Summer holidays are about the sun, the sea, getting away from it all or, in the case of Russians, getting away with it. This year I have spent two weeks with my family in the hot African sun, surrounded by Russians both big and small, but very Russian. The following became quite clear from being with them, closely watching them and talking with them.
1. They are locked into the 1980s like a Hazel Dean Greatest Hits collection. (There would be only five songs on that album and if you can name two you win a prize.)
2. They really can drink a lot.
3. They like to take pictures and pose in those pictures, a lot. The sort of poses that would grace the catalogues of the very companies that would sell you the clothes you used to buy in the 1980s.
4. They have money. A lot of money.
The Russians I shared the sun with were not oligarchs who were handed a state-run monopolies by a pissed president to do with what they willed. These are Russians who work for these oligarchs. They are middle class Russians mainly and they are happy, not just because they were on holiday.
When you probed a little deeper, they were happy because they love and are proud of their country and their leader, one V Putin.
The world, geopolitics and the media love a bogie man. Nothing sells a news bulletin or a newspaper more than a bad guy to point at and say ‘it’s his fault’, or ‘her fault’ for that matter. Think of the names that have been used for that very purpose over the last few years; Saddam Hussein, Col Gaddafi, Mohammed Morsi, Jimmy Saville, Sharon Mathews, Maxine Carr, Angela Merkel. The media love the binary world of the old Hollywood Western where the good guys wear the white hats and support their gun slinger against the black hats and their gun slinger.
Vladimir Putin has a very big black hat. He would not be out-of-place in a hollowed out volcano lair, sitting in a high back, black swivel chair. You can picture Putin stroking a white cat while surrounded by Ninjas in orange boiler suits turning nobs and flicking switches, tapping on computers and watching security screens. But it’s not as simple as this Bond image and the media in general is doing a disservice for making it so, much like the coverage of Gaza and the continuing ripples and waves of Sykes-Picot a century on from the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Take Crimea. Putin has. Bad joke. But Crimea is more Russian that Ukrainian, indeed if you look at the history of the region Crimea is more Russian than Moscow. Is it wrong to cede to the will of the people and take control of what actually wants to be yours? Putin did not seek a war, conflicts or even a spat with the west, but it has done him no harm. Quite the contrary. Putin needs us to be his black hats and we need him and his people to be ours. Putin also needs the west to be strong too in turn make him look and be stronger and he needs the West, especially the EU to buy Russian gas, oil, coal, wheat.
History is replete with lines drawn on a map as a result of war, dividing lands and people. The effects of this from the First World War are still being felt today thanks to the afore-mentioned Sykes-Picot plan for the Middle East.
Putin is a leader, not a manager and the world needs leaders as it does have too many managers. Look at Barrack Obama. The world thought they were getting a leader but they got a manager. Margret Thatcher was a leader, John Major was a manager. Tony Blair was a leader, Gordon Brown was an unmitigated disaster. The jury is out on David Cameron but I think we all know what Ed Miliband will be, and so do his party.
So what has this all go to do with my holiday in the company of Russians? Well they are happy, they have a sense of nation and purpose and, even with their economy going into recession, they are bound together and even if they struggle they will struggle together and be stronger for it. History should teach us that a strong leader, who knows the people and their history needs watching very closely. That leader also needs our respect, our admiration and our caution.
One last thing. Can you think of any other flag of the world that could be turned into a bikini without it causing offence? Well the Union flag and the Stars and Stripes makes an excellent two piece swim wear ensemble. Maybe the flag of Saudi Arabia could be next? Maybe not.