One man’s trash is another’s treasure.
Vladimir the Small, as history is sure to remember him, has pulled the iron curtain off the trash pile and ordered it rehung. His security blanket. Thirty years exposed to Western ideas of choice – enough of that. Obedience or destruction, enough choice for his people.
The good old days.
One has to be sincerely strong, not ersatz strong, to survive out in the open. A tree unable to bend will snap in the wind. Putin’s solution: stop the wind. We’ll see how long that works out.
Costing his nation’s greatness, rather than expanding it as advertised, any Russian victories these days are of the dog-catching-the-car variety. “First, we hit them in the fist with our face. Next, we’ll hit them in the boot with our groin.”
Eyes shifting from windshield to the mirror, Putin’s battle cry: “The future is our past, the past is our future!” An 18thcentury tsarist state with facial recognition software – as close as he can bring himself to any vision of tomorrow. Which is why, while our hearts bleed first and foremost for Ukrainians, we must also feel for a generation of Russians who thought, for the briefest moment, the future was to be theirs as well. That dream, like fresh rain on a steaming pavement, evaporating as I write.
Gone already the Russia of Yandex, that tech behemoth once hoping to lead Russia into a 21st century and third millennium. Under the do-as-you’re-told boot of today’s Kremlin, the best Yandex employees can do is console themselves a là Marlon Brando, “we could have been a contender.” Progress means not just embracing the past, but also questioning it. And not, for convenience’s sake, only the last thirty years. Which is why world markets remain flooded not with things made in Russia (computers, phones, chips) but with things found (oil, gas).
The future requires imagination. Without freedom of thought, no renaissance – then or now. For Sergey Brin to co-create Google, his family first had to leave Russia for more fertile ground. Putin is salting the Russian earth under his feet, roots of tomorrow withering. Russia’s artists are also fleeing. Gone for now the land of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Rachmaninoff, Kandinsky. No painter wants to color by numbers. No writer wants the end of their story dictated to them.
Far from regretting many of the sanctions imposed by the West, the former KGB officer counted on them. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, McDonalds, Coca Cola, Starbucks. The faster the better, to cordon his people off from a West with all its blathering freedoms. Soon he hopes they will not even want McDonalds, will not even want freedom – the ultimate victory.
Are you watching, Donald? See how the master does it. This is chess, not checkers.
If not nipped in the bud, freedom is a habit soon acquired. Which is why Putin ordered the Russian guns to begin firing in February. Germans, French, British, Americans exercising free choice, one thing. But Slavic brothers and sisters so close to home? Do not give his people ideas – literally.
Stop the wind. Past as future.
Peter the Great. Catharine the Great. Vladimir the Small.
Berlin, July 9, 2022
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