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Few things make the bien pensants more uneasy than talk of right and wrong. They flinched when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet bloc, rightly, the “evil empire”. Sometimes that fastidiousness was simply based on wilful ignorance. Reports of Stalin’s terror, the Gulag, persecution of dissidents or the bullying of the captive nations were dismissed as tendentious or inaccurate. More often it was based on a feeling that the West’s own shortcomings were so appalling that we were in no position to judge anyone else. Amid the ruins of communism in Czechoslovakia in late 1989, I sat through an excruciating dinner with my then foreign editor where I explained that the Czechs wanted to become a “normal country”. He couldn’t share my enthusiasm. “What’s ‘normal’ about Britain?”, he asked scornfully — a country where mounted police charged striking miners, where a quarter of the population lived in poverty, and where you could be locked up for a decade just for having an Irish surname.

Yet the Czechs were right, and my distinguished boss, whose liberal conscience was tingling so painfully with the shortcomings of Mrs Thatcher’s Britain, was wrong. Their enthusiasm for welfare capitalism and political freedom was based not on a naive belief that everything we had was wonderful, but a realistic appreciation: when things went wrong in communist countries, you were powerless. In Western countries, you had a chance, either through politics, the law, or the media, to get something done about it.

I was reminded of this at another dinner last February in London, where a frail but determined Baroness Thatcher enjoyed a lengthy standing ovation from hundreds of Lithuanians gathered to celebrate the 90th anniversary of their country’s founding. The Lithuanian ambassador to London, Vygaudas Usackas, with a moral clarity and historical perspective that are seldom found in our own diplomatic service, explained eloquently how Mrs Thatcher’s tough talking had given hope to him and three million other Lithuanians, a captive nation in the Soviet empire. The Iron Lady beat the Iron Curtain. She may be the object of easy derision on the London stage and at the dinner table, but to those who tasted totalitarian rule, she is still a heroine.

If the political elite in the West found it hard to grasp that the old Cold War was a struggle of good against evil, they find it almost impossible to understand the moral dimension of what is going on now, particularly with regard to Russia. Readers will need little to remind them of that country’s descent into autocracy at home and bullying abroad. The events—it would be unfair on countries with real political freedom to call them “elections” — of December and March produced a sycophantic legislature and a docile successor, Dmitri Medvedev, in the Kremlin. But it is clear that real power will stay with the man — and the system — that has ruled in Russia for the past nine years.

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August 19th, 2008
7:08 AM
Dictator Putin is showing his true evil nature with the vicious Russian invasion of tiny Georgia. We can only hope NATO gets their act together and forces Moscow's barbarian horde back into Russia, another 500 miles north!

July 15th, 2008
10:07 AM
The problem with Anonymous is that his comments are out of date, from about 30 years for British Guiana (now called Guyana and an independent state) to about 300 years for the monarch's right to sack the government. Also, if Scotland and Wales are still part of the British Empire, that woulld make Russia's Black Sea Coast (including the beloved Sochi), most of Siberia and the Far East, including Vladivostok and Sakhalin, remnants of the Russian Empire which should be given up to reduce the Russian Man's Burden. Indeed, Russia is still an imperialist state, bringing the total in the world to two after the US. Russia holds territory that it gained during the great age of European imperial expandion (about 1600-1900), and has not given it up, arguing that the Black Sea Coast, Siberia and the Pacific Coast are intergral parts of the country. Mind you, that is what the French used to say about Algeria!

July 14th, 2008
9:07 AM
It's interesting that someone raised the residual powers of the Queen in the UK. The plain fact is, however, that these powers continue to exist for the simple reason that no monarch would dare to try and use them, at least without direction from government. If they did, they would be removed. Also, it is wrong to say that Britain does not have a constitution. We do not have a written constitution, but our system of government is the sum of our laws. The irony of Russia, of course, it that Putin rigs elections he would easily win anyway.

June 27th, 2008
1:06 PM
I note that Anonymous' contribution is... well, anonymous. I wonder why?

June 24th, 2008
6:06 AM
Wholeheartedly agree with PG. As for Russia - Aleksandr Yakolev wrote in his book, "A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia" that Russia will never be a normal country until it deals with the crimes of its Communist Soviet past.

Anna Pihta
June 23rd, 2008
7:06 PM
Diatribe by "anonymous" reminds me of the wackos who blame the US for all the problems of the world. What drives these folks, one wonders. Excellent article, Edward Kucas! As Alexander Yakovlev wrote in "A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia" that country will never be normal until the Russians face and deal with their past, with the evil and the crimes of the USSR. Just as Germany has had to deal with the crimes of its Nazi past. Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave - he actually rolled back Communism, but the West blew it. We won the Cold War, but failed to capitalize on this important victory. Ex-Soviets were let off the hook,no war criminals were punished, no compensation to the victims, no acknowledgement of their suffering, no monuments to the tragedy. And Putin's Russia glorifies Stalin, exploiting the youth and thereby dooming the future of that potentially great country by keeping the monstrous truth of what really happened from them.

June 21st, 2008
9:06 AM
If energy prices were to seriously reverse, Putin's corrupt energy fueled empire would collapse the entire Russian economy.

June 19th, 2008
1:06 PM
Spot on, Ed, as usual! A stirring defense of democracy.

June 6th, 2008
2:06 PM
No, no need to continue. Despite your valid criticisms of the state of British democracy, the fact still remains that Russia has a uniquely rich history of despotism. It is only prudent, especially as Russia emerges (once again) as a dominant world player, to firmly condemn any behavior (such as the Kremlin's murdering of reporters) that harkens back to a time that Russia should be anything but proud of.

June 3rd, 2008
9:06 AM
Herr Lucas, look in the mirror and tell me if you like what you see. Is the UK, a ridiculously retrogade monarchy without any constitution, indeed more "democratic" than Putin's Russia? At least Russia's head of state is popularly elected, which cannot be said either of the UK's hereditary head of state, a Queen with enormous political powers such as being commander-in-chief, head of the state-imposed Anglican Church, etc. (not to mention her extraordinary hidden powers to reject or even overthrow cabinet governments and parliaments), or even of the UK's head of government, the Prime Minister? Russia at least has a Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court, while the UK has nothing but a still predominantly hereditary House of Lords, which occasionally pretends to perform such an unusual for it function. And the UK is still trying to maintain an antiquanted though hugely shrunk empire, stretching from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all the way to British Guiana and the Argentinian Falkland Islands. And you still have operating concentration camps (which the British pioneered as part of their "White Man's burden")more than a 100 years ago during the Boer War) ready to detain any troublemaker in Northern Ireland. Under UK's electoral system, you can still "win" the election, even if you have lost the popular vote. And if the supposedly "independent" British Broadcasting Corporation dares to criticize the Prime Minister, the latter can fire--and has fired in the past--the BBC's CEO (which is why other Europeans often joke about the "British Buggery Corporation"). Need I continue?

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