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Dreams and nightmares of a Russian imperium

Thursday, 27 February, 2014

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” That’s what James Joyce has Stephen Dedalus say in Ulysses, and looking at this morning’s news, one gets the feeling that these are Joycean times. Consider this headline: “Armed men seize Crimea parliament and hoist Russian flag.” Now why would they do that? Because of history. In 1944, Crimea’s Tatars were forcibly deported to Central Asia by Stalin as a form of collective punishment for their supposed collaboration with the Nazis. A decade late, Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine, making it the only region of the country where ethnic Russians dominate. In such ways is the nightmare of history, with its memories, hatreds, borders and peoples made. According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, 58.5% of the population of Crimea were Russians, 24.4% were Ukrainians and 12.1% were returned Tatars. Given the fault-lines, this this not bode well for the future.

The Third Imperium Talking of the future, The Third Imperium is a futuristic novel by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Yuriev. It’s set in 2053, a time when Russia has withdrawn from all international organizations and revoked all international treaties. Thanks to this strategy, and the wise rule of a leader who is partly of Chinese origin, it’s doing better than ever. Provoked by the United States, it launches a preventive nuclear strike — although for humanitarian reasons only sparsely populated states such as Nevada and Utah are targeted. America retaliates with a massive counter-attack but since Russia is protected by its superb anti-missile shield, this has no effect at all. The Third Imperium, with its hints of The Third Reich, is triumphant.

Footnote: At the beginning of January, Bloomberg published a story that began: “Mikhail Yuriev, a former Russian politician and businessman, said he’s quitting Russia to invest in the U.S. energy industry where cheaper financing, better infrastructure and support for foreign businesses boost returns.”

Although they’re anti-Western to the core, today’s visionary Russians prefer capitalism to communism, but like their Chinese counterparts, they dream of a world that will be a nightmare for most of its inhabitants. Just take a look at Moscow, Beijing and Crimea.


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