There are Good People Everywhere
by Dave Essel
I recently had to visit the managing director of a small Russian company located in one of the CIS countries. I have known this man for some years. He is a bluff, pleasant person. His children are being educated in the West (at considerable financial sacrifice to the family budget – we are not talking oligarch here).
I usually avoid talking politics with this man as it seems the safest way to maintain a friendly acquaintance since it is easy to ascertain from the occasional dropped remarks that we are dealing here with an unreformed Putinite and greater Russian chauvinist.
Besides having his children educated abroad, he loves holidaying in England. How he reconciles his political views with his actions is something that I ought to try to dig into one day.
My recent visit to his office, at the height of the Georgia crisis, made it unavoidable that we would have to talk some politics. These days (and not actually being in Russia), I don’t bother to be diplomatic. However, I did want things to be brief, so I confined myself to saying that Russia’s actions were a disgraceful breach of civilised behaviour and international law: they had sent tanks into an independent country’s territory and could clearly not be considered ‘peacekeepers’ but were instead, in breach of their mandate, active participants in the politics of the enclaves misguidedly entrusted to them by the international community.
I got the usual “Well, what about the Americans in Iraq; it’s all right for them but not for us”. He got my standard response of “two wrongs don’t make a right and if you say American’s behaviour is disgusting, you’ve just lowered yourself to their level.” We moved on to other things, had a shot of brandy and some sweets (this at 14:30!), and work was done.
However, the matter did not end there because that evening, back in my office, I got an email from him with a link to a London Times article by some English appeasement artist entitled “Vladimir Putin’s mastery checkmates the West.” By the way, this guy has done the cause of freedom proud as translations of the article are in all the usual russofascist places, Lenta.ru in the lead: googling “checkmate” “west’ in Russian gets 10 pages of hits where the article is to be found on the Russian web.
So I decided that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and promptly emailed my Putinite friend the Russian originals of two of my translations – the Nemtsov white paper and the piece with all the dreadful statistics about Russia which was in LR the other day.
He replied! He said: “Thank you. Interesting. I’m curious – is there anything good in Russia? Links appreciated but you don’t have to.”
Now I don’t like to be nasty forever, so I did allow myself to be a little diplomatic and in reply to the question is there anything good in Russia said “Russian people (particularly those who wrote the pieces I sent you and are prepared to do something about the problems described therein).”
As for links, without a great deal of thought I sent him links to Oborona (www.oborona.org), Memorial (www.memo.ru) (with the comment “in order not to repeat history and get stuck in a rut, you need to know history) and Russian Newsweek (some surprisingly balanced reporting that gets the tone just right in that it tells the truth but in such a way that there is a chance Russophiles may not throw the mag away in disgust and actually read the thing). Conscious of the fact that I had not given a great deal of thought to the links I had offered, I decided to have a fresh look at them.
And in Memorial, I found this press release, which made me think the words that head this post – there ARE good people everywhere. Here is Memorial’s statement on the Georgia war (written at the very start of the conflict, before much was known):
STOP THE WAR
In the night of 7th to 8th August, a war has begun in South Ossetia. Georgia has announced that it is mobilising and officials [in Russia] are declaring that “constitutional measures are being taken to enforce peace and law and order” and that until these are successfully completed there can be no negotiations.
These words are all too familiar to us in Russia. The Russian Federation restored “constitutional order” in 1994 during the first Chechen war. A lightning operation turned into a long drawn-out and bloody affair.
Talk of war to a successful conclusion and refusing to negotiate is something we remember all too well in Russia. Our country’s leaders said these things back in 1999 at the start of the second Chechen war. This dubious military victory cost our country a retreat from democracy.
In fact, much the same is the case with Georgia: Abkhazia in 1992 and South Ossetia in 1991. These conflicts brought Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze to power. And perhaps the very first victim of the war which begn in the night of 7-8 Augsust will be Georgia herself – as a democratic state and responsible member of the international community.
Georgia as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has undertaken to resolve conflicts in peaceful ways. The restoration of a state’s territorial integrity cannot be a reason for abandoning these obligations. Warfare in South Ossetia should stop immediately. Negotiations are the long hard way, but they are the only way to reach a solid peace.
The history of conflicts in the Caucasus in recent years is one long concatenation of mistakes and crimes. We call on people not to forget this history.
Now that is how good people speak and these people were in Russia.