Eastern Blocks

By Crawshaw, Steve | The Independent (London, England), February 4, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Eastern Blocks


Crawshaw, Steve, The Independent (London, England)


THE annihilation last month by Russian forces of the little village of Pervomaiskoye, on the Chechen border, and Moscow's obvious readiness to kill the Dagestani hostages there, provided a reminder of Russia's reluctance to abide by even the basic rules of respect for human life. The appointment of Yevgeny Primakov, a former spy chief, as foreign minister, is no more encouraging. The recent sacking of Moscow's chief economic reformer, Anatoly Chubais, suggests that Russia has abandoned even the pretence of loyalty to reform. In short, this is a timely book.

The cover blurb says that Bruce Clark's message is "uncompromisingly pessimistic". Indeed: it is an unforgiving demolition job on what the author calls "Western smugness". There is no room here for optimists, except with walk-on parts as naive fools. Clark explores the dangers of resurgent nationalism, which he suggests is now pre-programmed into Russia's future, and points to the woolliness of Western thinking that began even before the Soviet era was over: "By autumn 1990, it seemed clear enough to anyone who was following public affairs in Moscow that the Soviet Union was destined either to break up altogether or at best to stagger on as a much looser association of territories." But the West "was so confused and fearful of the pace of change that it resorted to various stratagems to deny the almost undeniable". True on both counts.

An Empire's New Clothes concentrates, above all, on the period since Yeltsin became unchallenged master of the Kremlin - and Clark sees a repetition of the West's shortsightedness of the Gorbachev era. He notes that the world has been "browbeaten into accepting the Manichean view of the world" which Yeltsin's men have marketed worldwide: pro-Yeltsin, good; anti-Yeltsin, bad; without him, the deluge.

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