Notting Hill, cinematic and real

“We can’t stay here the last weekend in August”

As the founder, chairman and no longer the sole member of the Charles Martel Society for Multiculturalism, I welcome any mass celebration of any ethnic culture.

But then I don’t live in Notting Hill.

Those who have never seen the area may know it from the 1999 romantic comedy Notting Hill. That part of Central London, the kind the French call bobo (bourgeois bohemian), provided a perfect setting for Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant to play out their distinctly retro romance.

The area itself was romanticised, but not beyond recognition. Notting Hill really is like that: arty, expensive, stucco-pretty, pastel-coloured, notoriously left-wing in the Bollinger Bolshevik sort of way.

Or rather it’s like that for 363 days and 51 weekends a year. On the last weekend of August it turns into hell on earth.

That’s a fair description of the annual Notting Hill Carnival dedicated to the celebration of West Indian culture. You know, steel drums, jerk chicken, dancing, colourful costumes, reggae, that sort of thing.

Up to two million visitors fill Notting Hill to the gunwales, with the bobo residents fleeing to five-star London hotels, their country houses or abroad. Normal life in the area is suspended to accommodate the largest street party in Europe.

All members of the Charles Martel Society are duty-bound to welcome diverse cultures. But such cultures must be accepted in their entirety, the rough with the smooth.

Thus black culture in Britain is known not only for reggae and jerk chicken but also – and it pains me to have to say this – for rather eccentric behaviour. For example, the crime rate among British blacks is higher than among the whites by several orders of magnitude.

People who know such things say the problem isn’t racial but cultural, and I agree – as I would even if I weren’t the founder of the Charles Martel Society. Yet if this is indeed part of that culture (a small part! I hasten to add), one should realistically expect it to come to the fore when hundreds of thousands of rowdy revellers converge in a jampacked place.

So it does. This is how the columnist Nana Akua describes this year’s festivities: “Thugs rampaging with zombie knives. Eight stabbings. 75 police officers hurt. Open drug use. And revellers urinating in the gardens.”

Those owners of the gardens who had unwisely stayed at home could use their CCTV cameras to enjoy the view of the diversely cultured people taking turns to relieve themselves on the topiary and partake in ‘hippy crack’ and nitrous oxide. (I know this is only a palliative measure, but the celebrants should be encouraged to do heroin instead. Unlike crack, at least it’s a downer.)

Add to this people baring the intimatemost parts of their anatomy all over the place and publicly copulating in the streets (at least Julia and Hugh had the decency to do that sort of thing indoors), and the picture is almost complete.

The life of a cop assigned to the Carnival detail must be less than joyous. In addition to the 75 officers badly hurt, others were jostled, bitten and urinated on from the rooftops. The cops tried to defend themselves by making more than 300 arrests for violence, sexual offences, and possession of drugs and dangerous weapons. But they were both outnumbered and hamstrung by woke regulations.

Miss Akua is aghast, rightly so. Luckily, due to the chromatic incidental of her birth, she can be critical of that obscene orgy without risking the accusation of racism that would certainly be levelled at anyone of a less fortunate nativity.

Labour politicians in particular use any such criticism as a stick to beat Tory candidates with. As David Lammy, Shadow Foreign Secretary, explained: “London has been shaped in many ways by Black and Caribbean culture and heritage, and there is no greater celebration of this than Notting Hill Carnival.”

Actually, the Romans founded Londinium, as it then was, in 43 AD, whereas the first 1,000 Caribbean migrants arrived in the UK only 75 years ago. Believing that a city that has existed for two millennia has been shaped by a couple of generations of recent migrants would be assigning extraordinary cultural magnetism to that group.

Miss Akua disagrees with Mr Lammy, but without resorting to historical references: “Well, Mr Lammy, I personally find that insulting. Sex on the streets, urinating on doorsteps and public drug-taking are not a representation of black culture.”

That’s true. They are a representation of uncivilised behaviour, and no group is innately uncivilised or, for that matter, civilised. People are made civilised or otherwise, not born that way. In practical terms, that means that civilisationally challenged minorities need to adapt to the ambient mores of their new land.

Those who do so become indistinguishable from the majority in anything other than appearance. They may still celebrate their ancestral culture on occasion, but such celebrations would have all the authenticity of a fancy-dress party – not that there is anything wrong with such festivities.

In her thoughtful article, Miss Akua tries to find a solution to the problem. Hers is to move the Carnival to an open place, say Hyde Park, and search everyone for weapons and drugs. Add to this a few thousand Portacabins, and her proposal may work – the way aspirin may work to relieve the headache caused by brain cancer.

She proposes purely symptomatic relief that would do nothing to address the underlying problem. And the problem is that, rather than being encouraged to adapt to the customs of a superior civilisation, minority groups are actively encouraged not to do so.

In fact, the very suggestion that one, especially Western, culture may be superior to others is these days deemed not only objectionable but practically criminal. No culture is better or worse than any other – they are just different, diverse in other words. And diversity is an imperative, enforced virtue than which none is higher.

Every virtue dialectically co-exists with its opposite vice, in this case racism. That term has long since left its ertswhile dictionary definition, the belief that one’s own race is congenitally superior to all others, to become an offensive weapon aimed at anyone who observes the unassailable fact that some civilisations are more advanced than others.

This weapon is mostly wielded not by members of various minority groups, but by white liberals, our lumpen intelligentsia enjoying an influence well beyond its numbers. Those people are scattered all over the country but, in London, they tend to gravitate to areas like Notting Hill (those who can afford it, that is).

That’s why I disagree with Miss Akua on this score. I think that by all means the Carnival should continue to be held in Notting Hill. Let its denizens reap what they’ve sown.

Great timing, Your Holiness

Pope Francis has extolled Russian imperialism just as thousands of people are being killed in its name.

His remarks would have been ill-advised at any time. At this time, they are abominably offensive.

During a live video address to young Catholics in St Petersburg, the pontiff delivered a prepared anodyne speech about the virtues of peace. However, speaking from the heart, he then went off script to glorify Russia’s imperial past:

“Never forget your heritage. You are the heirs of the great Russia. The great Russia of the saints, of the kings, of the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great imperial Russia, cultivated, with so much culture and humanity… Thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian.”

The way of being Russian currently involves military aggression, mass murder, torture, looting and rape, all in the name of “that great imperial Russia”. In fact, the Pope’s speech is a carbon copy of countless orations delivered by Putin and his henchmen.

I wonder how well His Holiness knows Russian history, including the periods he mentioned specifically. Quite apart from their general beastliness, all Russian tsars, emphatically including Peter and Catherine, mercilessly persecuted Catholics.

Peter ordered that the most offensive anti-Catholic calumnies be disseminated throughout Russia. He expelled the Jesuits in 1719, issued ukases to force Catholics into Orthodoxy, prohibited the children of mixed marriages from being raised as Catholics, staged monstrous orgies mocking Catholic rites – and even murdered a priest, Theophanus Kolbieczynski, with his own hand.

Throughout the imperial period of Russia, Catholics were hit with discriminatory legislation, some Russian noblemen (such as Alexei Ladygenski and Mikhail Galitzin) were brutally executed for converting to Catholicism, Catholic priests were banned from entering various parts of Russia and so forth, ad infinitum.

This is to say that, by extolling Russian imperialism, His Holiness pushes ecumenism rather too far. He would have done better to reserve his praise for countries less inimical to the confession other Popes have tended to see as special.

Between 1772 and 1795, under Catherine, Russia took part in three partitions of Poland, the stronghold of Catholicism in Eastern Europe. That was done with characteristic brutality, especially when Gen. Suvorov (about to be canonised in the Russian Church) drowned the 1794 Kościuszko Uprising in blood.

Also during this period, in 1783, Prince Potemkin, of the villages fame, conquered the Crimea, which most Russians, thoroughly brainwashed by Putin’s propaganda, believe has always been Russian. In fact, give or take a couple of years on either end, the Crimea was Russian during exactly the same period as India was British.

As to “Russia, cultivated, with so much culture and humanity”, this is a popular misapprehension entirely based on the merited international popularity of a dozen or two Russian writers, half a dozen composers and perhaps as many painters.

However, during much of the period the Pope singled out as an exemplar of culture and cultivation, some 90 per cent of the Russians were illiterate and hence unable to appreciate the fine points of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky (both, incidentally, virulently anti-Catholic, especially the latter). And most of those who were literate spoke French at home.

The humanity part doesn’t quite tally with facts either. Between 70 and 40 per cent of the population were, not to cut too fine a legal point, slaves whose status was no higher than that of livestock. Peasants were beaten, tortured, taken advantage of sexually (Leo Tolstoy is a prime example), sold away from their families.

Serfdom was abolished in 1861, but the peasants’ lot improved only marginally. That’s why throughout its existence the Russian Empire was torn apart by non-stop uprisings, ranging from minor rebellions to full-blown wars. The deadliest of them, the Pugachev uprising during Catherine’s reign, was supressed with singular brutality by the same busy saint-to-be Suvorov.

During the 19th century, “the great imperial Russia” acquired the richly deserved soubriquets of ‘the gendarme of Europe’ and ‘the prison of nations’. These, one suspects, weren’t references to her culture, cultivation and humanity.

However, even assuming that the Russian Empire was every bit as wonderful as the Pope seems to think, extolling it at this time would be a horrendous misdeed falling in the range between grossly insensitive and downright criminal.

That’s how the Ukrainians took it, along with all those who support their cause (which is to say all decent people). Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church in Ukraine, said the Pope’s remarks “refer to the worst example of Russian imperialism and extreme nationalism… We fear that those words are understood by some as an encouragement of precisely this nationalism and imperialism which is the real cause of the war in Ukraine.”

This is exactly how Putin’s gang understood them. Referring to Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov gloated: “The fact that the pontiff, let’s say, sounds in unison with these efforts is very, very gratifying.” Anything that’s gratifying to that lot ought to be horrifying to everyone else.

The Vatican has issued some hasty disclaimers that disclaimed nothing. Thus the papal nuncio in Kiev insisted that Pope Francis is an “opponent and critic of any form of imperialism or colonialism”.

True, the Pope isn’t averse to making general bien pensant noises to that effect. But when it comes specifically to the on-going war, he invariably repeats, often verbatim, the Kremlin line. The war, says the pontiff, was provoked by NATO’s eastward expansion, poetically described by His Holiness as “the barking of NATO at the door of Russia”.

I shan’t repeat what I have said about this many times before (for example, in my piece of 30 August, 2022). Suffice it to say now that His Holiness is in default of his mission of providing moral guidance to Catholics and other Christians.

For a start, he could benefit from a crash course in Russian history. Once he has “read, marked, learned and inwardly digested” that material, he ought to interpret it in the light of Christian doctrine – and I can’t possibly suggest that perhaps he needs a crash course in that as well.  

Kiss your career good-bye, muchacho

Never since that little incident at Gethsemane has a kiss caused such an upheaval.

Riotous demonstrations, ringing protests, passions running wild, even the odd hunger strike – Spain is aflame. It’s all for a worthy cause: the kiss Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation, planted on the lips of Jenni Hermoso, one of the players who had just won the women’s World Cup.

Once the final whistle sounded, señor Rubiales was so overcome with triumphant emotion that he rushed to the players, and Hermoso was the first one he reached.

The two embraced passionately, and Hermoso proved that her weight training hadn’t gone to waste by lifting Rubiales off the ground in her muscular and heavily tattooed arms. But then, instead of decorously kissing the player on the cheek, Rubiales went straight to her lips. Caramba!

Now, Rubiales is obviously a hotblooded Spanish man who expresses joy both genuinely and genitally. For example, it has been pointed out that immediately before that incident he had grabbed his crotch in the royal box, sitting alongside Queen Letizia and her 16-year-old daughter Infanta Sofia.

However, outrageous as that gesture might have been, at least he grabbed his own crotch, not that of Queen Letizia or Infanta Sofia. But the lips he so brazenly kissed belonged not to him but to Jenni Hermoso and, according to modern sensibilities, that act constituted sexual assault – at least. Let me tell you, Rubiales won’t forget that osculation in a hurry.

Madrid yesterday

By way of a historical aside, as the march of victorious modernity gathered pace in the second half of the 19th century, the Catholic Church in Spain was doing its best to block it at the country’s borders.

Various governments went along with that reaction, which produced a number of revolutions evenly spaced every few years on the time scale.

The Church suffered heavy casualties, with many priests, monks and nuns killed, and many religious buildings destroyed. The Civil War that broke out in 1936 was the bloodiest and best known of such outbursts, but far from the only one.

The side that preferred to kill communists rather than Catholics won that war, and Spain managed to keep progress at bay for another 40 years or so. But once Franco died in 1975, progress broke banks and flooded Spain. Still, there was a lot of ground to cover and a lot of time to make up.

Hence Spain hasn’t often advanced in step with the aforementioned march. At times, she lagged behind the progressive throng, at other times she outpaced it.

For example, in 2008 the Spanish parliament passed a resolution granting human rights to apes. The apes currently residing in Spain thenceforth have enjoyed the legal rights to life, liberty, freedom from torture — and presumably to the pursuit of bananas.

But some other manifestations of progress were slower in coming. The MeToo movement, for example, waited for a widely publicised precedent to come out in force. Meanwhile, it was rather sluggish, with Spanish men stubbornly reminding the world that the word ‘macho’ is of Spanish origin.

Anyway, how do you say MeToo in Spanish? Do you leave it in English or translate it as something like YoTambién? The time to decide is now, for that frisky reprobate Rubiales got the ball rolling.

Hermoso, picking up the lingo as she went along, said the kiss wasn’t consensual and she felt “vulnerable and the victim of an aggression”. The term ‘sexual assault’ began to scream in large bold type off the front pages of newspapers.

Though Rubiales has so far refused to heed the thunderous demands that he quit, he has been suspended by FIFA, which probably makes his position untenable. And the sack isn’t the worst trouble he is facing.

Spain’s top criminal court has opened a preliminary investigation to establish which rubric Rubiales’s transgression fell under. Sexual assault? Rape? Attempted murder? Hell hath no fury like a woman kissed without prior and duly notarised written consent.

The regional presidents of the Spanish FA joined the battle by issuing a statement saying: “We will urge the corresponding bodies to carry out a deep and imminent organic restructuring in strategic positions of the Federation to give way to a new stage of management in Spanish football.”

However, Rubiales still hasn’t run out of fight, and neither has his family. One of his cousins said that, though Rubiales “made a mistake”, he “has a good heart”. This is what defence attorneys usually say in their appeal to the jury at a murder trial.

And Rubiales’s aged mother has locked herself in the local church and started an “indefinite, day and night” hunger strike, to continue until “justice is served”. I do hope she doesn’t suffer the fate of Bobby Sands, the IRA terrorist who in 1981 starved himself to death in prison.

That death also has a football connection, invoked as it is whenever Glasgow Rangers (a Protestant team) play Glasgow Celtics (Catholic). The Rangers fans like to sing, to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain: “Would you like a chicken supper, Bobby Sands? Would you like a chicken supper, Bobby Sands? Would you like a chicken supper, you filthy Fenian fucker, would you like a chicken supper, Bobby Sands?”

I wonder if a similar vocal masterpiece will be created by Spanish feminists and, if so, which tune they’d use. La Cucaracha? Meanwhile they are out in force, marching through the streets of Madrid and bringing the city to a standstill.

As a participant in one such demonstration, I can assure you Madrid won’t come back to normal soon. When the Spanish get going, there is no stopping them.

(In case you are wondering, Penelope and I had a rather liquid lunch in the Salamanca area of Madrid. When we came out, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge crowd marching, waving flags and shouting. Having made inquiries, we found out the occasion was the recent release of several ETA terrorists from prison. Hence I felt duty-bound to join in and shout things like “No más concesiones a ETA! Viva España!” However, my fellow demonstrators began to look at us askance, suspecting a touch of mockery in my badly accented enthusiasm. Penelope dragged me away in the nick of time.)

This whole commotion will definitely rate a longish footnote in the book yet to be written, with the provisional title of A Chronicle of a World Gone Mad.

In case my longish digressions have distracted you from the main point, the whole county is up in arms over a kiss. Verily I say unto you, when it comes to wounded modern sensibilities a kiss isn’t just a kiss. It’s a declaration of war, and one has to expect the shooting to start at any moment.

“Where it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”

Lucius Cary

Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, was only 33 when he was killed in 1643, fighting for the royal side at Newbury.

Yet he had already accumulated enough wisdom to come up with the thought in the title, one that encapsulates a key aspect of conservatism. The allusion isn’t so much to any particular philosophy or, God forbid, ideology, but to a temperamental predisposition.

A man predisposed to conservatism isn’t only prudent himself, but also holds prudence as one of the highest virtues in life both public and private. Burke, for example, singled out the imprudence of the French Revolution as its catastrophic failing.

Prudence precludes radicalism, whatever its political hue. Radicalism is a property springing from emotional impetuosity, which is why it mostly afflicts young people or those who never grow up and remain infantile even in their dotage.

Predisposition to conservatism tends to manifest itself not only in political convictions but in just about everything. For example, I can’t imagine a conservative sporting a ring in his nose or an ACAB tattoo on his knuckles (if you don’t know what it stands for, I congratulate you: you’ve remained unsullied by the sordid side of life).

Yet predisposition alone does not a conservative make. That’s like the difference between musicality and musicianship: the former is innate, the latter is also a result of a sustained effort and training.

Translating one’s instincts into satisfactory answers to what Dostoyevsky called “the accursed questions of life” is no easy task. That explains why conservatives are – and always have been – greatly outnumbered by radicals (right or left), liberals, socialists of every colour and some such.

Unlike conservatism, none of such views of life requires any effort to develop. Neither a socialist nor a right-wing radical will torment himself trying to work out a proper relationship between the sacral and secular realms. Nor would he wonder how a passionate commitment to something (such as equal education for the whole population or elimination of foreign aid) above all else would affect all else.

Conservatism is neither a philosophy nor a political system, but it is likely to propel a man towards a certain set of ideas about life in general and political life in particular. It can’t be otherwise, for a conservative puts reason before emotion as a cognitive tool and call to action.

If a radical responds to life by dipping into a box of emotionally charged platitudes, a conservative has to think things through before deciding what, if anything, needs to change. That creates a habit of intellectual reflection, gradually deepening and widening a conservative’s mind.

His nemeses, on the other hand, have little need for reflection. Everything is as clear to them as the sum of two plus two. The readymade solution is already there. Just add emotion and stir.

That’s why conservatives tend to be more intelligent than any kind of radicals. A conservative nature demands and encourages a steady development of mental acuity. That doesn’t mean any conservative will be an accomplished intellectual, only that such an ambition naturally flows out of his temperament.

Radicalism or any other antipode of conservatism, on the other hand, thrives on intellectual and moral paucity. That doesn’t mean that any socialist will be a fool, only that intelligence is a hindrance for him – as much as stupidity is for a conservative.

Morality is also an aspect of conservatism, and much of it is closely linked to intelligence. Morality always derives from reason, but not always from man’s reason alone.

The link between reason and morality was established in the book conservatives tend to respect more than their antipodes do: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

Serpentine wisdom thus goes hand in hand with dove-like morality (to use a modern word shunned in that book), and that signposts both the intellectual and moral holdings of conservatism. This irrespective of an individual conservative’s faith or lack thereof.

A Western conservative is bound to ask himself what it is that he wishes to conserve. Sooner or later he’ll arrive at the only possible answer: Western civilisation. That answer may not lead him to Christianity, even though this is the foundation on which our civilisation is built. But it would certainly keep him away from fire-eating atheism.

A conservative untouched by the hand bearing the gift of faith may remain an agnostic, someone who treats God with respect even if unsure He exists. But he’ll never become an atheist, someone who aggressively insists that there is no God.

That’s impossible for any number of reasons. First, an atheist performs mental sabotage by blowing up the aforementioned foundation, letting the edifice of Western civilisation totter and collapse in his mind. Also, an atheist expresses a radical view universally espoused by every impassioned enemy within Western civilisation.

A conservative will always remember he is a sheep in the midst of wolves, and he’ll never agree to join their ranks. His intuition if nothing else won’t let him.

Prudence, restraint, intelligence, courage, moral fortitude – such are the qualities every conservative needs to foster in order to survive in a world getting more lupine by the minute. When surrounded by hostility, it’s in human nature to seek allies, the company of one’s own kind (that explains, though not always excuses, the clannishness of minority groups).

It’s also in human nature to shun enemies and everything they stand for. A conservative has a sensitive nose enabling him to smell evil from any distance. The moment a whiff of it touches a conservative’s nostrils, he’ll know it for what it is.

Such sensitivity is partly congenital but mostly acquired over a lifetime of emotional and intellectual self-training. The same education teaches a conservative to detect evil behind the camouflage of seemingly virtuous phraseology.

That ability is a litmus test of conservatism: every conservative trait of mind and soul comes into play to pass it. Conversely, no hapless individual who fails that test can possibly be a conservative.

That’s why, for example, I can’t regard any Putinversteher as a fellow conservative, even if he holds sound views on everything else. Such a man has to be intuitively predisposed to fascistic right-wing radicalism hiding behind a rather thin veneer of conservative slogans.

Putin, with his recruitment skills honed at the KGB, delivered a full compendium of such slogans designed to seduce Western radicals: Christianity, no homosexual or transsexual ‘rights’, a strong hand on the tiller of free enterprise, you name it.

Many Westerners who wrongly believed themselves to be conservative responded to the mantras with emotional, knee-jerk alacrity. That was mellifluous music to their ears, and no Western leader they knew played the same tune.

I remember talking to a conservative Christian woman about Putin’s Russia some ten years ago, listing all the crimes Putin had already committed and those he was bound to commit in the future. Her reply to every item on that list, and there were many, was the same: “But he is against homosexual marriage.”

Eventually, after 2014, she passed the aforementioned litmus test of conservatism, by realising that scowling evil was lurking behind the mask of conservative-sounding shibboleths. Yet many others have failed, and continue failing even after 2022, emphasising yet again the difference between conservatism and its grotesque radical caricatures.

Alas, the Carys and Burkes of yesteryear are gone. Conservatism, though always in retreat, has been routed, at least as a factor in the dynamics of public life. I doubt the few remaining conservatives are in any position to save other people’s souls and especially minds.

But they can still insist on saving their own, and I’ll leave you on this solipsistic note.  

The game of Russian whispers

Pyotr Aven is on the left

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine found himself at a New York dinner party sitting next to Pyotr Aven, one of the men inaccurately called ‘Russian oligarchs’.

Mr Aven is under sanctions and criminal investigations in both Britain and the EU, and just a few days later he was also sanctioned by the US government.

An oligarch [olig– ‘few’) +‎ –arch (‘ruler’)] isn’t always, and never merely, a very rich man. Above all, he is a member of a small clique wielding political power. Such a group may have existed in Russia in the ‘90s, when billionaires like Berezovsky and Abramovich could deliver (or veto) appointments to Yeltsyn’s government.

By now Russian billionaires have vested all political power into the person of one man, Putin, and possibly a shadowy KGB cabal hiding behind him. Some of the erstwhile oligarchs are allowed to hold on to their billions, but theirs is only a leasehold.

In the good Russian tradition going back to the tsars, the ruler treats the whole country and everything in it as his patrimonial estate. The wealth of the wealthy is strictly contingent on their proximity to the throne. Only if they are in the ruler’s good books will they be allowed to use their capital as they see fit – provided they loosen their purse strings without demur whenever the great leader needs some quick liquidity.

The closer they are to the ruler, the richer they’ll be. That’s why whenever you see an extremely rich Russian, you can be assured he is close to Putin, part of his inner circle. And Aven is one of the closest and hence one of the richest.

One stays close to Putin by toeing the line, supporting every action and tacitly, or not so tacitly, conveying the great leader’s thoughts to the world. Mr Aven too is willing to act as dummy to Putin’s ventriloquist, which is why my friend was hanging on to every word. Aven was moving his lips, but it was Putin talking.

At the beginning, Aven (Putin) said, Putin simply loved the West. His dearest dream was for Russia to be integrated into it, perhaps even becoming a NATO member. All the West had to do was meet him halfway.

How? Simple. By making Russia the recipient of another Marshall Plan. The West, or specifically America, should have helped Russia out to the tune of some trifling amount, a trillion dollars or two – and Boris is your uncle, Gorby is your aunt. Russia would have become the West’s best friend and a paragon of peace, democracy and general goodness.

And what did the West do? A square root of sod-all. America was happy to help Soviet satellites, the Polands of this world, but not Russia. So what was Putin, chopped liver? A poor relation?

Naturally, he was mortally offended. You don’t want to scratch my back, he thought, I’ll bomb yours. It was then that he became an implacable enemy of the West, and it was then that he decided to rape any former part of the Soviet empire that sought genuine rapprochement with the West.

In other words, a mere pittance offered with alacrity could have bought Russia’s virtue for ever, and it would have prevented the current bloodshed Putin wholeheartedly regrets.

My friend recounted that conversation without comment, but I made a mental note that what he had heard was the current Kremlin line. Unsaid but probably implied was a hint that perhaps it wasn’t too late even now. A few trillion here or there, and Putin would be ready to talk peace.

It was possible, however, that Aven was speaking strictly for himself. The idea that it was – perhaps still is – possible to buy Russia’s good behaviour might have been his own, not Putin’s.

Hence I refrained from commenting on that conversation until I got a confirmation. If that indeed was the Kremlin line, Aven couldn’t be the only communication channel. The message had to be refracted through reliable Western prisms, and few are more reliable than our own dear Peter Hitchens.

I’ve pointed out a thousand times if I’ve done it once that everything Hitchens says on this subject faithfully echoes the current Kremlin position. This could be an osmotic connection, ESP or something more prosaic and less commendable. One way or another, if you want to know what Putin thinks, read Hitchens. You can’t go wrong.

He didn’t disappoint. Hitchens’s article today is a faithful reproduction of Aven’s – actually Putin’s – pronouncements.      

We must “stop being swayed by crude emotion, especially in matters of politics… It suited us all (me included) to believe that the Cold War was a simple conflict between good and evil. And so we rejoiced when Moscow’s Evil Empire fell.”

The implication is that the Cold War wasn’t a conflict between good and evil, and those who felt that way were driven by crude emotion.

Now, I’d suggest there is nothing crude or especially emotional about opposing a regime that has murdered some 60 million of its own subjects and systematically threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. That sort of thing strikes me as unequivocally evil, but Hitchens’s thinking is evidently more nuanced.

Then comes the Putin-Aven line: “Look at Poland, ruined by Communism in 1989, then wisely rescued, subsidised and helped, so that it is now a wealthy, reasonably free and democratic country. Why could we not have achieved the same in Russia? It would have been a bigger job but it would still have cost us far less than the current mess is costing us and will cost us.”

Alas, that dastardly West wanted to keep Russia on her knees: “Was it perhaps because certain people in the West still felt bitterly towards Russia and wanted that country to remain weak and poor? It is a possible explanation.”

It’s not. The West pumped billions, nay trillions, into Russia, as both capital investment and payment for Russia’s natural resources. For, unlike Poland, Russia had things to sell. And there was no shortage of Western buyers.

I’d suggest this was a better way of helping a country prosper than delivering uncountable handouts would have been. The late economist Lord Bauer defined foreign aid epigrammatically as “a transfer of capital from the poor people in rich countries to the rich people in poor countries.”

That’s exactly what happened to the money rushing into post-Communist Russia in a mighty stream. Somewhere between one and two trillion dollars of it (estimates differ) were recycled back into the West to finance the palaces and yachts of assorted gangsters, from Berezovsky and Abramovich to Aven, Deripaska and ultimately Putin.

They lived the life of Riley a millions times over while much of the country starved. That’s what would have happened to any funds transferred to Russia, either as investments or payments or alms.  

And look what we have instead, continues Putin-Aven-Hitchens with a touch of fulsome emotion: “There are now credible suggestions that 70,000 Ukrainian young men, sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, have been killed in the war in that country, which I believe was totally avoidable… Still more have been wounded, maimed and disfigured.”

Alas, “Any attempt to discuss bringing this war to an end with a lasting compromise is dismissed as little short of treason.”

This is a cri de coeur, a not-so-subtle reference to those who correctly identify Hitchens as a Kremlin stooge. And the lasting compromise Hitchens-Putin-Aven envisage is the Ukraine’s surrender to the klepto-Nazi country Hitchens has been describing for over 20 years as “the most conservative and Christian in Europe”.

A few trillion dollars later Putin would thaw and graciously agree to become our friend again. Happiness all around, hats are being tossed up in the air to the accompaniment of regimental bands playing ‘God save Putin’.

I’m not going to say what I think of this vision – you can infer that easily enough. I’m just satisfied that Aven’s dinnertime chat was indeed the current Kremlin line. It has now been confirmed.   

Napoleon, Hitler, Putin, Kim and Trump

Vlad-Adolf ‘Kim’ Bonaparte

In his article about Napoleon, the historian Dominic Sandbrook puts his subject into a historical frame of reference. The easiest way of doing so is to compare him with historical figures he is supposed to resemble. Thus:

“There’s never been a historical figure like Napoleon. He’d have hit it off with Putin, was as tyrannical as Hitler and his egomania would have made Kim Jong Un proud…”

And again: “He would, in other words, have got on well with Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump.”

Now, I’ve commented on Sandbrook’s outpourings on several occasions, and you can dredge up those pieces by typing his name into the Search function on my blog. While the topics were different, the conclusion was the same: Sandbrook is the most typical of today’s pop historians.

He combines poor intellectual content with woeful ignorance and lack of scholarly integrity. Sandbrook is essentially a trendy leftie shining the light of his inane politics on history to pick out only what he wants to see. Sandbrook’s commitment to truth is negligible; his commitment to leftie platitudes is absolute.

Yesterday’s article is a case in point. Having acknowledged that Napoleon “was one of the most compelling individuals in all world history”, Sandbrook explains what it was that made him so: “Perhaps the most remarkable thing about him is that he wasn’t actually French at all.”

He then treats his gasping readers to the discovery that Napoleon was actually Corsican. Crikey. Learn something every day. So that was the most remarkable thing about Napoleon? That he was from Corsica? Trust our historians to offer deep insights and startling erudition.

But let’s get back to those chaps whom, according to Sandbrook, Napoleon most resembles. So fine, he sees Napoleon as a tyrant bent on expansionist conquest. That must be the point of putative similarity with Hitler and Putin. But what on earth is Trump doing in that company, other than being disliked by Sandbrook?

Trump is certainly not bent on building a boundless empire. If anything, he is an isolationist, not an imperialist. He may be bossy, but he operates within a system that discourages tyranny, certainly that of a single man. All things considered, mentioning him in the same breath as Hitler, Putin and, come to that, Napoleon is worse than idiotic. It’s irresponsible.

“Yet [Napoleon’s] life overflowed with contradictions,” continues Sandbrook. “A fervent supporter of the French Revolution, he betrayed its ideals by seizing absolute power.”

Considering how many nasty, tyrannical regimes spun out of the French Revolution, one wonders which of its ideals Napoleon betrayed. He certainly never guillotined hundreds of thousands of his political opponents. Neither did he commit what Prof. Rummel called ‘democide’, murder by category. He did fire grapeshot indiscriminately on crowds of Parisians, but that was a royalist uprising against “the ideals of the French Revolution” that Napoleon was upholding, not betraying.

Sandbrook loves the leftie notion of the Enlightenment and the Revolution as much as he hates Donald Trump. Hence another display of vacuous, platitudinous irresponsibility. What else?

“A keen advocate of the Enlightenment, he had an insatiable greed for jewels and money.” Am I the only one to smell a non sequitur here? I’m not aware of asceticism being one of the proclaimed virtues of the Enlightenment. Is Sandbrook perchance confusing it with mendicant monasticism? If not, one can combine advocacy of the Enlightenment with love of lucre. In fact, the two go together hand in glove.

Then we get to the meat of the argument: “He burned with zeal for France but left his country poorer, weaker and scarred by war. And for all his talk of liberty, fraternity and equality, his legacy across Europe was fire and slaughter on a colossal scale, with millions of lives sacrificed to satisfy his vanity.”

The implication is that Napoleon initiated all those wars to stroke his ego and promote his expansionist ambitions. Such indeed is the common perception, but it doesn’t tally with facts. All the Napoleonic wars were either declared on France by enemies of the French Revolution or, like the 1812 war with Russia, provoked by them.

All in all, European countries formed six anti-French coalitions, the first one in 1792, when Napoleon was a lowly captain trying to survive on miserly pay. All six coalitions were inspired and to a large extent financed by Britain, and Napoleon had nothing to do with that.

It’s just that Britain, along with much of the rest of Europe, gasped in horror observing the French Revolution, whose ideals are so beloved of Sandbrook. It wasn’t just moral support and finance, for Britain also waged a seven-year Peninsular War, in which Wellington thrashed Napoleon’s marshals before finishing off the great man himself at Waterloo.

And of course two resounding victories by Nelson, first in the Battle on the Nile and then at Trafalgar, curtailed whatever plans Napoleon might have hatched for striking at the core of the coalitions by invading the British Isles.

For sure, Britain pursued cold-blooded strategic self-interest. The country’s foreign policy was always focused on preventing the emergence of a dominant continental superpower, and France had traditionally tried to cast herself in that role.

Yet the best British thinkers also perceived, correctly, that the French Revolution posed a deadly threat to Western civilisation as it had developed over three millennia. Radical, atheistic republicanism was the enemy of everything Britain held dear, an attitude Burke expressed so powerfully in his Reflections.

That book came out in 1789, before the Revolution belched out by the Enlightenment committed its worst excesses, including regicide. But it wasn’t just Britain – all European states sensed that the Revolution was adumbrating perverse modernity, something they wished to nip in the bud.

Napoleon, on the other hand, using (or, in my view, misusing) his genius for both war and civilian administration, paved the way for the advent of post-Enlightenment modernity. Following a post-Waterloo interlude of a couple of ineffectual Bourbons, Bonaparte’s nephew, Napoleon III, ushered in a modern republic underpinned by the Napoleonic Code.

In short, rather than betraying the Enlightenment, as Sandbrook believes, Napoleon made it triumphant in the long term – much to the detriment of our civilisation. But young Dominic isn’t out of platitudes yet. It’s Russia’s turn.

Both Paul I and his son Alexander I sent troops across the continent to take on French armies from 1798 onwards. France managed to hold her own. When her armies eventually got to be led by Napoleon, the Russians and their allies were routed in every battle, most decisively at Austerlitz in 1805.

Once again, it wasn’t Napoleon attacking Russia and her allies, but the other way around. Eventually, after Napoleon defeated the allies yet again at Friedland in 1807, Alexander was forced to sign the Treaty of Tilsit, whose terms he had no intention of keeping.

The tsar was openly boasting to his courtiers and foreign ambassadors that Tilsit was merely a breather. Russia had gained valuable time to regroup, rebuild her army and strike again.

Alexander was as good as his word. By mid-1812, the Russians amassed a huge army on the border of the Duchy of Warsaw (Poland) that by then had become part of Napoleon’s empire. Bonaparte either had to wait for that juggernaut to roll or launch a pre-emptive strike. The second option was better.

He had no desire to conquer Russia or to march on Moscow. All Napoleon wanted was to win a decisive battle not far from the Polish border (by then the Russian army was led by Kutuzov, the beaten commander at Austerlitz), enforce the terms of Tilsit, neutralise Russia and then take on his real enemy, Britain.

The only reason Napoleon advanced deep into the Russian territory was that Kutuzov wouldn’t engage him, choosing instead to flee chaotically in the direction of Moscow. As the Russian troops retreated, they used a scorched earth stratagem by burning their own towns and villages – often together with their own wounded left behind.

Some 10,000 died that horrific death in Smolensk, another 25,000-30,000 in Moscow, set on fire by the Russians after Napoleon beat Kutuzov yet again at Borodino and advanced on Russia’s second capital. He expected that Alexander would sue for peace, but, after that didn’t happen, Napoleon had to lead his army back to France, leaving the cinders of Moscow behind.    

This is how Sandbrook describes that campaign: “Of about 615,000 men who had marched on Moscow with their Emperor, just 110,000 were still alive when they returned to France, traumatised, emaciated and frost-bitten.”

The 615,000 number is a mendacious product of Russia’s propaganda dating back to the 19th century. It was important to overestimate the strength of Napoleon’s troops by way of explaining the cowardly flight of the Russian army and its subsequent defeats in every battle.

In fact, a 150,000-strong corps was left behind in Prussia, and Napoleon crossed the Nieman with some 450,000 men. By the time he reached Borodino, his troops numbered only 130,000. Others had been lost to hunger and disease, or else left behind to garrison the captured cities.

Yet Russian, Soviet and again Russian propagandists have bandied about the false number of 600,000 ever since, and some ignorant Western historians have followed suit. Had Sandbrook done elementary research, he’d come across as someone who knows what he is writing about.

As it is, he comes across as an ideologised, not especially bright ignoramus. A typical modern lumpen intellectual, in other words.   

When law turns to ordure

Never mind the law, feel the warmth

I caught but a glimpse of yesterday’s Republican debates in Milwaukee, but it was a scary glimpse.

The eight candidates were asked whether they’d still support Donald Trump if he were convicted of subverting the Constitution.

Seven out of eight right hands shot up, and one, Vivek Ramaswamy’s, stayed in that position long after the others went down.

Let me see if I get this right. Those magnificent seven, one of whom may well end up swearing tautologically to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”, in fact despise it.

Hypothetically, they see nothing wrong with a convicted felon running the country. And not just any old felon, but one specifically guilty of stomping the Constitution into the dirt.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying Trump is guilty of the charges against him. Neither am I saying he is innocent. For my purposes today, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Either possibility is equally bad; both represent a triumph of politics over the law.

It’s to prevent such a Pyrrhic victory that England and, following her lead, America produced constitutions whose lynchpin is independent judiciary. The rule of law thus becomes absolute: it’s immune to political pressures or passions.

Such is the theory – in the past also the practice – of Western constitutional polity. When the practice gets divorced from the theory, the constitution becomes for all practical purposes null and void.

If Trump is indeed found – and is – guilty, continuing to support him as a presidential candidate will betoken utter contempt for the law. Political expediency will rule.

Yet even if Trump is found – and is – not guilty, the law will still have suffered a shattering blow. That would probably mean that the charges were spurious, brought by the governing political party for purely political reasons. The exculpatory verdict would be good news for Trump, but the trial would be rotten news for the rule of law.

By declaring their support for Trump whatever the outcome, the seven Republican candidates showed they knew all that and didn’t care. Since Trump is still the likeliest Republican nominee, they didn’t want to jeopardise their careers by putting the law above politics. After all, any one of them could end up as Trump’s running mate – and tomorrow the world.

Unlike the former president of the United States, the former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has already been tried on similar charges on two separate occasions and found guilty.

Sarkozy’s first conviction in 2021 earned him a sentence of three years, two of them suspended and one in prison. His appeal is still pending, but meanwhile he was convicted at a second trial, receiving a sentence of one year under home confinement.

One would think a former president convicted of breaking the constitutional law of the land would be dead and buried as a factor in the country’s politics. That’s how it would be if France were indeed ruled by law rather than by political vicissitudes.

But in fact Sarkozy retains much of his influence on France’s Republican (Gaullist) Party. Specifically, he tries to persuade it that his old friend Vlad Putin is France’s friend as well. Hence France should stop supporting the “belligerent” Ukraine and force her to cede some of her territory.

As he writes in his recently released memoirs, “Ukraine must pledge to remain neutral… Nato could at the same time affirm its willingness to respect and take into account Russia’s historic fear of being encircled by unfriendly neighbours.”

This is the idiom used by every Putinversteher and indeed by Putin himself. It doesn’t matter to any of them whether or not such fears are founded. They exist, and because they do we shouldn’t try to contain Russia’s imperial ambitions.

Interestingly, this view is shared by the victor in yesterday’s debate, Vivek Ramaswamy, who proved his ability to keep his right hand up longer than his rivals. Trump’s own position on this issue isn’t a million miles away either – but this isn’t my subject today.

My theme today is the diminishing respect for the law throughout the West, with the US and France as only two illustrations of a dominant trend. Neither domestic nor international law is untouched by palpable contempt; both are held hostage to politics.

Thus the leaders, past, present and possibly future, of what used to be the free world don’t see anything unacceptable in Russia’s flagrant violation of international law – just as they are ready to dismiss violations of domestic law as irrelevant.

They thereby show their ignorance of what it was that made the West synonymous with the free world. That world wasn’t free because it practised some form of democracy, as is widely believed. No method of governance is a guarantor of freedom, as any commentator on today’s cancel culture will acknowledge.

People are equally capable of voting for a Churchill or for a Hitler, with democracy served in either case. Yet in one of the outcomes, under some conditions perhaps even in both, freedom would be abused if the law suffers even the slightest attrition.

Only the supremacy of just law over politics guarantees freedom and social tranquillity. This immutable observation applies both domestically and internationally.

Allowing politics to rule the roost at the expense of the law is a recipe for civil war at home and even world war abroad. Whatever our political tastes and passions, we should subjugate them to our unwavering respect for justice.

This understanding used to be shared universally, certainly within the political class of the West. As the Republican candidates showed yesterday, it no longer is, certainly not to the same extent.

The situation is fraught. If politics trumps justice, a country can find itself at the mercy of any charismatic demagogue good at rabble-rousing. That would test the sturdiness of the braces holding the country together, and they may not hold.

Hobbesian war of all against all may well follow, and no country in the world is immune to such a disaster. I do hope our leaders will sort out their priorities and arrange them in the right descending order.

How to predict an air crash

“I told you so” aren’t my favourite four words in the English language. Yet, on hearing the news that Yevgeny Prigozhin died in an air crash, I couldn’t resist uttering them.

Almost exactly two months ago, immediately after Prigozhin called off his march on Moscow, I published a piece titled Dead Man Walking.

I didn’t know how Putin would kill him, but I knew he would. Now that little prophesy came true, I still can’t claim being a seer.

That prediction didn’t take any supernatural powers. All it took was some knowledge of Russia and some understanding of human nature. Still, I can’t help feeling smug. This is what I wrote on 27 June:

No matter how high the premiums, no insurance company would agree to sell a life policy to Yevgeny Prigozhin. The risk would be unacceptable.

Now those Wagnerian Valkyries stopped their march within swearing distance of Moscow, Prigozhin’s life isn’t worth that proverbial brass farthing. The same goes for all his officers and men.

The whole scenario seems to vindicate Hegel’s saying, later repeated by Marx, that “history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce”. In that spirit, Wagner’s exploits quickly turned from opera to operetta.

Start with Prigozhin’s putative reason for turning around: I have moved within 100 km of Moscow, he said, without spilling any Russian blood. If I go any farther, that precious blood will be spilled, and that’s unacceptable.

First, Wagnerians shot down eight Russian aircraft, killing at least 15 flyers, possibly more. By Russian standards that may not count as spilled blood – I believe they start counting only at five digits, possibly not even then. Still, the claim of “no Russian blood” was farcical — especially coming from a man who had had his own stragglers publicly killed with a sledgehammer.

Most military experts agree that Prigozhin could have taken Moscow had he not stopped. The capital was denuded: the battle-worthy units in its garrison had been shipped to the Ukrainian front.

What was left was the so-called National Guard and security forces, armed only to disperse peaceful demonstrations. They still greatly outnumbered Wagner’s vanguard of some 5,000 advancing on Moscow, but one Wagner cutthroat is worth 10 such truncheon-wielders.

I was especially moved watching videos of the defensive measures taken by Putin’s men as the Wagner column advanced on the main highway linking Russia’s south with Moscow. Putin’s men brought in excavators, tore up the tarmac in several places and dug trenches across the roadway.

That wouldn’t have slowed down Prigozhin’s armour for no longer than an hour or two, but I confidently predict it’ll take the Russians many years to repair the highway. When it comes to such infrastructure projects, they move even more slowly than their British counterparts, which is saying a lot.

For all that, Prigozhin’s only hope was that the Russian army would switch sides and, buoyed by enthusiastic popular support, install Prigozhin in the Kremlin. Yet no such mass desertions took place, and the popular support was rather low-key. To be fair, one didn’t see any crowds waving Putin’s portraits either.

Even assuming that Prigozhin could have ridden his white steed into the Kremlin, he wouldn’t have lasted there. “Losing Moscow doesn’t mean losing Russia,” as Field Marshal Kutuzov said in 1812. He then let Napoleon take the ancient capital, whatever was left of it after Kutuzov and Governor General Rostopchin had burned Moscow to cinders (along with some 26,000 Russian wounded no one had bothered to evacuate).

I’m not suggesting Putin would have done a Rostopchin, but Prigozhin had no military, political or administrative resources to turn his putsch into a successful revolution. That meant the mutiny, if that’s what it was, was doomed. And so now is Prigozhin, along with his whole Wagner group. (I’ll mention another possibility later.)

The conclusion to the march was farcical. Putin, who just a few hours earlier had been describing Prigozhin’s foray as treason, promised to dismiss all charges and allow the Wagner men to return to their “positions of prior deployment”. The deal was mediated by Lukashenko, who generously offered Prigozhin asylum.

First, who on earth is Lukashenko? He is the figurehead leader of a country occupied by Russian troops. Thus he has no more say in such matters than, say, Pierre Laval had in the politics of Nazi-occupied France.

And, considering that Belarus is indeed controlled by Putin’s army and FSB, how safe do you suppose Prigozhin feels there? One word from the Kremlin, and there comes a cup of polonium tea or a spray of novichok aftershave.

Those who may think that Putin will abide by his promise of safe passage misread Russia and her politics woefully. Russia has no state and hence no politics in any accepted sense of the word. The country is run by a gangster family, along the lines explored in The Godfather.

Remember the attempt to assassinate Vito Corleone? The Godfather then went on to prove the old adage that if you merely wound the king, beware. If you don’t kill him, he’ll kill you. As Vito was recovering from his wounds, his enemies, the whole Tattaglia family, were wiped out, along with Corleone’s turncoats.

A mafia boss can neither forgive nor forget. If he does, he shows weakness, loses face. And losing face will inexorably lead to losing his life – such is the law of the criminal underworld.

Sure enough, yesterday Putin finally graced the TV audience with his appearance. Talking to the officers of his enforcement forces, he said that, despite reports to the contrary, the criminal case against the mutiny leaders hadn’t been dropped. The rank and file, he added, can either sign contracts with the Russian army or – listen carefully – join Prigozhin in Belarus.

In any case, the Wagner group seems to have been disbanded. All its officers are under a mafia death sentence and, logically, so is Prigozhin, even though Putin didn’t mention him by name. If any of them or their men choose to join Prigozhin in Belarus, that only means they’ll be killed there rather than elsewhere.

Those deciding to enlist in the Russian army will also be killed, in the Ukraine. There is no doubt they’ll be used as readily dispensable cannon fodder sent on suicide missions.

Such is the scenario lying on the surface. Yet there exists another one, more macabre if less likely.

At first, when Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus was announced, everyone was led to believe he’d be there by himself, a general without an army and therefore not a general any longer. Yet yesterday, Putin gave Wagner fighters the option of joining their caporegime.

Now, assuming that Lukashenko still retains a modicum of power in his land, he must be quaking in his boots at the prospect of several thousand armed bandits inundating his country. The most immediate prospect is that they’ll do to Belorussian towns what they’ve already done to Ukrainian ones, going on a blood-soaked rampage of murder, torture, rape and looting.

Then, of course, the same men who almost took Moscow within a couple of days could probably take Minsk within a couple of hours. Prigozhin has so far failed to oust Putin, but he could easily oust Lukashenko.

The latter understands this perfectly well, which is why he would never have accepted such an arrangement unless pressured by Putin. But why would Putin want to see a Wagner contingent in Belarus? After all, he is already in de facto control of that country.

So here’s some nourishing food for conspiracist thought: Prigozhin’s mutiny occurred within days of the announcement that Russian nuclear weapons had been deployed in Belarus.

Some analysts mulled over the possibility that Putin was going to deliver a nuclear strike on, say, Poland from Belarussian territory and then disclaim any responsibility. It’s all Lukashenko’s fault, he could have said. So, Mr Nato, if you want to retaliate, hit Minsk, not Moscow.

That would have been a transparent lie, but the West would have been predisposed to accept it for fear of an all-out nuclear holocaust. Still, some forces within Nato could have refused to be so credulous. That would have created unpredictable consequences for Putin, and he might not have liked his odds.

But the West could digest the same claim more easily if the nuclear strike were delivered not by a technically sovereign Belorussian state, but by a terrorist gang seizing control of those weapons. Enter Prigozhin and his merry men.

As I mentioned earlier, this scenario is unlikely. But unlikely doesn’t mean impossible – nothing is, with gangsters operating outside any moral constraints.

Come what may, Prigozhin would be well-advised not to make far-reaching plans for the future. He won’t survive any scenario, including the unlikely sinister one I’ve outlined.

Whether he is held responsible for a mutiny against Putin or a nuclear strike against the West, “Putin’s chef” won’t be allowed to live. His goose is cooked.

Woke racism in full bloom

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir

These days a director who casts a white actor to play Othello will be hauled over the woke coals faster than you can say ‘cultural appropriation’.

However, a black actor (or even actress) playing Hamlet would draw no such opprobrium. Neither would a woman (I’m sure that’s what the late Glenda Jackson was) playing King Lear.

Such is the crazy end of theatrical toing and froing. Yet, as far as I know, no one has so far insisted that any actor playing Hamlet must be Danish, any actress playing Hedda Gabler, Norwegian, or any actor playing Astrov, Russian.

Casting directors are allowed that much leeway, for the time being. But there are limits, certainly in cinema.

Thus the same jolly band of Italian actors migrate from one gangster film or TV series to another, and even such a good actor as Robert De Niro seldom plays non-Italian roles. Again, to the best of my knowledge, such typecasting hasn’t drawn too much criticism – and neither is De Niro charged with cultural appropriation on the rare occasions when he plays non-Italians.

Cooper as Bernsein

All this makes the brouhaha about three gentile actors playing Jews in current films so much more intriguing. The culprits in question are Helen Mirren playing Golda Meir in the biopic Golda, Bradley Cooper playing Leonard Bernstein in the biopic Maestro, and Cillian Murphy playing the eponymous role in Oppenheimer.

All three goyim are cast as well-known historical personages who happen to be Jewish. Somehow that incongruity is supposed to be offensive, and I’d be surprised if it weren’t. Most things can be deemed offensive these days.

Specifically, I’d expect a straightforward charge of cultural appropriation. Or else a lament that those gentiles are stealing bread from the starving children of Jewish actors, such as Natalie Portman, Ben Stiller and Woody Allen.

Yet expecting something as simple as that would be denying just credit to the woke brigade. In fact, only the casting of Murphy suffers such obvious condemnation and nothing but. How dare they cast a gentile British actor to play a Jewish American?

According to the comedian turned writer David Baddiel, this is “complacent” and constitutes “doubling down” on “Jewish erasure”. He then complains that: “over a period of extreme intensification of the progressive conversation about representation and inclusion and microaggression and what is and isn’t offensive to minorities, one minority – Jews – has been routinely neglected”.

A piece of friendly advice to David: on the evidence of this passage, writing isn’t your thing, mate. Stick to the day job, will you? Yet the involute style of his remarks apart, their content signposts one line of attack against all three transgressors. The other two each add their own aspects.

Since Dame Helen Mirren herself is quite woke, one can say she has drawn friendly fire for her portrayal of Israel’s prime minister. Underlying her own woke credentials, she ruefully admits that such criticism is “utterly legitimate”. Though she was happy to accept the challenge, that role should have gone to a Jewish actress, and Dame Helen is genuinely sorry to have caused offense.

That isn’t the half of it, Helen. It’s not just about acting something you aren’t, which hardnosed reactionaries would insist is a useful definition of an actor’s trade. It’s not just about a gentile actress playing a Jewish woman. It’s also about her playing an Israeli Jewish woman.

It’s not just about Mirren playing Meir. It’s about anyone playing that role. Here is a brief selection of Tweeted attacks Dame Helen must regard as “utterly legitimate”:

“How sick making a biopic on criminal Golda Meir and yes no surprise Helen Mirren the racist is happy to portray the pure distorted version of a disgusting individual.”

“Helen Mirren doing a film about the first female prime minister of Israel is a slap in the face to all the people of Palestine, they are literally celebrating taking over Palestine and taking families out of their homes, murdering children, families! Tasteless film!”

“Hugely disappointing that Helen Mirren is volunteering for this role.”

“More fascism to show how ‘wonderful’ Israel is.”

I commiserate with Dame Helen. She has spent a lifetime promoting every woke cause going, and there she is, accused of racism. That would be like my readers complaining of my being a bleeding-heart leftie.

Now Bradley Cooper’s problem is different. He is accused of anti-Semitism for making Leonard Bernstein look like, well, Leonard Bernstein.

One would think it should go without saying that anyone playing a well-known figure in a biopic should strive for facial resemblance to the original. Thus Helen Mirren was pasted with all sorts of prosthetics to make her look like Golda Meir, who unlike Helen, wasn’t known for a physique conducive to frontal-nudity photography.

And Cooper sported a prosthetic nose to make himself look like a dead ringer for Bernstein. That, according to the critics, puts him side by side with Julius Streicher, whose Nazi magazine Der Stürmer published caricatures of sinister big-nosed Jews.

Neither Leonard Bernstein’s children nor the Anti-Defamation League nor the American Jewish Committee agrees. They all praise Cooper’s performance and assure the sensitive public that it’s not at all anti-Semitic.

Yet the sensitive public won’t be mollified. Its members reserve the right to be offended by anything they choose, most emphatically including ethnic stereotypes. If they say any attempt to look like Bernstein is anti-Semitic, then it is – and all those Jewish groups that disagree must themselves be anti-Semitic.

The role of Bernstein, they shout, should have gone to Jake Gyllenhaal, who half-qualified for being half-Jewish. Keeping him out was thus half-discriminatory, and casting Cooper was discriminatory full strength.

Chaps, I have a solution. Any thespian proposed for the role of a historical Jewish figure should have his cranial measurements taken and his genetic makeup tested.

Phrenology in particular is hugely promising. The Nazis used it to determine who was and who wasn’t Aryan; today’s woke fanatics can rely on it to measure Jewishness. And biochemical tests can show every input, no matter how minute, into an actor’s genetic makeup.

If according to the Nuremberg Laws anyone with one quarter of Jewish blood was Jewish, then the same standard could be used by casting directors. Or perhaps a laxer one: shall we agree on one-eighth?

To save their lives, German Jews often tried to falsify their birth certificates – perhaps today’s actors can do the same thing to save their careers. For example, I’m sure Bradley Cooper could bribe a friendly researcher to produce a certificate of some Jewish blood in his family barrel.

I bet Messrs Badiel et al. don’t even realise that their insistence on racial purity smacks of Nazism. There is no such thing as cultural appropriation: having the gentile Bradley Cooper play a Jew is no more offensive than having the Jewish Paul Newman play Butch Cassidy, which is to say not offensive at all.

What is offensive, in fact borderline fascistic, is woke fanaticism. It doesn’t matter whether it’s anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian or anti-anti-Semitic. Like classic fascism, it pretends to be inspired by sympathy and love, whereas in fact it’s driven by anomie and hatred.

Putin’s moonshine


A few days ago, the Russians launched the robotic Luna-25 spacecraft that was supposed to land on the Moon yesterday. The spacecraft shot up from Blagoveshchensk’s Vostochny cosmodrome and headed for our satellite.

This was Russia first launch to the Moon surface since the ‘70s, and it was more, infinitely more than just another phase of space exploration. The Russians have always used their space programme the way they’ve used their sports victories – as proof positive of their superiority over the West.

I still remember Khrushchev bellowing from Red Square’s Mausoleum that Gagarin showed those bloody capitalists what was @$£&&*@ what. That was 1961, the last time the Soviets could claim being ahead of the US in the space race with any credibility.

After Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap” that kind of talk didn’t stop, but it began to sound like empty bluster with a touch of hysteria to it. By 1974, when I got a job in Houston, as translator for the Apollo-Soyuz programme, the space gap between America and Russia was already too vast ever to be bridgeable.

Much thunderous publicity surrounded that “peaceful cooperation” in space, but in fact the project was rather one-sided. All the Russians did was get their spacecraft up into orbit, after which the Americans performed every complicated manoeuvre, including the ultimate docking.

I remember drinking with Soviet engineers and cosmonauts and listening to their wistful comments on American knowhow. The cosmonauts in particular, especially the late Alexei Leonov, the Soyuz mission commander, were quite unrestrained in their thinly veiled criticism of the Soviet programme and, implicitly, everything behind it.

(In case you are wondering, the drinking stopped exactly six months before the flight. That is, the engineers and I still drank, but neither the Soviet cosmonauts nor the American astronauts did any longer: “at least six months between the bottle and the throttle”, as Tom Stafford, the Apollo mission commander, told me with audible regret in his voice.)

As time went by, any Soviet successes in space became rare, while the failures multiplied. One spacecraft after another exploded, veered off course, splashed down in the Pacific. But the need for the propaganda noise hasn’t abated – in fact, with Putin’s arrival it became ever more urgent.

Thus the work on Luna-25 started in 2005, 18 years ago. It took Americans much less time to put a man on the moon, but then NASA is no Roscosmos. That government space agency is even more corrupt and inefficient than the Russian armament industry, which is saying a lot.

That’s why the Luna-25 launch, originally planned for 2014, had to wait another seven years before the button was pushed. Then again, Putin got new priorities at roughly that time.

Yet finally the Luna-25 took off, to the accompaniment of jingoistic clamour putting Khrushchev to shame. You see, Russia has suffered a rather bad press lately, and now it’s not only those bloody capitalists but even some Russians who have second thoughts about the innate superiority of their nation, with its “world’s second army”.

The wider such doubts spread, the louder are the screams of Putin’s propagandists. These are as similar to the yelps of their Soviet ancestors typologically as they are different ideologically.

The Soviets were all about Marx, Lenin, the proletariat being “the gravedigger of capitalism”, and Khrushchev screaming: “We’ll bury you!”. Today’s lot are unvarnished Nazis: they proclaim the innate spiritual superiority of Russians over everyone else, to the point of claiming that the Russians have an extra spirituality gene in their physiological makeup. Hence they are destined to lead the world.

All this is liberally laced with appeals to the Christian purity of the Russian Orthodox Church, so inspiringly led by Patriarch Kirill, a career KGB operative. That incongruous cocktail of Nazism and Christianity is to the best of my knowledge unique in history, and this is the only area in which the Russians lead the world by a wide margin.

Words like ‘Nazism’ and ‘fascism’ are emotionally charged, and you may accuse me of unfair bias. In fact, I tend to use such terms in a purely descriptive fashion, but if you think the description doesn’t quite apply to Russia, here’s a little taste for you to savour.

This comment on the Luna-25 was issued by the writer Alexander Prokhanov, who, along with Alexander Dugin, can claim pride of place as the formulator and enunciator of Putin’s Nazi-Orthodox ideology. I can’t tell you whether it’s Prokhanov who is Putin’s mouthpiece or the other way around. Suffice it to say they speak in one voice. So here is Prokhanov’s poetic prose:

“Russia’s roadmap now has a new route: Blagoveshchensk to the Moon. Launched on that route from the Vostochny cosmodrome has been a large rocket carrying a lander to the Moon. While battles rage on the Kupyansk front, while Russian troops at Kherson repulse ten attack a day, while shells fill the Earth’s firmament with craters and smoke, we are taking our civilisation to the Moon.

“This Blagoveshchensk launch is testimony to Russia’s miraculous ability to rise from the dead… Yet again Russia raises a space dome above herself… Clearly heard behind the roar of the launch engine at the Vostochny cosmodrome was the sound of the teeth gnashed by NATO strategists, for whom this Russian spacecraft punches a hole in their Russia containment strategy.

“The space rocket launched from the Vostochny cosmodrome soared over Lake Svetloyar, stirred its majestic expanse and, with the splendour of onion domes, glittering golden crosses and chiming bells, rushed up into the Russian sky, the home of the Russian dream.”

Now we must take the rough with the smooth. If the Luna-25 launch was, as Prokhanov claims so transparently, the vindication of Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine, then the spacecraft’s successful landing ought to have had those “NATO strategists” not just gnashing their teeth but running for cover. Their attempt to contain Russia has failed.

Conversely though, if the landing wasn’t a success, then those dastardly reprobates have every right to snigger. All those golden crosses, onion domes and Russia’s unrivalled spirituality would have come to nothing. The bandit raid would remain unvindicated.

That’s exactly what happened. The Luna-25 lander did land, but rather too fast. It veered off the calculated orbit, its engines didn’t turn off in time, and the lander disintegrated against the lunar surface (“ceased its existence”, in Roskosmos’s announcement). Considering that the gravitational pull on the Moon is six times weaker than on Earth, that might have been a pretty rapid landing indeed.

Muscovites wouldn’t be Muscovites if they didn’t come up with caustic comments. One such says: “The spacecraft was supposed to get samples of the lunar soil. Instead, the lunar soil got samples of the spacecraft.”

No one is unduly surprised. A klepto-Nazi regime is incapable of maintaining its scientific progress – or indeed keeping its scientists. Hundreds of thousands have left Russia in the past few years, and the brain drain is beginning to look like a torrent.

Add to this universal pilfering raised to an accepted way of doing business, and it’s clear that something as involved as a space programme has no chance of succeeding. Thieves, murderers and rapists don’t fly – they creepy-crawl on the ground.