Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Them Russians are so misunderstood

September 21, 2014

I don’t understand Russia. Churchill called the country a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Many of us Americans and Europeans who grew up during the Cold War agree with his assessment. Winston was, you know, right about a lot of things.

Russia is a complicated place; it’s probably as complex as it is big. One fact that is, however, very simple about Russia: it is very cold there, dangerously cold.

Recently, I read Helen Dunmore’s excellent novel The Siege,

http://www.amazon.com/The-Siege-Novel-Helen-Dunmore/dp/0802139582, which is a story about the gruesome ordeal suffered by the the people of St. Petersburg (aka Leningrad, Petrograd) during the winter of 1941.  Hitler had broken his pact with Stalin and then sent the army of the Third Reich to surround the city and starve its residents to death.

It was terrible time, tragically fatal for thousands of people. I would not want to wish such misery and hunger as Helen’s story describes, on anyone. To have survived such a winter as that one in Russia is beyond my comprehension. I don’t understand how the Russians who did survive did survive. I don’t even understand why human beings would  live so far up north.

As I was saying, I don’t understand Russia.

In 1917, right in the middle of a damned world war (the first one), the Russian Bolsheviks deposed the czar, instituted a revolutionary communist government and began the long, torturous process of trying to restructure, from the ground up, the government and administration of the largest country in the world.

Although their program of godless communism was fundamentally flawed because it was too idealistic, they might have made a go of it if it hadn’t been for one very cruel, heartless dictator, Josef Stalin.

Later on, in 1956, after both world wars, and after Stalin had died, Nikita Khrushchev initiated the process of thawing Russia out of its brutal gulag-ridden Stalinist icepack straightjacket. Khrushchev skittishly let it leak out in 1956 that yes, indeed, Stalin and his secret police and party goons had been inflicting terrible crimes against the people of Russia for the last twenty years or more. And Khrushchev seemed to be signaling that they should to do something to eliminate, or at least correct, the systemic horrible abuse that Russian leaders were inflicting on their own people, not to mention the Ukrainians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians, Moldovans, Kamchatkans and God-knows-who else, and  oh yeah, the East Germans.

Speaking of the East Germans, during that time, the 1950s and 1960s, the Russians, under their hyped-up mantle called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, were throwing their newfound weight around there in the eastern (Soviet-occupied after WWII) part of Germny. The Soviets were trying to run the place after The Allies had divvied up the territories formerly terrorized by those contentious Third Reichers.

A few years went by and our President Kennedy visited Berlin and told the citizens there “Ich bin ein Berliner!” which meant, figuratively speaking, that all the world was watching you swarthy Ruskies since you went and built this obscene wall around Berlin (long story) and we did not like it (paraphrasing) one damned bit!

By n by, after another twenty or so years went by, US President Reagan came along, visited Berlin  and updated the saga of the Berlin Wall by publicly demanding that “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Then after a few more years, in 1989, the wall did come down. Praise God! And also a thank you to Mr. Reagan, for his bold challenge, although we do understand it wasn’t entirely his doing that the Russians decided to take his advice. It was a great line though: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” We could use some of that spunk these days, like Mr. ISIS, tear down your . . . caliphate!

After that, the Russians did undertake the sticky business of tearing down their “evil empire.”

Now if we ever dismantle our own abusive reprobations maybe we can have some real peace and freedom. Good luck with that.

Now fast forward to 2014. We’ve got new mystery Russian, Vladimir Putin. Now there’s an enigmatic guy. You betcha. What the hell is he up to?

I certainly don’t know. (I do not understand Russia.) But I do seem to remember this: the Russians have had a naval base at Sevastopol since. . . forever? There’s no way in hell that NATO should presume to abscond it. As far as this American is concerned, they can have the place, if that’s what a majority of the Crimeans choose. As for the Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine, whadya say we just convince all parties concerned to have another referendum about the East Ukraine situation, this time internationally supervised.

Now I want to end this thing on a positive note. Although I do not understand Russia, I do understand music. I feel it.

To fully grok this, let’s  harken back to the year 1909; that’s when the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his amazing Piano Concerto No. 3.

I do understand how a man could create such an intricately woven musical opus. Yes, I understand it about as well as I can understand Russia. This piece of music boggles my mind.

The pianist is Olga Kern, 2001 winner of the Van Cliburn prize (among her many triumphs.) Watch her lively treatment at the Steinway while conductor James Conlon propels his skilled musicians through Rachmaninoff’s delicate blending of strings, horns,  and of course piano,  evoking lush orchestral harmonies that modulate back and forth between soft and strong on a colorful tapestry of raw, though exquisitely channeled, Russian passion.

Performed by an American orchestra! The Fort Worth orchestra. Who’d have thought a bunch of Texans could so tenderly interpret a Russian’s music! Watch the musicians’ faces. To witness their polished performance is to behold a work of visual art in progress. I think these people do understand Russia! Or at least that one particular Ruskie, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AapjpeqmviM

If you’ve got 43 minutes to listen or watch the Rach 3, you will be amazed as I was. When you see/hear Olga pounding out the last four minutes of the piece, you will understand what the Romantic movement in music was all about. (It’s much more potent when viewed from the musicians’ perspective than what you see in the movies.)

Smoke

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The way of the World

July 24, 2014

Just rip my heart out o me

will ya? Go ahead and

snuff out any hope of justice or

mercy in this world,

as we hear of hundreds clueless

passengers get shot down because

ukraine is bleeding thirty-eight thousand feet

below,

and hundreds more of Gazan kids get blown to

kingdom come,

while ISIS caliphators purge Christ

from Mosul. Just

rip my heart out will ya?

Once again just rip my

heart will ya while

the Innocents get nailed to crooked

damn cross

between power and purge,

between them that are bad and

them that are worse.

Makes me wanna curse

but I won’t cuz it been done already

enough.

Just send in the

hearse

will ya?

 

Smoke

Fear and Posing in Crimea

March 23, 2014

Talking heads and journalistic birds,

bobbing in Black Sea swells on Crimean words,

launch up their blustery speculations now

on Putinistic confrontations, and how

the old bear’s been backed into a corner, no wiggle room, no loans,

as the world squeals sanctionistic noise  and diplomatic moans;

so the West draws its red line in the sands,

no more Ukraine for you Mister Putin; here it stands.

 

Gone is former glory of the Russian realm,

now no czar, no Lenin, nor Stalin at the helm.

We dismembered their Soviet empire back in ’89;

then thinking it some victorious Kapitalistic sign,

we assumed they’d just get it in the blinking of an eye:

the Kapitalist manifesto and the democratic pie–

how to slice it how to dice it– how, in all this Western fiat money

we’d sweeten Ukrainian bread with IMF honey.

 

Now we wonder if it be some ghostly rerun, this acquisition,

a la Sudetan land grab or nineteen thirties Rhineland nazi occupation.

But Putin says t’was nazis who yanked those Maidan’s strings,

‘though we think ’tis from the fount of democracy  hope Ukrainel springs.

Now History repeateth not itself; this is no warmed-over fascist rerun;

rather, its the old desperate Russian bear, brandishing his post-glasnost gun,

because his big Soviet one was unloaded, by Ronnie Reagan.

 

CR, with new novel soon, Smoke

Nikita Khrushchev!

March 16, 2014

On February 25, 1956, in the U.S.S.R, Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a speech that later rocked the world. As he addressed  the 20th annual congress of the Communist International party, a frigid straitjacket of ruthless Stalinist tyranny that had ruled the Soviet Union since the early 1930’s began to thaw. Khrushchev’s admission of Stalin’s paranoid crimes while terrorizing the Soviet world initiated a loosening of Russian rulership that wasn’t fully realized until 1989.

This turnaround had been a long time coming. Khrushchev’s revelation of Stalinist-era abuses exposed terrible events and purges that had happened over the last twenty years.  Rumors and unconfirmed reports of torturous cruelties had, from time to time, glinted through the iron curtains of Soviet secrecy. Confirmed communists across the world had fallen into the habit of  awkwardly denying the Party’s murderous mistreatment of its subjects.

In spite of the enormity of his exposé, the dutiful Premier was striving to keep this volatile information under wraps. The comrades to whom Khrushchev was admitting these extreme violations of Marxist-Leninist doctrine were delegates who were ruling the communist world. This speech was supposed to be an internal secret!

Thanks to the Israeli Mossad, (according to David Horowitz in his autobiography Radical Son) the explosive contents of the Khrushchev report got leaked to the world at large. A few months later, on June 4, 1956 the U.S. Dep’t of State released it. The New York Times published it. This revelation rocked the world, especially the world of those diehard communists who had been striving since 1917, in countries all across the globe, to liberate us clueless freedommongers from bourgeois degeneracy and capitalist oppressions.

As the Premier of the USSR had let his comrades in on the dirty little secrets of Stalin, he skillfully wove his presentation of the facts into an ex post facto defense of classical Marxist-Leninist doctrine. The Communist Party line was supposed to have been all about the “People,” and what the “People” could do together to deliver the world from capitalism into (in the sweet by-n-by of proletarian dictatorship) socialist utopia.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat is what Marx and Lenin had called it. Not one-man dictatorship!

But according to Comrade Nikita, Joseph Stalin had managed to wrangle the at-first disorganized, emerging Communist state machinery into–not what the great theorists had designed for it–but a murderous police state, patterned after Stalin’s own paranoia and ruthless control tactics.

Maybe the communist theoreticians should reevaluate their philosophical presuppositions about human behavior. (But that’s another can of worms.)

Nikita Khrushchev, a loyal Party man if there ever was one, had somehow managed to morph into a bold whistleblower, although he wanted to keep his little Molotov cocktail of party revisionism in-house. He wisely discerned that this historical elephant could no longer be concealed in the smoke-filled back room of the Soviet household. And so his argument against reprehensible  Stalinist legacy was presented as an exposé of “the cult of the individual.” 

As an American who was four years old at the time of Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956, I have, just recently, come to appreciate his innovative willingness to talk about the Stalinist elephant in the salon room of world politics. My present idea of who this Nikita Khrushchev was, and what he was up to, is markedly different from my earliest youthful impression of the man, which was a fuzzy TV news image of a pudgy fellow banging his shoe on a podium at the United Nations while provocating  us yankees with the words, “We will bury you!”

Maybe Nikita was just thinking about starting a funeral home business or something. I don’t know.

This was the same Russian leader who, just two years before his world-rocking secret speech, reportedly “gave” the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainians, whatever that means. And what’s up with that, I don’t know either but we shall soon find out, after today’s so-called “illegal” election in Crimea, eastern Ukraine.

It seems a little odd to me that any popular referendum anywhere in the world could be condemned as illegitimate by an American President and his Secretary of State. I would think that we Americans, the vanguard of the free world, would be all about elections and referenda. Where’s Jimmy Carter when you need him?

CR, with new novel, Smoke, soon to be published

Kasparov: Freeze Russian assets

March 12, 2014

Listen to this: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/03/12/kasparaov-putin-russia-oligarchs-ukraine

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