The comparative adjective is, I’m afraid, all we can hope for in 2023.
The all-out war thundering on in Europe and threatening to engulf the world makes unqualified happiness unlikely – especially with the domestic situation going from bad to worse.
The aftermath of Covid possibly apart, our internal wounds are self-inflicted. But what about the external threat, one posed by a criminal regime pouncing on some neighbours, endangering others and threatening the world with nuclear annihilation?
There we may not be the ones directly twisting the knife. But Western countries, including Britain, are accomplices to those crimes, both before and after the fact.
Our contribution to the rise of evil in Russia came in a package of ignorance, greed, acquiescence, ideological bias and cowardice. None of those is of especially recent vintage.
Western opinion-formers always misread the Soviet Union as badly as they are now misreading Russia. I reminded myself of that last night when chatting with a friend on Skype.
He recommended the Hungarian film Son of Saul, which he described as one of the most powerful Holocaust films he had ever seen. And my friend’s recommendations aren’t to be dismissed lightly, since he is a man of taste and discernment.
However, I dismissed that one, on general grounds. I’ll start watching Holocaust films, I said, no matter how powerful, when they are matched by the same, or at least remotely approaching, number of films about the GULAG.
He smiled ruefully: the problem was familiar to him as were the reasons for it. For the Holocaust provides a useful emollient for the West’s troubled conscience. It both externalises and concentrates evil, squeezing it into the narrow confines of Nazi genocide.
Compared to that, the coverage of Soviet crimes always got a free ride, although communist atrocities outscored the Nazi equivalent by an order of magnitude. Can you remember offhand a single film about mass murders in the GULAG? I can’t, even though I’m sure one or two must be gathering dust in the Hollywood archives.
What does that have to do with Putin?, I hear you ask. Well, just about everything.
He is drawing on the reservoir of residual goodwill towards Russia that never seems to be exhausted in the West. In the good tradition of Western glossocracy, the mendacious slogans proffered by the Russians are taken at face value, while the awful deeds hiding behind them are ignored.
Different segments of Western opinion-formers respond to different slogans, but the Russians have always been able to fashion a menu to suit current tastes. Thus the left traditionally jumped up to salute every Soviet lie about universal social justice. The dying moans of the skeletal victims of the GULAG, millions of them, somehow got muffled by the propagandistic din.
And even when the news of monstrosities like the Holodomor genocide seeped through into the mainstream Western press, they were explained away as the unfortunate fallout of an intrinsically noble exercise.
By the same token, it was – and to a large extent still is – ignored that Stalin started the Second World War as Hitler’s ally. During the Blitz, Nazi planes flew on Soviet fuel and rained Soviet-made bombs on British cities – that fact was then and later overlooked or dismissed.
In the dying years of the Soviet Union, the transparently bogus glasnost and perestroika were hailed as a global victory of liberal democracy and even, in a particularly asinine gasp of trimphalism, the end of history. In fact, what was under way was a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB, with organised crime claiming crumbs off that table.
That created history’s unique government, a fusion of secret police and the Mafia into a single criminal entity. And still the West refused to notice what was going on, responding instead to the lying sloganeering, along the lines of ‘traditional values’.
Lenin’s rearmament and especially Stalin’s industrialisation owed so much to Western capital and technology as to owe them practically everything. Western banks and manufacturers lovingly suckled with their short-sighted greed the evil baby of bolshevism, weaning it on its favourite sustenance of congealing red liquor.
Bolshevism might have disappeared, but the same tendency didn’t. When the crimes of the post-Soviet regime could no longer be hushed up, Western leaders still sang hosannas to Putin and his gang.
Putin, cooed Tony Blair, “deserves a seat at the table” for his “patriotism”. Once he got his feet under that piece of furniture, he’d embrace Western values and end the long history of Russia’s confrontation with the West, if not quite history tout court.
Credits and technology poured into Russia; purloined trillions flowed in the opposite direction; another monster was allowed to grow to maturity. And now Europe is ablaze.
Even where ideological bias is absent, ignorance ably works towards the same end. For example, in today’s article Jenni Russell thus describes a protagonist of Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate: “He has been an orthodox Christian, a Tolstoyan, a man who believed communist agriculture would create the kingdom of God on earth.”
Which of the three is he, Miss Russell? For this is a flagrant case of a double (triple?) oxymoron: no one can be all those three things at the same time, nor even a combination of any two. Any knowledgeable and conscientious commentator would have pointed that out, but such overachievers are in short supply wherever Russia is concerned.
The tradition of ignorance perseveres. Layers upon layers of misinformation overlay a solid base of ideological bias and wishful thinking to create a towering structure of opinion that overshadows reason and morality.
Even now Putin’s genocidal war on the Ukraine, though it has few fanatical supporters like Carlson or Hitchens, is largely portrayed as an unfortunate aberration, a deviation from an otherwise straight course chartered to Western-style goodness.
Our mainstream media refuse to acknowledge that a succession of evil regimes have moulded the Russian nation in their own image. Watching Ukrainians dying for the imperial fantasies of their KGB rulers, most Russians react with enthusiastic support barely leavened with inertia and indifference.
It’s not just the Russian government but Russia that has become a cancerous growth on the world’s body. Yet where in the mainstream media have you seen this point argued or even broached?
For that reason alone, it would be hard to look forward to 2023 with any degree of optimism. Yet there are many other reasons for pessimism as well.
After the appalling game of musical chairs at Westminster, we’ve effectively ended up with a single-party state, and the single party in question is unapologetically socialist.
The results are predictable: taxes and inflation shooting up, living standards speeding in the opposite direction as they are being overtaken by an accelerating collapse in public morality. Strikes and incompetence are paralysing the country, with every public service rapidly becoming a barely available luxury rather than a confidently expected entitlement.
And yet – and yet the Christian in me refuses to abandon hope, even as the realist struggles to see any grounds for it. So forget all those comparative adjectives and have a happy, healthy, productive New Year. Who knows, you may buck the odds, with me rooting for you every step of the way.