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Bucharest
June 16, 2021
EDITORIAL

Potemkin villages

“The state of war suspends morality… In advance its shadow falls over the actions of men. War is not only one of the ordeals – the greatest – of which morality lives; it renders morality derisory. The art of foreseeing war and of winning it by every means – politics – is henceforth enjoined at the very exercise of reason. Politics is opposed to morality, as philosophy to naïveté.” This is what  Emmanuel Levinas wrote in the foreword to his most beloved book”, “Totality and Infinity”. Under such perspective, we may understand better what is going on in Russia now. Where the war (undeclared, but concrete) against Ukraine – that seems to be supported by the vast majority of the population – suspends the final moral restrictions of the owners of power. A well-known, although marginal political adversary of President Putin was murdered and the most freakish comments are already overflowing Russian media circles – let us not forget, mostly controlled by Kremlin or converging with the trends of official propaganda. This was what the victim was trying to be, in a Russia more and more controlled by “its beloved ruler” – the representative of a voice that disagrees with the unison of the majority. He opposed the war in Ukraine and even collected evidence on the illegal presence of Russian military forces beyond the border. For any rational person, this is an adequate reason for the regime to eliminate him. We also know, as it was cynically pointed out, that he will be forgotten soon, as he was marginal and unpopular, and, otherwise, easy to denigrate: he was a Liberal which is easier to describe as a moral crime in Russia than in other regions of the world; he had been Minister at a time of great social instability; he hid not hide his rather nonconformist love life; he had Jewish roots; all of these were elements to place him at the opposite pole compared to the role model leader, a nationalist, a paternalist and a promoter of “moral order”. He was an obvious anti-Putin, going against the flow. And he knew how vulnerable the present power was on the topic of war, this is why he focused on challenging it precisely on this topic. Let us remember, by example, how authoritarian and nationalist regimes of Argentine and Greece fell a few decades ago due to military losses, not to mention the Soviet experience of losing the war in Afghanistan. If Putin loses, he loses not just spheres of influence, but the power as well, and he knows very well that this is the actual stake. And what could be more embarrassing than being, even a little bit, exposed by a marginal Russian politician whose report would have contributed to an additional justification for rival world powers to combat Russia’s strategy. As the essence of Russian politics is, and has been throughout history, propaganda. Once, in order to charm Empress Catherine II The Great, Prince Potemkin built for her visit to Crimea a few idyllic villages, just like Hollywood set designs. The Soviet propaganda developed this strategy to perfection and one of KGB’s main objectives was to conceive the most compelling official lies. We should not forget that in modern Western society, the media – as an independent information-spreading platform – has achieved the noble title of “the fourth power of state”. This has led to multiple attempts to buy and embezzle the press, and accusations of partiality are appearing permanently. Yet, what would Western democracy be without the threat of exposure by the press? It would certainly be something completely different. In an efficient authoritarian regime, the public opinion is under strict supervision. It is so because the leader’s options need the permanent confirmation of  public agreement. Even if there is nothing but perverted psychological manipulation, and the case of Nazism is the most revealing in this direction. Basically, it is what KGB – which may also be a generic name for political police lacking any ethical scruples – refined to perfection: the art of political lies. We keep forgetting easily where Vladimir Putin is coming from and what environment forged his moral personality.

Yet, political assassination is not a Russian specificity. Helene Carrere d`Encausse devoted an entire book to this practice that left bloody traces on Russian history throughout the centuries. Yet, we should mention that it was a double phenomenon: that of eliminating leaders who owned the power and that of eliminating opponents. Russian practiced both intensely. Eliminating opponents, though, has become an international tradition for a very long time. Less than a month ago, an Argentinean magistrate was found shot even before filing a proposal of arrest against the President of the country. What is more dangerous though than the assassination is the dense fog surrounding it due to the subtle information war. It seems as if the criteria of appreciation of the credibility of such interpretations of facts are somehow vanishing. We no longer know who is actually guilty, which is highly toxic for our moral environment.

Not just because they can go on with their crimes without being stopped and exposed, but also because the distinction between good and evil is increasingly melting. We need the truth even related to political crimes, otherwise our moral confusion will keep increasing. Because each opponent killed such way by the power is one more brick to the edifice of its invincibility. Who is talking today about the hundreds of Westerners murdered by shooting in Eastern Ukraine? When will we know whether the ones who shot them were pro-Russian or actual Russian soldiers, as shown by a few independent inquiries? Who paid for it? The West – the camp Romanians are associated to as well – is faced with a huge challenge: not to lose the fight for the truth. If there is no truth, there is no morality, at least in its Christian-rooted European meaning. “Live not by lies!”, this was Solzhenitsyn’s slogan to fellow countrymen crushed by Communist ideology. It is a principle of great actuality to all of us.

 

 

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