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Russia bashing and the demonization of Vladimir Putin are the West’s new political media fads of our time. The tone of the commentary is getting increasingly strident and any boundaries of what’s permissible disappear.
Hating and getting things wrong related to Russia and Russians is a one-way bet; there is no downside when a journalist or politician is proven wrong when it comes to Russia. When caught they have a ready made and simple reply – “See! This is evidence of Kremlin propaganda at work!”
Russia is certainly a vexing place for the West to understand. Russians, for the most part, see their country as a normal place in the world they love and demand others to respect. Here are five reasons the West cannot understand and surely not accept about today’s Russia.
1. Russians reject the West’s postmodernist agenda
Few in the West will ever admit it, but ever since the end of the Second World War a new faith was been invented and it is called Human Rights Religion. We are told promoting the United Nations Charter, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and all those other rights (should) now drive foreign policy statecraft. Realpolitik, we are told, is old fashioned and a primitive way to understand and pursue international relations.
Russia’s political elites view the West’s Human Rights Religion contemptuously and for good reason. The West demands all follow this new faith to the letter, but at the same time the faith doesn’t not necessarily apply to the West itself all of the time. Why? Because the West believes it stands taller and can see farther. For Russia and a growing number of countries around the world, the West’s Human Rights Religion is seen for what it is: a scheme to disarm, de-legitimize, and eliminate any country in the world that challenges the West’s new faith.
Russia sees the world differently; it has a modern perspective. Crimea is a good example. The West supported the violent coup that overturned a democratically elected government in Kiev. As a result of the coup, Ukraine’s constitutional order was destroyed – meaning all bets were off. The Crimea – inspired by 20th century self-determination — went to the polls and decided its fate. The West is not interested in an idea that drives Russia and Russians and it is called “identity.” The concept of “identity” has nothing to do with Human Rights Religion.
2. Russia does not accept the West’s historical narrative
Russians know their history better than their Western peers, particularly Americans. Russians feel personally insulted by the lack of knowledge many in the West have about Russia’s (then the Soviet Union’s) role in the Second World War. The Western powers could not have defeated Nazi Germany and its allies without the Soviet war effort. But the Soviet Union most probably could have defeated the Hitler regime without Western intervention. This is a historical hypothetical that undermines the West’s narrative about the Second World War, the Cold War, and the ending of the Cold War.
The Cold War blurred historical interpretations on both sides of the Berlin War. That is the nature of politics. However, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Warsaw Pact there comes into play a serious historical quarrel: who won and lost the Cold War (read: who is the loser?). Russians believe they liberated themselves from the Soviet regime. The West can dwell on Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech and Star Wars all it wants claiming victory over Moscow, but the fact remains the Soviet Union collapsed itself. It was not invaded or destroyed by the West. In fact, the new Russia reached out the hand of friendship many times since 1991. The West refused to accept Russia’s handshake as an equal partner. The West simply does not understand that today’s Russia does not see itself as a defeated power.
3. “Values gap”
The West claims moral superiority over much of the world, particularly, Russia due to what is called the “values gap.” The West presents itself as morally superior to all in the world in all ways. But reality and record are very much at odds with this view. The world “values” has been hi-jacked by those who have nothing to do with the meaning of the word. It is only in the air-conditioned Washington offices (and some of their European counterparts) where there is a debate about “legal torture.” It is the West - with great regularity – that violates the UN Charter and invades countries beyond the realm of international law. Those who hijack in Washington and Brussels the word “democracy” actually despise the concept. Democracy is only good when Washington and its Consensus say it is “good.” Russia has a “values gap” with this approach.
4. Disenchantment with the West
Russia is a conservative country and is becoming one more and more so with every passing day. Religious belief is on a comeback in Russia and in a very big way. All faiths happily see the population return to a code of values. Does the Kremlin promote this trend? Of course it does and with good reason. The vast majority of Russians have become disenchanted with the West and its messages. Bearded women, gay marriage, and non-traditional notions of the family are ideas from afar and not realities most in Russia accept at home. This does not mean there is an absence of tolerance. Non-traditional life styles and alternative beliefs are accepted, but not promoted by the state. This is a popular and supported position.
5. Leadership and playing by the “rules”
Vladimir Putin is a very popular leader among his own people and around the world. This infuriates the West. Western media and its political class have little understanding of what has transpired in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. But Putin does and conveys an alternative narrative about Russia and world that is strikingly different from the one found in the West. Putin is also quick to point out the flaws and holes in the Western narrative about Russia and how global events are unfolding. The fact is Vladimir Putin is an uncomfortable reality for the West and rules are for everyone, not just those who make the rules.
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