thinly disguised by the fig leaf of the same talk about pan-European solidarity one hears so often today. But Europeans peaked under the fig leaf and took up arms.

Admittedly, Britain alone managed to resist direct rape, and then only because of that nice English Channel presenting a more reliable chastity belt than the Maginot Line. But many individual Europeans would do nasty things to German invaders without the benefit of clearly drawn battle lines. Though bombs, assassinations, sabotage and other surreptitious activities were only variably effective in undermining Germany’s war effort, they communicated in no uncertain terms that some euroscepticism did exist at ground level. And of course once Germany was on her way down, many Europeans joyously gave her a push to make sure she didn’t land softly.

Britain fought, first in the air, then on the ground, against the German notion of European federalism – she was stubbornly opposed to fiscal, monetary or indeed political unification. The United States saw the situation in roughly the same way, though at times she was unable to decide whether it was Nazi Germany or the British Empire that was the lesser evil. Eventually, when the Americans realised they could get rid of both in one fell swoop, the pendulum swung Britain’s way, and America began to send supplies across the Atlantic long before the Japanese dragged her into the war. Parenthetically, I don’t know the German for ‘with friends like these, who needs enemies’, but that’s probably what Hitler was saying when he found out that his greatest ally had pushed the world’s biggest economy into a direct alliance with his enemies.

This time the Europeans, the British and the Americans are united in their entreaties, begging Angela to agree to something Germany failed to achieve in two World Wars. Being a well brought-up lady, Angela had to say ‘nein’ a few times, but now she is beginning to let it be known that her resolve is slipping. She is thus vindicating yet again the wisdom of the old adage that a woman can always be forced to do what she wants to do in the first place.

If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, I’m sorry – we none of us like conspiracy theories. But that doesn’t mean that perfectly practical conspiracies have never existed. The most horrible century in history, the twentieth, provides multiple examples. What was Komintern if not a conspiracy to deliver Europe (to start with) into the Bolsheviks’ concentration camps? What was Nazism or, for that matter, fascism? Conspiracies we’ve had galore; what has been in short supply is the intelligence to detect them early enough and the resolve to resist them forcefully enough.

I’m not suggesting that the EU represents a Germany-led conspiracy to subvert Europe – only that some of the methods used have been strictly conspiratorial. They certainly haven’t been aboveboard.

Neither Germany nor France came out in 1957 to say that the Treaty of Rome represented but the first step in creating a Europe dominated by the former, with the latter hoping to ride its coattails to a simulacrum of national greatness, long since lost. Neither of them owned up to the true meaning of the Single European Act or the Maastricht Treaty. Neither of them acknowledged the truth of what all halfway intelligent people have been saying since before 1999 when the euro was introduced: that a single currency will mean either an economic disaster or a single state, or eventually both.

What now? Supposing that Frau Merkel’s fickle heart is indeed about to change?

If a single European state becomes a reality, with Germany paying the piper and making the music, the rest of Europe will instantly acquire a focal point for venting its inevitable resentment. If now the Greeks, the Slovaks or the Irish blame their misfortunes on a rather denationalised and therefore nebulous European Union, they will then be able to blame the Germans, which is easier and comes naturally anyway. Whether such emotions will be resolved into violent outcome is impossible to predict. However, it’s highly probable.

Germans, you see, love themselves too much to be loved by others. Respected, admired even – yes, and deservedly so. Loved, no. Disliked, most probably. People in general tend to dislike those whose industry and talents make them prosperous beyond anyone else’s dreams. If such overachievers are insecure enough to rub their superiority in, and especially if they impatiently try to enforce it by violent means, dislike can turn into hatred at the drop of a hat.

The same structural problems that haunt the EU now will eventually destroy it, single state or no single state. The difference is in the timeframe: if the Germans don’t take over immediately and start paying for everybody, the collapse will happen within months. If they do so, it’ll happen within years. In the latter scenario, the federal state will writhe in agony for a while, and there will most probably be blood in the streets.

It’s possible for any country to leave the EU now in a peaceful way. It is, as the USA proved in the 1860s and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, impossible for some provinces to leave a federated state in the absence of universal consensus. A war between sovereign European states is unlikely at present. Yet a civil war between provinces wishing to secede and those dead set on keeping them in is a distinct possibility.

Where does this leave Britain? The wisest thing to do is to leave the EU immediately and let them sort themselves out. The second wisest is to wait until the new political entity is formed and then declare that thereby all existing treaties are invalidated. New treaties have to come into effect, and since such arrangements would have far-reaching constitutional ramifications, the issue has to be put to a national referendum. The stupid and borderline criminal thing to do would be for the government just to go with the flow and pretend that nothing serious has happened.

Which do you think HMG will choose? Don’t bother to answer the question; it’s purely rhetorical.   





Tell us what you think, Ma’am – your loyal subjects would love to know.

Presidents and prime ministers are sometimes, increasingly seldom these days, liked and respected. But they are hardly ever loved, not even by democracy worshippers.

Conversely, even those who are lukewarm on the monarchy can, against themselves, love the monarch. As we all love Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II – especially this weekend. One detects this pure feeling even in people who have always professed their hatred for the institution the Queen has now represented with so much dignity for 60 years.

If asked to explain why, we all, monarchists and republicans alike, would sound strained. Even the more eloquent people, those who could weave intricate and cogent arguments explaining their thoughts on various politicians, will struggle to sound sequentially logical trying to give an account of their feelings. That’s because likes or dislikes aren’t like love. One can always explain the former. The latter doesn’t need an explanation.

We may think we know the Queen, but we really don’t. How can we? The way our constitution has been interpreted, she never expresses her own views, only those of her government. Over six decades, assorted politicians, few of whom have been fit for office, have acted as ventriloquists, making Her Majesty say things and endorse policies with which she couldn’t possibly have agreed.

They, empowered by a constitution that’s not as unequivocal as many think, have made her stay on the sidelines as her realm reeled from one blow after another. It is with a bleeding heart that the Queen must have watched one piece after another being ripped out of her Empire, until it existed in name only, and then not even in that. It must have caused her much piercing pain to watch her subjects being brutalised, their education destroyed, their religion first vulgarised, then swept aside like stale crumbs off a table. Above all, she must have agonised over the sight of her subjects’ national character being pushed further and further away from her own, one that embodies every trait for which the British used to be admired the world over: dignity, restraint, moderation, equity, prudence, respect for others.

How she must have craved to speak out, nay to cry out at the sight of the country she serves with so much devotion turning away from the straight path charted by many generations of her family. But the ventriloquists wouldn’t let her; the lowly must pull down to their own level those who tower above them.

That was the animus behind Blair’s government forcing the Queen to take part in the obscene necrophiliac spectacle 15 years ago, when ‘the people’s princess’ was killed together with her louche lover. A mob in the throes of mass hysteria, expertly whipped by government stooges and their poodle press, was braying, ‘Show us you care, Your Majesty!’ And she did care – for her realm, not those who brought it into disrepute. And she did show she cared – over what was then 45 years of tireless, selfless service.

The Queen carries within herself everything that makes Britain British. If at the beginning of her reign she personified all that was good in her country, today she is practically the only good thing left. She is perhaps the only public figure we’ve had for quite some time who puts the interests of others above her own, who is willing to serve without being served. If there is any hope for her realm, it’s that she and her family will continue to provide that vital link between the generations past, present and future, without which no civilisation will remain even vestigially civilised.

I do hope Her Majesty preserves for posterity her real thoughts, which are bound to be so much loftier for being simple. The rest of us can only speculate on the essence of Britain, her unrivalled constitution, the meaning of her history. And, as the subject is complex and multifarious, we are bound to overcomplicate matters. The Queen doesn’t have to speculate on these things: she carries them within herself. She isn’t an exegete; she is an embodiment. That’s why, if she ever deigns to enlarge on such matters, she will use words of Biblical simplicity – and therefore of poignancy reaching her audience’s hearts. Wouldn’t you like to hear? Wouldn’t you like to know what the Queen thinks about her country, her God, and how the two are intertwined?

This dialogue took place exactly 60 years ago:

Archbishop. Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

Queen. All this I promise to do.

Many happy returns, Your Majesty – and God bless you.

It won’t be just footballs that’ll be kicked in the Ukraine this summer

The UEFA choice of the Ukraine as one of the sites for this summer’s European Championship baffled those with firsthand knowledge of the place. Those without such knowledge took a while to cotton on, but cotton on they did.

At first, their attention was drawn to the downright extortion practised by Ukrainian hotel keepers. With a room in a single-star fleapit going for £800 a night, and football fans staying away in droves, even Michel Platini, the UEFA president largely responsible for choosing the Ukraine, had harsh words to say. These had mostly rhetorical value, for only about 3,000 British fans will be in attendance – compared to 25,000 at the 2010 World Cup in a rather more distant South Africa.

Now it’s Ukrainian racism that’s in the news, and with good reason. For if it’s true that racism is a poor man’s snobbery, then Russians and Ukrainians must be very poor indeed.

The Ukrainians in particular have always enjoyed the reputation of being the most anti-Semitic people in the USSR, which is saying a lot. Their claim to that dubious distinction is amply supported by history.

For example, throughout the seventeenth century Ukrainian Cossacks were perpetrating the kind of atrocities that only the Nazis were able to match and eventually outdo. Those reached their peak in 1648-1649, when the Cossacks ably led by their Hetman Bohdan Chmielnicki massacred 300,000 Jews. Chmielnicki then went on to sign the 1654 treaty of Pereyaslav, incorporating the Ukraine into the Russian Empire and thereby achieving the improbable feat of making the Russians look tolerant by comparison.

The fine tradition of racially and religiously inspired massacres never really abated. Both under the tsars and during the Civil War, Kiev, Odessa, Białystok, Lwów and numerous other Ukrainian cities saw numerous bloody pogroms, a word the Russians and Ukrainians contributed to a grateful world. And during the Second World War, Ukrainian nationalists unleashed torrents of blood that sometimes scared even the SS.

The reason I’m talking specifically about anti-Semitic outrages is that violence against blacks is a relatively recent phenomenon in that region – for the simple reason that even Russia, never mind the Ukraine, had had little experience of blacks until the 1957 International Youth Festival, the massive propaganda exercise following which the Patrice Lumumba University was founded.

This venerable institution trained Third World students for advanced degrees in terrorism, subversion and related subjects. One of their ablest Latin American alumni would later become famous as Carlos the Jackal. But most students were African, which delivered a massive shock to the Muscovites’ systems.

The term ‘blackarse’, traditionally used to describe anyone born south of Kiev, now had to do extra service to include not just Georgians and Armenians, but people who actually were black. Within months, the same racial stereotypes as in the erstwhile American South became standard fare around Moscow. Negroes smell. They stick their oversized penises into willing blondes. They rape the unwilling ones. They secretly practise cannibalism. They – well, you get the picture.

Russians wouldn’t be Russians if at some point they hadn’t begun to act on such stereotypes, particularly since the police tacitly approved. In fact, the well-oiled KGB rumour mill quickly went into high gear, promoting racial hatred. One suspects their motivation was the same as that of the Tsar’s secret police that had produced the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Anything was welcome that could act as a distraction and relief valve.

Before long interracial relations in Moscow crystallised into a pattern not dissimilar to that of Alabama in the second half of the nineteenth century. Whenever a black man walked with a Russian girl in broad daylight, both would be cursed and sometimes spat at, a scene I witnessed many times. If they dared to walk together after dark, the man would be beaten within an inch of his life, and sometimes beyond that point.

Such incidents were hardly ever investigated. The cops would simply shrug with the same ‘well, what d’you expect’ nonchalance exhibited everywhere by policemen asked to investigate a crime they consider trivial. ‘Wrong place at the wrong time,’ they’d shrug, as if the incident had been force majeure with no human agency involved.

Then came a particularly snowy winter during which two black students disappeared. What was left of them was found when the snow melted in April. They had been beaten to death.

The next day several hundred African students staged a demonstration of protest in Red Square. Such events were never publicised as the papers had more important things to worry about, such as the starving existence of working-class people in the United States. But it was impossible to keep a rally in the centre of Moscow under wraps. Before long rumours began to circulate, and the KGB felt they had to set the record straight by countering with rumours of their own.

The grapevine they activated informed curious Muscovites that the demonstrators had been protesting against the absence of whorehouses in Moscow. To satisfy their beastly urges they had been demanding a hard-currency brothel staffed with full-bodied Russian blondes.

Since then the Ukraine has parted ways with Russia, at least formally. Her universities and football teams have been welcoming African arrivals, though welcoming is perhaps the wrong word to describe the public reaction. It’s roughly the same as it was in a post-1957 Russia, only worse. Every day one reads accounts of blacks in the Ukraine being attacked verbally if they are lucky, or physically, if they aren’t. Black footballers plying their trade there complain of the kind of abuse that these days wouldn’t be tolerated in Milwall or Barnsley. Passers-by routinely spit at them off the pitch, bananas are tossed at them on it.

That fruit is particularly close to Ukrainian hearts. Oleg Blokhin, manager of the Ukraine, which is in the same group as England, has publicly called for his players to learn from home-grown stars, rather than those visitors who ‘have climbed down from a tree and were given a couple of bananas to play football.’ Just imagine Roy Hodgson saying something along those lines.

Wouldn’t it be nice if places like the Ukraine were ostracised until they’ve learned how to behave in a civilised fashion? Alas, this question can neither be answered in what passes for polite society these days, nor indeed asked. It implies a value judgment, a transgression much worse in our PC modernity than anything the Ukrainians are likely to perpetrate later this month.

The mantra is all-familiar. It’s not that some countries are civilised and others aren’t. It’s just that they all have different civilisations, and who’s to say that some are better than others? Certainly not the UEFA.