I have tried to access the research by Kirby, Rolleri and Laris which has been commended to me, but have so far found only rather crude powerpoint stuff which leaves me unimpressed and without much information.
My thoughts about Russia produce some bizarre responses. The person who thinks that my views mean I must approve of the Tiananmen Square massacre will have to explain his logic to me. I don't follow. What I approve of about Russia is its insistence on being allowed to continue as a sovereign country, rather than as a subject of some supranational authority. I also find the 'colour revolutions' in Ukraine and Georgia highly suspect, and am nauseated by the uncritical acceptance by many of my media colleagues that these mobs of teens in t-shirts were somehow the harbingers of liberty. Who paid for the t-shirts, for a start?
This did not (note the qualifying phrase 'for all its undoubted faults') imply a general approval of everything the Russian State does. I am likewise baffled by ‘Arlington Brough’ (surely not a real name, naming himself after a cemetery and a motorbike?) who argues that these sentiments make me a 'raging left-winger'? Why? What does he mean? Is he in fact thinking at all, or has he not noticed how the world has changed? Left-wingers are in favour of supranational power, dislike national sovereignty and generally supported the 'Colour Revolutions'. Russia is no longer a Communist country, and there is nothing left-wing about it that I can see.
In reply to Mr ‘Demetriou’, why is the tale of the scarecrow a 'non-story'? A lot of newspapers, from the Daily Mail to the Independent, thought it worth carrying, which suggests Mr ‘Demetriou’ does not have specially good news judgement. Don't events like this explain in a few paragraphs what might otherwise take thousands of words to show? The attitude of the middle class to the police (crucial for their operation and survival) has utterly altered in the last 20 years thanks to this sort of attitude. I might also mention the advice offered to respectable people as to how to behave if under police investigation, by the ex-blogger and copper 'Nightjack' a few weeks ago, which I found quite fascinating. This extraordinary social drama cannot be given too much coverage.
If he wants to 'hear more from me about the police', would 80,000 words do? I have written a book on the subject, called ‘A Brief History of Crime’, which was more reviled than anything else I have ever written, but which is packed with research on the police revolution with which other writers (who generally refuse to read my books because I am such a bad person) are now just catching up, five years later. I commend it to him. As with all my books, it can be obtained through any decent library. I don't, despite the carping of some people here, write books to make money, which is a good thing because they don't, but to spread ideas.
Mr ‘Demetriou’ also has some thoughts about Russia. Once again, he mistakenly assumes that I approve of everything that Russia does, even though he correctly quotes me as not doing so.
The USA, since the end of the Cold War, has pursued a foolish, pointless and unsustainable policy of moving into Russia's neighbours - Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics. And it has rubbed Russia's nose in its defeat in the Cold War, extending NATO (which is now an alliance against what, exactly?) right up to Russia's borders when it had promised not to do so. Russia, on its side, had pulled peacefully out of the countries it had held by force, and had fought hard to hold on to as late as 1968, and had allowed Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics (plus the Caucasus states and its Asian Empire) to become independent. It had not undergone such a national humiliation since the Brest-Litovsk treaty of 1918, which proved temporary, as this arrangement also will. Rather than leave things alone, we used this temporary weakness, and our temporary strength, to humiliate and generally triumph over a prostrate Russia. It was by no means only the authoritarians and the KGB who were hurt and angered by this.
What was our aggression against Russia for? Post-Communist Moscow posed no global threat or challenge to the USA. It posed only a minor threat to central Europe, much less of one than it poses now thanks to our silly behaviour. Uzbekistan was hardly a democracy, though it provided a useful base, Georgia is a dubious state with scant respect for the rule of law, the Baltic Republics have always been a highly-sensitive area in which Russian will never lose interest (look at a map if you wonder why). It seems pretty clear to me that Georgia started last year's punch-up with Russia, and then lost. Ukraine's silly government has also quite deliberately rubbed Russia up the wrong way (encouraged, I suspect, by Western countries who ought to know better).
The effect of this, long prophesied by proper experts such as Sir Rodric Braithwaite (the best British ambassador to Moscow ever) was to encourage ultra-nationalist forces in Russia. It was this policy that led directly to the rule of Vladimir Putin, which I dislike as much as anybody for its internal repressions. Nor am I a newcomer to this opinion:
Here's what I wrote in the Mail on Sunday on 7th March 2004:
“Like a column of tanks in human form, Vladimir Putin slowly crushes the freedoms that flourished in Russia after the sudden collapse of the old Communist order - and nobody cares.
“The world, and the Russian people, are now witnessing the KGB putsch that everyone feared back in August 1991, when I watched as real tanks rolled, halted and then mysteriously turned back.
“But this time the coup d'etat is clever instead of clumsy; quiet instead of noisy, and its leaders icily sober rather than slurred, incoherent and drunk.
“And what is worse is that this assault on liberty is actually popular at home and willingly excused abroad. It seems to me to be part of a new death of freedom taking place around the world, where more and more exhausted, insecure and frightened people are sinking into the arms of authority with sighs of relief.
“Unless I am very much mistaken, the Russian people are about to vote for a tyrant who does not really think they have any right to choose him, and who despises democracy.
“They will do this because the word 'democracy' has been poisoned here. To most Russians it means crime, chaos, the wiping-out of their savings, the loss of their jobs and the humiliation of their nation. They have had enough of it.
“Perhaps that is why this election is being held more or less in secret. You would barely know it was happening if you had not been told. There is hardly a poster to be seen, though there are strange advertisements - including one on the backs of Tube tickets - urging people to vote. They do not say who to vote for, but they might as well.
“For Comrade Vladimir Putin is the only candidate, or more accurately the only candidate who counts. For the sake of form, a few others have been allowed to stand, but not run.
“They include a token Communist, Nikolai Kharitonov, so he can be beaten and Communism shown to be finished; a token nationalist, Sergei Glazyev, for the same reason; and a token Thatcherite liberal, Irina Khakhamada, ditto.
“The authorities would be devastated if these fig-leaf contenders withdrew, the only action within their power that could seriously upset the Kremlin. The veteran dissenter Yelena Bonner, widow of the majestic liberation fighter Andrei Sakharov, has actually called on them to do so.
“But when Ms Khakhamada said she would pull out if the others would, nobody took up the offer.
“Here is an example of the shameless rigging of this poll: the campaign began with a 30-minute televised meeting between Putin and his supporters shown on the big national channels, all government-controlled.
“But when the other candidates pleaded for equal time, the supposedly impartial election commissioner told them to get lost.
“The President meanwhile appears constantly on the prime- time TV bulletins, floating above the phony fray like an archangel on a cloud. He is portrayed sitting in an ornate, throne-like chair looking serious, rebuking ministers or meeting global notables.
“His challengers, if they appear at all, are shown doing stupid, trivial things such as playing billiards.
“A few heavyweight newspapers, with tiny circulations among the big city elite, discuss the poll and cover it properly. But there is no middle ground between them and trashy papers adorned with Russian nipples and packed with showbiz trivia, but which also find time to print large, damaging stories about Irina Khakhamada.
“Ms Khakhamada, a young and slender 48, is by far the most appealing of Putin's challengers. A former economics teacher, she is a successful businesswoman and mother with a real if tumultuous family life. Her Japanese father was an ardent Communist who came here to build paradise and died disappointed. She sees the best hope for the future in a prosperous, free middle class, still a tiny force in this country.
“When I met her in a Moscow Italian restaurant, she explained her purpose in standing, though she has few illusions that she can win: 'I hope to provide strong opposition and to show that Putin is building a regime rather than a democracy.
'The President has huge power, his will rules everything and he is personally responsible for everything that goes on,' she explains. She complains of the self-censorship of the media and of 'the suppression of independent centres that express the will of the ordinary people'.
“When I put to her that her cause is hopeless, she resorts to an optimism which seems completely unrealistic.
'The true democrat should carry on fighting,' she insists. In many ways, she is Putin's ideal opponent. Her Japanese ancestry and looks make her unacceptable to the racially prejudiced Russian masses. Her business background also repels many poor Russians who associate all commerce with sharp practice and corruption.
“Another of Moscow's rare democrats, MP Vladimir Ryzhkov, 38, is even more scathing about the new Russia's fake freedom. 'It's a pseudodemocracy,' he says. 'It's impossible to have real competition with Putin and his group. As for the mass media, it can either be free or influential. Not both. The influential media are not free. The free media are not influential.' In recent years all three major TV stations have fallen under direct or indirect state control. They suppress or play down bad news within Russia, just as the old Soviet TV did.
“One victim of this is Yevgeny Kiselyov, who was for a while as close as Russia could get to Jeremy Paxman; an irreverent and searching TV interviewer. Now not merely has he been taken off the air: his old TV station has been bought up by a state-controlled company and turned into a poodle channel.
“Kiselyov admits this is not a full return to the old Communist days. Those who wish to think and speak freely can do so, but are simply denied any major platform. Books are published without difficulty. It is the TV transmission towers that are controlled. Kiselyov is infuriated by the way foreign leaders fail to criticise Putin for his tightening grip on the airwaves.
“He recalls his one meeting with Putin, during the state takeover of his TV station. Putin began by being utterly charming, as he is to almost everyone, but switched to a cold, bullying manner the moment Kiselyov challenged him.
'He immediately became very angry, aggressive; accusing me of speaking words put into my mouth by others.
'He wagged his finger at me and asked, ‘Do you think I don't know anything about your hour-long conversation with your boss?’ ‘ But when Kiselyov asked Putin outright if he was saying his phone was tapped, the President changed the subject and ignored him. Kiselyov believes Putin's charm is entirely false, instilled into him during his KGB training - for the best way to recruit and handle an agent is of course to pretend to be his friend.
“Those grim initials KGB are never far away in any discussion of the new Russia. Recently details were published of an Eighties secret KGB plan to allow economic freedom but keep iron political control, more or less what Vladimir Putin now seeks to do.
“Putin's potent private office is infested with KGB veterans with mysterious gaps in their official biographies, the so-called 'Siloviki', or 'men of force'; hard, quiet men from Russia's dark heart. They still openly admire Yuri Andropov, the KGB boss who briefly ran the USSR before his early death.
“Putin himself recently declared that the 1991 collapse of the USSR had been 'a national tragedy on an enormous scale'. Yet outside the feverish, garish capitalist enclave of Moscow, the USSR more or less survives, merely waiting to be called back into being.
“I travelled 120 miles south-east to the city of Ryazan and was instantly transported back to the old Soviet way of life, with a few important changes.
“The town centre is still dominated by a statue of Lenin, but behind him is a brand new bank - the Zhivago Bank, of all things. And down the road, the churches of Ryazan's beautiful miniature Kremlin are being lovingly restored. A brash new newspaper tries to expose corruption.
“The new Russia has realised it can dispense with the rubbish of Communism; the nationalisation of ice-cream stands and the suppression of faith, criticism and independent thought. In truth, kept under control, these things are no threat to central power.
“Ryazan, a heavily military city whose factories once turned out components for Moscow's fleets of tanks, submarines and bombers, suffered badly from freedom. Amid dingy apartment blocks bundled, ill-looking people, aged before their time, still struggle through wildernesses of rubbish, wreckage and vast brown puddles. The new economy, dozens of unconvincing banks and people selling mobile phones to each other, is just topdressing here, failing to conceal the glum reality.
“When I conducted a miniature opinion poll on Ryazan's streets, Putin won it. Many will vote for him out of a sort of habit, some because they reckon that if they do not use their ballots the authorities will steal them anyway.
“Most are worried sick by poverty and deprivation, salaries of £50 a month, failing jobs, housing shortages. 'My son must wait for me to die to get a flat,' said one sad grandmother. A few believed Putin had helped them, including a pharmacist who had finally started getting her wages again after a long gap.
“But perhaps my most interesting encounter was with Lydia Kryuchkova, deputy editor of the conservative local paper, the Ryazan Bulletin.
“I say 'conservative' because she loathes pornography and swearing, crime and disorder, unpunctuality and low culture.
“But Lydia, with her classic Soviet face straight out of the Sixties, is an unashamed Communist, even though she now wears a crucifix round her neck. ‘We had so-called democracy,' she says. 'We never had real democracy. What's essential now is to get rid of crime, to bring back order.
“Only after that will we install democracy.' What she - and millions of others - want is the security of the predictable.
“If they cannot have the rule of law, and such a thing is terribly remote in this place, they would at least like to be sure that tomorrow will be much like today.
“Putin hopes that is exactly what he can achieve, as long as the oil price stays high. And we, who in truth care more about Russia's oil than about her democracy, will look the other way as yet another brief, failed experiment in freedom slowly flickers and fades. How long before we decide that our freedom, too, is an expensive nuisance?"