An exclusive article by the leading Ukrainian political scientist, Doctor of Political Sciences, Maria Karmazina
With the beginning of a full-fledged war of the russian federation against Ukraine, distinct fault lines between those who condemn and those who understand Putin (“understandists”) have become apparent in Europe, Ukraine, and the rest of the world.
Understandists are not a new sub-species of homo sapiens. Their traditions (see nothing, hear nothing, make a profit) were laid down in the previous century. Romain Rolland, Bernard Shaw, and many others distinguished themselves as idolators of the Soviets and Stalin back in the 1930s.
Some of them became such understandists of the Soviet leader, that they ruthlessly critiqued their peers for not seeing the positives of the Soviet dark age. Famous German realist Lion Feuchtwanger stigmatized French writer André Gide for not understanding what he saw correctly after the Frenchman published a book of essays “The Return from the USSR” about his experience visiting the USSR in the summer of 1936.
Lion Feuchtwanger accused André Gide of not finding the freedom of thought and freedom of the press, in their western-European sense, in the Soviet Union, and of allowing himself to be upset when he saw that the Soviet people were not inclined to replace their socialism with the western-European parliamentarism. According to Lion Feuchtwanger, André Gide should have understood even that which “he did not fancy,” as the doubts published by Gide became “aid to the enemy” and “a blow against socialism.”
While stigmatizing André Gide on the pages of “Pravda,” Lion Feuchtwanger accused him of being unable to see the “great, uplifted regularity of the whole,” unable to understand the “worship of Stalin,” since “veneration of Stalin is not something artificial, it grew along with the fruits of building socialism. People are grateful to Stalin for bread and meat, for order and education, and for the creation of a new army to defend all of it. People say: ‘Stalin’ – and they mean rising prosperity, rising enlightenment. People say: ‘We love Stalin,’ – and that is a natural human expression of their unanimity with socialism and the regime.”
In 1934 another dummy claqueur – British writer Herbert Wells, showered the Soviet dictator with extreme praise (after visiting the USSR, of course), noting that he “never met a man more sincere, decent and honest; there is nothing dark and ominous in him, and this is what explains his tremendous power in Russia.”
It should be remembered that there was another, a rather special pool of people amid Stalin’s admirers and understandists, which included Ilya Ehrenburg, Elizabeth Ratmanova, and Frans Masereel.
Unfortunately, our times are once again filled with those who condemn and understand tyrants, dictators, and other champions of human-hating practices, and material gain has once again become a potent argument in this discussion.
Maybe the concept of Putinversteher (Putin understander) has formed and entered the dictionaries as Stalinversteher – Stalin understander (the name Anne Hartmann gave to her 2014 essay for Osteuropa journal) did. And this weird resemblance to Stalin probably stuck a chord in putin’s soul, presenting an opportunity to “get closer” to Stalin and form stronger ties between two dictatorial bloodlines: you see, not only did my grandfather Spiridon cook for Stalin, but when the time came, “we – the putins” continued the Stalins work of extermination, deportation, and punishment!
Although no matter what, women hold primacy in the ranks of putin understandists in recent years, in particular French, Austrian and German women. Foremost of them are Marine Le Pen and Karin Kneissl.
The former stated her support for the annexation of Crimea and spoke against the anti-russian sanctions introduced by Europe many times throughout 2014. This caused doubts and questions: was the €9 million credit from the “First Czech Russian Bank” that her party received in 2014 political (French banks did not provide credit for parties with rich racist and antisemitic past)? According to some, the “National Front” approached putin while looking for funds in 2016. And in March of 2017, while fighting for a Presidency as a candidate from the far-right “National Front” party, Marine Le Pen visited putin in person.
As for the latter, the ex-head of Austrian MFA Karin Kneissl was rewarded for inviting (in 2018) putin to her wedding and dancing with him: in 2021 she was elected to the Board of Directors of “Rosneft” (where, as is widely known, “directors” receive huge bonuses for advancing putin’s agenda around the planet), the first and only woman to receive such a distinction.
Russian money multiplies the numbers of putin’s empaths in Europe and around the globe! And, if at the beginning of this century Zbigniew Brzeziński wrote a piece named “Moscow’s Mussolini” for The Wall Street Journal (September 2004), where he, clearly and succinctly, revealed the putin’s essence and intentions, in 2013 we have American conservative (and former US presidential candidate) Patrick Buchanan reflecting on putin being “one of us.” After the annexation of Crimea (the first annexation since World War II), capturing of parts of the Ukrainian Donbas, and the creation of pseudo-republics there, we heard a choir of 60 voices crying “Another war in Europe? Not on our behalf,” through which notable Germans (including the German ex-president and ex-chancellor – Roman Herzog and Gerhard Schröder, journalist and author of the 2015 book “Understanding Russia: The Battle for Ukraine and the Arrogance of the West” Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, director Wim Wenders and others) called for compromise and dialogue with russia.
Furthermore, in Germany putin was supported not only by the highest representatives of the government or artists: entire political parties backed the russian dictator. And not the fringe parties, like “Alternative for Germany” or far-right nationalists: putin understandists were a part of the political force, whose representative and leader, Angela Merkel, was sort of a sparring partner to putin.
The talks will continue about Merkel’s putinverstehers (Armin Laschet, for example), and about Merkel herself, since the inquiring minds will be interested in how she (and Schröder before her, whom professor of economics at the University of Houston Paul Gregory named as one of the most “vocal putinverstehers”) managed to make Germany so dependent on russian gas? Was it really beneficial for Germans to become the biggest investors in russia?
Of course, not only Germans regularly flirt with putin and russia (another letter from ‘German intellectuals’ calling for a cessation of all military aid to the AFU surfaced, as we remember, not so long ago – at the end of June): Makron, too, wants to “save putin’s face,” showing the ease with which some “true European democrats” are ready to decide the fates of people, nations, and states. Even the Pope remarked that putin was, as he put it, provoked, and that the situation was not clear-cut and simple… And this gives ground for a new batch of whataboutists to appear.
Are putin’s empaths just “useful idiots” for the russian dictator, or are they an utterly corrupted segment of the political “cream of the crop” of Europe? But we have the right to ask questions on a different plane: is European democracy as stable as we think? Is it something self-evident, something to last forever? What are its priorities – the demands of the governments, or the whims of russian clients? Should Switzerland, ever striving toward a democratic perfection, and its bankers, care where 150-200 billion franks, deposited in the accounts of Swiss banks by russians (as was reported by the Swiss Bankers Association in March 2022, which created a media sensation), came from? Should apathy be a part of neutrality? Should banking (or professional) privacy be the imperative that provides immunity from any responsibility for hidden crimes?
In this situation, when the President of Ukraine (on March 13), while appealing to the “free world,” remarked that it is more important to care about the future and the values instead of bureaucracy, the question arises: is everyone in Europe able to make the choice in favor of the future and the democratic values? When, on March 25, Volodymyr Zelenskyy drew attention to the fact of the existence of those in Europe who would call for appeasement of russian interests “no matter what russia does” (“despite the thousands of russian missiles that hit Ukraine. Despite the tens of thousands of Ukrainians killed. Despite Bucha and Mariupol… Despite the destroyed cities. And despite the “filtration camps” built by the russian state, in which people are killed, tortured, raped and humiliated, as if on a conveyor belt”), one begins to understand that not only russia lacks the people (as a result of a century of negative selection) capable of understanding and appreciating democratic values and choosing them for themselves and their children, but many in Europe are used to having such a russia, are comfortable with it, and make a profit from it. A good profit.
…And Ukraine also has its understandists! They are many-faced. Their gestation period is long. At first, they were pulling Ukraine into the CIS while sitting in the Ukrainian Parliament, then – into the russian Customs Union. They voted for the “Kharkiv agreements.” They traveled to Moscow to sing, dance, and “make movies,” or publish their “scientific” works (regularly, even after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine). They were (and are?) recognized as Heroes of Ukraine, “decorated,” and, if not academics, then member-correspondents of NASU, betraying Ukraine on a full-time scale.
They created political parties like “Light from the East” (the naming of which was inspired by Stalin’s “Light comes from the East!” 1918 piece for “Pravda” that called for trustful soviet people to not look toward “the West with its imperialistic cannibals,” which, according to the author, turned into the hotbed of “slavery and darkness,” but to turn to the “light of russia.” Which turned out to be misleading “swamp light”), which transformed itself into “FARBU” (“For the Alliance of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine”) and was active from 1999 till 2003, “communist” and “socialist” political movements, and even not so ambiguous political parties like “The Putin’s Policy Party.” These parties, like many others, were banned by the court only now, after russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Although, not all. Political party “WHP” (“We Have A Purpose”), created in 2013 by the separatist Pushilin, was planning to participate in the 2015 elections, was later transformed into “Kievian Rus – Ukraine” and continued its existence. Is this okay? Is the “KRU” truly have Ukrainian interests in mind?
…The war will end, and Ukrainians will have some requests about the future prospects of former and current putin understandists…