Adam Michnik: Putin’s Impunity
Adam Michnik is a Polish historian, intellectual, and former dissident. Currently, he is the editor-in-chief of Poland's leading newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza".
By annexing Crimea, Vladimir Putin behaved like the Godfather. He told Russia and the world: either your brains or your signature will be on that contract. This policy has proved successful, though nobody knows for how long.
In his yesterday's speech, Putin spoke his mind: his regime fears no punishment and will do whatever it pleases. Crimea is just a first step in his dream of greatness. Yet he didn't say everything.
Each paragraph of his address was filled with lies and manipulations, for lies and manipulations are inseparable from Putin's thinking about the world. A subtle analysis of the speech would be a waste of time. The simple fact is that the president of Russia, a country that's so powerful and yet so alone today, has embarked on a path of confrontation with the rest of the world. He will invite partners for talks, and right away accuse them of acting in a "brutal, irresponsible and unprofessional way." This smacks of Dostoyevsky's Demons, creating as it does a world that does not exist and has never existed.
What does Kosovo, where the Albanians suffered persecution, have in common with the situation of the people in Crimea, who have never been oppressed? What's the point in contempt for Ukraine's government and parliament? What's the point in labelling Ukrainian authorities as "fascist and anti-Semitic"? Crimean Tatars will give no heed to the fairy tales about fascists ruling Ukraine; they can still remember the mass deportations, brutal and murderous, of their country people that were ordered by Stalin and executed by the NKVD.
Putin evokes the story of a Russia that the whole world has discriminated against for the last three centuries. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a more severe discrimination than the one dating back to the times of bloody despots: Catherine II, Nicholas I or Joseph Stalin.
Putin also warns Russians and Ukrainians that "we and you, the Russians and the Ukrainians, may soon lose Crimea altogether." Yet he fails to specify who – perhaps Poles and Lithuanians again – is whetting their appetite for Sevastopol.
We couldn't leave the people of Crimea "alone in their predicament," says Putin. These words make you smile a sad smile; it's a quotation from Leonid Brezhnev who made this statement in August 1968 when justifying the intervention in Czechoslovakia.
"We want Ukraine to be a strong, sovereign and independent country," says Putin. This in turn is a remark Stalin made about Poland in 1945. I will not mention here the words said by Hitler during the Anschluss and the conquest of Czechoslovakia – my friends, Russian democrats, have already done so.
History has come full circle. This is the real end of history – the history of dreams about a world governed by democratic values and the market economy. If the democratic world fails to grasp that now is no time for the traditional faith in diplomatic compromise, and that we must find a strong enough response to stop Putin's imperial and thuggish policy, then a logic of events will set in motion that one is even afraid to think of today. It takes force to stop a thug.
I commend and take pride in Poland's policy and the attitude of Polish society. Poland's prudent and determined policy does us great credit. But we must realize that the best quarter century in the last four centuries of Polish history is about to end before our very eyes. A time of tectonic shifts has begun. Let's appreciate what we've managed to achieve, and let's learn to protect it.
We all remember that the Godfather met an unhappy fate, and I don't think his Russian plagiarist will fare much better.
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