Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Looking Into the Mirror of Russian History
In response to "The Speech of the Century," a column by Richard Lourie on Feb. 20.
Lourie ended his piece with a simple, yet all important question: Has Russia come to terms with its past? He suggests further that if the answer is no, it could dramatically affect Russia's future. Why is this important? And can we answer this question now?
First, it is important because no nation has long survived, or certainly advanced its culture or civilization, without first taking a long and honest look into the mirror of its own history, acknowledging its sins and failures, and doing whatever it takes to cleanse itself. Only then can a people's full and well-directed energies be put to work to build a new and brighter future.
In the case of Japan, Germany and Italy in the World War II, by their defeat they were compelled to face directly their national complicity in bringing such tragedy to the world. The United States has gone through the process many times, as it is the nature of a free society to be more openly introspective and self-critical. Slavery and the genocide of the natives are America's greatest sins. Without facing and admitting these wrongs, America could not reaffirm its moral goals.
Maybe Russia's greatest misfortune was not to be conquered. For it would not have been a conquest of the Russian people, but the elimination, root and branch, of a brutal oppression. With such a conquest, Russians would have had no choice but to face their past. As things are, there are still dominant forces that resist any attempt to see the truth in the mirror. Russian intellectuals know that truth. But the masses do not, and the leadership draws their power from that ignorance. The answer, then, to Lourie's great question is a clear "no."
Unless Russia counters the judgment of history, there is a strong probability it will find itself last among nations for another century. It will find the true greatness of its people only after it is freed from its past. The time of introspection and grief is still before the Russian people, and this passage holds the key to a moral future.
A Eulogy for Ulitsa Pravdy
In response to "Memories of 24 Ulitsa Pravdy," a comment by Chloe Arnold on Feb. 17.
Not all of your readers know about the unique architectural style or extraordinary history of the Pravda building that suffered from a bad fire on Feb. 13. Having worked there for six years beginning in the late 1970s, I think it deserves a better eulogy.
The whole building is an architectural landmark -- both outside and inside. Even though run-down, the design of some of the interiors -- say, the wood-paneled offices of the editors in chief of Pravda and other papers with special waiting rooms, window panes, door handles and so on -- would be a treat for any highbrow architectural magazine.
The pneumatic tubes system mentioned in your piece was not only a very practical invention that functioned perfectly for decades but also a stylish mechanism with the clear imprint of the 1930s. And of course I won't dwell upon the amazing personal histories connected to this building. They influenced the country's history tremendously, both for the good and the bad.
So what really happened? Once again, something really authentic was destroyed by a fire in Moscow. We continue to lose a certain heritage.
Western Principles Prevail
In response to "A Worst Sort of Caricature," a column by Georgy Bovt on Feb. 16.
The column asks some excellent questions, but draws the conclusion that certain Western principles (freedom of expression, self-determination) have failed. This conclusion is premature and philosophically and practically unsound. Freedom works over the long term. When a nation must emerge from the madness of a medieval mentality to join the rest of the world, we must not expect the transition to be a smooth one. Over the short term, there will be bumps in the road and there will be reverses. But eventually sanity must prevail, simply because it is more efficient.
I would like to add that whether a cartoon image is offensive or not should not be the basis of a decision to publish it or not publish it. The picture of Mohammed with a bomb for a turban expresses authentic feelings and a legitimate point of view. Many people in the West believe that Islam is a religion of violence. Perhaps they are wrong; but, if so, it is a perfectly understandable, honest mistake. Which is better: to repress this fear, as so many Muslims today are demanding they do with their cries against "Islamophobia," or to express this fear in such a way as to say, "Wake up!" to the Muslim world, to try to make them see what they are doing to the world with all their violence?
Thank you for an excellent article.
Little Rock, Arkansas
In response to "It's the Process That Counts," a comment by Cory Welt on Feb. 13
Cory Welt has made a balanced analysis of the political situation around the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. He rightly states that the current positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan are too far apart and to expect an agreement that will satisfy both states is unrealistic. Instead, he offers a solution that looks like a plausible one.
Yet, a closer examination will reveal that in fact Welt's proposal was already discussed by the parties in the late 1990s. Then the parties were close to reaching an agreement that would lead to a pull-out of Armenian troops from most of the occupied regions of Azerbaijan, while Nagorno-Karabakh's final status would have to be decided at a later stage. The proposal failed when former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan was forced to resign by the incumbent president, Robert Kocharyan, who took office shortly after.
There are also some missing points in Welt's analysis. First of all, he does not mention the role of the Azeri community of Nagorno-Karabakh, whose rights have so often been ignored. The Azeris have the same right for self-governance as the Armenians of the region do. Welt's proposal assumes the return of Azeri internally displaced people to some of the occupied regions around Nagorno-Karabakh, while it does not include the return of Azeris who are from Nagorno-Karabakh itself. Nagorno-Karabakh is home to two communities, and thus its self-governance process should incorporate both.
Moreover, brought as a counterargument, Welt states that the normalization of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations will lead to a process in which Nagorno-Karabakh will move toward independence or unification with Armenia, a process that will "be even harder to reverse." He also writes that through this process, Azeris will realize "Nagorno-Karabakh's free development is of no consequence to their national dignity." Although Nagorno-Karabakh's free development may be of no consequence to Azeris' national dignity, its secession from Azerbaijan and unification with Armenia is a fundamental issue that no Azeri will agree to. This is precisely why the Aliyev-Kocharyan meeting failed to produce any framework agreement.
Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory consists of not only the seven occupied regions around Nagorno-Karabakh, but also the Nagorno-Karabakh region itself. Hence, to suggest that Azerbaijan will "gain continued de jure recognition of its territorial integrity" is rather misleading.
The Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations could only produce a long-term peace if the conflict is resolved within the framework of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. There are many precedents in international practice that will allow Karabakh Armenians to exercise their self-governance rights with security guarantees without breaking up the existing borders of Azerbaijan. All other options are doomed to fail.
Cory Welt responds.
In discussing the postponement of final status negotiations, Taleh Ziyadov misinterprets one point of my argument. As a result of postponement, Azerbaijan would be given continued de jure recognition of its territorial integrity over the occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Nagorno-Karabakh itself. Ziyadov seems to believe I was referring only to the surrounding territories.
As for the Azeris who were forced to flee Nagorno-Karabakh, I do not assert a right of self-governance for either ethnic community. However, Azeris who were forced to flee Nagorno-Karabakh should have a right to return, and mechanisms to allow those who wish to do so securely could be developed in the absence of a political agreement. Finally, mediators should not dismiss the possibility of a territorial transfer that would return formerly Azerbaijani-dominated areas of Nagorno-Karabakh's Shusha district back to Azerbaijani control, perhaps even allowing for dual administration in the formerly binational town of Shusha itself.
Pinpointing Adam Smith
In response to "Taking a Stand for World Trade," a comment by Don Evans on Feb. 7.
An excellent article by Don Evans deserves congratulation. A small error of fact, however, deserves correction, though it in no way detracts from the merits of the article. Evans writes that the connection between trade and economic development was made 170 years ago by Adam Smith in his classic work "The Wealth of Nations."
Smith's "Wealth of Nations" was first published in 1776, which is 230 years ago. His last revised edition was completed just before he died in 1790, which was 216 years ago.
I have no idea what the connection with 170 years ago (1836) is regarding Smith's classic.
Prejudice Against Plushenko
In response to "A 6-Minute Knockout in Men's Skating," a comment by Washington Post sports columnist Bill Plaschke on Feb. 16.
What a piece of prejudice this article is. First, there are character prejudices. Noble losers (Johny Weir, Stephane Lambiel) are allowed to whine, to shrug, to be angry or depressed all they want, but the questionable winner (Yevgeny Plushenko) is admonished for gloating and skipping a press third degree to recover his breath and rest.
Second, there are job prejudices. If Weir wants to be rewarded for elegant, beautiful, athletic movements, he should go into modeling, not skating.
And since when is doing a quad jump not a great, praiseworthy achievement, but causing others to change their game and take risks?
St. Valentine's Faith
In response to "Couples Marry in a Salute to St. Valentine," a front-page story on Feb. 15.
In the final paragraph, you cite otherwise unnamed Russian Orthodox Church officials as harrumphing that St. Valentine was (gasp!) a Catholic saint. As best as can be determined, St. Valentine was a martyr (perhaps two or more of the same name, or martyred together) and probably a member (or members) of the clergy during the late third century in Rome, possibly during the brutal reign of Claudius. He (or they) are among the martyrs of the Flaminian Way.
Even the most conservative, anti-papal Orthodox Church member will admit -- grudgingly, perhaps -- that all saints of the Universal Church prior to the Great Schism of 1054 are acknowledged as Orthodox saints. St. Valentine, a pre-Constantinian martyr, is well within that threshold. Either your church officials have been inhaling too much incense, or they don't know their own church's history.
Vladimir Berezansky Jr.