Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"Little will be heard from Arab leaders on atrocities of Islamic State against women"

A very good article by Maureen Dowd about the third - or is it fourth or fifth? - Iraq War, under the pithy headline

"Little will be heard from Arab leaders on atrocities of Islamic State against women."
I love her because she once brilliantly said that the Americans should built a statue to Jacques Chirac in contrition for not heeding his advice about not invading Iraq. Yes indeed, allegedly adulterous and allegedly crooked though he is. 

So of course counselled Vladimir Putin too - and many other people, including, I am pleased to say, me. I do not get everything right - I welcomed the Arab Spring, for example, and liked Tony Blair at first - but I got Iraq right.

Monday, 29 September 2014

David Cameron had just finished cooking Saturday lunch

From Dan Hodges' blog today:
"David Cameron had just finished cooking Saturday lunch when he first learnt of the Mark Reckless defection." 
I suppose this is true - Mr. Cameron cooking lunch, I mean - and not something intended to win women voters, who the papers say do not like Mr. Cameron. 

I still think it very strange for men to cook for their families, even though I loved and was good at cooking before I came to Romania - I no longer have a big enough kitchen - and my brother-in-law does all the cooking in his house. As my mother always told me, all the great cooks in the world are men. 

Still, sex roles apart, I am surprised Prime Ministers have time for household tasks. In Ted Heath's time he had time to spend the weekends yachting but those days are gone, I thought. I remember reading with disgust that the Deputy Prime Minister finds time to drive his children to school. This I would have thought is something he should pay someone to do. But perhaps he likes talking to them in the morning. 

How far we have moved from Harold Macmillan's day. One can't imagine him cooking lunch for Lady Dorothy or driving his children to school - but of course they boarded. 

Did any previous Tory leader cook his own Saturday lunch? Margaret Thatcher probably. Edward Heath the bachelor is another obvious possibility, but he had staff and I can't picture it. Saturday lunch at home is not something bachelors do, but in any case I can't see Ted cooking. 

I somehow doubt any Labour Prime Ministers did either, except possibly Ramsay McDonald, who found delegating so hard that he looked up train times for his secretary. 

I do not imagine Vladimir Putin doing the school run or cooking lunch. I do not share many social conservatives' liking for Mr. Putin but I smiled when I read palao-conservative writer Paul Gottfried say,

"Allow me to explain why so many of us on the Old Right are noticeably indulgent of the former KGB honcho. Putin is conspicuously manly, unlike the feminised eunuchs who "administer" "liberal democratic " politics in the "democratic West." ...
Although I would not like to live under Putin, any more than Lessing wanted to savor the rule of the enlightened despot Frederick the Great, I applaud him for being so different from the PC robots who rise to the top of the political ladder in the US and Western Europe. At the very least Putin gives the exhilarating impression of being a non-reconstructed, non-sensitized MAN." 

The cold war never ended

“Rationally Russia cannot be understood, one has to believe in it.” Fyodor Tiutchev (1803-1873)
What is clear is that the cold war never ended - it simply went underground. This review by Oleg Gordievsky, once KGB station chief in London, of Edward Lucas's prescient book, The New Cold War, makes this point. The Kremlin even under Yeltsin kept its arms directed at NATO and prepared for an invasion from the West, which is where every invasion came from after those of the Mongols. In 2009 Russian war games simulated an attack on Poland using nuclear weapons. 

For its part, NATO prepared for conflict with Russia. By accepting former Warsaw pact countries and the Baltic States as members, NATO implicitly did so to protect them from a future revanchist Russia. The USA helped inspire a series of colour revolutions across the former USSR aimed at removing pro-Kremlin governments, including the Orange Revolution in Ukraine which toppled Viktor Yanukovych for the first time, in 2004.

Spies tend to be cynical, alarmist and expect the worst because this is what they are trained to do. This goes not just for Gordievsky but for his former colleagues who now run Russia, including Vladimir Putin, whose KGB career was stymied because he was thought to have too little sense of danger. But just because they are paranoid does not necessarily mean that they are not right and Gordievsky understands Russia and the KGB better than anyone who has not served in the KGB. Gordievsky is certainly right when he says that Russia is the first country ruled by its secret service. Another spy chief who defected, Ion Mihai Pacepa, who ran the Romanian secret service (and allegedly worked for the KGB) before defecting to the USA, has said the same thing. Under the Czars and the Communists the secret service were subordinated to the government - now it seems to be the other way around, a big difference. 

What is remarkable is the number of ways in which Soviet Union had characteristics in common with Czarist Russia. They included considering that people who did not think Russia the most advanced society in the world had psychological problems and committing them to institutions - Nicholas I's Russia did this as well as Brezhnev's Russia. Do not minimise the extent to which Russians who grew up under Brezhnev or Khrushchev thought Russia more advanced than the West. Another is the intense strain of paranoia about the west and about foreigners that has always informed Russian thinking about the outside world and Russian foreign policy. Stalin really did believe in Leninism but he behaved in foreign policy very much like a Czar. Putin is not a Leninist but he continues a foreign policy similar to Stalin's and the Czars', born of fear of the West and desire for great power status, laced with a sense of Russia's messianic mission. This is the light in which Putin likes to see Russia as the protector of Christians against Sunni extremists and homosexual activists.

Russians, of course, are an intensely spiritual people - only a very spiritual people could have embraced atheism as an official policy. It is obvious now, in the age of ISIS and Al Qaeda, that Marxism, especially in its Leninist version, was always a religion, thankfully one that is dwindling away.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

George Kennan opposed the expansion of NATO in 1998

I am reading about George Kennan, who invented the containment policy that guided U.S. relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but who did not think the Cold War was necessary. He is a fascinating man, who lived to a great age.

In his late 90s he opposed the extension of NATO in 1998 saying it
...is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs." ... 

I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

I am sure Kennan was right that Communist Russia was not a threat to Western Europe. He backed detente. He also thought Vietnam was not of strategic importance to the USA and opposed the Vietnamese War, though not the Korean war. He was angry with Eisenhower for letting down Britain and France over Suez and he thought mass immigration a great threat to America and Europe. That's a lot of things to have been right about. Whether he was right to oppose NATO expansion in 1998 is harder to say. Would this have kept good relations with Russia? If not it would have made the Baltic States much more vulnerable than they already are to Russian aggression - although it would also have made NATO less exposed. I suspect that Kennan might have argued that they are not of strategic importance to the USA or Western Europe. 

Vaclav Klaus and Henry Kissinger don't think we should demonise Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin has invaded a sovereign state and doesn't intend to disgorge his ill-gotten gains. He is a compulsive liar and a thug but we live in a very thuggish world. He is not Brezhnev, luckily for everyone, invading Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan. As I try to make up my mind about what to think, here are two eminent men quoted this weekend on the subject of the Russian leader. I admire very much Dr Kissinger. I have more mixed feelings about Mr Klaus.

Vaclav Klaus, the Eurosceptic former Czech Prime Minister and President puts a word in for Vladimir Putin in an interview in the latest Spectator.

I spent most of my life in a communist Czechoslovakia under Soviet domination. But I differentiate between the Soviet Union and Russia. Those who are not able to understand the difference are simply not looking with open eyes. I always argue with my American and British friends that although the political system in Russia is different from the system in our countries and we wouldn’t be happy to live in such a system, to compare the current Russia with Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union is stupid. The US/EU propaganda against Russia is really ridiculous and I can’t accept it.

Henry Kissinger in an interview in the Independent to plug his book also does not think we should demonise Mr Putin

It's easy to demonise Putin. Of course he's not easy, but one has seen that type of Russian leader before – and he's not a Hitler. One shouldn't discuss it in terms of one Russian leader. The question is how does one visualise the long-term relationship of Russia to the West at a moment when Asia is transforming itself and Islam is in permanent upheaval?

I warmly agree when he paraphrases Goethe:

If I had to choose between justice and disorder, on the one hand, and injustice and order, on the other, I would always choose the latter.

Brooks Newmark's behaviour was very foolish but if adultery is not a sacking offence why is this?

The defection of Mr. Reckless to UKIP is already overshadowed by the resignation of Mr. Brooks Newmark from the government for sending rude pictures of himself - more specifically of his organ of generation - to someone he thought was an attractive young female Conservative activist but was in fact a male freelance journalist.

I am not concerned about the ethics of the journalist or the newspaper. As far as I am concerned, they can do what they like to dig up wrong-doing on the part of politicians, or anyone else for that matter, even if they are agents provocateurs. Mr Newmark's behaviour was very foolish but what I do not understand is: if adultery is not anymore a sacking offence in politics, why is this?

People say he is resigning not for moral reasons but 'because of poor judgement', but if everyone who showed poor judgement had to resign who would 'scape whipping?

When people who are now twenty become MPs numerous similar tweets may well exist to stretch the folly of their youth to be the shame of age but Mr. Newmark does not have the excuse of youth. He is three years older than me. I have a soft spot for him because he shares my love of travelling around the old-fashioned parts of the Middle East and once encouraged me to go to Yemen despite all the FCO advice against it. Perhaps living 16 years in Romania where male infidelity is taken for granted has coloured my judgment but I don't think so.

David Cameron should not have accepted the offered resignation but what will happen instead will be more calls for press regulation and that means even less freedom of speech in increasingly unfree England.

Why not a Conservative - UKIP pact?

A second Conservative MP, one Mr. Mark Reckless, has joined UKIP. Instead of crossing the floor (or moving to the crossbenches) he, like Mr. Carswell who joined UKIP a month ago, has admirably taken the Chiltern Hundreds (i.e. resigned from the House of Commons). This does not force a by-election, as the general election is only six months away, but the Prime Minister admirably will call one.

The Conservatives should let Mr. Reckless  stand unopposed, as Labour did David Davies, when he forced a by-election, and sign a pact with UKIP. The Conservatives could allow UKIP free runs in ten safe seats in return for a pledge to support a conservative government in a confidence motion. UKIP after all are good conservatives, better ones than David Cameron, and they can win Labour and even Liberal Democrat votes. UKIP would not only get some seats in return but it already has David Cameron's promise to hold a referendum after the next election on British membership of the EU.

Such a referendum, he assumes, will result in a victory for staying in. He tried this trick when he gave the Scots a referendum on remaining in the UK. His game paid off but at one point he was terrified that it wouldn't. But I do not imagine the electorate would have the courage to vote to leave the EU if all three party leaders beg them not to. This of course is what UKIP fear too.

But UKIP cannot win an election until they have won a large section of the establishment, especially the journalists and academics - most of which seem increasingly to loathe them - and meanwhile they can throw the election to Labour. Which means even more immigrants and even more powers given to the EU.

ISIS driving out Assyrians from their ancestral home and destroying ancient religious sites

Sunni Extremists Are Destroying Ancient Religious Sites in and around Mosul.

In 2010 I was at the beautiful monastery of Mar Mattei, overlooking the plains of Nineveh, just inside the Kurdish region. I hope it's not harmed and so far there is no sign on the internet that it has been. I do wish I had pushed across the border into the not very safe non-Kurdish area to visit Mosul itself and see it as it was before ISIS arrived. I hadn't realised that Nineveh is now part of Mosul. Imagine standing in Nineveh, though no doubt it is not as remarkable as the thoughts it conjures up.

It is important to note that iraqi Christians are not just an religious group threatened with conversion or expulsion but most are an ethnic group, the Assyrians.

What a terrible shame it was that the hanging chads in Florida did not hang the other way and spare us President George W. Bush. What a shame he was ever born. Had we had President Al Gore, Saddam would still be in power in Baghdad and the word a much happier place. But that's in the past. The war that started yesterday, unlike the one in 2003, is both just and necessary, though I hope the Kurds will do the fighting and win any spoils there might be.

Romania is dying

Ill fares the landto hastening ills a prey, 
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

Not very much wealth is accumulating these days in Romania but there is on-off economic growth, while the population falls year by year, reduced by emigration and a low birth-rate. In 2014 Romania had a population of 19,450,000 people, a quarter of a million less than last year and last year was the year with the fewest births since Romania came into existence in 1859. 

Communist Romania made contraception and abortion illegal after 1966. This followed the legalisation of abortion In 1957. Between 1957 and 1966 80% of pregnancies ended in abortion,  contraception not being available. After 1967 abortions continued to be performed but illegally, often with grave consequences for mothers and children. Many Romanian mothers died in botched abortions and hundreds of thousands of Romanian institutionalised children lived in inhuman conditions, in squalid orphanages.

I do know that abortion is an incredibly difficult subject and I am certainly not in favour of contraceptives being illegal, although I am in favour of abortion being illegal, but banning abortion and contraception did not make Romania unique. It's important to stress this because Romanians and foreigners talk as if the ban on contraception in Romania was something unheard of elsewhere. In 1990 the British media repeated this over and over again, because by 1990 women in most countries did have access to abortion, even those living in Southern Ireland and Belgium where it was illegal. 

Lenin's Soviet Union was the first country in the world to make all abortions legal in 1920 but until the 1960s abortion remained illegal in Great Britain, the USA and most developed countries. Ceausescu made abortion illegal in Romania one year before it was made legal, theoretically only on health grounds, in England.

Before the Second World War and after contraceptives were illegal in various countries, including secular France until 1967 and until later in the Republic of Ireland. The reason in the case of France was the same as Romania's - to encourage natality.

In Romania abortion nowadays is legal, considered very normal and is the biggest problem the country faces, along with declining population. Romania is said to have aborted 22 million babies over the last fifty years. That's more than the entire current population of the country and abortion is still used as a method of contraception. The frequency of abortion is however falling. In 1990 immediately after the revolution there were 3,158 abortions for every 1,000 live births. in 2010 the figure dipped below 500 per 1,000 for the first time since 1990.

Abortion and contraception are swiftly reducing the population of not just Romania but Europe and the developed world. The pill invented in 1961 has been fatal. Among European politicians, as far as I know, only Vladimir Putin, of whom I am not an admirer, has publicly recognised this peril. 

Abortion, declining birth rates and mass immigration from the Third World are Europe's biggest problems, followed by terrorism, loss of freedom, children growing up in broken homes and the dying countryside.

Friday, 26 September 2014

How to be old-fashioned

Oscar Wilde said 
It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned.
This is true and I accordingly think that young fogeys probably never grow old. I am told I am one and if so we shall try the experiment.

I never steal other people's limes without attribution, which leaves me open to the charge of name-dropping when I quote. The fascist zoo-keeper John Aspinall, I recall, whenever he wanted to strengthen a point would preface whatever he wanted to say with
As Schopenhauer once said...
However, I did break my own rule twice. Once when I quoted an anodyne remark by Robert Graves about sex being secret to a girl and she recognised it. She had read it in my commonplace book. And once when I purloined the expression
nothing is as old-fashioned as a future that has failed
and sowed it into my account of a my first visit to Havana, where it fits very well. 
Shakespeare stole - it's how you steal that matters, I contend, to comfort myself.

If cities could be fogeys Havana, like many Communist cities, would be one. So would Bucharest. But Communist and post-Communist cities are not young fogeys, but old ones, aged by being cut off from modernity, beautiful and tragic.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

'Pro-Putin Eurosceptics are letting the side down'

An interesting blog post by the clever and high-minded British Eurosceptic Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan who tells Eurosceptics not to side with Vladimir Putin - as so many do.

  "I’m writing these words in Kiev, which is gearing up for parliamentary elections, and where I’ve been enormously impressed by how many young, Western-oriented idealists are standing for parliament for the first time. Politics was for a long time seen here as the pursuit of oligarchs, their henchmen and sundry shysters. But, after Maidan, a different kind of candidate stepped forward: principled, Anglophile and motivated by the dream of a law-based, pluralist, free-market Ukraine. 
It’s true that these candidates sometimes use “Europe” as a shorthand for that package of values. It’s also true that they see the process of getting closer to the EU – with or without eventual membership – as a way of stimulating the domestic reforms they want. But – and I can’t believe I’m having to write this – that doesn’t make the reforms wrong. 
I’m a Eurosceptic because I believe in freedom: “free peoples, free nations, free markets,” as the slogan of the European Young Conservatives puts it. I dislike the EU precisely because it is power-hungry, top-heavy, arrogant, remote, corrupt, self-serving. Applying those criteria to the conflict in Ukraine, I know where my sympathies lie." 

Hannan is a Whig not a Tory, and this is why he is more an idealist than a realist when it comes to foreign policy, but he is more of a Tory than Vladimir Putin or the former KGB. 

The more I think about Ukraine the clearer it is that Ukrainians are behind the new government and against Russia. Putin's regime is a bad thing for Russia and her neighbours, but what comes after could be much worse. I also see why a democratic and successful Ukraine would threaten his regime. Backing down in the face of his invasion, as John Mearsheimer and former British Ambassador Sir Anthony Brenton counsel, would look and be weak and gravely weaken NATO, the USA and Western Europe and yet a proxy war would be unpredictable and almost certainly counter-productive. Wars usually are and Ukraine is too far away, Russia too powerful. Selective, effective sanctions must be the answer and a severe chill in relations. 

Thank God I don't have to decide, though, what NATO should do. But why are people in London and Paris more concerned about Israeli actions in Gaza?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Bucharest's City Gates at dusk

A wonderful photograph taken by Adrian Savin and reproduced with his permission.

Vladimir Putin's childhood reading

This is an interesting remark by Andrew Marr, in a talk on Monday at King's College, London.
"Putin was brought up on the Russian equivalent of wild west stories, cops and robbers stories, all about KGB agents fighting off the Western powers and that's where his world view comes from. It's like an American president who's only read Westerns and sees the rest of the world as Indians."
Did the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Avengers and Enid Blyton influence my politics and make me, like the young Putin, a cold warrior? My passion for Enid Blyton was entirely for nostalgic-conservative reasons. I read her to overdose on 1930s cosiness. It was all about the safety of the past, an idyllic world where policemen rode bikes and clipped the ears of badly behaved children. Before disbursing my pocket money I always looked at the copyright date to check that the book I intended to buy was first published in the 1940s or preferably the 1930s. I never bought the ones she continued to churn out in the 1960s, which for me aged 8 had no charm. And Steed in the Avengers is my idea of a chevalier sans raproche. I cannot imagine Steed voting anything other than Tory.

Someone published a book about the books in Hitler's library but I do not know what he or Stalin read as children.

Andrew Marr’s characters bring his weak novel alive

Marr also said the Queen mistook him for the Russian president. When asked what she and Putin had been discussing, the Queen said: 
"I can't remember, all I was thinking to myself is 'I must remember that this is the president of Russia and not that funny chap from the BBC.'"

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bloodlands: Timothy Snyder's book and Daniel Lazare's violent attack on it

A joint Soviet-Nazi victory parade was held in Brest seventy-five years ago today to celebrate their invasion of Poland. 

I have been reading Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands, a book which at first I gave up on because I found it an unreadable catalogue of death in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states: first famines and massacres caused by the Bolsheviks, then killings by the German army and the SS. It seems like an account of hell, the historical equivalent of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

Unlike most middle aged Englishmen I am not a fan of military history or what a friend of mine calls 'Hitler porn', which seems to go with rattling ones car keys and opining on the best way to get to Luton. But I persevered and found that Snyder's book, though very painful, told me much that I didn't know. It benefits from the many languages he reads. What he christens 'the Bloodlands' do not really form a natural unit but by combining a distressing account of the famine and terror that Stalin instituted with the heart-wrenching accounts of the killings by the Germans he brings both into focus. Best it enables him to look at the killings outside the confines of national history or of a book on either the holocaust or on Stalin's killings.

The juxtaposition angers one very left-wing writer, Daniel Lazare, an apologist for Vladimir Putin, who this month published an oddly vitriolic attack on Bloodlands. He never makes it clear why he is so very angry but his bile almost reminds me of the pamphleting style of Marx or Lenin. Lazare seems to be offended because the killing of the Jews by the Germans is implicitly being compared to the killings for which Stalin was responsible. Professor Snyder puts Mr. Lazare in mind of the ideas of German historian Ernst Nolte, who in a 1986 essay asked:
"Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an 'Asiatic' deed [of mass killing] merely because they and their ilk considered themselves to be potential victims of an 'Asiatic' deed [by the Soviets]? 
The answer to this question is no but it is a very stimulating question to debate. I thought no-one these days imagined there was very much to choose between Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot, but it seems I was wrong. 

In Mr. Lazare's world view equating Hitler and Stalin leads one to blame Lenin for the Holocaust. This of course is not the case - Lenin is not to blame for the murder of the Jews or even the millions whose deaths were caused by Stalin and other Leninists. It is enough that he is to blame for possibly millions who died in famine caused by his economic or (as Richard Pipes describes it) his anti-economic policy. What is clear, however, is that Lenin was an evil genius and the spiritual father of fascism and Nazism. Mussolini, an ex-socialist, copied Lenin. 

In Mr. Lazare's view conflating German and Russian killings, while ignoring many appalling deeds by Poles, Ukrainians and Balts, makes Russia a bogeyman. From there, he thinks, before you know it you find yourself objecting to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, which was, he says, a response to American aggression. This sounds like the sort of thing far left Western writers said before Mr. Gorbachev came to power.

One of the things I liked about Timothy Snyder's book is that it points out the moral ambiguity of Communist partisans carrying out attacks on the Germans in full knowledge of the terrible reprisals that would follow. This is the reason why the Communist resistance in Yugoslavia, Albania and France was effective and why Churchill and Britain ended up supporting the future tyrants, Tito and Hoxha. 
Mr. Lazare thinks there was no alternative. Perhaps he is right. And he is furious that the role of the partisans should be questioned - here he is not right.

He is very shocked that Professor Snyder defends the Polish Home Army's reluctance to help the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. It is shocking, but everything in this story is shocking. 
Warsaw Home Army commanders had strategic concerns that militated against giving the Jews any weapons at all. Although the Home Army was moving in the direction of partisan action, it feared that a rebellion in the ghetto would provoke a general uprising in the city, which the Germans would crush. The Home Army was not ready for such a fight in late 1942. Home Army commanders saw a premature uprising as a communist temptation to be avoided. They knew that the Soviets, and thus the Polish communists, were urging the local population to take up arms immediately against the Germans.
The Soviets wanted to provoke partisan warfare in Poland in order to weaken the Germans — but also to hinder any future Polish resistance to their own rule when it came. The Red Army’s task would be easier if German troops were killed by partisan warfare as would the NKVD’s if Polish elites were killed for resisting Germans. The Jewish Combat Organisation included the communists, who were following the Soviet line, and believed that Poland should be subordinated to the Soviet Union. As the Home Army command could not forget, the Second World War had begun when both the Germans and the Soviets had invaded Poland. Half of Poland had spent half of the war inside the Soviet Union. The Soviets wanted eastern Poland back, and perhaps even more. 

From the perspective of the Home Army, rule by the Soviets was little better than rule by the Nazis. Its goal was independence. There were hardly any circumstances that would seem to justify a Polish independence organisation arming communists inside Poland. Despite these reservations, the Home Army did give the Jewish Combat Organisation a few pistols in December 1942.

Mr. Lazare considers that Professor Snyder wants the reader to think that the blame for the Nazi genocide should be shared between Hitler and Stalin, though Mr. Lazare concedes that Professor Snyder does not say or hint this. 

Mr. Lazare, for his part, seems to want to share the blame with the Poles instead. Unfortunately, there is some truth in thisHow complicated history written for grown-up people is. He quotes the following Polish Home Army declaration from 1942, which is not quoted by Professor Snyder:
Whether we like it or not, Communism is attacking us. The extermination of the Jews in Europe by the Germans, which will be the final result of the German–Jewish war, represents from our point of view an undoubtedly favourable development, for it will weaken the explosive power of Communism at the moment of the German collapse — or earlier. Let us have no illusions. The liquidation of the Jews is not tantamount to the liquidation of the Commune, behind which is the Comintern and through which the Jews want to take their revenge on us.
Mr. Lazare draws attention to something that startled me when I came across it in Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder's statement that 
“forty percent of high-ranking NKVD officers had Jewish nationality recorded in their identity documents, as did more than half of the NKVD generals.”
Mr. Lazare comments
the implication is that left-wing Jews played a major role in developing the techniques that would later be their undoing at the hands of the ultra-right.
Bloodlands does not imply anything of the sort. In any case, most Jews were not Communists until the time came when everyone had to be.

His argument is not only with Professor Snyder's book but with his backing for the revolution in Kiev:
In May, he accused Russia of sending troops to Donetsk and Luhansk, a deployment that no other journalist has been able to detect. A few days later, he accused Putin of not only seeking to destabilise Ukraine, but the EU as well.  
....the best way to understand such arguments is as a case of psychological projection in which the aggression that Snyder attributes to Russia is really a reflection of his own. After all, NATO has added a dozen countries to its roster since the collapse of the USSR, all within the former Soviet sphere of influence. Neocons such as Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, and James Woolsey attempted to drum up support for the Chechen rebels beginning in the 1990s while, in August 2008, John McCain encouraged Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili to launch an “ill-planned reconquista” of the breakaway province of South Ossetia, which, had it proved successful, might well have led to the unravelling of Russia’s entire southern tier.
I am not impressed by any of Mr. Lazare's ideas and he obviously has agenda which he does not explain. He is not really arguing about the Second World War but something else, though he does not state what - rather as he thinks Professor Snyder is rehashing Professor Nolte's ideas without saying so. I think Mr. Lazare is defending Communism and Vladimir Putin - but he doesn't say this. He settles for attacking instead.

People do not have to blame Stalin for the holocaust to dislike Vladimir Putin. Superficial thinkers see Mr. Putin as another Hitler without bringing Stalin into it. I do not agree with Chesterton that the superficial view is always the most profound, but superficial thinkers are almost always right up to a certain point.

By the way, I recommend Timothy Snyder on Stepan Bandera, whose statues dot Western Ukraine. Terrorism started long before September 11 or the IRA. Bandera was a terrorist and so were the Communists and the Nazis. Superficial thinkers would argue that so were the RAF at Dresden and the Americans at Hiroshima. I would not go that far.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Jesus thought sodomy a sin - and witchcraft too

Clearly Jesus, a first century rabbi, did not approve of the sin of Sodom - or witchcraft - and thought both deserving of death. He wasn't against the death penalty and didn't disapprove of slavery, though He advised a rich young man to give away his worldly goods, which probably would have included his slaves.

I wonder what people would say if the Second Coming happens anytime soon. I considered this here.

I celebrate 16 years in Bucharest

Nice of Bucharest to celebrate my 16 years here with fireworks and concert last night. 

Sixteen years. Gulp.

I watched and listened from my terrace overlooking Lipscani which day by day becomes more artificial and less congenial. But asa e viata, as Romanians say. It means 'that's life', but in a melancholy, resigned way, definitely not in a zen way.

How long twenty years seemed when aged eight I read Dumas's Twenty Years After and how old D'Artagnan and the musketeers seemed in that book when they tried in vain to save the life of King Charles I  of England and Scotland. They were forty.

However  I am the same age as they were twelve years after that when they restored his son, King Charles II to the English throne. So onward.

My friend Matt dug up and sent me this a week or so again in a mail saying 

Came across this last night. A young and rather dreamy looking man is captaining the Queens team

It was painful for me to see how perfectly nice looking and even impressive I was when I felt at the time that I was nothing of the sort. Asking around my friends it seems though that most people were blancmanges of self doubt at 22. Even my incredibly hot friend Alina told me she didn't know at 22 that she was anything special. So any young person reading this please profit by this to know that you are much better than you think. Unless you are a psychopath, in which case you are not and anyway already have a high self regard.

It is exactly 30 years ago since I was in University Challenge -  and walking home I was stunned to realise that more than half of those years I have spent in Bucharest. Which is a very good place to spend them, but how time flies when you're having fun.

London notes: 4 - Temple Bar

I couldn't work out what this extraordinarily beautiful gate was. I knew it wasn't there when I lived in London and yet it is so old. When I asked, I discovered it was Temple Bar, the last surviving gate to the once walled City of London, which until Victorian road-widening stood in Fleet St. After a very long absence from London it has returned and was placed close to St. Paul's in 2004. How out of touch I am.

I remembered that traitors' heads once adorned it, if adorned is the right word.

And then it all came back to me. I remembered reading often as a schoolboy in the Peterborough column in the Telegraph about Temple Bar resting in a field in Hertfordshire. The full story is here.

I remember one Victorian memoirist - I was an insatiable but very unselective reader in my early 20s -  said Somerset House is the most beautiful building in London. Norman Collins thought St. James's Palace was the building most typical of LONDON and I fully understand what he meant. I have enjoyed shocking people by saying the Lloyd's Building was my favourite and in fact it for a long time was. I love Westminster Cathedral too even if it does, like the man said, resemble the bathroom department at Harrod's. But Temple Bar is now I think the loveliest building in central London. It is by Wren and is second only to his sublime Royal Maritime College, Greenwich, which is nowadays in London but once was not.

Almost equally wonderful is the demolition of the horrible 1960s buildings which I remember standing north of St. Paul's. Almost too good to be true. Let's pull down Centre Point next, even if it is listed.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

London notes 3

Above is a wonderful Miro print that I saw and loved in a shop in Cecil Court, off the Charing Cross Road, when I was in London recently.

A very intelligent Jewish American friend I dined with said two very interesting things about the Arab Israeli conflict. He said that Netanyahu doesn't want to make peace. He has everything he wants as things are - with settlers steadily encroaching on the West Bank. This, I saw as he spoke, is true. And he added
There's a strong case to be made by the Israelis and by the Arabs. Which you side with ultimately comes down to which you find more congenial.
I think there is a lot of truth in this too. 

I wonder which I find more congenial. I feel I love both. 

I saw a friend from college, now a frightfully well-paid City solicitor, who said to me that once you reach fifty you stop thinking that one day you'll do such and such and realise suddenly that this is it. Yes.

A charming Catholic priest told me from the depths of his armchair in his club that
When I was twenty all I wanted to do was find a way of spending my life drinking champagne every day and now I do.
How can he afford it? 
Simple. I don't have a car.
What a wise man. I rejoice that I don't have one. If one does not marry and does not drive life can be sweet.

Dinner at Buck's with two young fogeys one of whom did his Finals at Cambridge wearing white tie - something which everyone does at Oxford but long ago fell into desuetude at Cambridge. His friend who is twenty years his junior works in Turnbull and Asser but will start university. He could almost have been forty but is really twenty. They seemed the same age - for young fogeys are ageless. The younger man reminded me of Claud Hulbert. He seems to have always had a psychological urge to be a figure from the 1930s. He says members of the working class who meet him on buses and at stations treat him with kindness and politeness and understand what he is about, that he is a figure from another age.

As always my abiding impression of England is of how much nicer and more polite people are than in the 1980s. London does not seem any more cosmopolitan than it did then but that's because I stay in the very centre - Trafalgar Sq. and Piccadilly Circus always were full of tourists and St James's is the last redoubt of Edwardian England. But Jermyn St. no longer feels as exclusive as it did, which is sad. Jermyn St. shirt shops in the 1980s were all about snobbery but now are not at all except for the last four real ones. Exclusivity is perhaps something which has become democratised. The clubs of St. James's have women in the libraries which is where one feels their presence as most intrusive and young men tieless and in jeans at the weekends. What would Monsignor Gilbey have thought? 

Only the Charing Cross Road's second hand bookshops and the Brompton Oratory seem eternal and changeless.

The English quite like the Scots but much prefer the Irish

I am a passionate Unionist because I love Great Britain including Scotland, though I have never been there. Of course I like Ireland more, but that's a different kind of love. The English are affectionately amused by foreigners, are mildly fond but fairly indifferent to the Scots and Welsh but, despite the IRA bombs, they love they Irish (the Celts, not the Northern Ireland Prods). But Scots are part of the family - like Geordies or the Manx.

I do sympathise with the more romantic nationalists, the ones who love the monarchy, not the ones who hate the Tories and the lairds, but i am not sure about nationalists who want an independent Scotland to attract large numbers of immigrants from around the world and are happy to be ruled by the European Union. And I am aware of a contradiction in my attitudes. I want Belgium and Italy to split up except for fear it would lead Scotland to leave, just as the Easter rising led to independence for India.  But now that danger has been removed, for at least a generation, long live the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies!

My friend Alex Woodcock-Clark who is Scottishish - at least he lives in Scotland - put it beautifully on Facebook

One of the sad things about the aftermath of the referendum is that ill-feelings still subsist though the debate and discussion are now over. So many friends have communicated to me, both publicly and privately, including my postman, that their feelings towards me can never be as warm as once they were since they felt it wrong of me to end my every sentence I addressed to them '...,you traitor'.

Friday, 19 September 2014

My country has been saved

The very good news that my country will not cease to exist started my day. Because though I and all Englishmen are English first, British a long way second, Great Britain is my country.

I wish devolution could be undone but it cannot - and devolution to English regions or worse an English parliament would be disastrous. The solution that the Tories have in mind is the right one, that Scotch MPs should not vote on matters that do not concern them. This was the solution proposed in 1886, the first time Home Rule almost became law. Mr. Gladstone said then,

"If Ireland is to have domestic legislation for Irish affairs they cannot come here for English or Scottish affairs."
I think Alistair Darling should be given the Thistle, though that is up to Her Majesty.  

David Cameron is the man who came close to destroying Great Britain, acting, it seems, on Mr. Osborne's advice. Also to blame are John Smith and Tony Blair, the two 1974 election results and perhaps Margaret Thatcher.

We now have Scotland in the Union against the will of 45% of Scots. This needs addressing and, much as I regret its necessity, 'devomax' will address it.

Three fifths of Romanians think things were better under communism

31% of Romanians think life is better now than before the 1989 revolution, while 60.5% don’t agree.

My unscientific poll of Bucharest taxi drivers would suggest at least 80% and perhaps 90% of those old enough to remember think things were better in the 1980s.

In some respects they were of course, especially for the less intelligent classes. And not just them. The parties were much better then and everyone had time for books and conversation. Only two hours television a day was a great blessing. I imagine rather a lot of things were better but this does not stop me hating communism. And of course the taxi drivers I polled were thirty years younger in the early 1980s. Youth's sweet scented manuscript had in most cases not yet closed for them.