Confucius say…what?

Robert_Mugabe
Robert Mugabe

Yesterday we revisited our old pal Robert Mugabe, the brutal Zimbabwean dictator, and learned about a remarkable accolade, the Confucius Peace Prize, that was founded in China in 2010 as an affronted response to the selection of jailed dissident poet Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, and that was awarded to Mugabe this October. Earlier, as we noted, it had been presented to that other great man of peace, Vladimir Putin.

And who won it last year? Why, none other than Fidel Castro, that’s who.

Peace laureate Fidel Castro

The jury’s statement explained that Fidel, as president of Cuba, “never used any violence or force when faced with problems and conflicts in international relations, especially in Cuba’s relationship with the United States.” True, Castro didn’t invade the U.S.; neither, for some unfathomable reason, did any of his equally formidable Caribbean neighbors, such as Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica. It’s not that Fidel couldn’t have conquered the U.S., of course; he was just so busy oppressing his people, executing dissidents, and torturing gay people that he never quite got around to it.

So what about Mugabe? What did the Chinese have to say about their reasons for paying tribute to him? Their citation praised him for “working tirelessly to build the political and economic stability of his country, bringing peace to the people of Zimbabwe, strongly supporting pan-Africanism and African independence, and making unparalleled contributions for the renaissance of African civilisation.” Coincidentally, Mugabe’s victory was announced on the same day that he gave his instantly famous speech at the United Nations in which he ringingly affirmed that he and his Zimbabwean compatriots “are not gays.”

Qiao Wei, identified in the New York Times as “a poet and the president of the judging committee of the peace prize,” told that newspaper that “Mugabe is the founding leader of Zimbabwe and has been trying to stabilize the country’s political and economic order ever since the country was first founded. He brought benefit to the people of Zimbabwe.”

Not everybody in Zimbabwe agreed. In an irate article, Gorden Moyo, secretary general of the People’s Democratic Party of Zimbabwe, said that his party was “disgusted” by the accolade. “Mugabe as we know him…is a war-monger, a bellicosist [sic] and a sadist who delights in the misery of the people,” wrote Moyo, who added that the 1980s, which the committee had described as Mugabe’s best years,

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Gorden Moyo

were actually the worst years in the history of Zimbabwe. It was that lost decade” which saw Mugabe presiding over ethnic cleansing which left over 20 000 innocent lives of Ndebele speaking people-women and children from Matabeleland and Midlands provinces losing their precious lives…..Homesteads were torched down, property destroyed, schools shut, and opposition leaders and supporters hunted down like wild animals by Mugabe’s private army….In fact the rule of Mugabe is paved with blood, violence, arson and cruelty….If the Organisers of the Prize have any iota of moral rectitude,then they should hang their heads in shame for rewarding murderers who masquerade as peace makers.

In short, “the Confucius Peace Prize…is an insult to the people of Zimbabwe.” We agree, of course – though we know Charles Barron doesn’t, and we’re not too sure about Bill de Blasio.

A peace prize for…Mugabe?

Zimababwe's President Robert Mugabe chants Zanu PF slogans with supporters gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre in Harare, Wednesday May 3, 2000. Mugabe launched the Zanu PF's election manifesto which bears the slogan "Land is the Economy and the Economy is Land". (AP Photo/Christine Nesbitt)
Robert Mugabe

Human Rights Watch has called his record “abysmal.” He kidnaps and beats journalists, steals foreign-aid money, and tortures and kills political opponents. He demonizes gays and whites. But, as we’ve seenpreviously on this website, Robert Mugabe has his share of admirers in the U.S. Current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took part in a 2002 reception in his honor – this at a time when Mugabe, in one reporter’s words, “was already well into his campaign of terror and murder in Zimbabwe.” So did current New York State Assemblyman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther who actually organized the 2002 Mugabe tribute and who today still views Mugabe as a “shining example of an African leader.”

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Liu Xiaobo

Now it’s clear that Mugabe has fans on the other side of the globe, too. In October, he was selected as this year’s winner of Confucius Peace Prize, which was cooked up five years ago as China’s answer to the Nobel Peace Prize after that distinction went to dissident writer Liu Xiaobo. The latter is still in prison in his homeland, being punished for the crime writing a pro-freedom manifesto.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu attends a meeting of indigenous communities in Caracas February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
Rigoberta Menchú

Now, no prize is 100% reliable. The Nobel Peace Prize itself is well known for its highly spotty record. In his admirable history of the prizes, Jay Nordlinger notes that Betty Williams, who won in 1976, is no peacenik when it comes to George W. Bush, whom she’s expressed a desire to kill. Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchú, and Nelson Mandela were all fans of Castro; laureates Emily Greene Balch, Arthur Henderson, Linus Pauling, Séan MacBride, and (again) Mandela all praised the Soviet Union. 

But the Confucius Prize, which purportedly exists to “promote world peace from an Eastern perspective,” makes the Norwegian Nobel committee look almost like a pantheon of infallible geniuses.

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Peace laureate Vladimir Putin

In 2011, the trophy went to none other than Vladimir Putin. As one observer, an ethnographer, documentary filmmaker, and writer named Jin Ge, noted, this award came along at precisely the moment when massive crowds were gathering in Moscow to protest against Putin. Why was Putin chosen to receive the peace prize? The Chinese explained: they admired his support for Muammar Qaddafi, his criticism of Western intervention in Libya, and his “iron wrist” response to Chechen independence activists.

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Jin Ge

“You might wonder,” wrote Jin Ge, “how ‘Iron Wrist,’ Putin, Qaddafi, and Peace fit together.” Jin explained: in the view of Communist Chinese officials, “War only happens between countries, violence against your own people does not count. To protect ‘sovereignty,’ killing is justified. Human suffering is a small prize to pay to achieve the goal of harmony, stability and unity.” As for Qaddafi: “Putin, Qaddafi and Confucius are in the same camp because they are perceived as anti-West. Since the West (together with Japan) is conceived as the archenemy of China, anything opposite of what they interpret as Western is good. If the West criticizes Putin and Qaddafi, then these two guys must be good.”

With these kind of criteria, who else has won the Confucius Peace Prize? We’ll get to that on Monday.

Loving Mugabe

Zimababwe's President Robert Mugabe chants Zanu PF slogans with supporters gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre in Harare, Wednesday May 3, 2000. Mugabe launched the Zanu PF's election manifesto which bears the slogan "Land is the Economy and the Economy is Land". (AP Photo/Christine Nesbitt)
Robert Mugabe

Yesterday we noted that the admiration of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro by his American fans shows no sign of having been dimmed by reports of his apparent descent into madness – and his transformation of his country into what one observer has called “an Orwellian dystopia.” Today we thought it might be appropriate to wonder aloud whether the American aficionados and collaborators of another tyrant, Robert Mugabe, who’s been running Zimbabwe since 1980, have been unsettled at all by his latest moves.

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Dan Och

Among Mugabe’s stateside enablers, as we’ve previously seen, is New York hedge-fund king Dan Och, whose shady deals with Mugabe provided the despot (whose profligate government had run out of funds) with enough cash “to buy votes and unleash a campaign of brutal repression in an election in which he [had previously] faced almost certain defeat.” Och, as one account put it, “raised $100M for Mugabe’s weapons and torture-chambers in exchange for a sweetheart deal on the country’s platinum mines.” Och can’t claim he was acting out of ignorance: he knew very well that his payments to Mugabe – which led to investigations by both the Department of Justice and the SEC – would be used to fuel the systematic, savage abuse of Mugabe’s own people.

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Bill de Blasio

Then there’s Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, who during his tenure in the City Council took part in a tribute by that body to Mugabe, who gave a speech and was fêted at a cocktail reception. The man who organized that event, as we’ve seen, was former Black Panther Charles Barron, who at the time was a City Council member and is now a state assemblyman.

De Blasio and Barron represent themselves as progressive heroes. What, then, do they have to say about Mugabe’s late September speech to the General Assembly of United Nations, in which he concluded an inane rant condemning international efforts to address his human-rights abuses by insisting: “We are not gays!”

“We are not gays!” The subject of homosexuality has been a longstanding preoccupation of Mugabe’s. Gays in Zimbabwe face fines, prison, beatings by the police, and worse. (“Even Satan wasn’t gay!” Mugabe growled when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land.)

Councilman Charles Barron fights with CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Weisenfeld at Groundbreaking ceremonies for CUNY's new $259 Million Fiterman Hall. The original Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
Charles Barron

Of course, Zimbabweans don’t need to be gay to feel deprived of freedom, security, and prosperity: Mugabe’s presidency is, by all reasonable accounts, a “reign of terror,”  his government a “murderous kleptocracy,” his nation a land of “bloodthirsty depravity” that is characterized by cartoonish levels of corruption, is patrolled by a thuggish secret police that spreads “dread in the cities,” is guilty of “torture on an industrial scale,” and has undergone a precipitous economic decline that The Economist has described as “the most dramatic peacetime collapse of any country since Weimar Germany.”

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Marian Tupy

The very fact that Mugabe was allowed to speak at the UN was a disgrace. But it’s hardly a first. Officials of international organizations, in the face of demands by human-rights activists and other right-thinking people that Mugabe be banned from international conclaves, have routinely given in to demands by Zimbabwe and its African neighbors that it be included. As Marian Tupy wrote in the Wall Street Journal Europe in 2007, European Union officials – who’d recently fallen for Zimbabwean propaganda depicting Mugabe as a victim of Western propaganda and/or succumbed to African leaders’ boycott threats – were responsible for the ethically challenged decision to welcome Mugabe to an EU summit in Lisbon.

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Thabo Mbeki

But African leaders, noted Tupy, were also deeply culpable: under Mugabe, Zimbabwe had become a terror state, but many leaders of neighboring countries had responded to the nightmare he was creating for his people by “clos[ing] ranks” around him. The most guilty party of all, in Tupy’s view, was South African President Thabo Mbeki, who, given Zimbabwe’s economic dependence on his nation, was “in a position to force change or end Mr. Mugabe’s reign overnight,” but who’d in fact “done more than any other African leader to help Mr. Mugabe hang onto power.”

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Jacob Zuma

Alas, Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma, has proven to be even more supportive of Mugabe, saying earlier this year that economic cooperation between the two countries “has never been stronger.” Peter Godwin, a white Zimbabwean who now lives abroad, explained this seemingly inexplicable state of affairs a couple of years ago: these various African regimes came to power in anti-colonial revolutions, and they’re all still in power, and “it’s not in the interest of any of them to let any of the other ones lose power.” Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand, commenting in 2008 on Mbeki’s refusal to criticize Mugabe, made essentially the same point: “People expected statesmanship. But at the end of the day, he didn’t have the guts to stand up to a fellow liberation movement leader.”

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Rick Salutin

But why is any Westerner eager to be an apologist for Mugabe? One word: imperialism. Or, if you prefer, colonialism. In the eyes of certain Western leftists, who subscribe to a political philosophy that sees the West (especially America) as invariably evil and racist, and the rest of the world (especially Africa) as its helpless victims, Mugabe, no matter what horrors he may be guilty of, is still a good guy, a casualty, a hero, an innocent.

Such is the case, apparently, with Toronto newspaper columnist Rick Salutin, who, as Jonathan Kay of the National Post noted a few years back, had slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for, in Salutin’s words,

piling onto Zimbabwe…for its “fraudulent election” and “illegitimacy.” He showed no sense of perspective: that the U.S. held a fraudulent election in 2000, or illegitimately tortures in Guantanamo, and that his own government continues to permit the Americans to practise on Canadian Omar Khadr.

NATIONAL POST STAFF PHOTO // PST053007 - Toronto - Jonathan Kay poses for a headshot, mugshot, portrait, head furnature. STAFF PHOTO: (Tyler Anderson/National Post)
Jonathan Kay

We’ll close with Kay’s highly apropos comment:

Ah yes – “perspective.” Who among us does not remember those pitiful scenes from the 2000 U. S. election, when Republican storm troopers went door-to-door in Florida’s left-leaning counties, burning alive the children and wives of Democratic activists? Or Al Gore’s pitiful concession speech in which he pled (unsuccessfully) for Dick Cheney to spare the lives of DNC election observers being held at South Beach concentration camps?

De Blasio’s appalling proclamation

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

Here’s a new item for our ever-growing files on The Nation – whose well-nigh nonpareil history of useful stoogery we’ve dipped into rather frequently since beginning this site – and on current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose participation in a City Hall tribute to Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe we’ve also taken note of.  It was, of course, only a matter of time before the left’s Manhattan-based flagship weekly and the Big Apple’s stridently progressive mayor ended up in the same item. The convergence of the twain took place earlier this month, when de Blasio issued a proclamation declaring July 6, the magazine’s 150th anniversary, “The Nation Day” in New York City.

Yes, politicians issue such proclamations all the time. And, yes, they rarely mean very much. Last year, after all, de Blasio himself declared August 20 “Al Roker Appreciation Day,” in honor of the Today Show weatherman’s 60th birthday.

Nation_Day_Proclamation_ccBut the text of de Blasio’s proclamation about The Nation was not just the usual empty boilerplate. Recalling the magazine’s founding in 1865 by prominent abolitionists, de Blasio stated: “A century and a half later, the integrity and audacity of America’s oldest weekly magazine are still very much intact.” He went on:

New York has served as The Nation’s home and history-making partner through Emancipation, the Great Depression, two world wars, the civil rights movement, and into the age of technology. Whether taking politicians to task, exposing the lasting effects of war, profiling our state’s progressive labor movement, highlighting the intersection of economic justice and criminal justice, critiquing the rising cost of higher education, reporting on conflicts in Syria or South Sudan or outlining strategies for keeping hope alive, The Nation continues to shed light on the disenfranchised, mobilizing its readers to articulate and reaffirm their values and to take action in the name of progress (necessarily ruffling not a few feathers along the way).

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

This spectacular load of B.S. might have penned by editor Katrina vanden Heuvel herself. In pretending to sum up The Nation‘s history, it entirely omits, among much else, the magazine’s decades of vigorous Stalinist apologetics, of poisonous personal attacks on anti-Communists, and of enthusiastic support for enemies of America and of liberty. It ignores the magazine’s inflexible devotion to a far-left, freedom-hating ideology and its routine practice of blithely twisting or deep-sixing facts that make that ideology look bad.

17/11/05-CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS-Christopher Hitchens, a controversial British-born, U.S.-based journalist; former left-wing, now a conservative, was in Toronto on Thursday to speak at the Grano Speakers Series. He spoke to the Star in his hotel room in the morning.(Photo by Peter Power/The Toronto Star)pmp (Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Christopher Hitchens

Speaking of ideology, perhaps the most outrageous part of de Blasio’s proclamation was its opening: “Healthy debate. Consistent reflection. Diverse voices. Nuanced perspectives.” Right. Tell us another. We only wish the late Christopher Hitchens were alive to read this nonsense and comment on it. Hitchens, of course, was the longtime Nation contributor who, after 9/11, dared to dissent from what had instantly become the magazine’s party line about that atrocity – namely, that the U.S. had “asked for it” – and ended up quitting the staff in 2002.

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Katha Pollitt

In his last column for The Nation, Hitchens lamented that it was becoming “the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden.” Among the inhabitants of that echo chamber was (and is) Katha Pollitt, whose first response to 9/11, it will be recalled, was to write an article explaining why she wouldn’t let her daughter, in the wake of the atrocity, fly the American flag –that vile symbol of imperialism and oppression – from the window of their apartment, which was located only a few blocks from Ground Zero.

No city suffered more on 9/11 than New York. No American magazine showed less sympathy for the victims, and more “understanding” for the perpetrators, than The Nation. For the mayor of that city to issue an official proclamation congratulating that magazine on its anniversary – a proclamation in which he whitewashes its history and overlooks its disgusting reaction to the attack on the Twin Towers – is a disservice both to the truth and to the people of the city he was elected to serve.

Tyrant Mugabe’s American buddies

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Robert Mugabe

Yesterday, we looked at hedge funder Daniel Och‘s  “intimate, mutually profitable, and utterly unconscionable transactions with some of the most brutal tyrants of our time” – among them Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. Now 91 years old, Mugabe is the longest-lasting head of state in Africa, and arguably the worst. Banned from traveling to the U.S. and EU, he has a human-rights record that Human Rights Watch has called “abysmal.” Under his regime, journalists are routinely kidnapped and beaten, and aid money is stolen in massive amounts. During the 2008 election campaign, Mugabe’s hirelings killed at least 200 opposition supporters and tortured around 5,000 of them. Mugabe routinely demonizes gay people, whom he’s threatened to punish with beheading, and may well be the most openly racist current leader of any nation on earth, depriving his country’s white citizens of property and due process for no other reason than their skin color. Every international human-rights group agrees: this man is a menace, a monster.

A man holds up d 200 million and 500 million Zimbabwe dollar notes in the capital Harare December 12, 2008.   REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwean banknotes for 200 million and 500 million dollars, now worth less than one U.S. cent.

And he’s an abominable steward of his country’s economy, too: a couple of weeks ago his government discarded its “virtually worthless” currency and allowed citizens to exchange every 250 trillion Zimbabwean dollars they held for one U.S. dollar.  

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Daniel Och

As we’ve seen, these inconvenient truths haven’t kept Daniel Och from doing (shady) business with Mugabe. And Och, as it turns out, is far from the only friend, fan, or enabler that Mugabe has in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Recently, the San Francisco Bay View, which identifies itself as a “National Black Newspaper,” published a fulsome tribute to Mugabe by one Obi Egbuna Jr., who identifies himself as a U.S.-based journalist and as a member of something called the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association. “Mugabe’s pan-Africanist and internationalist vision,” Egbuna wrote, “makes him connect with Africans at home and abroad.” Describing Mugabe as a hero of “freedom-loving people” who “has spent a lifetime fighting for the empowerment of the African woman,” Egbuna gushed that the president’s “best attributes” include “his loyalty to the poor and dispossessed in not only Zimbabwe but among Africans everywhere.”

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Bill de Blasio

It’s not only relatively obscure characters like Egbuna who have given Mugabe props. Take Bill de Blasio, the current mayor of New York City, who, back in 2002, while serving in New York’s City Council, attended a reception welcoming the tyrant to City Hall and was present when the man delivered a speech in the council’s chamber – an honor that no legislative body in a democratic nation should ever have accorded to such a thug. After all, as New York Times reporter Clyde Haberman later observed, Mugabe, by 2002, was already “a certified human rights disaster.” Another journalist, Joel B. Pollak, has put it this way: “By the time Robert Mugabe visited New York’s City Hall in 2002, he was already well into his campaign of terror and murder in Zimbabwe. His regime was torturing its opponents brutally…and cracking down on the media as it pushed white farmers off their land, destroying the country’s economy and plunging it into hyperinflation and starvation.” But de Blasio celebrated him. 

More about this unconscionable act tomorrow. 

Qaddafi, Mugabe, and other friends of Dan Och

 

Zimababwe's President Robert Mugabe chants Zanu PF slogans with supporters gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre in Harare, Wednesday May 3, 2000. Mugabe launched the Zanu PF's election manifesto which bears the slogan "Land is the Economy and the Economy is Land". (AP Photo/Christine Nesbitt)
Robert Mugabe

Yesterday we took a brief introductory look at ethically challenged hedge funder Daniel Och, who’s had more than his share of brushes with the law, both foreign and domestic. Some of the many legal actions against Och have been triggered by his transactions with iniquitous regimes – transactions that even his profit-hungry employees, investors, and shareholders found distasteful. Let’s start with Zimbabwe’s gangster president, Robert Mugabe. In 2008, while U.S. authorities, in the name of human rights, were striving to isolate Mugabe financially from the rest of the world, Och’s firm, Och-Ziff Capital Management, and a handful of equally venal confederates gave the dictator $100 million for platinum-mining rights. Shortly afterwards, Och provided 75% of the funding, or $150 million, for a Zimbabwean mining enterprise. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned one of Och-Ziff’s accomplices in these operations, while both the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Och-Ziff.

Several sources indicate that the money Och stuffed in Mugabe’s pockets enabled the despot, whose government had been bankrupt, to steal the 2008 Zimbabwean election – because he was able to use the cash “to buy votes and unleash a campaign of brutal repression in an election in which he [had previously] faced almost certain defeat.” One commentator described the deal this way: Och “raised $100M for Mugabe’s weapons and torture-chambers in exchange for a sweetheart deal on the country’s platinum mines.” Another source calls it “surprising that Och-Ziff was willing to finance the Zimbabwean loan despite the likelihood that Mugabe, whom Western governments opposed implacably, would use it to fuel repression.” People who know Och, however, weren’t surprised.

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Muammar Qaddafi

Then there’s Muammar Qaddafi, the late, unlamented leader of Libya, from whose sovereign-wealth fund Och accepted a $300 million investment – a breach of U.S. anti-bribery laws. Last December, it was reported that U.S. investigators were probing Och’s Libya deals, with a focus on “a multimillion-dollar payment…they believe was funneled in part to a friend of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s son.”

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Daniel S. Och

Och has also been deeply involved with the not-so-democratic Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), investing in a mining scheme to the tune of some $234 million – a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that brought subpoenas from both the SEC and the Department of Justice. Also, in collaboration with a shady offshore firm, Och-Ziff made a secret loan to Guinea that a former Guinean minister described as “a bribe” – which might put it, too, at odds with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. As of last August, Och-Ziff was under investigation for its deals with both Zimbabwe and the DRC, including allegations that it had deliberately and illegally tried to cover its dirty tracks. Indeed, it was reported in August that because of Och’s foreign-corruption issues, class-action lawyers were “circling…Och-Ziff Capital Management Group like a posse of Indian braves whooping around a wagon.”

Could anyone deserve a scalping more?

They still love Putin

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Polina Gagarina, who represented Russia in the 2015 Eurovision contest

The other day, watching the Eurovision Song Contest – Europe’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, only with bad songs instead of a football game – we reflected on how odd it was to see performers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland taking the same stage as an act from Russia. This was, after all, going on at a time when the people living in the countries on Russia’s Western border have serious, growing, and thoroughly legitimate concerns that Vladimir Putin, any day now, may order Russian troops to march across their borders. As one observer noted a couple of weeks ago, the Baltics may be “model states for democracy, respect for human rights, and transparency,” may “have the highest standard of living among the former states of the Soviet Union,” and may be the only former Soviet states in the Eurozone, but “the mood in all three countries is dark.”

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Elina Born & Stig Rasta, who represented Estonia in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest

Consider this: in a single week earlier this month, NATO military exercises were held in Poland, Lithuania, Georgia, Estonia and the Baltic Sea. Such is the air of menace Putin has created in his neighborhood, reported the Guardian in May, that “[e]ven Sweden and Finland have started musing aloud about joining NATO.”  

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Monika and Vaidas, who represented Lithuania in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest

Missing from Eurovision this year was Ukraine, which already has Russian troops on its soil. (In fact, the financial challenges caused by the conflict in eastern Ukraine were reportedly the reason why Ukraine pulled out of this year’s Eurovision.) One is reminded of the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics, at which countries soon to go to war with one another engaged in “friendly” athletic competition under the very eyes of Hitler; only the comparison would be even more apt if the Berlin Olympics had taken place not in the summer of 1936 but three years later, after the Anschluss and Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland.

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A new statue of Putin, depicted as a Roman empire, near St. Petersburg

Putin has been rattling sabers for months. According to recent reports, he’s informed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that if he wanted, he could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest” within two days. He also told European Commission President José Manuel Barroso: “If I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks.” In mid May, the heads of the Baltic countries’ armed forces asked NATO to station on their territories “a new unit similar to the Berlin Brigade that was stationed in Germany during the Cold War.” The danger is real.

And yet even as things heat up along Russia’s western border, Putin’s apologists in the West hold firm.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 9:  In this handout image supplied by Host photo agency / RIA Novosti, Actor Steven Seagal attends the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, May 9, 2015 in Moscow, Russia. The Victory Day parade commemorates the end of World War II in Europe. (Photo by Host photo agency / RIA Novosti via Getty Images)
Steven Seagal attending Putin’s VE-Day speech

Take action-film heavyweight Steven Seagal, who not only calls Putin a pal but considers him “one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader alive.” This month, when Putin held a celebration of Russia’s World War II victory – at which he gave a speech accusing the U.S. of seeking “to create a unipolar world” – Seagal was there in the audience, cheering him on. We’ve already noted Seagal’s curious friendship with Putin, but recently there have been some fresh tidbits of news from that front. It was reported in April, for example, that Putin, back in 2013, asked the U.S. to recognize his movie-star buddy as an “honorary consul of Russia” who would act as “a potential intermediary between the White House and the Kremlin. (The U.S. response, according to one unnamed official, was: “You’ve got to be kidding.”) Although U.S. and European officials boycotted Putin’s VE-Day anniversary event in protest against his actions in Ukraine, Seagal was able to rub shoulders at the shindig with some of Putin’s other international comrades – including Raul Castro, Robert Mugabe, and Xi Jinping.

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Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Even some people who don’t really seem to be full-fledged Putin fans have been infected by those fans’ disingenuous rhetoric. Take British journalist David Blair. He doesn’t appear to possess any great affection for Putin, but in a recent article, after snidely mocking Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves for having grown up in New Jersey and for speaking English with an American accent (horrors!), Blair actually characterized Ilves’s distaste for Putin as rooted not in an understandable concern about Kremlin belligerence, but in an indignancy over Putin’s disregard for post-World War II international rules (and, by extension, his disrespect for post-Cold War American hegemony).

American hegemony. Yes, in the lexicon of Putin’s Western fans, that’s what this is all about. Not the reality of Russian aggression, but the fiction of “American hegemony,” a nonsense term used to make a good thing – the banding together of democracies for mutual protection against a warmongering tyrant – look like a bad thing.

Blair went on to note that even though the Baltic countries are full NATO members, no American or NATO soldiers are permanently defending the Baltics.” If Putin invaded, “these countries could not protect themselves” and “NATO would not be able to reinforce them. But while Ilves calls for NATO to put permanent NATO troops in the Baltics, Blair warned against it, maintaining that Russia would regard this as a grave escalation.” Again, Blair doesn’t seem to be a Putin fan, but he’s speaking their language – referring to a purely defensive measure as if it were an act of aggression. Nobody, including Putin, seriously believes that NATO would station troops in the Baltics with an eye to invading Russia. That being the case, the word “escalation” is utterly out of place here.

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Ashot Gabrelyanov

The hypocrisy factor in all this is through the roof. How many of the Western politicians, journalists, and others who defend Putin would want to ply their trades in Russia? Even one of Putin’s top domestic media stooges, it turns out, no longer lives in Russia but – guess where? In the U.S., naturally. We’re talking about Ashot Gabrelyanov, who, with his father, has “built a tabloid empire” and is believed to “wor[k] closely with Russia’s intelligence services” to promote the Putin regime and defame its enemies. A few months ago, as Mashable reported on May 1, the younger Gabrelyanov, founder of Russia’s top news (or “news”) site, LifeSite News, moved to New York City – and ever since then he’s been busy on social media gushing over the same country he routinely demonizes on his website. “NYC is incredible,” he enthused on Instagram. Meet the new poster boy for hypocritical Putin fandom.