Masha Karp: At the Frontline Club

posted 13 Sept 2010, 08:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Sept 2010, 08:31 ]
Masha Karp recently attended some events at the London journalists’ club.

Timothy Garton Ash was in celebratory mood. He told Jon Snow how he had enjoyed marking the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall in 2009 and Barack Obama’s victory in 2008. And even though he had to admit Obama had not yet fulfilled the hopes many Americans and Europeans had for his foreign policy, yet there was still the possibility of a second term…

But so far as Europe and the European Union were concerned, things looked quite satisfactory, despite all the countries’ economic problems - and Greece’s and Latvia’s particular difficulties. Responding to Jon Snow’s suggestion that perhaps the EU had moved too fast, Timothy Garton Ash firmly stated that nothing could be better than the freedom that Eastern Europe had secured for itself within the framework of the European Union.

He spoke about freedom in other countries too. He admired China’s economic growth and hoped that eventually a growing Chinese middle class would demand for itself a more democratic system. He didn’t doubt that Ukraine would remain independent. He insisted that Turkey should become part of the EU. And answering the question of how Europe could support the opposition in Iran, he praised such well-tested methods as the BBC Persian-language television service, the training of young Iranians in the West, and teaching the opposition ways of non-violent resistance.

The only country Timothy Garton Ash seemed to be quite dismissive about was Russia. He repeated several times like a mantra: “Russia is not the 3-dimensional super power it used to be, it is a regional power”, which obviously reflected a conscious effort to try and think differently about the country that for so long had defined the life of its neighbours. Still, he did not seem very interested in either Russia’s rulers’ current threats to their neighbours or in Russia’s opposition. To say nothing of the freedom of its people.

Answering a question about the Russia-Georgia war of 2008, he lamented that the Europeans were not very good at dealing with war situations and always hoped that the Americans would save them. Not a word was said about the ceasefire agreement brokered by Sarkozy and broken all the time by the Russians. When asked about a possible common position of Germany and Russia against the rest of Europe (provoked by his admission that Germans today are much more Euro-sceptic than they used to be when they were pushing for integration), Garton Ash was critical of Schroeder’s lack of principle, but did not investigate the relationship any further.

True, he admitted that, seen from a country like Russia, the European Union looked ridiculously hypocritical: its leaders making speeches about European values and then coming back, one by one, to negotiate more favourable business deals than their neighbours. Instead of a common foreign policy of the Union, each of its member states was merely pursuing its own commercial interests. And yet even the need for a common strategy towards Russia, convincingly proven in Garton Ash’s own article in The Guardian of last year, did not get a mention.

It all produced a rather curious impression: on the one hand, the famous fighter for freedom in Eastern Europe was trying very hard to live in the present and not be haunted by fears of the past. He talked about the difficulties of the current generation of politicians who, unlike their predecessors familiar with the horrors of the Second World war and the Cold War, had not had any traumatic experience (wars in Yugoslavia, or terrorist attacks in New York, London, or Madrid obviously did not count). It was more difficult for them, he opined, to forge a common policy “with no Kalashnikov pointing at you”. On the other hand, however, he did not seem to be aware of certain alarming developments of the present and very recent past – Russia’s massacres in Chechnya, its support for Iran, Litvinenko’s murder in London and the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to name just a few…

Two days before the evening with Timothy Garton Ash, Frontline Club had hosted the screening of a new American film Misha vs Moscow about the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008 and a Q&A with its director John Philp.

Unfortunately, because, as John Philp explained, the film was targeting people who knew virtually nothing about the story, it did not examine questions in-depth and left many unanswered. Indeed, the director himself was not 100 per cent sure about the location of some of the military footage or the positions of some of his interviewees. However, several things were expressive enough on their own, as for example a clip from the CNN coverage of the war. At the height of Russia’s offensive a presenter asked Vitaly Churkin, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations: “Are you planning regime change in Georgia?” Churkin responded using, without any undue embarrassment, the Soviet language of power: “That would be our recommendation.”

And when the director, John Philp, was asked whether he had questioned the high-ranking Americans who appeared in his film about the dangerous instability of the present ceasefire in Georgia, he answered simply: “But it was agreed under Bush. The Obama administration is not at all interested in it any longer”.

Nor is the European Union or its passionate advocates, it seems.
19 February 2010