Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Watch the Tumbrels Fill

Boot Face Commissars

Peter Hitchens
The Mail Online

As I strolled through the frozen winter streets of Moscow a few years ago, a worrying idea came to me. Were speech and thought now more free in Russia than in what we used to call the West? I rather think that they are.

Last week, Kevin Roberts resigned as executive chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi for publicly questioning ultra-feminist beliefs.  He is not the first. A similar wild frenzy of persecution burst around the head of the Nobel prize-winning scientist Sir Tim Hunt, shamefully driven from his position as an honorary professor at University College London.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with these men’s opinions or not. Can it be right that they have been treated in this way for expressing them?  Of course, neither of them has been marched off to a gulag for his thought-crime. But so what? Isn’t loss of employment and position a very serious punishment?
Despite the smears of many, I have no illusions about Mr Putin’s Russia.
It is a sinister tyranny where those who challenge the president’s power or expose his wrongdoing suffer very nasty fates.  But in public, in private, in offices, on public transport, you have no need to guard your tongue as you did in the communist days, when a poem could get you executed and a joke could send you to an Arctic labour camp for 20 years.

I saw all that filth end, in person, and rejoiced to see it go. And I recall the brief few years when I thought foolishly that the world had been cleansed of a great evil for ever.  And then I began to notice that the nasty totalitarian ideas that had once been trapped behind the Iron Curtain had now escaped into the once-free West. You couldn’t say this and you couldn’t say that. You had to be careful about writing certain things, especially if you worked in the public sector.

There was a genuine fear behind all this. It was worst of all at universities, where boot-faced commissars patrol the minds of the young, enforcing speech codes – and the wrong ideas can get you marked down in more ways than one.  This simply isn’t so in Mr Putin’s Russia, now astonishingly the most conservative, patriotic and Christian country left in Europe.  Orthodox religious icons were found among the debris after the shooting down of a Russian helicopter in Syria, and Russian airborne forces last Tuesday celebrated the feast day of their patron, the Prophet Elijah.

People who think that Russia is still the Soviet Union, or that intolerant, militant Marxism died when the USSR fell, don’t understand Russia or Marxism. And they’re not paying much attention to what’s going on here, either.

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