четверг, 27 февраля 2014 г.

Don't mention the war... the Cold War

It's been quite an eventful few weeks in the former Soviet Union. Not only have there been the Olympic Games in Sochi, but Russia's closest neighbour, Ukraine, has experienced a revolution.

In the run-up to the Sochi games no holds were barred with comparisons to Berlin 1936, fears for discrimination against same-sex relationships, terror threats and hyper-sensitive journalists stirring up stereotypes about poor Russian service. While very expensive, the consensus view is now that the Games were a fantastic success, very well run and provided a great forum for sporting competition. And an added bonus that the host nation topped the medals table fair and square. For me it was worth it just for the figure skating and the cross-country relay events. No sign of any major apologies after some pretty appaling journalism and despicable attempts to disrespect the host nation by sending low-key delegations hand-picked to highlight non-Olympic agendas.

Meanwhile in Kiev, perhaps not entirely by coincidence, the long-standing tensions between Ukrainian-speaking north west and the Russian-speaking south-east turned into a nasty stand-off at the Maidan independence square in Kiev, resulting in the overthrow of the president, Yanukovich, and now knock-on effects in Crimea and possible elsewhere. I am the last person to justify the use of snipers on a crowd of civilian demonstrators, however provocative, but no one in their right mind wants parliaments with powers to remove elected presidents or annul legal sentences by a show of hands in the space of hours. (Just imagine what would happen in the US if Congress could remove the President by a mere show of hands or, indeed, override the judiciary as it saw fit.) And I am very uncomfortable with the equation of good and evil, freedom and tyranny with the respective sides in an ethnically complicated country like Ukraine.

And so, it turns out, people haven't got over the Cold War yet. Certainly not the victors. Like chauvinstic hotel-owner Basil Fawlty from the 1970s British comedy, the Old Enemy remains although the conflict is decades in the past. The prejudices about Russia, Russians and the Russian President remain and are daily reinforced by the media.

Meanwhile in Russia everyone has Ukrainian relatives and forebears. Russia and Ukraine might be different colours on your map, but they are not separate, non-communicating entities. It was bad enough when Georgia was estranged from her long-standing ally, but Ukraine is a hundred times worse. A peaceful outcome to the events in Ukraine and long-term progress in relations between NATO-EU and Russia will hinge on the ability to respect and listen, not dismissing Russia as a passe bully who can be ignored and resisted because one now has 'playground protection'. International partnership in the 21st century cannot be doing with the Old Colonialism, even in its latest liberal democratic guise.

The Cold War is over. Get over it.     

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