Euro-Imperialists: What Sarko and Putin Have in Common
by Stephen Schwartz
Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Vladimir Putin in Moscow both project a strong profile against Islamist extremism. But "Sarko" is faced, as were his predecessors, by the permanent spectre of civil disorder in France, which seems more cultural and social than religious or political. Putin is busy rearranging Russian political institutions to establish a podium from which he can proclaim anew the dictatorial principle.
But Sarko and Putin have other things in common. They oppose historic independence or the demand thereof for stateless nations like the Tibetans and Kosovar Albanians. Sarko sides with China against Tibet. France has no rational interest in supporting the ethnic liquidation of the Tibetans, whose history is being eradicated by Han Chinese colonization - or, for that matter, the similar and dangerous policy pursued by the stone men of Beijing toward Muslim-majority eastern Turkestan. China calls Tibet "Xizang" and Eastern Turkestan "Xinjiang." Th world (or, at least, those who know about these issues) derides the first renaming, but ignores the second.
I would hesitate to compare Sarko with Putin were it not that the French politician's Tibetan gaffe was exposed in the International Herald Tribune of November 29, by Judy Dempsey and Katrin Bennhold. They unfavorably compared Sarko's record on such issues with that of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Specifically, Merkel honored the Dalai Lama with a state invitation, while Sarko said Tibet is "part of China" and called for the tyrannical cadres and powercrats of Beijing to dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
The IHT quoted an unidentified French official who declared, "you have to pick your battles." To whom is this despicable advice addressed? It happens that U.S. President George W. Bush already picked a side quite a while ago - his recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, who was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in October, was his third. But then, France often excuses itself from battles.
The moral, if unrecognized independence of Tibet from the Chinese is an unwritten canon of international conscience, although not embodied in treaties and embassies. The tormented Tibetans stand for all stateless and vulnerable ethnic and language communities in the world.
The same attitude of casual arrogance toward small and powerless communities is visible in Putin's jolting dose of Russian ice water into the veins of Americo-European diplomacy on Kosovo, in which the U.S. takes the unquestioned lead. For the first time in the memory of most people alive today, Russian imperial power stretches forth its claws and stirs trouble in Europe.
The Balkan region is the classic cockpit for this dangerous game. Vlad Putin, the proud KGB man, looks at Europe as a wolf looks at chickens. Oil and gas have made him powerful and allowed him to shower money on his disoriented nation.Once again, as so many times since they were first written, the somber words of the Russian liberal Alekansdr Herzen, dating from 1855, ring in one's consciousness: "The revolution of Peter the Great replaced the obsolete squirearchy of Russia - with a European bureaucracy; everything that could be copied from the Swedish and German laws, everything that could be taken over from the free municipalities of Holland into our half-communal, half-absolutist country, was taken over; but the unwritten, the moral check on power, the instinctive recognition of the rights of man, of the rights of thought, of truth, could not be and were not imported."
Putin has already given away to the world his unabashed thirst for a return to authoritarian rule in Muscovy. But he has also betrayed his intentions in dealing with the increasingly useless and dangerous Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OSCE is a kind of ideological super-cadre that serves to anesthetize Europe about its problems. It has misgoverned or otherwise interfered for 12 years in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo. But is has now come under fire from Putin, who alleges that OSCE has treated Russia and its political transition unfairly. OSCE can be credited with one virtue: it does not certify fake elections. Its critical attitude toward democratization in Ukraine has irritated tsar Putin and it became controversial in Putin's December 2 ballotting.
Putin wants to install Kazakhstan as the new head of OSCE, which comprises 56 countries. Unfortunately for its people, who deserve a great deal better, Kazakhstan is ruled by Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose regime is less repressive than that of neighboring Uzbekistan, but still evinces excessive Soviet-era attitudes. Unfortunately for everyone who ever dealt with OSCE (except as a functionary or apologist for it), the organization is a scandalous failure and should be shut down before it can become a new platform for Putinism. It has fostered neither security nor cooperation, but abuse and impunity.
Above all, in recent weeks Putin has returned to the Balkan gaming table, throwing down his chips and staking all on red, the color of blood, by inciting Serb radicals in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo alike. Putin has led the "rejectionists" among the global powers on Kosovar independence, as if 125 years, from the late 19th century wars in the Balkans to the horrors of the 1990s, had never occurred.
Sarko's comment on Tibet and Putin's rhetoric on Kosovo have the same message: France and Russia are hostile to the interests of vulnerable nations - with or without governments, some under dictatorships, some under "mere" discrimination - like the Kurds in Turkey. Most of the world now accepts the rights of large minority communities to recognition of their identity, if nothing else. What does Sarko have against the Tibetans?