I’d always rather liked the Finns, until I came across the conductor Dalia Stasevska. When I asked my mother what they were like, back when I was five or six and enjoyed staring at a globe of the world, she described them as ‘drunken and stupid, but very brave’. This was, by Mother’s standards, an extremely kindly benediction. Most of her descriptions of the world’s various people did not contain commendations. There were a few exceptions — Trinidadians were ‘drunken and stupid, but very cheerful’, for example. But by and large, to her the world comprised people who were drunken and stupid, apart from the Muslim world, where people were merely ‘stupid’.
Anyway, it was apparently at the behest of Ms Stasevska that the BBC decided there would be no singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ or ‘Rule, Britannia’ at the Last Night of the Proms this year. I don’t suppose the BBC needed very much in the way of persuasion, given that it loathes the Last Night of the Proms almost as much as it seems to loathe the people who pay its licence fee. Ms Stasevska is apparently ‘woke’ and a supporter of Black Lives Matter and objected to the jingoistic nature of those two anthems. Hardly surprising for a Finn, whose own national anthem was written in Swedish and composed by a German and just goes on for ages about lakes and stuff — and is called something like ‘Mammy’, but sadly lacks the charm of Al Jolson’s more famous ditty.
Except that — as her name suggests — Ms Stasevska is Finnish only by adoption and was actually born in Kiev. I’m not sure what possessed her to agree to conduct an evening of patriotic music when she despises patriotic music. The money, one assumes — and the chance to do a bit of woke grandstanding, which is always pleasurable. Apparently, as a consequence, she has received unkind messages via social media which will enable her to inhabit the role of victim for a while. Frankly, I wouldn’t employ her as a conductor on the 258 from Middlesbrough to Lingdale.
My mother had no specific epithet for Ukrainians — they came under the USSR banner of ‘drunken, stupid and evil’, along with the people who now live in what we call Belarus. There they have recently had an election which resulted in a crushing victory for the incumbent, Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994. The opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has since fled the country, fearing for the safety of her family. The European Union has refused to recognise the result of the election (which Lukashenko won by about 80 per cent to her 10 per cent). They are probably right in their disdain. Lukashenko is a dim-witted Stalinist thug and a tyrant and there is ample evidence to suggest that democracy, such that it is in Belarus, has been traduced for 26 years by a man who resembles a superannuated gulag guard.
But what I keep hearing from the western media is that Ms Tikhanovskaya ‘-really’ won that election. It was even suggested by one commentator on the BBC that she actually won 80 per cent of the votes, a precise reversal of the outcome. And it is here that the difficulties occur.
The few opinion polls from Belarus suggested that Lukashenko was well in the lead. And I would bet that if, somehow, there were a free and fair election in Belarus tomorrow, Lukashenko would still win. Obviously, having state control of the media and locking up your opponents is an undoubted advantage in an election, but that is not my point. It’s simply that although western liberals might hate the idea, Lukashenko would probably have won that election, with some ease, even if no intimidation had taken place.
Similarly, I have no doubt at all that 700 miles to the east of Minsk, Vladimir Putin presides over a murderous, kleptocratic, gangster state in which opponents of the government are routinely done away with. But when I hear on the BBC the statement that if there were a free and fair election in Russia tomorrow, the opposition candidate Alexei Navalny would win ‘by a landslide’, I have to beg to differ. It seems pretty evident that poor Mr Navalny was poisoned, probably on the orders of the Kremlin. He also seems a very decent chap. But would he win a free and fair election against Putin? Not a chance. Not the remotest chance. Putin is still very popular in Russia. The fact that we do not like him does not alter that fact, any more than the success of Viktor Orban in Hungary does, for example, or the appalling Erdogan in Turkey. Incidentally, the one Russian leader we in the West did admire was Mikhail Gorbachev — who in Russia is more despised than any Russian leader of the 20th century, including Stalin.
It is a typical western liberal failing, one of both overweening arrogance and gullibility, to suppose that people in other countries think the same way that we do. That, at heart, everyone in the world is a kind of centre--left democrat and that if there were fairness in elections, their governments would reflect this. In extremis it leads us to conduct hugely ill-advised wars, such as the invasion of Iraq, for example.
It was evident during the ‘Arab Spring’ when the western media and indeed governments made two horribly false assumptions — that because the (eventually overthrown) leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and so on were to a greater or lesser extent despots, the people of those countries yearned to be rid of them, and that whoever followed would be a liberally minded democrat. This proved not to be the case. Thinking that every-one believes the same as we do is the ultimate failing of the liberal agenda — and an expression of uncontained narcissism.