Olympics: Let’s all be nasty to the Russians. Again.

There’s something irresistibly, mordantly, humorous about the self-righteous western anger directed at the Russian hosting of the Sochi Winter Olympics. It seems only the day before yesterday, after all, that western eyebrows remained resolutely un-raised as the 1968 Olympics took place in Mexico City, where police had been shooting down real demonstrators with real bullets in the streets a short time before. And the ostensible reason is, remind me again, anti-gay laws passed by the Russian parliament? It seems like only yesterday, after all, that the right-wing media, in Britain, at least, was incandescent over the threat posed by “communist teachers” who were “promoting homosexuality” in schools.

But in a sense none of this really matters. As with  Iran but even more so, any old stick will do to beat the Russians. Why is this?

Some of it, clearly, is Cold War nostalgia. The long-anticipated conflict between the Soviet Union and the West never actually took place, and the psychic energy build up during that time has yet to be completely dissipated. It seems somehow as if the Russians were cheating by just folding up and dying like that. For those who looked forward to a vast vast apocalyptic military clash of civilisations, this is all been a little disappointing.

But not as disappointing as what followed. With the fall of the Communist Party in 1991, the vultures descended upon Moscow in full force. The system was to be totally changed, and remodeled along Western lines. The result, known in advance, was the overnight transformation of the old Soviet Union into a modern prosperous western-style state, which would look to its new sponsors for leadership and protection, like many ex-colonies in Africa. The reality, of course, was the overnight transformation of the old Soviet Union into a backward, miserably poor gangster state, which adopted nationalism in preference to any other ideology. And then along comes Putin, who partially restores the situation, manages to do something to repair the economy devastated by the abandonment of Communism, and is also persistently rude and disrespectful to the West.

All this, once more, is very disappointing. Even today, “free-market” enthusiasts still refuse to accept the disastrous effect of their policies on the people and the economy of the old Soviet Union. It should not have worked out like that. There is a fault with reality. The theory was correct but it was incorrectly applied. And yet, it’s very hard to think of any economic theory which has been so elaborate tested, under such ideal conditions, over such a long period of time, and which has such a history of catastrophic failure. It’s not the Russians we really disappointed with, so much as the failure of our own ideology. No wonder we hate them so much.


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