Guy Mettan, Russie-Occident. Une guerre de mille ans. La russophobie de Charlemagne à la crise ukrainienne. Pourquoi nous aimons tant détester la Russie. (Russia & the West. A Thousand Year War. Russophobia from Charlemagne to the Ukrainian Crisis.Why we so much enjoy hating Russia.)
Editions des Syrtes, Genève, 2015, 482 pages
Review by Ivo Rens
Translation by Marcel Barang
This is definitely an unusual book, as heralded by its title and three subtitles, whose lengthy wording evokes that of several learned tomes of the 18th and early 19th century.
Its author is a well-known personality in Switzerland. Guy Mettan is a prominent journalist, formerly editor-in-chief of Tribune de Genève; he once presided over the Great Council, the Geneva parliament, of which he is still a representative, elected on the Christian Democrat Party list; he heads the Swiss Press Club and has written several books on Switzerland and international Geneva.
As he explains in his foreword, his interest for Russia came by happenstance: in 1994, when he adopted a three-year-old Russian girl, Russian nationality was bestowed on him by the Boris Yeltsin administration. That event, he wrote, “naturally thoroughly changed my way of looking at Russia. From plain post-communist curiosity, that country had suddenly become much closer” (1). Having become very knowledgeable on Russia, he was struck by the amount of prejudice and errors prevalent in the West against that country.
In the foreword still, the author presents his motivation in this way: “So it is in the hope of breaking, or at least levelling off a little that wall of prejudice, that I undertook the writing of this essay and that I delved into the long, complex but fascinating history of warped images and biased perceptions that Westerners have piled up on Russia in the course of centuries, and more precisely since Charlemagne broke up with Byzantium” (2). Indeed, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Russia became the power protecting Orthodox faith, and Moscow was called the third Rome.
The outline of this work of nearly five hundred pages is also unusual. It is divided into three parts, titled respectively “The strength of bias” (about one hundred pages), “A little genealogy of Russophobia” (nearly 250 pages) and “Russophobia, instructions for use” (nearly one hundred pages). The text has numerous footnotes referring to as many sources as are listed in the impressive bibliography at the end of the volume. So this is not a pamphlet, but a learned work, written in a deliberately non-academic style.
All the ideas expressed hereinafter are Guy Mettan’s, with the exception of one or two remarks explicitly made by the author of the present account.
The strength of bias
Russophobia is a phenomenon of collective psychology, a psychopathy which feeds itself on the interpretation of facts and situations in a tendentious way in order to make Russia or her leaders, currently Vladimir Putin, responsible for them. “Like anti-Semitism, it is not a transient phenomenon linked to specific historical events.” (3) Like it, it takes various forms, as it has evolved in different contexts in different countries. So it is not the result of a plot, as it does not develop in secret. It is propagated openly by the press and, more generally, by the media.
Guy Mettan passes severe judgment on popular Western media, in particular since the events in Ukraine: “So, by early 2014, when the incidents on Maidan Square burst out then degenerated into a coup and finally into civil war, it had become impossible to remain silent and watch without reacting the new explosion of collective anti-Russian hysteria that had, once again, taken over the Western media” (4).
The first part of the work deals with the analysis of five manifestations of Russophobia in the West:
- – The crash of a Russian plane in the South of Germany, at Überlingen, in 2002;
- – The hostage-taking in Beslan, a town in northern Ossetia, in the Russian Federation, in 2004;
- – The second Ossetia war, in 2008;
- – The Sotchi Olympic Games, in 2014; and
- – The Ukrainian crisis, in 2004, which is treated in much greater depth than the preceding cases.
The Überlingen crash (2002)
On July 1st, 2002, a Tupolev of Bashkirian Airlines collided with a Boeing of the DHL company above the small town of Überlingen in the south of Germany, a few kilometres from the Swiss border, leading to the death of 71 persons, including 52 Russian children on their way to a holiday in Barcelona.
In the following days, the entire western press blamed the Russian pilots who allegedly did not understand English properly and had ignored the directives they received from Skyguide, the Swiss company in charge of air-traffic control in the area. An American press release, quoted by the author, went even further, stating that no Russian plane was reliable and neither were Russian pilots, as they were underpaid.
On July 5th, after a first examination of the black boxes, it turned out that all those allegations were unfounded, that the Russian pilots were English proficient, that their plane has just been overhauled, and that the cause of the collision was a series of failings of the Swiss air-traffic control company. But it would be “years before the management of the Swiss company Skyguide deigned present half-hearted apologies and the Russian pilots were reinstated in their honour” (5).
The Beslan hostage-taking (2004)
In relation with the Second Chechen War in 1999-2000, Russia was the target of numerous Islamic-inspired attacks, especially in 2004. “In five years, from the first attacks of 1999 against buildings in Moscow, attacks by Islamic terrorists cost the lives of 1005 civilians in Russia, one third of the victims of the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York.” (6)
On September 1st, 2004, a group of 32 heavily-armed men and women took over a school in Beslan, in Northern Ossetia, holding 1,300 persons hostage, mostly children and youngsters from seven to eighteen years of age, and killing some twenty adults. On the third day, the forces of law and order stormed the place, to the cost of an inordinate number of deaths: 331 children and teachers, 11 soldiers of the Special Forces and 8 police officers, as well as 31 of the 32 terrorists. “But as soon as the school was taken over, blood having hardly dried up on the walls, the Western media went wild. Not against the Islamic killers, which would have been natural, but paradoxically against the victims and their liberators! In this instance, against the Russian government and forces of law and order, suspected of manipulation, intimidation, retention of information, and even of being the cause of the massacre!” (7)
Amongst those targeted are Radio Free Europe and Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian-American journalist opposed to President Putin who, in 1999, supported the Islamists in favour of the independence of Chechnya and who would be assassinated in 2006. But Guy Mettan lingers on the collective letter signed by 115 Atlanticist personalities, at the initiative of Vaclav Havel, which sharply criticised the allegedly antidemocratic use Vladimir Putin was making of the Beslan tragedy. That letter did indeed meet with a significant response in the Western media. Would its authors have preferred that the Russians adopt a Patriot Act on the American model, eroding fundamental freedoms, notably by tapping the phones of all citizens, as would be learned a few years later thanks to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden? On the management of the hostage-taking and its aftereffects, the author, however, holds up as an example Henry Plater-Zyberk’s report for the Conflict Studies Research Centre of the British Ministry of Defence, published in November 2004. (8)
The Second Ossetia War (2008)
Each on one side of the Caucasian ridge, northern Ossetia belongs to the Russian Federation and southern Ossetia to Georgia, or at least that was the case until the First Ossetia War, which took place in 1991–2. That war pitted pro-independence Ossetians against the Georgians. At the end of that conflict, a ceasefire took place and a peacekeeping force was instituted, composed of troops of the Community of Independent States headed by the Russian Federation.
After his accession to power in Georgia in 2002, Mikheil Saakashvili, who had been a student in the United States, and who hoped his country would join the European Union and NATO, campaigned for the reintegration of Southern Ossetia into Georgia. Pro-independence Ossetians, on the strength of two referenda, were opposed to it and demanded reunification with Northern Ossetia. After several days of border clashes, war burst out in the night of August 7th, 2008, killing 18 amongst the predominantly Russian peacekeeping forces and 162 Southern Ossetians. Georgians and Ossetians accused one another of having begun hostilities.
The Russians soon had the advantage over the Georgians, even though the latter had American and Israeli support, and, on August 26th, the Russian Federation officially recognised the independence of Southern Ossetia and of neighbouring Abkhazia, also formerly Georgian.
Meanwhile, Western media had gone wild against warmongering Russian expansionism. However, such accusations were toned down somewhat a year later with the publication, on September 30th, 2009, of the report of the commission of experts and diplomats presided by Swiss Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, as empowered by the European Union. That report established that it was Georgia that started hostilities.
Western discourse on Russia often accusing her of expansionism almost always features something that is left unsaid, which Guy Mettan formulates as follows: “They try hard to forget that Russia was the only empire in human history to get rid of the nations it dominated without making war with them. Within a few months, in 1991, fifteen countries found themselves free and independent. Who has ever done better?” (9) Granted, in her history, Russia practised expansionism, since she progressively expanded over Alaska, sold to the United States in 1867. But nowadays, it is not Russia that is expanding, it is the European Union and NATO. The latter now enfolds almost all the countries that were members of the Warsaw Pact as well as several countries that used to belong to the USSR, though not yet Ukraine and Georgia.
The Sotchi Olympic Games (2014)
Denigration of Russia reached its climax on the eve of the Winter Olympic Games in Sotchi on February 6th, 2014. European media insisted above all on waste and corruption linked to the hugeness of approved expenditures, whereas American media denounced the “repression” of Russian homosexuals following the adoption by the Duma, at the end of 2013, of a law condemning homosexual propaganda with underage children. (10)
Notwithstanding such outrageous claims, the Sotchi games were by all accounts a success.
One of the few Western journalists opposing this Russophobic wave, Stephen F. Cohen, published in The Nation an article which concluded: “The result is that now American media are less objective regarding Russia, less balanced, more conformist and hardly less ideological than they were when they covered the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” This dissident journalist was a specialist of Soviet then Russian affairs at New York University and a former advisor to President George Bush Sr. (11)
The Ukrainian crisis in 2014
An entire chapter is devoted to this crisis, under the heading “A staggering lack of questioning”.
The tone is given, as of the first page of that chapter, by the following passage:
Why? Why, as soon as Russia comes up, does the Western press lack objectivity to such an extent? How can those utterly Pavlovian denigration reflexes be explained? Why are those values that were the honour of journalism – search for truth, desire for understanding, will to know, confrontation of viewpoints, empathy, respect – thrown overboard as soon as the words Russia and Putin are pronounced? (12)
The author refrains from taking a stand on all aspects of this crisis, which is too recent for responsibilities of the various parties at play to be properly ascertained, all the more so as facts are far from established, contrary to what almost all Western media are claiming, as they hastened to claim during the Second Ossetia War. Guy Mettan merely asks questions that Western journalists have seldom asked even though they are problematic.
Why has the western press hardly ever commented on the decision taken by the new Ukrainian power, in February 2014, to forbid the use of Russian in the Russian-speaking areas of the country? “Wasn’t it that decision, though, that provoked the schism of Crimea and the Donbass?” (13)
Having almost unanimously presented the Maidan Square events as a spontaneous upsurge of popular revolt against President Yanukovych’s authoritarianism and Russophilia, those journalists have seldom mentioned at all Victoria Nuland’s declaration, dated December 2013, according to which the United States since 1991 had invested over five billion dollars in the Ukrainian opposition to help Ukraine realise “the future it deserves” (14).
Coming from the Deputy Secretary of State of the United States in charge of Europe, shouldn’t those words have triggered the curiosity of journalists reporting on events in Ukraine? All the more so as “Victoria Nuland is the spouse of Robert Kagan, one of the leaders of the neoconservatives, ultra-Zionist and fiercely anti-Russia, cofounder with former George W. Bush’s advisor William Kristol of the think tank that, coming up with Project for the New American Century (which became the Foreign Policy Initiative in 2010), convinced the US administration to launch the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and played a key role on the American side in the Open Letter against Putin signed by 115 Atlantist personalities in 2004”. (15)
Western media imputed to the Yanukovych government’s riot police the shots that killed more than 80 demonstrators on Maidan Square in mid-February 2014 and ensured the success of the putsch. Since then, however, accounts have invalidated this imputation. How is it that journalists have shown scant interest in them?
On May 2nd, 2014 in Odessa, 40 pro-Russia militants perished in the arson of the building where they had taken refuge. Since then as well, accounts have emerged holding extreme right-wing militias favourable to the new regime responsible for the arson. Why have western journalists who covered for months on end the Maidan demonstrations given hardly any account of this event?
A few days before the referendum of March 16th, 2014, organised by the Crimean authorities with the support of Russia, the White House announced that “the proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian Constitution and international law”. With few exceptions, the western press endorsed this stance and its corollary, the alleged “annexation” of Crimea by Russia, and considered as negligible the fact that this referendum would plebiscite the unification of Crimea with Russia. It took a Swiss magazine to point out that this March 2014 referendum confirmed the results of the referendum organised in Crimea in 1991, during the breakup of the Soviet Union. (16)
As soon as the crash of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight over the territory of Eastern Ukraine was announced, on July 17th, 2014, “President Obama and State Secretary John Kerry pointed an accusing finger at Russia. Without any proof whatsoever”. And the western press overwhelmingly indicted Russia or pro-Russia Ukrainian separatists.
There is worse. “At no time has the western press, ever so sensitive to human rights when a Pussy Riot or the Russian opposition blogger Alexei Navalny is concerned, pointed out that the bombing of civilian populations in Donetsk or Lougansk by the Ukrainian army violated the Geneva conventions and came close to being a war crime.” (17)
If Russophobia affects the great majority of western media, it reaches extreme proportions in some newspapers. “Over a six-month period, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps has announced no fewer than 36 times, in large, small and medium-sized characters, a Russian invasion of the Donbass.” (18)
Why such bias and absence of questioning? Guy Mettan quotes the controversies that seethed in Germany when NATO pressures on the press were called into question, and confirmed by a study of the German institute of journalism. (19) Then he presents the following explanation:
The media have never been independent and journalists know that objectivity exists only in ethics manuals. But in the past fifteen years the crisis of traditional media, following the collapse of advertising income and the emergence of the social media, has taken its toll on the seeking of truth. The topic is taboo in journalistic circles. Because the fear of losing one’s job, hurting advertisers and being deprived of the support of the authorities has become a reason for sweeping curiosity aside and conforming with the presumed expectations of political or economic powers.
Those biases and derelictions of duty would be more easily forgiven if the western press wasn’t so outrageously preachy. Even conceding that we are weak and partisan, what right do we have to decree that Peking and Moscow journalists are sold to the powers that be and that those of Al Jazeera, Cuba or Venezuela indulge in propaganda rather than provision of information? (20)
A thousand-year war
As already mentioned at the start of this account, the second part of Guy Mettan’s book is by far the longest. It took Guy Mettan much daring to launch himself into the history of politics and theology of Byzantium in the first millennium as well as that of Pepin the Short, Charlemagne and papacy at the time, to retrace the premises of what would become, during the second millennium, Russophobia. In this undertaking, he has relied on the works of several specialists duly mentioned in his bibliography. Even though this part of the book reads like a detective story, we shall here merely summarise the main articulations, given the remoteness of the evolutions under analysis.
May we take the liberty at this point, though, of venturing a critical remark over the title: the word “war” is questionable; it would have been better, it seems to us, to opt for a title such as “One thousand years of hostility”.
After the fall, in 476, of the Western Roman Empire, it was the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium that took over. While Rome was falling into ruins and losing nine tenths of her citizenry, Byzantium proclaimed her power and sheltered, until 1200, the debates of the scholars and theologians of Christendom.
At the time, “the primitive Church recognises the authority of the Pope, but as primus inter pares, according to Saint Peter’s formula. The pope does not have the power to decide on his own but only to convene and preside the ecumenical councils. At the institutional level, the Church is organised in patriarchates, under the aegis of five patriarchs (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome) on an equal footing and whose declarations of faith must be approved by the others for them to fully exercise their magisterium”. (21)
A divergence appeared early on in the wording of the creed formulated by the Council of Nicaea in 325. For some, the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father; for others, it proceeded from the Father and the Son (Filioque). This divergence progressively turned into dissension, the Orthodox sticking to the first formulation, the Catholics to the second.
It seems it was under Charlemagne that the western Church opted for this second formulation. Afterwards, papacy invoked the alleged Donation of Constantine, which granted the pope primacy over the eastern Churches. “The truth on this forged document was only revealed in 1430, five centuries after it had displayed all its effects. In 1054, according to the tradition retained in the West, the schism was complete and the two Christendoms evolved separately, as did the two empires.” (22)
Given the dust of centuries and crassness of prejudice, historiographers and the West as a whole began to speak of “the great Eastern schism”, although clearly what happened was a great Western schism. The mystification was so successful that Roman Catholics and Western atheists are now convinced that it was the Eastern Church that seceded, whereas it is the other way round. Even now, the deceit still operates and very few western historians, one of whom is Steven Runciman, and the Roman Church not at all, have endeavoured to reinstate historical truth.
The fact that the Byzantine Empire was getting weaker while European kingdoms were on the rise worked against the Easterners. The losers have no history, or cease having one. But the schism and historical distortion opened wounds that still poison Europe, as can be seen in the tensions between the West and Russia. (23)
After two centuries of Mongol domination, Russia, which had first taken shape around Kiev, restructured herself around Moscow as early as the 14th century. And after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Russian monarch right away considered himself as the successor to the Eastern Roman Empire, took the title of Czar (contraction of Cesar) and Moscow presented herself as the third Rome, as an echo to the Holy Empire of the Germanic nation.
Such were, in brief, the theological, ecclesiastical and political evolutions and dissensions that provided the compost of modern and contemporary Russophobia which, however, has arrayed itself in arguments that differ from country to country, as we shall now see.
French Russophobia and the myth of oriental despotism
Guy Mettan takes some forty pages to retrace the genesis and evolution of French Russophobia. We will present here only the most outstanding contributions.
One of these comes from Napoleon who, on the eve of engaging the Great Army into the Russian Campaign, entrusted a certain Charles-Louis Lesur with the task of writing a propaganda book against Russia, which came out in 1812 under the title On the progression of Russian power from its origins to the 19th century. That popular work, which was reprinted several times and translated into several languages, comments over 500 pages on an alleged, two-page-long expansionist will of Peter the Great. The author recommended quarantine for Russia. It was only in 1879 that this alleged will was shown to be a fake, but discovery of the hoax was not prejudicial to the success of Lesur’s ideas.
If Voltaire and the partisans of enlightened despotism had sympathy for Russia, Montesquieu and Tocqueville held her as a political counter-model because of her “oriental despotism”.
According to Guy Mettan, “the apex of French Russophobia will be attained in 1843 with the publication of Astolphe de Custine’s travel notes under the title Russia in 1839”. According to him, “only conversion of Russia to Catholicism could implant in the czars’ empire the reality of a European civilisation”. (24)
British Russophobia or the obsession of empire
Guy Mettan gives another forty pages or so to British Russophobia, which we shall present summarily.
From Russophile in Napoleonic times, Great Britain turned Russophobic as soon as Napoleon was vanquished by Russia.
Contrary to French Russophobia, the British version does not have religious, philosophical or anti-despotism roots but answers to a geopolitical obsession, as England conflicted with Russia in Europe (Poland, the Eastern Question) as well as in central Asia where, to counter Russian expansion, the United Kingdom launched two preventive wars in Afghanistan to ensure the protection of British India.
That was what used to be called the Big Game. The Crimean War was the sole military confrontation of British and Russian imperialisms. This first modern war in history, because of new weapons in use, steam boats, railways and the role of the press, swung in the British and their French allies’ favour, but with heavy casualties.
“In conclusion,” Guy Mettan writes, “it can be stated that British Russophobia doesn’t reach the doctrinal heights of French Russophobia, but generously makes up for this handicap by overwhelming efficiency, imagination and creativity. Far from being confined to intellectual circles, it has taken over the popular dailies, caricature and the novel – two very popular techniques – and will carry the art of soft power very far.” (25)
German Russophobia: from Lebensraum to ostracism of memory
Guy Mettan gives this more than fifty pages, which provide an outline of the evolution of German ideas and mentality over more than two centuries. As this chapter is particularly important to the author’s demonstration, we shall give it more space than for preceding chapters and multiply quotations.
It all begins with the romantic vision of Germanity (Deutschtum) held by authors such as Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller and Hölderlin, at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, who all lived before the German nation took shape: the latter came about in January 1871 after Bismarck’s Prussia vanquished Austria in Sadowa in 1866 and had her abandon the crown of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire, and then defeated Napoleon III’s France in Sedan, which allowed her to annex most of Alsace and Lorraine. This is when William I of Prussia took the title of Kaiser (Cesar). A period of accelerated industrialisation began then, which triggered a growing preoccupation for living space (Lebensraum) and then a resurgence of medieval annexationist designs on Eastern Europe (Drang nach Osten).
Friedrich Meinecke (1862–1954), one of the main contributors to the notion of Germanity, in a best-selling book published in 1908 spoke of the “bestiality of Slavs”. German imperialism instrumentalised the fear of budding pan Slavism to present Russia as a potential aggressor, which prepared German public opinion to the idea that a war with her was unavoidable. (26)
In 1914, Germany, by then very much Russophobic (but also very much anti-British and anti-French, even though in different ways, as these two countries are placed at the same cultural level as Germany), remains a humanist country. Cultural superiority hasn’t yet turned into racial superiority. Germany legitimises her ambitions through culture, following the example of France and Britain which justify theirs by the “civilising mission” they claim to be carrying out in their colonies. (27)
What followed is familiar: the disaster of the First World War, the shame of defeat, the misery of the Great Depression, and then Hitler’s accession to power. Nazism held Russians and all Slavs to be inferior races no better than Jews and Blacks.
After the disaster of the Second World War, thanks to the Cold War and to the conversion of the Germans to democracy, a revisionism of sorts set in in Germany as well as in other western countries to the effect of erasing the contribution of the USSR, hence of the Russians, to Victory.
The initiator of this trend was the German historian Ernst Nolte, in his 1989 work Der europäische Bürgerkrieg 1917–1945. Nationalsozialismus und Bolschewismus (The European Civil War, 1917–1945: National Socialism and Bolshevism). His thesis consisted in seeing in Nazism a reaction to both bolshevism and democracy, in relativizing Nazi crimes by comparing them to those committed by the Soviets, and finally in presenting German soldiers on the eastern front as “defenders of Europe against Asian hordes”. If Nolte’s ideas received support from several historians, including François Furet, they were also criticised by Jürgen Habermas and the Frankfort School, triggering a huge controversy known under the name Historikerstreit, an historians’ dispute.
East European countries coming out of the Soviet bloc got hold of Nolte’s theses to present themselves as victims of the USSR, hence of the Russians. “This tendency to rewrite history to evict Russia is so strong that on January 27th, 2015, during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp, Poland didn’t even bother to invite President Putin to the commemorations. Her Foreign Affairs minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, even had the nerve to claim that the camp had been liberated by “Ukrainian troops”. Revisionism had settled down at the top of the Polish state without any of the European heads of state present at the commemorations raising any objections.” (28)
To disqualify the role of the Soviets in the fall of Nazism, not a word is uttered on the fact that, if the Normandy landings succeeded, “it is first of all thanks to the sacrifice of tens of thousands of Zhukov’s soldiers who led an offensive on the eastern front (Operation Bagration) to pin down the German troops and prevent the Wehrmacht from transferring their armoured vehicles to France”. (29)
For Guy Mettan, this is a dreadfully efficient form of ostracism of memory:
Many western historians of today are behaving exactly in the same manner as the pope’s theologians of a thousand years ago: by dint of rewriting history, of relying on dubious documents and of ignoring embarrassing documents, they have been able to rewrite history by rubbing Russia out of the European memory, as did theologians with Byzantium six hundred years ago. What remains to be done then is to blame the Easterners. If successful, with the forgetfulness of time and the death of witnesses, the manoeuvre will achieve the same aim: erase the memory of Russia as a liberator from Nazism to create in its place the myth of an Atlantist liberation of Europe. And have Russia bear full responsibility for the world wars as Byzantium was made to for the Great Schism. (30)
Forgotten too are 26 million dead Soviets, including 14 million dead Russians. (31)
Guy Mettan concludes his chapter on German Russophobia in deliberately provocative fashion:
That was how, overnight, Europe woke up under the Germans, unaware of what had happened to her. That was how, in less than a quarter century, meeting no resistance and to mindless public applause, Germany had just won the First and Second World Wars. (32)
American Russophobia or the dictatorship of freedom
The title of this chapter might seem paradoxical. But the reader readily understands that freedom here refers to economic freedom or deregulation, not freedom in the political and humanistic sense. American Russophobia consecrates a synthesis of sorts of the French, British and German Russophobias. Over some fifty pages, the author expounds on the history and evolution of American geopolitical doctrines and of events giving vent to American Russophobia, which will burst out after the Second World War. Given its topicality, we shall dwell on this chapter at some length.
Amongst the intellectual initiators of American imperialism were two global strategists, Briton Mackinder and American Spykman, who were to inspire George Kennan, director of political affairs at the State Department and the author of a famous article published in 1947. That article advocated containment of Soviet power. For it was with the identification of Russia and the Soviet Union as “the red peril” that American Russophobia, along with the Cold War, was born.
In 1975, the Helsinki Accords, from which the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe would come into being, gave the United States the opportunity to renew anti-Soviet propaganda by basing it on the fight in favour of human rights. Washington churned out non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Helsinki Watch and Human Rights Watch, which were to exercise a permanent watch over the USSR and the States of the Soviet bloc, then on Russia and the States that have remained close to her after 1991.
But after the implosion of the USSR, two public personalities specialised in international relations will play a very special role in the hostility of American policy towards Russia up until now, namely Zbigniew Brzezinski and Joseph Nye.
Of Polish origin and very close to anti-Russian Baltic nationalists, Brzezinski was National Security Advisor in the administration of President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, and he has remained influential in United States foreign policy even now. The author of several books theorising United States hegemonism, he advocates the eastward extension of NATO, notably to Ukraine, and the dismemberment of Russia:
A decentralised Russia would have more modest imperialist designs. A more open Russian confederation that would include a European Russia, a Republic of Siberia and a far-eastern republic would have better facilities to develop tight economic links with Europe, the new States of central Asia and of the Orient, which would also accelerate her own development. Each of these three entities would be equally more apt to explore their domestic creative potential, stifled for centuries by the heavy Moscow bureaucracy. (33)
Joseph Nye was Assistant to the Under-Secretary of State in the Carter administration and held the post of Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs in the Clinton administration (1994–95). “Now a professor at the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, Nye is considered as one of the eminent liberal thinkers of foreign policy, his colleague Samuel P. Huntington occupying the conservative bastion.” (34) His main contribution to the foreign policy of the United States, and thus to American Russophobia, is his insistence on the capacity of the United States to seduce and persuade other States and public opinion, a capacity known these days as “soft power”, without having to resort to military constraint, or “hard power”.
The think tanks are the agents of that soft power, discussion groups of experts “that keep proliferating through all sorts of foundations with high-flown names” and “provide the raw material that feeds the media on the hot topics of the moment”.
Agents too, the non-governmental organisations, which “have multiplied and these days represent the bulk of a civil society in full conquest of media space and of the forums of the UN and other multilateral international organisations such as the Security Council in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva”.
This civil society, ever since Kofi Annan generously opened up the doors of the UN to it, is very aptly named. It consists of the civilian arm that completes the military arm of American power, as these organisations are often led by Americans and financed by western governments via an often very impenetrable network of private foundations, one of the best known of which is the Open Society Foundation of the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. (35)
There are three kinds of political actors of the anti-Russian lobby that act notably through think tanks and NGOs:
- 1) Military falcons who want the United States to become the hegemonic power and Russia turn into a vassal State; they express themselves through the Wall Street Journal, the Eurasia Daily Monitor, and people the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Jamestown and Heritage foundations, the Hoover and Brookings institutions and the Hudson Institute; they keep denouncing the “imperial ambitions”, “energy blackmail” and “savage brutality of the Russians”.
- 2) Liberal falcons, as aggressive against Russia as the military variety, differ from the latter on questions of domestic policy and are often Democrats; they express themselves in the New York Times and the Washington Post and people the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the Soros foundation or the German Marshall Fund.
More comfortable with words than with weapons, anti-Russian liberal circles first of all mobilised soft power resources against Moscow by financing notably the numerous NGOs created for the occasion and meant to provoke orange revolutions such as those that successfully took place in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014, in Georgia in 2004 and in Kirghizstan in 2005.
- 3) The clan of East-European nationalists, represented by Americans of East European origins, such as Madeleine Albright, George Soros and Zbigniew Brzezinski. (36)
Guy Mettan gives several examples of successful anti-Russian interventions by NGOs with world public opinion. Let us mention only one here, the arrest (for “robbery through large-scale fraud” and “tax avoidance”, which Guy Mettan fails to mention!) of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovski, chairman and CEO of the Russian oil producer Yukos, in 2003.
In the early 2000s Khodorkovski gets close to the Bush family and the Carlyle group as well as to American oil executives: the Yukos group forms alliances with the American groups Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco, which were supposed to buy back the majority of the shares in Yukos in 2003.
The sale of Yukos shares to the level of US$20 billion would have placed one of the most important Russian companies exploiting natural resources under the control of American investors. Under the influence of his American friends who churned out articles in the media, Khodorkovski rapidly became an icon of freedom of expression scorned by Russian power. Tens of thousands of articles, with very explicit titles, were devoted to him during the ten years of his incarceration. (37)
Russophobia, instructions for use
The third part of the book is divided into two chapters, one about anti-Russian newspeak, and the other about the making of the villain and the myth of the ferocious bear.
The term ‘newspeak’ was coined by George Orwell in his famous novel 1984. Anti-Russian propaganda imposes itself through cognitive distortions hardly visible to the profane, as they are crafted by professionals. “Dozens of communication specialists put at the disposal of the Ukrainian government right after the start of the conflict thus succeeded wonderfully in formulating the anti-Russian newspeak of western media.” (38)
The first technique in the creation of this newspeak has to do with the choice of words. So that separatist rebels are called “terrorists armed by the Russians”, and the return of Crimea to the bosom of the Russian motherland is labelled “annexation of Crimea by Russia”. Such “elements of language” are coined by communication professionals. (39)
The second technique has to do with the choice of sources. “Practically all experts quoted on Russia, the Beslan tragedy, the elections, Chechnya, the war in Ukraine or the effects of sanctions are people who work for American or European think tanks, NGO heads financed by American or European funds, officials of the Ukrainian government, military personnel affiliated to some NATO organisations elegantly masquerading as Center for European Democracy and Security, Institute for Press Freedom and Human Rights or Centre d’analyse pour la paix (Centre of Analysis for Peace).” (40)
The third technique has to do with “improper reframing, through arbitrary selection of facts, of the starting point or of the causes of an event”.
One of the great stunts consists in fixing a starting date for events that favours one camp rather than the other: the trick is generally safe because the choice of a starting date always triggers controversy. Let’s take the case of Ukraine. All those who have followed the unfolding of events will have been struck by the habit the anti-Russian popular media have acquired of dating the Ukrainian conflict to March 2014, that is from the period when “annexation” of Crimea, as they call it, took place. The Maidan demonstrations have almost completely disappeared from the dating of the crisis for the simple reason that dating the crisis in Crimea or in the Donbass back to the month of February would oblige them to recall that the new regime in Kiev comes from a grassroots-imposed coup and that the first decision by those involved in the putsch was to abolish the teaching of the Russian language in Ukraine, though it is spoken by 45% of Ukrainians. Whereas by having the crisis starting with the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the accusing finger is pointed at Russia as the one and only instigator of the crisis. (41)
Another technique consists in imposing the dichotomy between “us” and “them”, insidiously suggesting affective distortion and subliminal repulsion…
In the same chapter, the author examines “a new avatar of soft power, the theory of keeper of the sheep, that is to say staying behind the flock, not at the forefront to guide it”.
The expression was employed in the spring of 2011 by an advisor to Barack Obama about his bombing strategy in Libya. By letting the Europeans go ahead, he managed to get approval from the Security Council without being brusque with Russia and China, something which Clinton and Bush had been unable to achieve during the bombing of Serbia in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (42)
Finally, the author evokes the religious references recurring in the American discourse on international policy.
This messianism, founded on faith in God and on the power of the dollar, is fundamental to the American soft power and the unrivalled attractive force of the United States. It provides those that propagate it, NGO missionaries promoting the democratic Gospel or financial apostles preaching free circulation of capital, with the force of sincerity. Americans believe what they say and have faith in what they do, so they feel authorised to convert the misguided and burn the heretics with napalm with the same unshakeable enthusiasm as the monks of Spanish Inquisition displayed converting the Jews, Muslims and other pagans during the Spanish Reconquista and the South-American Conquest. (43)
The making of the villain and the myth of the ferocious bear
The making of the villain is an ancient practise since it already appeared in primitive societies. It is still relevant today. Saddam Hussein, who was pampered by the Americans when he attacked Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran in 1980, “suddenly became a marked man when he tried, in 1991, to recover Koweit, an oil emirate created from nothing by British colonialism on a territory snatched by force from historical Iraq in 1914. He ended up hanged in 2014 after having lost the war American services had imposed on him under the pretence of destroying weapons of mass destruction that never existed” (44).
The demonization of Putin began fifteen years ago and has begotten accusatory books in large numbers, even greater numbers of articles and caricatures, and hundreds of magazine covers, each one more sinister than the last – as the author invites his readers to ascertain on the web under the heading “Putin covers”. But this demonizing has a flip side. “The titles, the photomontages and the violence of accusations are so excessive that they end up having the opposite effect: by becoming aware of so much injustice in the presentation of the character, one must make an effort not to feel sympathy for him. Such a demonization fascinates and ends up making you feel sympathy for the devil!” (45)
This demonization is part of a large, infinitely complex Russophobic tale, and even of a metanarrative, as language analysts have it. Its finality is to delegitimise Putin in public opinion.
In effect, the metanarrative, by including various myths, tries to transform the prevalent situation. Its function is thus essentially political. But in order to achieve this, the metanarrative must also transform the past. Which explains why the Russophobic discourse is so eager to rewrite history. The main purpose of the ostracism of memory mentioned earlier is to erase the historical role of Russia in Europe in order to clean the deck for the postmodern mythology of a united, Atlantist Europe around the Warsaw–Berlin–Brussels–Paris–London–Washington axis.
As in the days of Charlemagne and the first Roman Germanic emperors propped by the pope’s theologians, the purpose is to wipe Moscow out of the European consciousness as was done with Byzantium. The unity and future of the West depend on it. That’s at least what the postmodern theologians reckon, who are building the myth of Euro-Atlantic union by opposing to it the myth of the threatening bear. (46)
Guy Mettan contests malicious imputations on Russia by pointing out that it is a country with “an extravagant geography” that stretches over 11 time zones, which isn’t without consequences on the weight of the Federal State. Hence frequent misunderstandings. “For a western liberal, the absence of a State is a dream. For a Russian, it is a nightmare.” (47)
The conclusion is entitled “The West and the Russian mirror, outline of a counter-myth”
In his conclusion, Guy Mettan reminds of the objective that has been his in writing his book and is specific about what drives him on:
The discourse must be changed, must be made to evolve far from the original message, and the fact must be stressed that in a schism, as in a divorce, it takes two to tango and responsibilities are shared. If reconciliation is not available, that would at least be a first step.
As a second step, it isn’t unconceivable that a new generation, endowed with spirit of finesse rather than spirit of geometry, as Pascal would say, would refuse to define itself against the Other, but along with him – as the French and the Germans did in the 1950s.
To include, to reinsert on the same footing Russia within Europe, isn’t that the real sense of values that the French and English Enlightenments proclaimed in the 18th century, before imperialistic ambitions and the will to dominate perverted them? (48)
And the conclusion ends on a parable.
Ivo Rens – Geneva, June 18th, 2015.
I hold this work to be an exceptionally important contribution to the demystification of international relations. I thus hope that it will be translated into English and many other languages.
1 Guy Mettan, Russie-Occident. Une guerre de mille ans. La russophobie, de Charlemagne à la crise ukrainienne. Pourquoi nous aimons tant détester la Russie (Russia & the West: A thousand year war. Russophobia, from Charlemagne to the Ukrainian crisis. Why we love to hate Russia). Editions des Syrtes, Geneva, 2015.
2 Ibid, p. 15.
3 Ibid, p. 20.
4 Ibid, p. 14.
5 Ibid, p. 51.
6 Ibid, p. 53.
7 Ibid, p. 56.
8 Ibid, pp. 63 and 65.
9 Ibid, p. 30.
10 Ibid, pp. 80, 81.
11 Ibid, pp. 85,6.
12 Ibid, p. 89.
13 Ibid, p. 46.
14 Ibid, p. 95.
15 Ibid, pp. 95,6.
16 Ibid, p. 99.
17 Ibid, pp. 100, 101.
18 Ibid, p. 102.
19 Ibid, p. 113.
20 Ibid, pp. 114,5.
21 Ibid, p. 142.
22 Ibid, p. 150.
23 Ibid, p. 158.
24 Ibid, pp. 212,3.
25 Ibid, p. 268.
26 Ibid, pp. 287,8.
27 Ibid, p. 290.
28 Ibid, pp. 305,6.
29 Ibid, p. 304.
30 Ibid, pp. 317,8.
31 Ibid, p. 312.
32 Ibid, p. 321.
33 Ibid, p. 348.
34 Ibid, p. 350.
35 Ibid, pp. 355,6.
36 Ibid, pp. 357,8.
37 Ibid, p. 367.
38 Ibid, p. 380.
39 Ibid, pp. 379 sq.
40 Ibid, p. 385
41 Ibid, pp. 391,2.
42 Ibid, pp. 412,3.
43 Ibid, p. 416.
44 Ibid, pp. 423,4.
45 Ibid, p. 428.
46 Ibid, p. 421.
47 Guy Mettan, op. cit. pp. 448,9.
48 Guy Mettan, op. cit. pp. 459, 460.