When it comes to Russia, the Right are wrong. That’s hardly surprising, considering that their views are informed by trained Putin trolls, and I don’t just mean RT.
Our own media do their level worst too, and one would think they’d know better.
Thanks to their efforts (voluntary or paid by the Russians, makes no difference), in some circles Russia enjoys the reputation of being what Peter Hitchens once piffily described as “the most conservative, patriotic and Christian country left in Europe”.
As a result, conservative, patriotic and Christian people in the West see the glow of affinity emanating from Russia and feel its warmth. Of course if they bothered to learn something about the place, rather than relying on dishonest, ignorant or in some cases deranged commentators, they’d know the truth.
But there are only so many hours in a day and life is short, as two oft-cited clichés go. Those good right-wing people have many other things to worry about, such as Islam, Brexit and the advisability of appointing Tommy Robinson as Secretary of State for Race Relations.
Since the need for acquiring new information has to be prioritised, they just gobble up the canned bilge pouring from our papers, nod and go on to more important things. Now what was it again that May gave away in her deal? Are we still allowed to keep Sussex?
God knows I’ve said enough about the pro-Putin effluvia over the years, but sometimes it’s just best to let facts do the talking.
A couple of them caught my eye, as an illustration to Russia’s conservatism and Christianity, if not her patriotism (about which later).
A recent study shows that the incidence of HIV infection in Eastern Europe is eight times as high as in the high-rent part of the continent. And Russia is responsible for 65 per cent of all such cases recorded in the region.
Now unlike, say, laryngitis, HIV infection is behavioural, reflecting as it does certain life choices. These can vary, but they all tend to spring from the kind of conduct that weakens the claim to conservatism and Christianity, if not necessarily to patriotism.
To soften the blow, the authors of the study hastened to add that in Russia HIV is mostly transmitted through heterosexual intercourse and drug addiction. You could see me wiping my brow and heaving a sigh of relief – that’s all right then, the country’s reputation is upheld.
Or perhaps not quite. You see, that Christian and conservative country doesn’t really care about, or look after, its drug addicts. Drug treatment facilities are scarce, and only about 10 per cent of even registered addicts ever see the inside of one.
As a result, over 70,000 of Russia’s 6 million addicts die from drug overdoses every year, and the average life expectancy of addicts is only just over four years. Similar numbers die from their affection for the national beverage or its surrogates unfit for human consumption, but that little problem at least bears the patina of long-standing tradition.
Yet it’s comforting to know that at least the third element of the Hitchens Triad, patriotism, is in rude health, and I use this adjective advisedly.
The authorities in Kaliningrad are mulling over the possibility of renaming the local airport after Immanuel Kant, who spent his whole life in that city when it was still Prussian and called Königsberg.
At that time neither Kant nor for that matter the city suspected that it was slated to change its nationality and acquire the name of one of Stalin’s principal butchers.
So much the worse for Kant, decided the local Russian patriots both categorically and imperatively.
For openers, they splashed a bucket of paint on the Kant statue adorning the city centre. Then, in an outburst of unrivalled Russian spirituality, they desecrated the philosopher’s grave.
Yet, since the word is mightier than a pot of paint, it’s only fitting that the patriotic outrage was then put on a verbal, or if you will philosophical, footing.
Since university is the likeliest place in which to find those who know their Kant from their syringe, the local institution of higher learning was appropriately chosen as the arena for scholarly debate.
Patriots, Christian, conservative or otherwise, looked at the starry sky above them and into the moral law within themselves.
So inspired, they inundated the proverbial groves with packs of leaflets in which Kant was, without a trace of casuistic equivocation or post-Cartesian dualism, described as an “enemy”.
“No more betraying the Motherland!” screamed the leaflets. “Cross yourselves the Orthodox way to banish the very name of this enemy, this German whose people have caused us so much suffering!”
Having thus held Kant personally responsible for all of Russia’s misfortunes and displayed a deep knowledge of history, the patriots so dear to Hitchens’s heart then explained that “Kant betrayed the Russian land that had accepted him.”
Hence the students were urged to “reject this accursed name”, thereby proving that they are “true Russians and not degenerates who have betrayed their Motherland.”
Don’t know about Christianity and conservatism, but patriotism is very much in evidence, so one out of three isn’t too bad. Up your thing-in-itself, you Kant!