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'Even' the Russians: Merkel's Moral Platitudes Are Pompous and Insufferable

Russia will be an equal partner, and this is non-negotiable. This is the real reason why Western leaders are irate and continue trying to find ways to bring Russia to her knees. The old tirades and platitudes cannot be effective in a changing world; the train has already left the station.


This post first appeared on Russia Insider


In Frankfurt, Germany, overnighting on May 28, 2017 on my way to St. Petersburg, I turned on the TV in my hotel room and caught some BBC reporting on a speech by Chancellor Angela Merkel on the heels of the NATO and G-7 meetings (NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, May 25, 2017, and the G-7 meeting in Taormina, Sicily on May 26-28, 2017).

The Chancellor’s remarks were made at an election rally in Munich earlier that same day. Merkel used President Donald Trump and Brexit as background to the conclusion that Europe must be independent and on good terms with everyone possible—even the Russians.1 Her unfortunate use of the word “even” reminds me of Gogol’s more aesthetic and poignant application of the word [in Russian: dazhe] in his famous story of 1842 “The Overcoat.”

In formalist literary critic Boris Eichenbaum’s essay of 1919 “How Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’ was Made” the word is exhaustively and brilliantly analyzed: in one of Gogol’s stylistic strategies the word’s insertion sets up the thought that follows, but actually undercuts it.

Thus Merkel’s use of “even” singles out Russia as some kind of pariah country, undercutting its integrity and dignity. One senses that Merkel is still past-president Barack Obama’s puppet—perhaps he has authorized her to explore the possibility of ‘engaging’ even with Russia as yet another way to undermine Trump’s fledgling forays into cooperation with Russia? Moreover, she may have determined that being on good terms even with Russia can position her more effectively for the coming election.

Merkel’s remark about Russia smacks of condescension and the possession of some superior collection of moral values, when Western Europe, and especially Germany, have no higher moral ground on which to stand.

But her statement implies not only moral superiority; it also assumes a cultural and even civilizational superiority to the supposedly ‘backward’ Russians. It recalls the appalling paternalistic attitudes displayed towards non-European peoples since at least as far back as the fifteenth century by Europe’s colonizing countries--which have brought untold misery to most parts of the world.

But this time, Russia will have none of it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stated clearly that the time for the U.S.’s and Europe’s lecturing of Russia is over.2 Russia will be an equal partner, and this is non-negotiable.

This is the real reason why Western leaders are irate and continue trying to find ways to bring Russia to her knees. The old tirades and platitudes cannot be effective in a changing world; the train has already left the station.

In a more shocking and disgusting variation on the Russophobic theme, Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s words about Russians being historically predatory belie the same kind of Russophobia as Merkel’s.

In a recent interview for NBC’s “Meet the Press” he opined: “If you put that in context with everything else we knew the Russians were doing to interfere with the election, and just the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique.”3 Aside from Clapper’s impoverished use of English, the words imply something sinister—but I was not aware of the fact that Western science had identified an “election-meddling” gene in the human genetic code.

These and other similar pathetic efforts to discredit Russia and its legitimate participation in geopolitical decision-making are part of the long history of anglo-saxon- and americo-centrism. But the news is out: Western Europe and the U.S. no longer occupy the center of the universe.


Valeria Z. Nollan is professor emerita of Russian studies at Rhodes College, and a faculty affiliate at Texas Tech University. She was born in Hamburg, West Germany; she and her parents were Russian refugees displaced by World War II. Her books and articles on Russian literature, religion, and nationalism have made her an internationally-recognized authority on topics relating to modern Russia. Her new biography of Sergei Rachmaninoff is forthcoming by Reaktion Books of London.


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