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I have some respect for the Russian President Vladimir Putin. His leadership, though authoritarian and often cruel, has greatly improved the lot of ordinary Russians, among whom the President enjoys considerable affection and support. On Syria too, the President has taken a uniquely rational and firm position, much to the benefit of us all.
That being said, at this weeks G20 summit, Putin made a silly, offhand comment that has offended many in the UK. Talking to a reporter, the President is alleged to have described Britain as ‘a small island nobody listens to’.
Whatever motivated him to say it (almost certainly the Syrian debacle) and though it isn’t technically-speaking a slight on British culture, I must join with the Prime Minister in defending my little island from such a patronizing and ignorant assessment.
David Cameron’s rejoinder has so far met with mixed reviews. Shortly after Putin made the gaffe, our Prime Minister gave a bizarre speech intended to list the glories of British achievement, historic and current. Among the examples he chose were the Beatles and One Direction.
Can’t we do better?
The nation of Russia has roughly 143 million inhabitants and a land mass of 17,000,000 square kilometers. Britain has 60 million citizens and a land mass of 230,000 square kilometers. That is indeed a great difference in size, so hats off to Mr Putin for noticing this. The difference in cultural achievement however is equally large, but this time exactly inverted. Despite its size, Britain can make a claim to be the most inventive country the world has ever known.
The following list is an excerpt from an even larger list of British inventions compiled by the Radio Times:
Light Bulbs, Telephones, Steam Turbines, Electric motors, Cement, Fire Extinguishers, Photography, Chocolate Bars, Television, the Jet Engine, the Kettle, Hovercraft, Vacuum Cleaners, Stainless Steel, the Torpedo, Hypodermic syringes, the World Wide Web, ATM machines, Carbon Fibre, the Programmable computer and the Military Tank.
Britain’s musical exports have included David Bowie, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Radiohead, Oasis, Blur, the Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, Pulp, Adele, Massive Attack, Coldplay, Muse, the Who and the Kinks.
British writers, past and present, include Shakespeare, Martin Amis, Phillip Pullman, Byron, Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, Keats, EL James (sorry), JK Rowling, CS Lewis, De Quincey, John Donne, George Orwell, Thomas Carlyle, Aldous Huxley and Samuel Pepys.
It’s never a bad thing to pat one’s country on the back, especially in the midst of such a bleak political and economic landscape. Whatever else Britain may be, its people are of the profoundest creative quality and without them the world would be considerably poorer.
you should have said some thing about Putins anti gay laws that are killing some people in Russia
Defend the Modern World said:
You’re right. I will do in the future.
If you look at your list, even you will have to admit that the creative stream in the UK is running dry and you are living on cultural past glories.
Russia, for all its faults (and they are legion), has produced Tchaikovsky, Lermentov, Mendeleev, Tolstoy, Gogol, Akhmatova, the Bolshoi Ballet, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev, Yuri Gagarin (killed flying his plane while drunk), Solzhenitsyn, Pugacheva and Sakharov and Sputnik. That we do not see more of Russia’s culture can simply be explained by the language gap.
The Russian soul, if you like, is not Western. Russians do not have the cultural cringe and reflexively apologist mentality that is so popular among Westerners. They are, first and foremost, peasants who are governed by a small intellectual and political elite that is centred in the west of Russia in Moscow and St Petersburg. The Russian soul is melancholy in its outlook, accustomed to hardship and suffering. Their history is brutal and the brunt of the pain has always landed on the common people. They are accustomed to being told what to do, be it by tsars, Communists or autocrats.
Still, they are an intact people. They are a recognisable ethnic group with a language and culture that is unique. They are what they are and don’t feel in any need to be anything else. Was that not the West just fifty years ago?
Before I am accused of being a fan of the kleptocracy that Putin leads, I have no respect for Putin other than he defends Russia’s interests far more than Western leaders currently defend their own. The man is a thug, a dirty little KGB operative who has made himself and his buddies wealthy beyond the imaginings of most of the people he governs. It is with deep regret that I saw Dmitri Medvedev displaced to allow for the return of this autocrat. Medvedev could have been a bridge between the West and Russia in that he was a man more concerned with liberal ideals (and I don’t mean ‘progressive’ ideals, I mean rule of law, personal freedoms, etc). The loss of Medvedev was a real blow.
Disclaimer: I am married to a Russian citizen and as a result, my children are half-Russian. I have a BA in Russian and Political Science. I have a deep love of Russian classical music and literature as well as the literature of my forebears, the English. My husband’s family still live in Russia (although I think ‘eke out an existence’ more accurately describes their situation).
I despise Putin but to imagine that Russia will resemble the West any time soon is a pipe dream.
Oh, and how can you leave Police out of your list of bands? But put EL James in? Shame.
Defend the Modern World said:
Sorry for the ‘Police’ omission. I left many others too. Perhaps a lot of British glories are in the past, but it seems to be the way with most Western nations these days.
Putin is certainly not perfect, but he is liked by many in Russia for the stability and economic growth he has overseen. None of this is to gloss over the human rights abuses and authoritarian nature of his regime however.
There’s a lovely phrase I came across in Gwyn Jones’ folktale anthology, “Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales’. It is an old title for the island of Britain. “The Island of the Mighty”. It occurs in one particular story, the legend of Arthur and his men waiting in enchanted sleep in a cave in the Welsh hills undr Craig-y-Dinas: “Where Arthur Sleeps”.
“And who are these warriors? asked the Welshman. “And who is their sleeping king?
“The king is Arthur, and those that surround him are the men of the Island of the Mighty.
“They sleep with their steeds and their arms because a day will come when land and sky shall cower at the clamour of a host, and the bell [in the story, there is a great bronze bell hanging from the roof of the cave] will tremble and ring, and then these warriors will ride out with Arthur at their head, and drive our foes headlong into the sea…”.
Like the Danish legend of Holger Dansker, I think this is about what Jung might call Archetypes.
Arthur is not riding forth with his knights from some mythical cave in the Western hills; but I think there is a very real sense in which a great bronze bell is ringing, and all over Britain, all kinds of people – such as yourself, and Gavin Boby, and the likes of Tommy Robinson and those with him who are prepared to brave the mobsters from the mosque, right there in the streets of London – are waking up and heeding its call. *You* are the men of the Island of the Mighty.
Defend the Modern World said:
That’s very inspiring. Thank you. English folklore is fascinating. As to Gavin Boby. he is especially heroic. We need many more who can take his kind of ‘direct action’ (as the left refers to such things).