(votes: 178, rating: 4.98)
London-based foreign affairs analyst and commentator, who is the founder of AK Consultancy and editorial board member at the peer-reviewed Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (CEJISS) in Prague.
An exclusive interview with Count Nikolai Tolstoy, the head of the senior branch of the Tolstoy family.
Interviewer: Adriel Kasonta.
First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation for inviting me to your home, as well as to emphasize that it is an absolute honor for me to have this very unique opportunity to have this conversation.
Although you are heir of the senior line of the Tolstoy family in the male line and you are related to the author of “War and Peace” through a common ancestor in the 1700s, whose the very magnum opus is a required reading for the high school students in Poland, I would like to entirely concentrate on you.
As I know, you were educated at Wellington College and Trinity College Dublin, where you graduated with Honours BA and MA in Modern History and Political Theory. On that note, what political/philosophical influences shaped your views over the course of your lifetime, and what philosophers/thinkers had the most profound impact on your current views?
Well, I think my views developed like most peoples’ views — at large part from the gut instinct. My wife is saying to me from the day we met years ago that she felt all these things, but it was me who articulated it to her.
As you’ve mentioned Trinity College, one of our greatest graduates was Edmund Burke and he of course had an enormous influence on my views. I can’t remember when I have first red the Reflections on the French Revolution. I got the first Irish edition of his wonderful work and it immediately struck me that this is right and sensible. Now there have been more modern thinkers like Roger Scruton and Robert Conquest, who was writing about the Soviet purges and the forced famine in Ukraine. But then you can step back by taking one of his latest books before he died and view the whole thing, including sinister and also a stupid European Union.
By being historian more than a political theorist it seems to me that we are rooted in the past and we have to understand it, and the teaching of history in this country has declined appallingly. So, people can leave school having so called standard history knowledge and all they know is about the wives of Henry VIII and Hitler, but not Hitler take on Iran with the Weimer Republic and the Great War but just how wicked he was — well, I think we all know how wicked he was. We have now a public (and am talking about the people who are pretty well educated), which has no respect for our historical, political or Christian values not because they’ve red them, studied them and disapproved them, but because they have never red anything and then know anything. So, they start with the tabula rasa but, as Burke so eloquently put it, there is no tabula rasa.
Since you are, among other things, the Chancellor of the International Monarchist League, I would like to provide you with Peter Hitchens answer to my question on the future of the British monarchy and the Anglican Church, who expressed that “both are dead and are sustained only by past reputation. They just haven’t realised it yet.” Furthermore, to my question whether the monarchy in Britain could be completely abolished, he concluded the following: “I see it as very likely. The British people are no longer adult enough, or educated enough in their own history, to understand the nature and importance of constitutional monarchy. It is not at all irrelevant. Its authority and prestige are harmless in the hands of monarchs. Transferred to politicians, that authority and prestige will be very dangerous.” What is your take on Hitchens assessment?
Well, I am a great admirer of Peter Hitchens. I think he is very wise person and also very bold, and this is what we need. He is a good voice for good common sense. Of course, I think he is absolutely right. I forget who he was who said that ‘the great thing about the monarchy in Britain is not the power that gives the monarch, but the power of which it deprives the Prime Minister.’ And that seems to me a very wise saying.
Let’s look around on Europe for instance and ask a familiar question: Can anyone name the president of Germany, or the president of Italy? They are complete non-entities, which come and go, and that’s it. And whether they are not non-entities like, for instance, the president of France they are often sinister, ambitious, Mitterand-type, dishonest, unscrupulous people. And even, as sometimes it is put to me as an argument, if one of the Royal boys (as an accident of birth) is born mad, I reply: What about the president Deschanel in France who in 1929 was conjunctivitis or syphilitic? He must have been known of being such when he was elected. And then he went completely mad and they put him in an asylum. We’ve had known mad kings, except for poor George III who was actually (as modern historians now recognize) one of the ablest, most conscious of the monarchs that we had, and we can’t put all the blame on the king for the lost of our American colony.
What does it mean for you to be a monarchist and why, in your opinion, the constitutional monarchy may be perceived as far more preferable political arrangement than republican or any other contemporary model of rule?
With the minor qualification that where there is no monarchical tradition, but there is a strong tradition of republican legality (the obvious example is the United States, but also smaller countries like Iceland and Switzerland), I wouldn’t want to introduce a monarch into those systems as it actually would be a revolutionary act. So, I wouldn’t want that. But after my article for The New York Times on the very topic, many Americans wrote both to NYT and to me personally saying they strongly approve what I said.
What was also interesting is that they’ve actually considered the possibility that the monarchy was anything but decorative and romantic. In fact, those are two also extremely important things and they are not as frivolous as people may think. Nevertheless, what we are talking about, the constitutional system is wonderful because it is the strongest link with the past in this country. Only one person can be president anyway, so why should he be favoured over the rest of population any more than a monarch? I am sure the Queen does genuinely feel herself to be a monarch (certainly no to the people who are very conservative), and often the best monarchists are found in the ranks of the people who in other respects would support a socialist state. And anyway, a socialist state isn’t entirely incompatible with the monarchy. Monarchy is above parties.
Indeed, Blair and Cameron are the two shallowest and most dishonest Prime Ministers we’ve had. Certainly, Cameron must be the most corrupted since Sir Lloyd George, but Lloyd George at least was a statesman.
If the power of the constitution doesn’t only reside on the Prime Minister of the moment, but in a presidential figure who inevitably would be in large part a creature of the prime ministers, we would have no balance and no protection.
Among the many hats that you wear, you are also well-known from being a respected historian and writer, who in October 1987 was presented with the International Freedom Award by the United States Industrial Council Educational Foundation: “For your courageous search for the truth about the victims of totalitarianism and deceit” — regarding Victims of Yalta and The Minister and the Massacres books.
The first book’s translation was published by the Russian Defence Ministry as part of the official history of the Great Patriotic War and the book is required reading at the Russian Staff College, where the second one was censored in England and removed from the Bodleian and other research libraries (which puts it in the same rank as Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, prohibited in 1791). One that not, do you feel that American people are far more open minded than British and the freedom of expression in their country is greater than in any other place in the world?
I’m not sure about any other place in the world, because for example Solzhenitsyn said when he went to Switzerland that that was the freest country on earth, but I do accept what you say in principle — both from what I read and from many visits to the United States. For instance, to take just one example, the conservative case is far more eloquently and philosophically put, as well as widely known, in the United States than in any such case. As our “conservative” leaders are not conservatives, they are not particularly interested in anyway promoting conservative values or understanding conservative ideology.
In my maternal grandfather’s days, before the Great War, [Conservative Party in Britain] was known as the Party of the Bourgeoisie. They were the ones then. Now it’s either hedge fund people or land developers, who are paying their billions to the Tory party — so we know who owns it.
I don’t subscribe to The Spectator, but when I do read it (which I do) I find it now very disappointing magazine. It has got that frightfully recent British vice to insisting on being, as my stepfather (a well-known writer) used to call, ‘relentlessly humorous.’ If you were ever to meet someone who lobotomized The Spectator mentality you would find them so boring. But I think that this springs from this sort of cultural nervousness, that they are not sure. They are drowned out.
Peter Hitchens is one example of somebody who is widely read, and who puts his views uncompromisingly and eloquently. And I think that other one is Rod Liddle. He is very good, and he puts it from the other angle. There is always point to his humour.
I’ve never had, to be frank, much respect for Christopher Hitchens. I felt he was someone, who just voiced opinions to annoy people and to be noticed.
This leads me to my next question on the freedom of speech and expression in the modern mass media, as you, like no one else, have probably the best comparative view on how it was back then and is now — taking into account your dispute with Lord Aldington (former Brigadier Toby Low), after accusing him of being a war criminal because of sending 70,000 Cossacks, Serbs and Croats to their deaths in Communist Eastern Europe in 1945, for which allegation he was awarded record libel damages of £1.5 million in 1989 (one of the highest monetary fines in the history of the English legal system), but eventually The European Court of Human Rights decided in 1995 that the size of the libel damages amounted to a breach of your right to freedom of expression. On that note, what is your assessment of freedom of expression now and then, taking into account the ongoing media bias towards other views than the one imposed by the mainstream?
I don’t think that it has improved at all. I’m not sure if my books would be any more likely acceptable now than they were then. It is self-imposed censorship. Nobody could deny that this repatriation was a hugely significant historical event, and it covered interests across the globe — especially United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. There is no other book on this topic.
There are people who the government subsidised to write books against me, but they were not by any standards serious scholars. They even subsidised (which is now forgotten) a fake committee, which arose and published a report which they say was independent. All this information does leak out. Furthermore, the head of this committee was a long serving officer of MI-6. They were hand in hand with the government. They even suppressed documents vital to the defence during the trial. And after the trial was over, one of the officials in the Ministry of Defence was so outraged with who is in charge of suppressing these documents that he leaked to a reporter on The Guardian what was happening, and listed all the documents which were missing. In my opinion, if I made an error I am strongly inclined to think that it is better to admit it and get over it.
My wife said to me: Sometimes when you are giving a talk are you not being nervous that someone will jump up and say 'well, that’s wrong'? And I say 'no, I’m not', because first of all I am probably not wrong because it is something I should know about, but secondly if I am wrong then I don’t do myself any harm by admitting it. And going on from there, in fact, my understanding is improved. But they don’t think like that. Their own knowledge is so shallow that their almost behave like bullies. And like many bullies there are intensely vulnerable psychologically.
It is a lot of inverse error, or racism, of the other side, which is kept completely silent. I mean, to me it seems blatant that the treatment of the Russians who were handed over was in the outpart racist. They say Russians are barbarians, so who cares what happens to them?
In 2015, when it was the 50th anniversary of the handovers, Cameron went across Europe and beat his breast in Dachau, which we liberated (so there is nothing to apologise about). But the real war crime, which by any standard (nobody could deny it) was committed by handing over the Russians, was never publicly discussed or mentioned in any newspaper in this country. So, there is still a censorship, and it’s partly a censorship of the sheepishness which is taking over Britain of not wanting to be out of the mainstream. And that’s partly why I like UKIP so much. And I like Nigel Farage because he is not afraid to say it, and other people are afraid of him.
But I think it is a fairly straight forward rule that when people misuse or misunderstand terms like ‘fascist’ and ‘toxic’, you could be absolutely sure that they are not telling the truth, straight away. Majority of them identify Nazism with fascism, but actually those two are different. Similarities between Nazism and communism are far greater than differences.
As some people may not know you are British by birth and upbringing, but as we read your heart is “always with Russia.” What does it mean to you exactly?
Because even though I love Britain and I live here (so obviously I know more about Britain because of that), but at the same time I know there is something in me which feels very Russian. When I go to Russia I feel I am coming home. I don’t feel I am in the foreign country at all. And I find that people who live there don’t think of me as a foreigner, so it has a strong effect.
I’ve written books on Russian history, as well as on British history. So, I’m 50/50, but at the end of the day I’ll be always slightly more on the Russian side. And thank goodness my Russian passport doesn’t have those sinister stars of the EU. But actually neither of them have, because I’ve actually scratched them out of my UK passport [ha ha ha].
As to a person who was brought up in bilingual household, what are the main differences or common values of the British and Russians?
Well, I suppose what the British (until as we say it seems to be sadly changing now) could bestow this very important tradition of not so much of democracy (democracy comes into it), but a balance of powers and an independent judiciary, and all these other things which although slowly, but mistakenly, people have tried to impose very often these days on people who are just not prepared - for one reason or another.
They don’t have this historical tradition. So, when I look at Russia of course I feel sad that Russia didn’t (well it did to some extent, but not sufficient extent) develop these institutions. And indeed, Russia of course (and most of the continent) looked to Britain with envy.
I think Russia was forthrightly on the way to it before the Bolshevik revolution, but any chance of it then was destroyed. And now the communists succeeded, to one point of view, in building up generation which had no concept of political liberties and an independent judiciary, or an independent police force, and so on. So, it’s still proving very difficult to break out of it. I imagine it will take another generation, but who knows which direction that generation will go. I would prophesize that it won’t be long before Russia is the only European country left in Europe.
You also confessed some time ago that “it would be strange, or ridiculous, to be a Tolstoy and not a Russian.” Therefore, what does it mean to you personally to be a Russian?
I feel that the two go together. I can’t forget that I am a Russian.
Russian culture, especially of the 19th century, is second to non in the world. And I am not saying this to be invidious to Americans, whom I greatly like and admire, but there is no comparison between American culture and Russian culture. So, there is something very fine about Russia and something very special. It is different from other cultures, but at the same time can be appreciated by people like any other culture. I feel Russia has a lot to contribute to the world. And Russian history has provided some horrible examples of when things can go wrong. But then there is also much that it was right and good in Russia.
It should be remembered that Russians suffered even more than the Poles under the communism, and for much longer. Anyway, communism and marxism came from the West - that didn’t come from Russia. It was physically introduced by the West, indeed, when Keiser send Lenin to tear down Russia. So, I don’t think that the West has anything to be proud of in that respect. Here we now have the leader of this second party in Great Britain who is devout Marxist.
To large extent this Soviet hysteria nowadays is conveniently invented to justify, for instance, heavy military spending. Even the EU tries to justify its existence by saying that it is a defence against Russia. Well, first of all, it isn’t. The German army would last about 5 minutes against the Russian army. But it’s demonstrably untrue in a sense that (what I constantly read) the Baltic States feel threatened.
They talk about brutal Russian aggression in Crimea, but nobody was killed there. It was a bizarre whim of Khrushchev, who allocated it in Ukraine in the first place. And they write in the English newspapers as if Ukraine was some ancient European state, where in fact it briefly came to an existence in 1918, then it was banished, and again came back (but only a name), and now is completely divided.
In my view, everything East to the Dnieper River should be revert Russia and everything West, which has no Russian tradition, to either be an independent state or Polish. But that’s just my view.
So, they talk as the recovery of Crimea was a terrible crime (which of course it had been), but what about, for example, in 1918 when France recovered Alsace-Lorraine? There was no treaty, and what more, they (not like the Russians) expelled all people of German birth. And they had to leave without being able to take their belongings or anything. But at the same time, nobody now suggests that Alsace-Lorraine should be returned to Germany.
In my view Crimea is a superior case in every way.
The EU has strong elements of the Fourth Reich. Obviously, Germany is no longer remotely in the position to establish hegemony by force of arms, so they do it by the force of money, corruption, everything. And after all Ms Merkel has been trained in her communist youth. She wasn’t just a paid up member of the party, which couldn’t be her choice, but she was a paid propagandist for the Communist party.
Rusty Butler, whom you probably well know, said that you are one of the most famous Russian names in America and described you as “the true European gentleman.” On that note, do you believe that Russians should be considered as Europeans and therefore, Russia should be included and incorporated in the future European defence projects, or should it remain a pariah due to the outdated post-Cold War rhetoric?
Of course Russia is part of Europe and probably has been even longer than Britain, because the Romans looked on Britain as being outside Europe.
I think that one of the grievous weaknesses is the wide spread acceptance (even by people who should do know better) of talking about the EU as Europe. The EU view is not Europe.
Now co-opt the names of Goethe, Schiller, and so on, and there is not only any evidence that Goethe and Schiller supported the idea of the United Europe but on the contrary, Goethe in particular was a supporter of small states.
The Holly Roman Empire was a bastion of liberty and it may be a good model for a sort of the loose union, but that’s not what the EU wants. In any case, of course, they are completely arbitrary in deciding what is and what isn’t Europe. They have, as Robert Conquest pointed out, no history, no ideology. It is operating in a vacuum, when people like George Soros can make of it what they will. And also the destruction of the teaching of history (and I can't speak about what goes on the continent, but certainly in Britain) I am sure is primarily engineered by a necessity for the success of their party, that the people should not know about the past.
I remember reading some years ago how Brussels produced a comic book to brainwash children. Particularly, it was about abandoning Europe of the past (with passports) for Europe of the future (without passports).
When my grandfather, who was Russian of course, travelled from Moscow to London to marry my English grandmother in 1911 he had to show his passport only once - on the Russian frontier. You didn’t need a passport in those days at all to travel in Europe. Turkey and Russia haven’t go anyway near the freedom of movement we had in Europe.
What Bukowski sad is: “I’ve escaped from the Soviet Union only to find myself in the European Union, which is very swiftly becoming something like the Soviet Union.”
I remember seeing on television that when they had the first presidential election after the Soviets, Jaruzelski said that Poland should join the European Union. And he was on television saying: “Why shouldn’t we join the European Union?! After all, we’ve belonged to the Soviet Union.”
What is the main obstacle for Europe, or in broader sense the West, to accept Russia as an equal partner in facing the common threats of the modern times, and is this behaviour not counterproductive to the security and prosperity of us all?
Well, of course it is! All our defences have been wasted on creating an enemy, which wouldn’t exist but for this provocation.
The fact is that there has never been a single statement (and maybe someone will be able to correct me) from any Russian official or unofficial organ or ministry suggesting that Russia had any desire for the Baltic states. I don’t think it has ever been suggested, at all. So, the only area of conflict is in the place (Ukraine and Crimea) which the European Union shouldn’t be concerned with.
The idea of having a strong NATO in order to keep us from danger is very noble, but the NATO countries are not happy paying any money at all. Why should America pay for it?
Russia is a European state. So, when I get across when they talk about Europe as the EU, I say: ‘I am a citizen of the biggest country in Europe and that’s not in the EU, and never will be.’ But Russia obviously is a bastion of civilisation. Just as Central European countries had to look for liberation to Britain and United States, they also had to look, even more so, to Russia. There wouldn’t be a victory over Napoleon and no victory over Hitler without Russia.
I think that also another reason why our enemies hate and fear Russia is because Russia is largely a Christian country. And they don’t like that.
If they fear that Russia has any attempt to re-establish its rule in Eastern Europe, they should look on the map if they think that Russia is short of territory.
How in your opinion should look the Europe’s relationship with Russia? Should it be based on General de Gaulle’s vision, which would see Europe from “the Atlantic to the Urals” (taking into account the most recent presidential election in France) or, perhaps, not?
President Macron is unfortunately a strong retrograde step. And yes, I totally agree with General de Gaulle.
The greatness of Europe isn’t weak, corrupt, and ultimately failing EU. The greatness of Europe obviously lies in the Europe of nation states. And this is that competition between the states, which is a large factor in making Europe the greatest civilisation that has ever existed.
And yes, they often try to praise up undoubted achievements of Chinese civilisation but nevertheless, [Lord] Tennyson wrote: “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.” And it was because of this. But also as Gibbon points out when he showed the benefits of the Roman Empire, he also but said on the downside that “no matter where you went, the hand of Rome could reach you”. But the main difference between Europe of our times and Gibbon’s day is that before, if you were oppressed in one country, you could pack your bags and go somewhere else, and liberty was preserved in this way through variety. But variety of course is what the EU detests, because it stands in a way of their aim to build an Orwellian empire - totally destructive to culture and individuality.
They are talking about diversity, but the diversity they talk about is actually like so many of their other terms. It’s a “new speech”, I think Orwell calls it, because in fact they are suppressing diversity. If everybody is speaking the same language and having the same group history, all diversity automatically will parish altogether. And indeed, it is.
In my times people in the countryside have still spoken a local dialect of their county. Nowadays dialects are all being killed off and dying.
Culture can only flourish with variety.
Bearing in mind the most recent Presidential elections in France, and huge support of different conservatives around the world towards Marine Le Pen, I would like to ask about your views on the matter, as well as whether you’ve heard about Francis Asselineau from the Popular Republican Union?
Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of him.
I am not sure whether you are familiar with the famous Polish historian Andrzej Walicki (former professor at the University of Notre Dame), who specializes in philosophy of sociopolitics and history of Polish and Russian philosophy, who expressed in his famous essay on Putin and conservatism that the main reason for the West’s (particularly American) reluctance or even hostility towards Russia and Russians is being sanctified by Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” theory, which would mean that the followers of the Russian Orthodox Church belong to the different civilization and therefore relations with these people should be driven by a conflict, not a dialogue. Furthermore, according to the philosopher, this also justifies any attempts to prevent Russia from following its own path in the international arena. What is your take on this assessment?
I entirely agree with him. And what you’ve mentioned earlier about the Church breathing with two lungs (expressed by the Pope John Paul II), it is exactly what I feel.
I am Russian Orthodox obviously and all my children are, as well as three of my grandchildren. And their first language is Russian. I am very pleased with that. But I don’t feel any desire, on contrary, to want to convert Catholics to become Orthodox. We are twins — same family, same direct apostolic succession, and we are only divided because of purely historical reasons related to invasions of Arabs and Turks. There has never been an Orthodox versus Catholics war. There were wars between Russia and Poland, but they weren’t about religion. Those who think otherwise know little about the Orthodox Church, as in fact many people in the West are attracted to it. They feel betrayed by all these changes for no purpose. The only argument for them is to popularize the Church, which doesn’t give the desired effect at all. It doesn’t gain converts, it’s just loses people. And luckily for me, due to pure accident of inheritance, I am an Orthodox. Nevertheless, I do think it has one great virtue — it doesn’t change.
I am not one of those people (and so many of my friends are) who are hostile towards Islam. Am pleased (and I think I’m still right in this case) that the three official religions of Russia are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. My eldest daughter married Russian Tatar, and of course he was a Muslim.
My impression is that the growth of atheism has almost nothing to do with philosophical arguments about the existence of God. 99.99% of people are not in the position to discuss these problems. People say they don’t believe in God. Well, I would say: on what rounds? But, they can’t say. And I would advise them to just go to the Norrington Room Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford, which has books on theology and you’ll find learned books on both sides of the question. Until you read them, you can’t even start to think about it. And if you had read them all, you still wouldn’t know the answer. I would recommend reading the final three chapters of Anna Karenina.
Basically, there is nothing more illiberal than modern liberal.
What is your view on modern Russia? Does the modern Russia differ from the Russia that we know from our (well, certainly mine) grandparents’ Communist times memories or is it the same oppressive beast, which attempts to subjugate countries of the former Soviet block (including my own homeland Poland) — something that we repeatedly hear from a different think tanks, international security pundits, and politicians in the West?
I go to Russia a lot, and my very strong impression (both through reading and visiting) is that it clearly isn’t the same. It’s in some respects an authoritarian state (it has big problems with corruption etc.), but it’s far from being a totalitarian state.
I’ve got a friend who is a Russian documentary movies maker, and he did two films about me for the Russian television. So, we went to see him in his flat in Moscow and I’ve asked him how are the things going, and he said that they are going well. He said: ‘Look, I have many friends with whom I work independently, many friends like me who more and more can send their children to good schools, have flats like this. After all, as we all know, one of the prime guarantees of liberty in any state is strong and self-confident middle class. And that’s happening in Russia.’ I mean, things have changed drastically.
They are keep on talking about the prosecution of the opposition (which exists and is strongly regrettable), but at the same time there is an opposition. There was no opposition in the Soviet times.
The same Russians who criticize Russia today were the ones who rather admired the Soviet Union. I think that the majority actually liked it. There is certain sadistic mentality among weak people, which likes (providing it is not happening to them) the thought of killings and so on. This element shouldn’t be ignored.
There is a marvellous book published by disciple of Freud (whom I don’t admire) called Erich Fromm. In the war, I think it was United States government which commissioned him to write a study on why people turn to totalitarian regimes. And he argued that this latent sadism is one of the reasons. Most German people wouldn’t commit the crimes that were committed in their name, but they somehow felt (those who supported Hitler — which was a very large number) that Hitler was doing what they secretly would like to do, but dared not to do.
I am old enough to remember that there was a general admiration (not only among Communists) in Britain for Stalin and the Soviet system.
What is your opinion on Putin? Is it fair by the Western media and the general public to over-demonize him, or is he a true enemy of Europe and the West?
As far as I can judge from outside, there are many things about Putin that are wrong. The ruling power is too much involved in massive corruption, and that seems to be beyond any doubt. Nevertheless, in other respects, I like him because I totally agree that only a strong ruler would have the courage to recover Crimea. Only a strong ruler would seek to defend the Russian speaking inhabitants of the so-called Ukraine. So, people want to push Russia around and they are finding that they can’t.
This is a crises time. Peter the Great did many things that I detest about him, but there wouldn’t be Russia if it weren’t for Peter the Great.
Do you consider him to be a monarchist, bearing in mind his intellectual inspiration in Ivan Ilyin’s philosophy of law, and especially his monarchistic concept of the rule of law expressed in his works titled On the Essence of Conscience of Law and On Monarchy and Republic?
Both Yeltsin and Putin do seem to look favourably on the monarchy and, after all, to the guardians of the Russian greatness. But also in the modern context, where the only satisfying monarchy is a constitutional monarchy, it would be hugely advantageous in Russia, and it would take much of the pressure off the President, if we had a monarchy similar to that in Britain - but the monarch perhaps possessing rather little bit more power.
If it’s a normal monarchy, such as we see in the world today, it’s hugely beneficial for the outside perception of the country. One can’t dismiss the glamour of a restored Russian monarchy and the effect it would have on the world. Everyone, and above all Americans, loves monarchy as long as, in their case, is not theirs.
I was delighted when I was in America going to lunch with some charming American host, and before we had the lunch he rose and said: ‘I like to propose a toast to her Majesty the Queen.’ And that would not have happened at the English lunch, even though we all admire the Queen. In my opinion, they have a very pragmatic view. Most people would feel much more benevolent towards Russia, which was reverted to being a monarchy.
I think, as it is my understanding of Putin, that no one wishes to restore an absolute monarchy. No one would have wanted. That aside, there is so much in Russia that was very great.
Obviously, Russia had to wrestle with problems which Britain didn’t know and had never face up to. But I would say that there was a self-evident progress in Russia, and one only has to compare 19th century Russia with 18th century Russia. And the progress was really extraordinary.
In the cultural stage, of course, Russia is like a world in itself.
Have you ever met Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in person? And if yes, what is your assessment of this internationally recognized Russian thinker?
He is a wonderful man, but I’ve only met him once in Moscow. I was very pleased. It was after all our troubles with the British government. He asked to see me and we went to his flat in Moscow, and my wife of course is very brave as she had to put up with so much (she is completely English). But the best reward for her, she said, was when Solzhenitsyn embraced me and said: ‘Moi gieroj!’
I think he was a wonderful man, obviously very profound political thinker, as well as great writer — religious thinker too. And his idea of Russia, an organic Russia…
But the fact is there is Russian democracy, people do vote and foreign observers generally agree that it is more or less valid vote. It is not a tyranny - certainly it isn’t a totalitarian state like Bolsheviks had.
Many political philosophers and historians of ideas perceive that Putin was hugely influenced by Solzhenitsyn’s book titled Rossija w obwale/Russia under Avalanche (published in 1998), especially the view that modern Russia can no longer afford to sustain the empire, but it is vital for its historical and spiritual integrity to integrate Eastern Slavs (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarus, and Russian Kazakh people). Can this fact justify the current situation in Ukraine and Russian attempts to protect its Russian speaking people who are discriminated and prosecuted by the Ukrainian nationalist in power, as well as supported by the Western governments?
I strongly support the idea that Dnieper should make, as it always did (even in the 17th century), natural frontier. And I would be as hostile as anyone in the West to Russia advancing any further West than that. But I’ve never seen any evidence that Russia (the present Russian government) has ever even dreamed of any such thing. I don’t think that anyone in Russia wants it. First of all, they don’t have any interest in doing so. Secondly, it almost certainly would result in a World War.
Every other year the Russian government organizes a reunion of our family at Yasnaya Polyana, and I was there last year. I was going for Russian conversation classes because it gets rusty, and one day some lady came in and she was looking very upset and I said: ‘What’s the matter?’, and she said: ‘My aunt lives in Ukraine and last night Ukrainian thugs with machine guns broke in to her house, told her to get out with nothing, and said that the house is now theirs.” And this is the sort of real fascism that exist in Ukraine.
But it is not unrealistic to suggest that if Dnieper would make the frontier the whole problem would vanish. I mean, they have their own problems internally, but there would have been no international problem, no threat of war, if Ukraine would be independent. But they want to bring Russia to her knees, don’t they?
What is your assessment of the US soldiers deployment in Poland in alleged attempt to “deter” Russian aggression? Is it a hostile move (bearing in the mind the map of NATO bases currently surrounding Moscow)?
To me it’s just stupid posturing.
When we read that our government has sent 600 soldiers to Estonia, I am not sure that the Russian army is very frightened about that. It’s an attempt to provoke Russia rather than deter Russia.
On the lower level, nevertheless the real one, it is also an attempt to justify the creation of the so called European army, which they are very keen to have. But what would be the function of this army? NATO exists to defend us from a threat, which is gone. So, they just keep their fingers crossed that there will be one. But actually European army would clearly have nothing to do with that, because we already have NATO. It can only serve an internal policing purposes. And it means it would be policing sovereign states, or scattered individuals.
With the European arrest warranty, they can march into your home, they can come if they ever heard us, and take us away to jail. It’s not a threat like Nazism or communism, but it has the seeds of its own destruction which we can already see, thank goodness, at work.
I was pessimistic when the EU seemed to be expanding, but now I feel optimistic as the seeds of its own destruction are already showing themselves clearly. Even I may live to see the end of the EU, and you certainly will. Otherwise, it will be ‘1984’.
Should Russia, if forced to do so, “Resist to Evil by Force”, as it was advised by Ilyin?
It definitely should. And I am thankful, as far as I can see, that we have extremely powerful armed forces. And the West know very well that the outcome would may not be at all what they wanted. I don’t think it will happen, but if such war happens I think Russia would win.
Ms Applebaum and others who like to criticize Mr Putin should realize that they are the ones who are compelling him to adopt stronger policies, which would not be in place otherwise.
Anyway, they forget that Russia has other frontiers and other problems like China, which remains a permanent threat to Russia with her vast empty spaces in the East.
But this rhetoric may also have the opposite effect and drive Russia into the arms of China if she feels sufficiently threatened.
Can Russia trust America under Trump and allied with her in order to contain (as many political pundits and academics - including Professor John Mearsheimer - suggest) emerging China threat by doing what I call the “Nixon reversal” or not?
We have nothing in common with Communist China (I hope), but we have a lot in common obviously with our biggest European nation, which is outside of the EU.
One has to be guarded, but nevertheless it does seem to me that under Trump we may see possibilities of proper cooperation with Russia. I think that Trump is above all a pragmatist, and I don’t think he is an ideologist at all — but that’s a good thing in his case. And we’ve already seen what a mess weak and foolish man like Obama can make.
I am not troubled by Islam. On contrary, as I said, very briefly we had a Muslim son in law, but he became converted on the eve of his wedding to Orthodoxy. So, I said we reduced Muslims by one. But actually, as you’ve said earlier, if you look at Russia we have very strong historical Muslim community.
Audio version of the interview:
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