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The Observer view on liberal values being as vital to the world order as ever
Gepost door  redactie redactie Gepostop  03-07-2019 16:17 03-07-2019 16:17 360  keer gelezen 360 keer gelezen  0 reacties0 reacties News News
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NewsObserver editorial

The mask has finally slipped – and Putinism is infecting other world leaders. He must be confronted

Vladimir Putin has many faces: Russian patriot, man of the people, macho sportsman, global power-broker. But the mask slipped last week. The world glimpsed the real Putin and it was an ugly sight. There is a meanness about him, a smallness of mind born of fear and anger. His world view, warped by the cold war and his KGB training, is twisted, resentful, defensive. He has almost nothing positive to say. Putin is an empty space where leadership and moral example should be.

Why, then, should anybody care what he thinks? His remarks proclaiming western liberalism “obsolete” were deliberately provocative. His inflammatory comments about immigration and multiculturalism, his ill-disguised homophobia and his chilling vow to punish “traitors” (a reference to last year’s Salisbury poisonings by Russian agents) were familiar tactics, intended to sow division and unease. Why rise to such obvious incitements? Surely it would be better to ignore him? Western leaders find that impossible in part because they fear Putin may be right. Certainly not on matters of principle, nor in terms of his nasty prejudices. But when he suggests reactionary nationalist and populist forces are everywhere advancing, that the postwar democratic consensus no longer holds and that “the liberal idea [is in] conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population”, they worry there could be a grain of truth. This is the truly menacing, subversive face of Putinism. And it is infecting the global body politic.

It’s an eat-or-be-eaten world in which cold-eyed men like Putin and Trump are predators-in-chief

Putinism has an ally in Donald Trump, who greeted Russia’s president as an honoured friend at this weekend’s Osaka G20 summit. The two men share a liking for authoritarian governance by executive decree, intolerance for democratic, legal and parliamentary constraints and a crude vision of a world divided by nations, money and brute force.

Putin praised Trump’s mistreatment of migrants who, he said, “kill, plunder and rape with impunity”. A smirking Trump joked about Putin’s illicit election meddling (which helped him win in 2016) and what fun it would be to “get rid” of journalists. In fact, Putin has pursued the latter idea with lethal efficiency for 20 years.

In places such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Brazil, the Philippines, Sudan and Egypt, Putinism is catching on. Basically, “strongman” leaders centralise power, buy off, lock up or eliminate opponents, silence the media, lie to the public and then do whatever they want.

Xi Jinping’s China has its own variation on the theme. Europe’s emulators include Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. The central, fear-inducing message of such leaders is that the people and the nation are under threat from multiple outside forces and only they will protect them.

This is the dystopia evoked by Putin’s bragging. This is the alternative, nightmare world he represents, where democratic consent no longer matters, where individual rights are scorned, where gender and racial differences are penalised, where courts and judges are no longer impartial, where newspapers print what they are ordered, where tolerance and compassion are seen as weaknesses and where international law, regulating relations between states, is ignored. It’s an eat-or-be-eaten world in which cold-eyed men such as Putin and Trump are predators-in-chief.

The threat from the right is plain. But those on the left who act as apologists for Putin’s Russia should take a long, hard look at themselves. Collaboration with the many faces of modern fascism is as repulsive as ever. Democracy’s weaknesses, and the imperfections of institutions such as the EU, do not remotely justify their destruction and vilification.

Know your enemy: that is the lesson of 1930s Europe and it is urgently applicable today. Essential, vibrant liberal values and beliefs are worth fighting for now, just as much as during the great struggles of the 20th century. The proud legacy of a consensual, rules-based world order is ours to defend, develop and project, not heedlessly squander or tamely surrender to the demagogues of the new nationalist-populist miasma. As the EU council president, Donald Tusk, says, what is really obsolete is “authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs”.

And that, surely, is the point. The anxious introspection triggered by Putin should not obstruct a clear-eyed view of the Russia he has built. Putin rose to power in 1999-2000 on the back of an atrocious conflict in the Caucasus and has been waging unjust wars, in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, ever since. Under Putin’s rule, Russia suffers de facto one-party rule, systemic corruption, repression of civil rights, censorship and mafia-style assassinations that routinely go unpunished.

The idea that Putinism offers a viable, alternative governance model is as ridiculous as it is sickening. Who massacred the citizens of Grozny and Aleppo and is still killing innocents in Idlib today? Who killed Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko? Who killed Boris Nemtsov? Who killed 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine? And who tried to kill the Skripals?

Vladimir Putin is definitely among the world’s most wanted men – but not for the reasons he thinks.

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