It is by now a truism that, in politics today, opposites are converging. Starting out as specks on the underside of a Möbius strip, Europe’s Greens, anarchists, post-Marxist socialists, even a welfare-minded single mother or two, come out on top of the anti-EU agenda, mixing with Roger Scruton and his hunt, resplendent in their pinks, and joining them at the Ritz for cocktails when they’re in town.
A similar “non-orientable property,” as mathematicians say, is in evidence as far as the public perception of the current Russian dictator, echoing an earlier instance of spatial confusion, when, in the 1940s, Uncle Joe became the toast of the selfsame towns he had been scheming to sack. Uncle Vlad has a long way to go, to be sure, before he becomes as universally cuddlesome as Stalin, but if one looks at recent dispatches from the Right, one can hardly fail to respond to some of the same adulatory signs.
Just the other day, a Scottish nationalist – grooming himself to become Prime Minister as he agitates for splitting his own little Ukraine from the mother country – bemoaned the bad “press” Uncle Vlad had been getting, saying that he could well see “why Putin carries support in Russia.” Uncle Joe, of course, carried immeasurably greater support right up to his death in 1953, but, unaccountably, Alex Salmond never mentioned this.
Earlier in the month, a similar sentiment was vented by Nigel Farage, that uncompromising champion of Britain’s independence from the EU, when asked which “world politician” he most admired. In fairness, it has been noted that Farage’s admiration for Uncle Vlad predates Russia’s decision to annex Ukraine. According to the Daily Telegraph, since 2010 Farage “has appeared no fewer than 17 times on the Kremlin’s international English-language propaganda TV channel, Russia Today.”
Naturally, I found myself in agreement with Farage insofar as the man said that his admiration of Uncle Vlad stemmed from the KGB prodigy’s being a great “operator,” as evidenced, for instance, by his handling of the Syrian crisis. Really, what’s not to like? Must we recoil in disgust when watching a grand master win the chess game just because he happens to be playing black? “The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant,” the Guardian reported the leader of UKIP as saying. “Not that I approve of him politically. How many journalists in jail now?”
I can only wish that the paleoconservative Right’s perception of Uncle Vlad were similarly disinterested. Instead, the “non-orientable” admiration for Russia’s strongman is creeping up to the top of the Right’s political agenda – not because the strongman has shown brilliance as an opponent, but largely because he’s a strongman to begin with. Unlike democratic leaders, strongmen get things done. And, both at home and abroad, the Right is sick and tired of pussyfooting.
In the wake of Yalta, admiration for Uncle Joe has cost the free world half of Europe. I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that, if things keep going the “non-orientable” way they have been, admiration for Uncle Vlad will cost us the other half.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.