Flat White

Humanity's limitless potential for evil

16 April 2022

4:00 AM

16 April 2022

4:00 AM

In last Saturday’s Weekend Australian, Geoffrey Robertson argued that sanctions against Putin and his supporters must be tightened, (What responsibility do Russians bear for Putin?). It was classic Robertson. He doesn’t mince his words and suggested that the Russian Ambassador to Australia should be kicked out as should the local representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church unless they are prepared to repudiate the support their Patriarch has given Putin.

Robertson was equally blunt about Russia’s classical music superstars and he specifically mentioned the conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko. These ‘morally deficient individuals have refuse to step up to the plate’ and ‘unless they condemn Putin’s war … must never again be admitted to civilised countries’. As I said, Robertson doesn’t mince his words.

Gergiev, who has been described as ‘Putin’s court conductor’, has lost posts with some of Europe’s leading orchestras and his career outside Russia is, for the moment, over. Netrebko, once the darling of the New York Metropolitan Opera, has suffered a similar fall. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one official claimed, ‘The Met made repeated efforts in recent days attempting to convince Netrebko to repudiate Putin but failed to persuade her’.

In a recent article in the New York Times, (Anna Netrebko Russian Diva, is out at the Metropolitan Opera), the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, said, ‘It is a great artistic loss for the Met … Anna is one of the greatest singers in Met history, but with Putin killing innocent victims in Ukraine, there was no way forward.’ Gelb also said that the Met would not engage artists who support Putin.

While the whole world watches the horrific events brought into our living rooms by modern technology, one question is increasingly prominent. How is it that Russian elite, people who clearly have access to all the information that is available, still refuse to condemn Putin’s murderous rampage through Ukraine? 

There was a story in the press a few days ago of a Russian resident of Ukraine who sent photographs of the damage caused by the invasion to her relatives in Russia. Their response was to claim that the photos were ‘fake’ even though they had been sent to them by their Ukrainian relatives. One can understand that people who were fed nothing but lies for several decades and were denied access to independent reports, may possibly prefer to accept the official version of events over that of their relatives. But for people who have access to the truth, who understand the extent of the carnage caused by the Russian forces, who know all about the hideous propaganda that the Russian Government is producing, how can they continue to support this barbarous lying murderer? 

How can Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, go on the record to say that the slaughter which the world witnessed in the village of Bucha was perpetrated by Ukrainians to make Russia look bad? He must realise that his lies will condemn him forever. Perhaps he is fully aware of the extent of his callous disregard for the truth but believes that it is justified because of his hatred of western democracy? 

We have seen the same willingness of many Russian officials to lie, time after time, over the past one hundred years. We saw it with the refusal to admit Stalin’s Siberian Gulags were little more than slave labour camps where millions died. We saw it with the refusal to accept responsibility for the famines of 1932-33 in Russia and Ukraine due to forced collectivisation of agricultural farms. Stalin’s determination to accelerate the establishment of a socialist utopia resulted in somewhere between 5 to 8 million deaths due to starvation. Even today, the Russians continue to deny that the 1940 Katyn Massacres of 22,000 polish officers and intellectuals were ordered by Stalin. More recent examples of the Russian willingness to lie in the face of incontrovertible evidence is seen in the refusal to accept responsibility for the murder of Russian dissidents in the UK, and the murder of the crew and passengers of MH17. 

Last month, a credible survey in Russia found that Putin’s popularity had increased since he invaded Ukraine. He now has an approval rating of 80 per cent of all Russians. It is not just opera singers and celebrity conductors that support him. With the exception of Anatoly Chubais, there have been no prominent defections from the Russian elite. The continuing support for Putin raises very deep and difficult questions about human nature and the willingness of some people to use war as an excuse to engage in mass murder, rape, and theft. 

The Russians have form in this area. When the Soviet armies ground down the Wehrmacht in the second world war and marched into Germany, what followed was probably the largest mass rape in history. German women paid a heavy price in payback for the brutality that their husbands had visited upon the Russians in Barbarossa. 

The Japanese, who are now our friends, were just as brutal during the second world war as the Russians are today. The orgy of murder, torture, and rape which the Japanese inflicted on the citizens of Nanking, as it was then known, was pretty much the same sort of behaviour we are now witnessing in Ukraine. There are two ways of looking at this similarity. 

The Japanese, like the Germans, learned a valuable lesson in the second world war and, despite having been a warrior nation for a thousand years, are now among the least aggressive people on the planet. If a defeat can bring about a profound change in the core beliefs of a nation, then perhaps the defeat, which is surely coming to Russia, may introduce profound changes to the way the Russian people see themselves. That’s possibly an optimistic interpretation of what is going on in the world right now. 

An alternative perspective is that what the Russians are doing to the Ukrainians is a continuation of what has been standard practice through the ages. Fukuyama’s ‘end of ideology’ delusion infected our understanding of war. While small wars in third world nations continued, something of the scale of the Ukraine war was considered as belonging in the past. We must now accept that, as long as people like Comrades Putin and Xi Jinping hold the reins of power, nothing will ever change and we must make appropriate preparations. 

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