Western intellectuals have long had a soft spot for Russia
writes Slawomir Sierakowski
in a New York Times contribution entitled Putin's Useful Idiots
. In the past century, following in the footsteps of Voltaire and Johann Gottfried von Herder,
intellectuals like André Gide, Pablo Neruda and
Jean-Paul Sartre all stumped for the Soviet Union as what Lenin
allegedly called “useful idiots,” apologizing for its monstrosities long
after the rest of the world recognized them.
those in the Eastern Europe left — myself included — who know Russia
better than most, such naïveté has long been a source of chagrin. And
yet it continues, even today, as many American and Western European
intellectuals do all they can to minimize the dangerous aggression by
Vladimir V. Putin.
Writing in The Nation, the Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen
argued that Mr. Putin was largely blameless for the conflict in
Ukraine, that he had tried to avoid it but that the West had forced his
hand. In Mr. Cohen’s eyes, the West has unnecessarily humiliated Russia
by inviting countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to
he wrote, is part of Russia’s sphere of influence, so why can’t we just
accept Mr. Putin’s proposal that Ukraine be federalized, with
neutrality guaranteed in a new constitution?
Cohen’s defense of Russia’s sphere of influence overlooks the question
of whether the countries that fall within it are there by choice or
coercion. Ukraine is willing to be in the Western sphere of influence
because it receives support for civil society, the economy and national
defense — and Russia does nothing of the kind.
Mr. Cohen and others don’t just defend Russia; they attack the pro-democracy activists in Ukraine.
Western intellectuals seem unbothered by anyone who notes the
similarity between their pronouncements and Russian propaganda. Indeed,
they dismiss such charges out of hand. Zoltan Grossman, who teaches at
Evergreen State in Olympia, Wash., writes that it is “wrong and
irresponsible to assert that the presence of fascists and Nazis in the
new government is merely Russian propaganda.”
Dr. Grossman, inconvenient details are less important than the fact
that Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the far-right organization Right
Sector, had been appointed deputy secretary of the National Security and
naïve American intellectuals say free of charge, the canny Gerhard
Schröder, the former German chancellor, says for 250,000 euros a year as
a board member of Gazprom, the Russian oil giant. Mr. Schröder, the
German father of “Gazprom socialism” — a new subspecies of limousine
liberalism — has repeatedly embarrassed Berlin by supporting Russia’s
annexation of Crimea.
isn’t alone — another former chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, has likewise
sung Russia’s praises of late, as has Günter Verheugen, a prominent
former European Union commissioner.
drives these men? Is it a case of poorly conceived pacifism? An
eruption of remorse for war crimes carried out against Russians, so many
years ago? Or the Stockholm syndrome of a victim fascinated by his
they are entitled to their opinions. But in speaking out this way they
are doing great damage to Germany’s postwar government, built on a
commitment to democracy and national self-determination, everything that
is currently under attack by Mr. Putin.
irony is that by standing beside Russia and pointing fingers at fascist
phantoms in Ukraine, Western intellectuals are aligning themselves not
just with the autocrat in the Kremlin, but the legions of far-right
parties across Europe that have come to Russia’s defense, among them
Hungary’s Jobbik, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Austria’s Freedom Party,
Italy’s Lega Nord and the French Front National. Who says Russia needs
propaganda? It already has its useful idiots.