Above Photo: Book Catalog/Flickr
Note: The US news has been misreporting recent comments by President Putin. Moon of Alabama helps to clarify what Putin actually said. KZ
Today the Financial Times published a long and wide ranging interview with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin.
A full transcript is currently available through this link.
The talk is making some waves:
- Putin: Russian president says liberalism ‘obsolete’ – BBC
- Vladimir Putin says liberalism has ‘outlived its purpose’ – Irish Times
- Russia’s Vladimir Putin: Liberalism in Europe is ‘obsolete’ – NBC News
From the last link:
Putin said in an interview with the Financial Times Friday that the “liberal idea has become obsolete,” and referred to Germany’s decision to welcome more than one million refugees — many fleeing savage urban warfare in Syria — as a “cardinal mistake.”
It is only the last part of the very long interview, where Putin indeed speaks of the ‘obsolesce’ of the ‘liberal idea’, that seems to be of interest to the media. Most of the interview is in fact about other issues. The media also do not capture how his ‘obsolete’ argument is ingrained in the worldview Putin developed, and how it reflects in many of his answers.
Here are excerpts that show that the gist of Putin’s ‘obsolete’ argument is not against the ‘liberal idea’, but against what may be best called ‘international (neo-)liberalism’.
Has anyone ever given a thought to who actually benefited and what benefits were gained from globalisation, the development of which we have been observing and participating in over the past 25 years, since the 1990s?China has made use of globalisation, in particular, to pull millions of Chinese out of poverty.
What happened in the US, and how did it happen? In the US, the leading US companies — the companies, their managers, shareholders and partners — made use of these benefits. [..] The middle class in the US has not benefited from globalisation; it was left out when this pie was divided up.
The Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly, and they used this in the election campaign. It is where you should look for reasons behind Trump’s victory, rather than in any alleged foreign interference.
Primarily, this concerns Syria, we have managed to preserve Syrian statehood, no matter what, and we have prevented Libya-style chaos there. And a worst-case scenario would spell out negative consequences for Russia.
I believe that the Syrian people should be free to choose their own future.
When we discussed this matter only recently with the previous US administration, we said, suppose Assad steps down today, what will happen tomorrow?Your colleague did well to laugh, because the answer we got was very amusing. You cannot even imagine how funny it was. They said, “We don’t know.” But when you do not know what happens tomorrow, why shoot from the hip today? This may sound primitive, but this is how it is.
On ‘western’ interventionism and ‘democracy promotion’:
Incidentally, the president of France said recently that the American democratic model differs greatly from the European model. So there are no common democratic standards. And do you, well, not you, but our Western partners, want a region such as Libya to have the same democratic standards as Europe and the US? The region has only monarchies or countries with a system similar to the one that existed in Libya.But I am sure that, as a historian, you will agree with me at heart. I do not know whether you will publicly agree with this or not, but it is impossible to impose current and viable French or Swiss democratic standards on North African residents who have never lived in conditions of French or Swiss democratic institutions. Impossible, isn’t it? And they tried to impose something like that on them. Or they tried to impose something that they had never known or even heard of. All this led to conflict and intertribal discord. In fact, a war continues in Libya.
So why should we do the same in Venezuela? …
Asked about the turn towards nationalism and more rightwing policies in the U.S. and many European countries, Putin names immigration as the primary problem:
What is happening in the West? What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon, as you said, in the US? What is happening in Europe as well? The ruling elites have broken away from the people. The obvious problem is the gap between the interests of the elites and the overwhelming majority of the people.Of course, we must always bear this in mind. One of the things we must do in Russia is never to forget that the purpose of the operation and existence of any government is to create a stable, normal, safe and predictable life for the people and to work towards a better future.
There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.
When the migration problem came to a head, many people admitted that the policy of multiculturalism is not effective and that the interests of the core population should be considered. Although those who have run into difficulties because of political problems in their home countries need our assistance as well. That is great, but what about the interests of their own population when the number of migrants heading to Western Europe is not just a handful of people but thousands or hundreds of thousands?
What am I driving at? Those who are concerned about this, ordinary Americans, they look at this and say, Good for [Trump], at least he is doing something, suggesting ideas and looking for a solution.
As for the liberal idea, its proponents are not doing anything. They say that all is well, that everything is as it should be. But is it? They are sitting in their cosy offices, while those who are facing the problem every day in Texas or Florida are not happy, they will soon have problems of their own. Does anyone think about them?
The same is happening in Europe. I discussed this with many of my colleagues, but nobody has the answer. The say they cannot pursue a hardline policy for various reasons. Why exactly? Just because. We have the law, they say. Well, then change the law!
We have quite a few problems of our own in this sphere as well.
In other words, the situation is not simple in Russia either, but we have started working to improve it. Whereas the liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done. The migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants must be protected. What rights are these? Every crime must have its punishment.
So, the liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Or take the traditional values. I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons. God forbid, let them live as they wish. But some things do appear excessive to us.
They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles. I cannot even say exactly what genders these are, I have no notion. Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.
While Putin says that liberalism is ‘obsolete’ he does not declare it dead. He sees it as part of a spectrum, but says that it should not have a leading role:
You know, it seems to me that purely liberal or purely traditional ideas have never existed. Probably, they did once exist in the history of humankind, but everything very quickly ends in a deadlock if there is no diversity. Everything starts to become extreme one way or another.Various ideas and various opinions should have a chance to exist and manifest themselves, but at the same time interests of the general public, those millions of people and their lives, should never be forgotten. This is something that should not be overlooked.
Then, it seems to me, we would be able to avoid major political upheavals and troubles. This applies to the liberal idea as well. It does not mean (I think, this is ceasing to be a dominating factor) that it must be immediately destroyed. This point of view, this position should also be treated with respect.
They cannot simply dictate anything to anyone just like they have been attempting to do over the recent decades. Diktat can be seen everywhere: both in the media and in real life. It is deemed unbecoming even to mention some topics. But why?
For this reason, I am not a fan of quickly shutting, tying, closing, disbanding everything, arresting everybody or dispersing everybody. Of course, not. The liberal idea cannot be destroyed either; it has the right to exist and it should even be supported in some things. But you should not think that it has the right to be the absolute dominating factor. That is the point. Please.
There is much more in the interview – about Russia’s relations with China, North Korea, the Skripal incident, the Russian economy, orthodoxy and the liberal attack on the Catholic church, multilateralism, arms control and the G-20 summit happening today.
But most ‘liberal’ media will only point to the ‘obsolete’ part and condemn Putin for his rallying against immigration. They will paint him as being in an alt-right corner. But even the Dalai Lama, held up as an icon by many liberals, says that “Europe is for Europeans” and that immigrants should go back to their own countries.
Moreover, as Leonid Bershidsky points out, Putin himself is, with regards to the economy and immigration, a staunch liberal:
Putin’s cultural conservatism is consistent and sincere.
On immigration, however, Putin is, in practice, more liberal than most European leaders. He has consistently resisted calls to impose visa requirements on Central Asian countries, an important source of migrant labor. Given Russia’s shrinking working-age population and shortage of manual workers, Putin isn’t about to stem that flow, even though Central Asians are Muslims – the kind of immigrants Merkel’s opponents, including Trump, distrust and fear the most.
What Putin is aiming at, says Bershidsky, is the larger picture:
[W]hat Putin believes has outlived its usefulness isn’t the liberal approach to migration or gender, nor is it liberal economics – even though Russia has, in recent months, seen something of a shift toward central planning. It is the liberal world order. Putin wants to keep any talk of values out of international politics and forge pragmatic relationships based on specific interests.
Putin’s drive to put global politics on a more transactional basis isn’t easy to defeat; it’s a siren song, and the anti-immigrant, culturally conservative rhetoric is merely part of the music.
There is in my view no ‘siren-song’ there and nothing that has to be defeated. It is just that Putin is more willing to listen to the people than most of the western wannabe ‘elite’.
The people’s interest is simply not served well by globalization, liberal internationalism and interventionism. A transactional approach to international policies, with respect for basic human decency, is in almost every case better for them.
Politicians who want the people’s votes should listen to them, and to Vladimir Putin.