In looking forward to 2011, that has just begun, I see it as a year of two significant anniversaries that will give us all a cause to stop for a minute and think about living history – and us living in it.
Probably the most anticipated (and sad) anniversary will be marked on September 11th. The symbolic power of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington is such that many consider these events to have already defined the twenty-first century. It is too early to claim this yet; however, it is interesting to glance at the transformation of the Western societies over these ten years.
The United States went through a patriotic frenzy to a call of duty to disillusionment – via Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and debates about the limits of civil liberties in an era of global terror.
Luckily there were no major terrorist incidents on American soil, apart from the deadly shooting at Fort Hood, but there were several unsuccessful attempts at blowing up planes. President Barack Obama is eager to end America’s external engagements and pull out altogether of what the Bush administration aptly termed “the greater Middle East.”
The Europeans, as their custom, applaud this incredibly short-sighted decision, while preparing to run away from Afghanistan as soon as minimal politeness permits. Europe has become synonymous with military impotence and ideological wobbliness.
Obama and the European politicians seem not to understand that their actions will not end the confrontation with militant Islam, just like forbidding the official usage of “the war on terror” term will not end terror. Islamist fanatics will continue striking at U.S. targets all over the world, and will go on planning attacks on America itself. It remains for the U.S. public and authorities to brace themselves for the eventually inevitable moment when terrorists succeed. I wonder how many (or rather few) years it will take for the Americans and Europeans to start appreciating the simple truth: despite all their tactical mistakes, George W. Bush and his team were strategically right about the essence of Islamist danger, which cannot be addressed through politically correct rubbish about terrorists having no religious affiliation and the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute (read – Israel’s surrender) as a key to world peace. In eight months time, hopefully, after we honor the innocent victims of the New York and Washington atrocities, there will be lots of frank debates about this.
Another double anniversary will be celebrated (if at all) on August 21, followed by December 25. The first date is when in 1991 the hard-liners coup against Gorbachev failed and the Communist regime collapsed overnight. On Western Christmas Day that same year the Soviet flag was hauled down from the Kremlin, and Russia’s historic flag was raised over it.
At the time these events were met with joy by quite a few Russians, and with a stupefied indifference – by the majority of Russia’s population. The semi-official line in Russia today is to bemoan the demise of the USSR as a great loss. While most Westerners will call what happened in 1991 a revolution, public opinion in Russian polls show that more than 50 percent of the population consider the momentous events of 1991 a minor episode in the power struggle between the elites. As it is frequent with majorities, they are wrong.
What Russia should grieve about is not the loss of the Soviet Union (which was doomed anyway), but the missed opportunity to build a new life and a new identity, based on freedom and civic responsibility, rather than coercion and slavery. On New Year’s Eve, Dmitry Medvedev spoke about the new Russia taking root in 1991. It is a risky thing to say. Political tensions in Russia in 2011 will probably increase, despite the authorities’ protestations to the contrary. Russians today are much more restless and many are willing to probe their minds, than even a couple of years ago. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of that glorious moment – the fall of Russian Communism, it should not be an opportunity lost for a sincere national debate. At stake is the way to take the country forward before it comes apart in self-pity, ugly nationalisms and dreams of the Soviet grandeur that has disappeared.
But in the meantime – happy and thoughtful 2011 to you all!
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is an independent Russian journalist and political analyst. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.