Pfaff on European Parliament Elections

The elections to the European Parliament have produce a flow of articles stressing the rise of “extreme right” or “neo-fascist” parties. An important article today by William Pfaff puts that in perspective. The rise of opposition to the bureaucrats in Brussels has little to do with the fascism of the past.

Europe’s Electoral Aftershock by William Pfaff

Paris, May 29, 2014 – The outcome of the recently concluded European Parliament elections is described in press and political circles in Europe and North America as a shock or crisis, but the actual reaction is better named hysteria, as if “Europe” is all over, and the rise of the right in these elections resembles the rise of fascism in the 1930s — all of which is sheer nonsense. (more…)

Viktor Hryhorov’s Painting “Independence Day”

"Independence Day"

As Ukraine approaches a fateful election next Sunday, I have been drawn to contemplate one of the most moving and thoughtful paintings in our collection. The painting pictured above is by Viktor Hryhorov (Grigorov–Григоров). Rebecca and I purchased it from the painter in the early 1990s. We visited Victor’s apartment and were stunned by his and his wife’s art. He was not in good health but his art was bright and joyful. He explained that he had been asked to do an exhibit of his paintings in an area affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster shortly after it occurred. It seems the Communist Party officials wanted to demonstrate to the locals that there was no danger. Of course, there was danger. And then, by the time we visited him, Viktor was suffering from his exposure to the radiation, and could no longer drive the Mercedes he had purchased in Germany from the sale of his paintings. He died in 2002.

Independence Day is not a typical Hryhorov painting. Art critic Svitlana Fesenko described his work as follows: “His lines are lively, always moving in a fantastic dance, turning into an inconceivable maze full of vague images.” The lines in Independence Day are lively, but the images are anything but vague and the patterns are not “inconceivable.”

Reception of a work of art is always a very personal matter. But what I see in this painting is a combination of celebration and reserve. The bright colors of the Ukrainian flag and the clapping hands portray joy and celebration, but a close look at the faces reveals something else: they convey not joy or celebration but contemplation with a touch of sadness, a pensive mood. Could it be brought on by doubts about the future? No way to know. But I have turned to contemplate this painting frequently over the last few months.

You can find more about Viktor Hryhorov here.

USSR 1987-91: An Empire Self-Destructs

There seems to be a prevailing opinion in Russia and elsewhere that the Soviet Union broke up under the pressures of the Cold War. Wrong! The Cold War ended before the USSR fell apart. There also seems to be a conviction in Russia that the US and NATO somehow engineered the Soviet demise. Also wrong–in fact the opposite of the truth. The U.S. and its principal allies tried to help Gorbachev keep the USSR (minus the Baltic countries) in a voluntary union.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for the Foreign Service Journal describing the work of the American Embassy in Moscow from 1987 to 1991 and explaining how the Embassy perceived the unraveling of the Communist state. The Soviet disintegration was instigated and led not by outsiders but by leaders inside the country, first of all and most importantly, the elected president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin. If Russians are nostalgic about the USSR and think its collapse was a disaster, they should look back at their own history and stop blaming outsiders.

If interested, you can find the text of my article here.

Remembering Vasya Aksyonov

It is now nearly five years since Vasya Aksyonov died, much too young, like many of his compatriots who began their public careers in the 1960s during Nikita Khrushchev’s brief “Thaw.” A couple of years ago I was asked to write a short piece on Vasya for a volume of collective essays dedicated to him. I don’t know whether it was published in Russian (I never got a copy), but here is a link to my essay in English for those who may be interested: Remembering Vasya Aksyonov

Granville on Poker with Putin

Dr. Johanna Granville, a professor at the American University of Bulgaria who has resided in Western Ukraine for the last two years, has written a thoughtful policy paper that identifies some of the dangers that can arise from a U.S. policy that tends to divide Ukrainians rather than helping unite them. Though it was written a few weeks ago and thus does not take account of the most recent events, her observations are still pertinent and her essay deserves the attention of all those with an interest in helping keep the people of Eastern and Western Ukraine in the same state and avoiding both civil conflict and Russian annexation of some Eastern provinces.

In summary, here are the conclusions of Granville’s paper, The Folly of Playing High-Stakes Poker with Putin: More to Lose than Gain over Ukraine:

In the weeks following the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, both the United States and European Union have issued a range of sanctions to punish the Putin administration. But a belligerent response aimed at “punishing Putin,” even if confined to economic measures, will probably just escalate the crisis. (more…)

Golinkin on the Language Issue in Ukraine

Much of the media and official comment on the turmoil in Ukraine has focused on geopolitical factors, with little attention to the historical context of the various issues or to one of the most emotional issues dividing Ukraine: the status of the Russian language. One of the first acts of the Ukrainian parliament following the forcible ouster of President Yanukovich was to vote by an overwhelming majority to deprive the Russian language of official status. This law was promptly vetoed, but to Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens in the East and South, it was viewed as a deliberate act to make them second-class citizens.

Lev Golinkin, an American writer who was born in Kharkiv and came to the United States as a child has written a perceptive essay explaining the importance of the language issue to many in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. He has agreed that I can share it here.

The Lessons of Donetsk’s Referendum
By Lev Golinkin

While the 5/11/14 referendum conducted by eastern Ukrainian separatists cannot in any way be considered legitimate as far as fairly-monitored elections go, it does shed light on two crucial points about the situation on the ground. First, contrary to the narrative coming out of eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk Basin is not just a land of masked, Moscow-backed militants. It is also home to factory workers, miners, families, and scarf-wrapped babushki. (more…)

Chas Freeman on Unforseen Complexities in the World

Ambassador Chas Freeman delivered a speech today in Victoria, B.C., with a brilliant analysis of changes in the world that have caught American policy makers, and must media pundits, by surprise. I would call attention especially to his observation, “The underlying strengths of the United States are so great that it can still make all the difference. But, what sort of difference it makes depends on how linked American strategic behavior is to regional realities, resource constraints, and international prestige and influence.” In several recent problem areas, we seem to have de-linked all three of these limiting factors in forming our policy (more…)

РАСШИРЕНИЕ НАТО: А БЫЛО ЛИ ОБЕЩАНИЕ?

Pavel Palazhchenko kindly translated an article I wrote for Комсомольская правда, but which was published in a garbled and, in places, inaccurate translation. I am much obliged to him for making clear to the Russian reader what I wrote.

Перевод П. Палажченко

Вопрос не простой, поскольку на это счет было немало сказано многими политическими лидерами, причем в основном в форме не обещаний, предложений или соображений для переговоров. Если же говорить о дипломатических контактах между США и СССР в 1989 —1990 годах, то мне представляется, что наиболее важны следующие моменты:

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NATO EXPANSION: WAS THERE A PROMISE?

The Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda asked me to write an article on what was said regarding NATO expansion during the negotiations concerning German unification in 1990. I submitted the following:

This is not a simple question since much was said by many political leaders and most were proposals or ideas for negotiation, not promises. But the following points seem to me the most important regarding diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1989 and 1990:

(1) All the discussions in 1990 regarding the expansion of NATO jurisdiction were in the context of what would happen to the territory of the GDR. There was still a Warsaw Pact. Nobody was talking about NATO and the countries of Eastern Europe. However, the language used did not always make that specific.

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Anatol Lieven: Ukraine should be a bridge, not a battleground

Anatol Lieven has published a brilliant essay that should be read and absorbed by everyone who wishes to understand what is happening in and around Ukraine today. I quote it with thanks to the author for permission to do so.

QUOTE

Ukraine Should Be a Bridge, Not a Battleground

In recent weeks, rational argument concerning Ukraine in both Russia and the West has been overwhelmed by a flood of hysteria, lies and self-deceptions. Russia has engaged in openly mendacious propaganda. Western governments and too much of the media have responded with lying counter-propaganda of their own.

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