Fear of promoting Putin infects even the Dutch quality press

In the Dutch Protestant daily, Trouw, the Moscow correspondent on Saturday 2 April reports about the auspiciously named debating centre on the Dialogue of Civilisations founded in Berlin. As so often when Russia is concerned, the piece bristles with untruths and that is good news for the Dutch government and the propaganda activities it supports, such as Window on Russia of the staunch eastern front warriors, Hubert Smeets, Laura Starink, and assorted colonels (ret.) available for this sort of ventures. All meant to cast a dark shadow on Russia and the people governing it.

The Dialogue of Civilizations was a response on the part of the Iranian cleric-cum-politician, Rafsanjani, to Samuel Huntington´s thesis of a Clash of Civilizations. None of these references are mentioned in the article, because that of course would only distract from the Fear of Promoting Putin.

Even so the entire story is already contained in them, because Huntington came up with his Clash article in Foreign Affairs in 1993 after the Soviet Union had collapsed. The question at the time was why the US actually needed a defence budget as large as the rest of the world combined, why NATO should remain in existence, etcetera.

After 9/11 Rafsanjani formulated his response, because he feared that the US would henceforth turn the idea of a Clash into reality against Islam, and he was not much mistaken.

Huntington, a Cold War ideologue per excellence, in his article still drew a thick borderline between the Western and the Russian-orthodox civilization right through Ukraine, although he still saw the main frontier between the West and an alliance of Islam plus China. A rather improbable combination, but then, everything for the cause.

The Russians had had a good look at the maps in Huntington´s writings (the book version appeared in 1998) and after Putin´s rise to power Moscow was no longer willing to accept the continuing advance of the US and NATO right through the Russian borders.

In 2002, when Yakunin seized on the Iranian idea to attempt a calibrated adjustment from a Clash to a Dialogue of Civilizations, Putin too was still optimistic about engaging the West in such a dialogue. Only in 2003-04, when the Rose and Orange revolutions took place in Georgia and Ukraine, after the invasion of Iraq, and the adhesion to NATO of the Baltic states, the Russians began to realise that a Clash might also be possible.

Personally I do not think that Civilizations as such can clash or dialogue, and there were in fact several critiques formulated against Huntington´s original thesis. For instance the book by the German peace researcher, Dieter Senghaas (The Clash Within Civilizations, 1998) about the struggle between progressive and conservative forces within the different cultures, the articles by Robert Cox about the neoliberal anti-civilization of the West that compels all others to conform, my own trilogy (2007-2010-2015) about relations between groups considering each other as foreigners, etc.

Because my Italian colleague at Sussex, Fabio Petito, had written his dissertation at LSE about this topic and played a role in the organization, I accepted the invitation to attend a World Public Forum of the Dialogue in Rhodes in 2009, and I do not regret it. Last October I again participated. Among the experts invited (of course between quotation marks in the article) and whom I saw there were Strobe Talbott, the American undersecretary and architect of the 2007 NATO-Russia Founding Act; Craig Calhoun, former president of the Social Science Research Council in the US and since a few years, Vice-Chancellor of LSE in London, and many others, including of course Iranians, and besides, Malaysians, many Italians, and so on and so forth. The organisation was in the hands of Russians, but neither in 2009 nor last October did I hear the name Putin mentioned even once.

The Trouw article speaks of ´long discussions about international relations and the place of Russia in them´, ´in between abundant entertainment´. I never noticed the latter, and the discussions, whilst certainly protracted, were not at all about ´international relations and the place of Russia in them´ but about the threat of war, ecological problems, etc. Both events that I attended rather left me with a sense of having been in a conservative version of a conference about themes of the Perestroika period.

When I was approached earlier this year to become a member of the advisory council of the think tank in Berlin I did not hesitate for a moment. At a time of great dangers to world peace as a consequence of persistent American and NATO provocations in Ukraine and elsewhere, supported by an unrelenting media campaign against the figure of Putin, aggrandized into a grotesque embodiment of all evil, any form of dialogue is important.

´Critics estimate that a new debating centre in Berlin is meant first of all to make propaganda for Russia´. Not one of these critics is actually identified and whoever has the slightest familiarity with this whole undertaking, knows that after 14 years of the Dialogue of Civilizations, there is no ground for this suspicion whatsoever.

Yet to keep up the temperature of the New Cold War everything is allowed, also in the Dutch quality press.

Kees van der Pijl

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