Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Kasparov: Freeze Russian assets

March 12, 2014

Listen to this:

Garry Kasparov, Russian grandmaster of chess, says freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs will work against the dictator-wannabe, Vladimir Putin.  The result of such sanctions would be: those men who wield power in Russia’s economy will, with their own wealth at stake, depose or dissuade Putin. They will effectively press the dictator-wannabe into backing off from his  belligerent military occupation of Crimea, Ukraine.

In one of the most informative radio discussions I have ever heard, Kasparov presented his case today to On Point host Tom Ashbrook.

His proposal raises the questionn: do those wealth-wielding Russian oligarchs have the power to compel Putin to do anything, or is it the other way around? Does Vladimir control the captains of Russian business, or do they control him? According to Professor Stephen Walt, this radio program’s other panelist, it is the other way around: Putin calls the shots, not the titans of Russian business.

Host Tom Ashbrook said they were talking about the U.S. using “banks, not tanks” to compel Vlad the Crimealer to back off. This scenario makes sense to me, a curious American citizen who is hoping this confrontations does not escalate to a world war.

Kasparov compared this present situation to what happened between Hitler and the Allies in the 1930s. He contends that German leaders might have been able to stop Hitler from his catastrophic kamph that ultimately ended in World War II, if the Allies had shown strong support for German resistance early on in 1935-1939. The West’s failure to oppose Hitler’s bellicose military occupation of Rhineland, Austria and Sudetanland Czechslovakia is what enabled the furious fuhrer’s diabolical plunge into full-scale war.

Stephen Walt said the comparison to 1930s Hitlerian sabre-rattling was inappropriate. He may be right, but this disagreement got my attention, because I have been researching the pre-war 1930s for my soon-to-be-published novel, Smoke.

Kasparov says that the West’s failure to oppose Hitler early on caused the madman to lose his “sense of danger.” The sense of danger is what what would have (will prevent) prevented the tyrant from becoming a full-blown blitzkrieging maniac. If the present Allies, by some weak tolerance of this Crimean power-move, motivate Putin to cast aside his “sense of danger” in favor of military bluster, there could be, in this listener’s opinion,  hell to pay, as eventually happened in the Europe of 1940. I hope this dispute does not degenerate to such extremes.

Glass Chimera

Chechen up on my Caucasian identity Crisis

April 20, 2013

Ever since we implemented civil rights legislation many and many a year ago, I have had to check a little race box on any kind of application or information form that I’m submitting to some .gov, .org, or even .com entity that wants to know about who I am, and why I am applying for their this/that/orthe/other.  The little box typically asks me to identify my race. A person of my pale pigmentation is expected to check the box  called Caucasian.

And I’m like, whaddup widdat?

What have I to do with thee, oh mountains of Caucasus?

If I chech the Causasian ethnicity, does that identify me as some wild-eyed cave-dweller from the far side of those mountains that the tectonic earth had long ago so carelessly slung up between Black Sea and Prince Caspian?

Surely not! I beg to differ.

On the other hand, if I am being so contentious about such a small box-chechin’ matter, maybe I am a little bit of a Chech.

That is to say: a rebel.

Them doggone Chechens!–can’t do a thing with ’em, as they say in Moscow.

I suppose that in Russia, when the good citizens of that country fill out forms, they are likewise expected to chech little ethnicity boxes, so the bureaucrats in the Kremlin or wherever can know what little categories to place the people in, very much like here in the land of the free and home of the brave, aka Washington SMSA.

Now when I say Chech, I’m not talking about Czechs. Them Czechs are great, especially like, Vaclev Havel. But I must also point out that they too, have a history of not taking any sh-t from the Russians, just like those upstart startups in Boston wouldn’t tolerate any taxation without representation from wiggy ole King George III, back in the day, the revolutionary day, when the Patriots decided to have  a Tea Party.

But that was then, and this is now. We’re all Russians now! Dosvidanya. Reminds me of some old Beatles nonsense, where Georgia’s always on my mind.

Glass Chimera

Any revolution can go one of two different ways

April 3, 2010

About a year ago the local school library gave away a bunch of old books. I toted a goodly collection of them home. Of course there was not a glamourous or impressive title in the bunch–no best sellers, and only one dog-eared classic, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I hastily set them on a bookshelf in our home.

For a year or more, Khruschev Remembers (1970, Little, Brown &Co, and Bantam) sat humbly on my shelf without comment or protest, even though Nikita was quite a colorful guy who had a quite insistent attitude, back in his day.  He’s the one who took off his shoe and began pounding the podium with it while making a speech somewhere (was it the UN?) in which he proclaimed to America that “we will bury you.”

This Saturday afternoon, I picked the old yellowed paperback up and started reading it.

You have to remember that when someone writes an autobiography, especially if that person is an insider witness to historic events, the cover of that little ole worn-out book is certainly not , as the saying goes, any basis whatsoever for judging the book, or its contents.

Earth-shaking testimonies can lie dormant between tattered covers for years and years.  Here’s one example:

“In essence the New Economic Policy ( Lenin’s revisionist reform of the early 1920s) meant the restoration of private property and the revival of the middle class…The commercial element in our society was put firmly back on its feet. Naturally this was, to some extent, a retreat on the ideological front, but it helped us to recover from the effects of the Civil War. As soon as the NEP was instituted, the confusion and famine began to subside. The cities came back to life. Produce started to reappear in the market stalls, and prices fell.”

This policy, Lenin’s pragmatic response to dire economic circumstances soon after the Bolsheviks assumed power, was controversial among the party faithful. It was essentially an early revision of communist ideology–a reform, displaying resemblance to that  of…Deng Xiaoping?

How different might history have been if Lenin had not died in 1924, only seven years after the revolution? How different might history have been if Stalin had not supplanted Lenin’s pragmatic leadership with his own murderous regime?

In Khruschev’s many critical assessments of Stalin’s legacy, he offers this comparison with another ruthless revolutionary:

“There was unquestionably something sick about Stalin. I think there’s a similar case of this sickness in the present day (Khruschev was writing this in 1970) which should be mentioned. People of my generation remember how the glorification of Stalin grew and grew, and everyone knows where it led. I often see films about China on television, and it seems to me that Mao Tse-tung is copying Stalin’s personality cult.”

So we notice that Nikita Khruschev includes this observation: …”every one knows where it (cultification of Stalin’s leadership) led.”

Yes, most everyone knows it led to harsh, murderous imprisonment of good Russian citizens, and millions of deaths. Read Solzhenitsyn on this.

So anyway I’m reading this today about Russia; but it’s China I’ve been thinking about ever since last summer when I visited there.

A brief look at recent Chinese history reveals a similar situation in the passing of the mantle from one regime (from Mao to Deng in the late 70s) to the next. But the Chinese outcome was, thank God, quite different from the Russian.  Perhaps the Chinese had learned a lesson or two from the brutal mistakes of their Soviet predecessors.

One might almost say that it was a miracle that Deng Xiaoping, the reformist of Maoist China, was able to assume the reins of power after Mao’s death, and lead China into more reasonable directions than those that imposed barbarous punishments in Stalinist Russian.  Deng’s careful transition delivered China’s emerging Marxist society from a tyranny that had been uncannily similar, until it was interrupted, to the abuses that had been forcefully thrust upon the USSR by Stalin’s thuggish legions.

Meanwhile, here in the good ole USA, and back in the day…before Letterman, Leno and those other jokers came crackin’ along, I remember that Johnny Carson occasionally would quip:

“Leon Trotsky lives!”

In my youth, I didn’t understand the comedian’s nuance, but now that I am old, I understand.

Maybe if Trotsky or some other Lenin protege had maneuvered into power after Lenin’s death (as Deng did after Mao’s death), Russia’s history might have been decidedly less bloody.

And actually, Johnny Carson was right, loosely speaking. Trotsky does live. He lives, one might say, in China, and anywhere in the world where planned economies favor progressive reform instead of repressive violence.

That’s something to think about on a Saturday evening as we move inextricably closer to a planned economy, and possibly some hard times ahead.