a faintly comical small-time politician called Adolf Hitler|
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'They do say the Russians need a strong man; their tsars, their Stalin,' Suvinder Dzung put in, letting one of his servants pour his port while he undid his bow-tie and unbuttoned his dinner jacket. The Prince wore a dark purple cummerbund secured by golden clasps. He was given to sticking both thumbs into the broad belt and stretching it against his belly. I wondered if he was trying to twang it; maybe he didn't know a good cummerbund doesn't twang. 'Perhaps,' the Prince said, 'they need another one.'
'What they might get, Prince, is the Communists back,' Hazleton drawled. 'If I didn't think Yeltsin was just an alcoholic clown I could believe he was secretly a Communist himself, supposed to appear to attempt capitalism but then make such a God-awful mess of it that the Brezhnev days look like a golden age in comparison and the Marxist-Leninists like saviours.'
'Ms Telman,' Madame Tchassot said suddenly in her sharp little voice, 'I understand you visited Russia recently. Have you any thoughts on the matter?'
I blew out some smoke. I'd intended to keep my head down for the rest of the after-dinner discussion, having earlier revealed myself to all as a dangerous radical. I'd contrasted, unfavourably, the West's reaction to a bunch of the already very rich getting caught out in their hedge-fund speculations with that of the response to the unfolding catastrophe caused by Hurricane Mitch. In one case a rescue fund of several billion US dollars was put together within a few days; in the other a couple of million had eventually been pledged as long as there was no dangerous talk about a debt moratorium or even - perish the thought - a total write-off.
'Yes, I was,' I said. 'But I was there to look at a few interesting technologies rather than at their society as a whole.'
'What's happened,' Adrian Poudenhaut said, 'is that the Russians have created their own form of capitalism in the image of what was portrayed to them as the reality of the West by the old Soviet Union's propaganda machine. They were informed that there was nothing but gangsterism, gross and endemic corruption, naked profiteering, a vast, starving, utterly exploited underclass and a tiny number of rapacious, vicious capitalist crooks who were entirely above the law. Of course, even at its most laissez-faire the West was never remotely like that, but that's what the Russians have now created for themselves.'
'You mean Radio Free Europe didn't convince them how sweet life here in the West really was?' Hazleton said, with a smile.
'Maybe it did,' Poudenhaut conceded. 'Maybe most thought it was diametrically equivalent propaganda and took an average.'
'The Soviets never slandered the West like that,' I said.
'No?' Poudenhaut said. 'I've seen the old films. Looked like it to me.'
'Very old, and not representative, then. The point is that the Russians don't really have capitalism at all right now. People don't pay their taxes, so the state can't pay its employees; the majority of people exist through self-sufficiency and bartering. And there's negligible accumulation of capital, reinvestment and development because all the money's siphoned off to Swiss banks, including ours. So what they actually have is barbarism.'
'I'm not saying many Russians believed life in the West was as awful as it was sometimes portrayed,' Poudenhaut said. 'There's just a nice symmetry to the fact that it's the caricature they're in the process of copying, not the reality. I don't think they understand it themselves.'
'Whereas you obviously do,' I suggested.
'Anything we could do?' Hazleton asked me.
'To profit us or to help them?' I asked.
'Well, preferably both.'
I thought. 'We'd probably be doing civilisation in general a favour if we had - ' (here I mentioned a fairly well-known Russian politician) ' - killed.'
Poudenhaut snorted with laughter. Hazleton's blue eyes partially disappeared; a fine network of lines appeared at the corners of his eyes. 'I have a feeling we may have had some sort of dealings with the gentleman already,' he said. 'He has his moments of slapstick, too, I'll grant, but he might not be quite as black as he's painted.'
I raised my eyebrows and smiled. One of the other gentlemen cleared his throat, somewhere down the table.
By my side, the Prince sneezed. A servant appeared flourishing a handkerchief.
'You think he is as black as he's painted, Ms Telman?' Hazleton said easily.
'I have this very odd feeling,' I said, 'that somebody like me - though probably male,' I added, with a general smile, just catching the concerned-looking gaze of Stephen Buzetski, 'was sitting here nearly seventy years ago saying the same sort of thing about Germany and a faintly comical small-time politician called Adolf Hitler.' It was really only at about this point that it struck me quite how outspoken I was being. I had to remind myself - a little late, perhaps - quite how powerful the people in this room were. Adrian Poudenhaut laughed again, then saw that Hazleton was looking very levelly and seriously at me, and stopped.
'That's quite a comparison to make, Ms Telman,' Hazleton said.
'Hitler?' Uncle Freddy said suddenly, as though waking up. 'Did you say Hitler, dear girl?' I was suddenly aware that just about everybody in the room was looking at me. Herr Tieschler was politely studying his cigar.
'Perhaps the trouble is you never can tell,' Stephen Buzetski said reasonably. 'Maybe if somebody had shot Hitler seventy years ago somebody else would have taken his place and things would have worked out much the same. It depends whether you believe in the primacy of individuals or social forces, I guess.' He shrugged.
'I sincerely hope I'm completely wrong,' I admitted. 'I imagine I probably am. But right now Russia is the sort of place that makes thinking along such lines seem quite natural.'
1999-й год, провидец, блядь.
Даже с Гитлером угадал.
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Tags: anti-russia, fascism, putin