Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Was Prince Charles Merely Guilty of Telling the Truth?

Oh dear. Prince Charles has hit the headlines again - at least in Britain - by speaking his mind.  There is no such thing as a private conversation when you're the heir to the British throne - and starting to take on more quasi-monarchical duties to boot - but His Royal Highness sometimes seems to forget that.  Nevertheless, it would be difficult to take exception to his comments regarding Vladimir Putin and that gentleman's similarities to Adolf Hitler in his approach to Ukraine.

Mr. Putin's actions in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine could have come straight out of the Hitler Handbook to Foreign Policy.  In 1938, as any fule kno, the Austrian Nazis started to cause trouble for the regime of Chancellor Schuschnigg.  Hitler demanded that the rights of Austrian Germans be respected, and then upped the ante to demand a full union of Austria and Germany, Anschluss, as befitted two nations with a common German speaking heritage.  Schuschnigg at first tried to resist the German leader's demands, but eventually, fearful of the bombings and political violence being promoted by Hitler's supporters in Austria, and knowing that there would be no western help on offer for him, he eventually gave in and agreed to a plebiscite on Anschluss.  He had avoided the prospect of a civil war on the same scale as Spain's - a sinister threat made by Hitler at the time - but at the cost of his country's sovereignty.

GCSE students have recently been scribing these very factors in the exams, and may also have touched on the even more alarmingly similar Sudetenland Crisis.  Using Czech Germans in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, Hitler encouraged first violence in the region, then claimed that Germans were being harassed by the non-compliant Czech government, then demanded that to make things right the German speaking areas should be allowed to join with Germany.  He was surprised when Chamberlain and Daladier, the western leaders, agreed to pretty well everything, but there is little doubt that he'd have gone on to take it anyway, using his German 'fifth column' in Czechoslovakia to justify it.

So to say that Putin is acting like Hitler is hardly an exaggeration, even if it might seem impolitic.  There is sometimes a lack of honest accounting in the murky world of diplomacy, so calling a spade a spade, or likening a Putin to a Hitler, can sometimes be refreshingly open and honest.  Not that one would take the analogy too far of course.  Hitler's early foreign policy may be the handbook for Mr. Putin's Crimean seizure and eastern Ukraine manouevrings, but it would be wrong to carelessly tarnish his whole approach as Hitlerian.  Hitler, in addition to taking his 'near abroad', was also guilty of seeking to establish a one-party state by censoring and banning opposition parties and media, imprisoning and even killing political opponents and generally establishing reign of authoritarian terror which began with populist support.

On a separate note, five men have been convicted of killing the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006.  The issue of who actually ordered the killing remains an open one.  Politkovskaya was a noted opponent of Vladimir Putin, writing regularly against the encroaching authoritarianism and corruption of his rule.  As the Guardian reports:

Politkovskaya's killing drew attention to the risks faced by Russians who challenge the authorities and deepened Western concerns for the rule of law under President Vladimir Putin, who was then serving his second term.

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