Reflections regarding the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania in December 1989
Update: An April 27, 2023 New York Times article is entitled: ‘R.M.N.’ Review: A Bleak Diagnosis for Romania: The director Cristian Mungiu, a powerhouse of the Romanian New Wave, examines a village’s explosive reaction to a bakery hiring some foreign workers.” An excerpt reads:
That’s unsurprising and bleak. But Mungiu’s touch is so deft and his filmmaking so enlivening, and the villagers so laughable (if also scary!), that you never feel dragged down or punished by the ugliness. Mungiu — a towering figure in the Romanian New Wave — is a tough, unsparing filmmaker, but he isn’t a scold or didact, the kind who delivers grindingly obvious life lessons about the horrors of other people. He’s interested in what makes human beings tick and why. But he’s a skeptic, not a cynic, and his approach is diagnostic rather than moralizing, which gives you room to meet his work on your terms.
[End of update]
Before speaking about the Romanian revolution of 1989. I’ll say a few words about harassment and other forms of coercive behaviour such as teasing and bullying.
It’s a good idea to understand the power dynamics that may be at play, whenever a person is subjected to coercive behaviour of any kind.
Of particular interest are situations where a person refuses to put up with such behaviour.
I’ve thought about these things because, over the years, I’ve presented workshops about how best to deal with teasing and bullying of children in schools. Each time I’ve prepared for such a workshop, I’ve learned some new things about the underlying power dynamics.
Thus it happens that I’ve recently come to understand that, if a school board is going to implement an anti-bullying program to deal with bullying, then there needs to be a suitable protocol in place. When a child says she or he is being bullied at school, the situation needs to be addressed at once in line with a widely communicated, standard procedure.
Otherwise, the bullying continues and may escalate with traumatic – and, indeed, tragic – consequences for the person who is being targeted along with tragic consequences for others. In many but not all cases, bullying is built around a series of cumulative events whose effects (and in many cases intensity) increase over time.
What bullying can lead to
Bullying can lead to suicide. It can also lead to tragic consequences where a person previously targeted retaliates by shooting people as occurred, for example, in Ottawa on April 6, 1999 in what is known as the OC Transpo Massacre.
An excerpt from an April 1, 2019 CityNews article about the Ottawa shooting reads:
Most of the recommendations were quickly adopted[;] however, it took many years for the provinces to update their legislation to require employers to take preventative measures against workplace harassment and violence.
Quebec was the first, amending in 2004 its Act Respecting Labour Standards to ensure employees have the right to a working environment that is free from psychological harassment. Employers were also required to introduce measures to prevent such harassment. Manitoba and Saskatchewan followed in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
Ontario’s Bill 168, which was an amendment to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, came into force in 2010. Under the legislation, employers are, among other things, required to determine the risks of workplace harassment and violence, and develop policies for investigating employee complaints and incidents.
In 2016, Bill 132, otherwise known as the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, came into force. The new legislation expanded the definition of workplace harassment to include sexual harassment. It also broadened employer responsibilities to conduct investigations into incidents and complaints of workplace harassment.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act was additionally amended to empower inspectors to require an employer to commission a report made by an unbiased person into a harassment incident or complaint. As well, the Limitations Act was amended to permit the prosecution of cases that occurred prior to the introduction of the Act.
With the laws and regulations in place, implementation is now key. We can only hope that instances of workplace violence and harassment are addressed early enough that similar future tragedies are averted.
Observational studies of children at play
At a previous post about observational studies of children at play, I’ve noted that:
A power differential [in a given case of bullying at school] may favour the bully, or it may favour the would-be intervenor, depending on the circumstances. Some children are keen to intervene when they see bullying happening. If a school (or any other institution) ignores bullying, the would-be intervenor may be hesitant to intervene because the school or institution may not be there to support such an intervention. The intervenor would also be subject to retaliation, by the person who’s engaging in the bullying.
On the other hand, if a school or institution has a protocol in place for dealing with bullying – if it has, in other words, a viable anti-bullying program in place – then the would-be intervenor will be more at ease about stepping forward and confronting the bully – either directly, or by privately informing a person in authority, such as a teacher, that a particular individual has been bullying some other student or students.
When there’s an effective anti-bullying program in place, the power differential is on the side of the intervenor; it is no longer a situation where the person who bullies is likely to have the edge in power, and in a position to retaliate, against intervenors.
What is true of schoolyard bullying is also true of bullying elsewhere.
Governor of New York
In previous posts, I’ve described cases where heads of school boards in Ontario have engaged in longstanding instances of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation against subordinates, trustees, and in some cases members of the public. In one case, a provincial investigation reported that senior leadership at the Peel District School Board had systematically resisted the attempts by parents and school trustees to address longstanding anti-Black racism at the board.
When heads of school boards in Ontario act as bullies, and refuse to desist when told to stop, then the Ministry of Education has to step in to straighten things out. Otherwise utter chaos ensues. In cases I’ve outlined at previous posts, it’s at the acute stage of chaos and dysfunction that the Ministry has intervened.
Even after the Ministry steps in, it’s of interest to follow such stories in the years that follow. Making lasting changes – which may require drastic and difficult changes in culture – in how school boards go about their day to day work may turn out to be a lengthy process, in which a level of suspense may arise.
The suspense concerns the question of what comes next. Will things start to run on an even keel, or is a recurrence of chaos inevitable? And if a recurrence is inevitable, why is that the case, and what is going on – for example, do school boards by their very nature prompt bullying, and what is going on in the wider society?
In a recent case, which many people have been following, the governor of New York was forced to resign as a consequence of accusations regarding his behaviour at work. Andrew Cuomo was ousted because of credible reports of sexual harassment accompanied by strategies of retaliation against women who voiced objections.
Will his case lead to a reduction of workplace sexual harassment in general? Will anti-harassment legislation now in place make a difference in years to follow? It remains to be seen.
Similar cases have occurred in Canada such as the resignation of Canada’s previous governor general following reports of bullying at Rideau Hall. A previous post notes:
A Jan. 21, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Independent firm completes review into claims of ‘toxic’ environment at Rideau Hall: Sources briefed on the report say it’s scathing.”
Click here for a CBC news update regarding the above-noted article >
Click here for a further update >
Initial attempts to address the alleged bullying were not successful, as noted in a Jan. 26, 2021 CBC article entitled: “Complaints against Payette include reports of physical contact: sources: Allegations of unwelcome physical contact shared with independent firm reviewing conduct, sources say.”
“A large number of staff went on leave or left their jobs at Rideau Hall altogether,” the article notes, “because they felt there was no other option, the sources said. Former employees claim they told human resources, the ombudsman and their union about the treatment informally, but no action was taken.”
By way of a subsequent update, a Jan. 27, 2021 CTV article is entitled: “Allegations of screaming, public humiliation in governor general’s office: report.”
Statistics related to workplace harassment are outlined in an Aug. 13, 2021 Human Rights Reporter article entitled: “1 in 4 women dealing with sexualized behaviours at work: Trades, transportation most problematic sectors.”
An excerpt reads:
While workplaces in Canada must comply with anti-harassment and discrimination laws, 32 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men had not received any information from their employer on how to report sexual harassment and sexual assault.
In October, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) in partnership with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) at Western University and a researcher at the University of Toronto launched a study to see if people have been victims of sexual harassment at work and why do they choose to report or not report those experiences.
I recently came across a study, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (2005), by Peter Siani-Davies of University College London.
An extract from a blurb at the Toronto Public Library website reads:
The Romanian Revolution of 1989 was the most spectacularly violent and remains today the most controversial of all the East European upheavals of that year. Despite (or perhaps because of) the media attention the revolution received, it remains shrouded in mystery. How did the seemingly impregnable Ceaușescu regime come to be toppled so swiftly and how did Ion Iliescu and the National Salvation Front come to power?
The study highlights a case where a head of state, Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, had since 1965 been engaging in coercive behaviour toward the entirety of a country’s population as was the standard practice for communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In this case, a revolution put a stop to the standard practice.
Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena Ceaușescu were executed on Dec. 25, 1989, by firing squad immediately after a hastily conducted trial, which in the words of Siani-Davies, “nearly all independent observers have agreed … was little more than a kangaroo court” (p. 138).
Nicolae Ceaușescu and Elena Ceaușescu, along with two officials and two bodyguards, had escaped by helicopter around noon on Dec. 22, 1989 from the roof of the central committee building in Bucharest around the time when a crowd of demonstrators rushed the doors and was streaming inside.
The crowd’s entry into the building was made possible because earlier in the day, in a decision crucial for the revolution, troops had been withdrawn from the front of the building, thereby moving Ceaușescu’s security forces out of direct confrontation with the demonstrators.
We are speaking of events of thirty-two years ago as of today’s date. Among other events from 1989 is the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan as a timeline at a history site developed by Alex Copp, an undergraduate student at Western University in London, Ontario, notes:
February 15, 1989: The Soviet Union announces the departure of its last troops. Civil war continues as the Mujahideen push to overthrow Najibullah, who is eventually toppled in 1992.
An excerpt from an Aug. 17, 2021 New York Times article about intelligence estimates regarding how quickly the Taliban would regain control of Afghanistan highlights additional history from the 1990s:
A historical analysis provided to Congress concluded that the Taliban had learned lessons from their takeover of the country in the 1990s. This time, the report said, the militant group would first secure border crossings, commandeer provincial capitals and seize swaths of the country’s north before moving in on Kabul, a prediction that proved accurate.
Language that power speaks
The Romanian Revolution (2005) outlines the power dynamics – and the dynamics of language usage – that drove events during and after the Romanian revolution.
As noted at previous posts, it’s been my anecdotal experience that sometimes power speaks its own language, whereby in is out, up is down, and large is small. Another way to say the same thing is to say that sometimes power makes up its own rules about how to behave.
Language usage and framing played a central role in the events that comprised the Romanian revolution. Each person involved in the events, as well as those watching from afar in other countries, has made observations about what those events entailed.
Some of these observations contradict each other. Peter Siani-Davies excels at sorting out the varied points of view, based on assessment of the available evidence. Footnotes are listed at the foot of the pages; the notes are precise and easy to follow. The concluding chapter sums up, in a manner clear and easy to follow, what the author has learned from sorting things out. The bibliography lists books and articles as well as film, television, and internet sources.
I mention the footnotes given my interest in ensuring that I know what sources an author is referring to. I steer clear of accounts that lack credible citations, as is the case with some reports including some newspaper articles and YouTube videos, regarding the Romanian revolution or any other topic.
The revolution began in Timișoara
The book features imagery, at times based on rumours, suggesting what participants were thinking and experiencing during events which began with a confrontation between the Ceaușescu regime and László Tőkés, a pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church, in the town of Timișoara in the far west of the country.
Tőkés, facing eviction from Timișoara by local authorities who viewed him as a troublemaker, was holed up in a church off a small square near the centre of Timișoara. On the last Sunday service before the planned eviction, he appealed to his parishioners to gather outside the church on the morning of December 15, 1989 to witness the event. The authorities, wary of a demonstration, urged the priest to retract the request but he refused.
On the morning in question, “some thirty to forty mostly elderly retired members of the congregation gathered outside the nondescript turn-of-the-century block that houses the Hungarian Reformed Church and the residence of its pastor to observe events and offer Tőkés their moral support” (p. 58).
The small gathering outside the church launched the revolution. Crowded trams passing the square near the church spread word about the events outside the church throughout the city. People turned up to see first-hand what was going on. What began as thirty to forty mostly elderly church members supporting their pastor swelled into a sizeable crowd, which in the restricted space outside the church appeared even more numerous than it was.
The crowd at the square was the starting point for demonstrations that spread across the country, by which time the pastor’s confrontation with authorities was no longer the driving force.
“Indeed,” notes Siani-Davies (p. 60), “there had been a perceptible change in atmosphere as the protest broadened in scope and the slogans chanted by the crowd took on a politicized edge. Earlier calls for bread and meat were now replaced with ‘Down with Ceaușescu,’ ‘Down with tyranny,’ and the all-pervasive ‘Freedom.'”
By the early evening of December 15, the crowd had grown to such proportions that it blocked passage of the trams on their way through the square by the church. Incited by impromptu orators, the predominantly Romanian and youthful protesters in the crowd began to break the windows of nearby shops. By this point, the protest was no longer about Tőkés.
An except (pp. 60-1) from the account of events in Timișoara on the next day, December 16, notes:
Turning their backs on Tőkés and leaving a long trail of damage in their wake, groups of demonstrators then began to drift toward the center of town, with one of the largest heading for the county Party headquarters. Unable to enter the deserted building, because the door was barred, the protesters turned their attention instead to nearby shops, setting fire to the tomes of Ceaușescu, looted from a bookstore, before the appearance of riot troops prompted them to turn tail and run into the night.
Meanwhile back at the church, troops of the security forces had appeared in the vicinity of Tőkés’s church (p. 61),
but, insufficient to control the crowd, their presence instead only seems to have incited the demonstrators further. When reinforcements arrived, with the aid of fire engines, which moved up and down the boulevard drenching the protesters in cold water, the troops eventually secured control of the area, but not before a two-hour running battle had left the streets strewn with broken glass and at least one burned out vehicle. Clashes and arrests continued until the last demonstrators were dispersed sometime around 4 o’clock in the morning, but before then, in the early hours of December 17, Tőkés and his wife were seized from his church together with seven friends.  In his account of the events, Tőkés states that he was brutally beaten before being brought into the presence of lon Cumpănaşu, head of the Department of Religious Denominations, who forced him to sign a blank piece of paper effectively accepting his dismissal and eviction. Subsequently, he and his wife were taken in separate cars to Mineu, an isolated village in the county of Sălaj, which had been designated his new residence.
Footnote 24 in the excerpt refers to pp. 30-1 from Felix Corley and John Eibner, In the Eye of the Romanian Storm: The Heroic Story of Pastor Laszlo Tokes, Old Tappan, N.J., 1990. The excerpt continues:
It seems that the authorities still considered Tőkés to have been the focus of the revolt and that by removing him the problem could be cut at its roots. However, the next day was a Sunday and in the absence of work even larger crowds were to gather on the streets, many curious to see the testimony of the rioting of the night before. For, aside from being a purely emotional response, the breaking of so many windows by the crowd had an important practical significance. Traces of previous anti-Ceaușescu outbursts, such as the incidents in the autumn of 1989, had been expunged from the historical record through lack of visible markers. Unreported by the authorities, they had been destined to remain mere unsubstantiated rumors. But the wreckage left by the violence of December 16 was of such proportions that even when the authorities tried to cover the evidence, as they apparently did at the Party county headquarters, enough remained for news of the scenes of devastation to quickly spread throughout the city, bringing yet more people on the streets to see if the stories were true.
I am very impressed with this book, which I’ve read from cover to cover. By the time I got to reading about the events in Timișoara I knew this study was going to command my attention.
Dealing with bullying is not unlike dealing with COVID-19. Less coronavirus infections will arise, if the advice of public health experts is sound, and is followed. If the advice is ignored (or, as in the case of Sweden, the advice is dubious), then the infections will increase.
By reading The Romanian Revolution (2005) I’ve had the opportunity to look at some events – such as the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War, as well as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic – in a new light.
In the histories of the Vietnam War, decision makers have been described as getting things wrong with disastrous consequences because they depended upon formative experiences in the United States that were of no use when dealing with events in Vietnam starting in the 1950s.
As well, histories of events in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan underline that American (and in the case of Afghanistan also NATO) involvement proceeded according to similar formative experiences. Powerful decision makers saw the world as viewed solely through Western eyes.
The histories and cultures of the world regions that Western military forces were stepping into either were ignored, or were viewed in such a way that the actual histories and cultures were beyond the comprehension of policy makers and opinion leaders.
The book also underlies the inevitability of the demise of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Having visited Estonia in 1989 and 1990 before the fall of the Soviet Union and before Estonia regained its independence, I can attest that the system appeared in those years to be, indeed, exceedingly tired and worn out. I’ve discussed the subsequent history of Russia at previous posts.
When I think about how best to address climate change, in the time that may be available, it also occurs to me that formative experiences stemming from what has been called the European Enlightenment have given rise to many global projects with disastrous consequences.
I refer to the historical European drive to colonize the planet, the attempt (the attempt has been futile because nature will not put up with it) to achieve dominance over nature through technological means, and the attempt to totally decimate and assimilate (again, the attempt has failed thanks to strong resistance from many sources) Indigenous peoples worldwide.
These are historical processes directly connected to the climate crisis; the destruction of worldwide habitats also has a direct connection, as I understand, to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The histories and historiographies related to the past four hundred years are now being revised, with benefits for any reader who actually has an interest in events that have occurred in ages past.
These are some reflections that occur to me after reading The Romanian Revolution (2005). Other readers of the book may arrive at strongly differing reflections in keeping with their own formative experiences, which may differ vastly from my own.
When a person thinks of Romania, the story of Dracula comes to mind. During the Romanian Revolution of 1989, imagery related to Dracula appeared from time to time during street protests.
A Fev. 3, 2022 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Scholar brought rigour to the study of Dracula: Dr. Elizabeth Miller, professor, 82.” I’ve accessed the article at the Toronto Public Library website.
An excerpt reads:
Elizabeth Ann Miller, a popular English professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and a respected author in two literary genres, died in Toronto on Jan. 2 at the age of 82. The academic was internationally renowned for her scholarly approach to the study of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and she also researched, promoted and preserved the work of Newfoundland writers, including that of her parents, Ted and Dora Russell.
Stoker’s novel appeared in 1897 and was well reviewed, but it did not bring him contemporary fame or fortune; he was better known during his lifetime as the personal assistant to the famous English stage actor Sir Henry Irving, and business manager of Sir Henry’s Lyceum Theatre.
But after Stoker’s death in 1912, the titular character of his 1897 novel became an icon.
“It’s amazing how [Dracula] has proliferated,” Dr. Miller told PBS’s Frontline/ World in 2002. “Every aspect – you have Dracula ballets, Dracula musicals, Dracula comic books – you name it, it’s there. Very few fictional icons have permeated culture to such an extent as Dracula.”
Starting in the early 1990s, when Dr. Miller included Dracula in courses on 19th-century Gothic fiction and a first year introduction to the novel, she became fascinated by the archetypal vampire count.
Also of relevance is a recent news story from Mississauga, which highlights situations (some of which are also highlighted in endnotes below) where protocols for dealing with workplace harassment are in place but are not, for reasons perhaps related to power relations, followed.
The reasons, to which I refer, have to do public relations (that is, the rhetoric) related to procedures being in place to deal with bullying and harassment. Public relations, in cases where protocols are ignored, underlines the distinction between rhetoric and reality.
A Feb. 2, 2022 CBC article is entitled: “Mississauga councillor resigns amid allegations another councillor repeatedly keyed her SUV at city hall: Karen Ras says integrity commissioner declined to investigate 8 documented instances of vandalism.”
An except reads:
A former Greater Toronto Area councillor says she suddenly resigned last month after her car was repeatedly vandalized and that city officials, including the mayor and the integrity commissioner, didn’t address her safety concerns or fully investigate the alleged culprit.
While Karen Ras won’t say who allegedly keyed her car eight times over two years, CBC News has learned police identified Coun. Ron Starr as the suspect.
“Once I knew I couldn’t get any resolution from the integrity commission, I knew my heart wasn’t going to be in this role anymore, because there were no more avenues to seek out,” Ras, who served as a councillor in Mississauga, Ont., for seven years, told CBC News. The city of more than 800,000 is adjacent to Toronto.
“It comes down to personal safety. Was this going to escalate? What was next? And it was just really deflating when there was no recourse.”
A Feb. 3, 2022 Toronto Star article, also accessed at the Toronto Public Library website, is entitled: “Keyed car a factor in Mississauga politician’s quitting: One councillor asked to go on leave pending investigation of possible harassment of colleague.”
An excerpt reads:
Ras said the vandalism is a clear case of harassment. She said she thought it would be dealt with as a code of conduct matter by the city’s integrity commissioner.
Her complaint to integrity commissioner Swayze went nowhere.
Ras said Swayze told her that he could not investigate because police had been involved.
According to the city’s code of conduct, which determines what an integrity commissioner can investigate, all councillors should have a work environment “free from discrimination and harassment.” However, it also says that if a complaint “on its face” involves an allegation of behaviour “consistent with the Criminal Code of Canada,” the commissioner cannot pursue it.
It is not clear whether the police, which declined to lay a charge, considered the incident criminal.
Ras said the incident highlights how limited the code of conduct is and how councillors have few options to deal with harassment by their colleagues.
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An Aug. 31, 2021 Montreal Gazette article is entitled: “Lester B. Pearson School Board ordered to pay $29,400 in bullying case: The judge ruled the school board should have done more to help the student beyond suggesting she change schools.”
What the article underlines is that even if a school board has an anti-bullying program in place, it’s useless unless it’s implemented.
The article also underlines that in some cases, a higher authority such as a judicial system needs to step in when a school board does not do what legislation requires it to do, with regard to effectively addressing bullying in its schools.
As well, the statement issued by the school board in this case works well as boilerplate public relations messaging but aside from that it does not appear to have relevance to the judge’s decision.
A Nov. 10, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Grade 7 student repeatedly taunted with racial slurs at Ontario school, parents say: School board says it has informed police, hired investigator, but incidents continue.”
An excerpt (I have omitted embedded links) reads:
These incidents of anti-Black racism are only the latest example of what advocates and experts say is a pervasive problem in Ontario schools.
On Tuesday [Nov. 9, 2021], CBC News reported on a separate case in the same rural Ontario county where a Black mother is suing the public school board for failing to protect her daughter against rape threats and racial slurs.
A week earlier, controversy erupted at a Toronto high school after a teacher wore blackface during Halloween celebrations.
Days before that, in London, Ont., a 13-year-old said she was shocked by her teacher using the N-word while discussing an Agatha Christie novel.
A Sept. 17, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Thousands of Western University students walk out to support survivors of sexual violence: London, Ont., university has new action plan and task force to increase student safety.”
An excerpt reads:
“The university needs to address sexual and gender-based violence. I think in the past, services are in place but things get swept under the rug,” said Claudia Allen, a third-year student who attended the walkout. “I think the new security measures will help.”
Her friend, Amy Cater, said she feels for the young women who were hurt in the last two weeks.
“It’s nice that Western is giving it some attention and people are participating in this capacity, but for those girls, there’s no going back — it’s going to be a long journey for them. Western needs to be on their side.”
A Sept. 23, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Lawsuit alleging ‘systemic negligence’ of bullying, harassment claims in RCMP moves ahead: Federal Court rejects Crown arguments in favour of ending the lawsuit.”
An excerpt reads:
The lead plaintiff in the case, Geoffrey Greenwood, said he endured workplace reprisals after reporting allegations of bribery and corruption against fellow drug officers in 2008.
Greenwood said he was demonized and ostracized by his fellow officers and endured bullying by those who wanted him to drop the case.
He said he suffered PTSD as a result.
“I ended up kind of leaving a shell of a person,” he told CBC back in 2018. “Your whole character is torn apart and stripped down and you’re villainized.”
Damning report on the RCMP’s internal culture
A second excerpt reads:
The class action was launched before last year’s damning report on the RCMP’s internal culture, which followed on a different class action lawsuit. McPhee said that report raised issues pertinent to her clients’ case.
In the report, retired Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache pointed to systemic cultural problems within the RCMP and wrote that “culture change is highly unlikely to come from within the RCMP.”
The report was part of Bastarache’s work as the independent assessor in the Merlo-Davdson settlement, which was the result of a class action lawsuit on behalf of women who were sexually abused or discriminated against while serving in the RCMP.
A Nov. 7, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “How Covid Raised the Stakes of the War Between Faith and Science.”
An excerpt (I’ve omitted embedded links, which can be found in the original text) reads:
To better understand this cultural division, I talked to Deborah Haarsma, an astrophysicist, a Christian and the president of BioLogos, an organization that explores the relationship between faith and science. In popular thought, she said, scientists and Christians are often slotted into “two different categories.”
It wasn’t always this way. At the outset of the Scientific Revolution, many scientists were motivated by their beliefs about God. Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and other giants of modern science were people of faith. But, after high-profile debates over Darwin’s theory of evolution in the late 19th century, a perceived division began to emerge between religion and science. In the spectacle of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, which assessed, among other things, whether a state could prohibit the teaching of evolution in schools (but was also staged as a publicity stunt by town leaders in Dayton, Tenn.), Christian beliefs and science were set up as incompatible ideas.
It “is better to trust in the Rock of Ages,” wrote the prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, “than to know the age of the rocks.”
A Nov. 8, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “In Romania, Hard-Hit by Covid, Doctors Fight Vaccine Refusal: An anti-vaccine clarion call by leading religious figures, echoed by prominent politicians and social media, helps explain why Romania now has the world’s highest Covid death rate.”
The article is of interest because it deals with the role that messaging plays with regard to nation-level decision making, in all parts of the world, in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations.
An excerpt (I’ve omitted embedded links) reads:
COPACENI, Romania — As a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic crashed over Eastern Europe last month, devastating unvaccinated populations, an Orthodox Church bishop in southern Romania offered solace to his flock: “Don’t be fooled by what you see on TV — don’t be scared of Covid.”
Most important, Bishop Ambrose of Giurgiu told worshipers in this small Romanian town on Oct. 14, “don’t rush to get vaccinated.”
The bishop is now under criminal investigation by the police for spreading dangerous disinformation, but his anti-vaccine clarion call, echoed by prominent politicians, influential voices on the internet and many others, helps explain why Romania has in recent weeks reported the world’s highest per capita death rate from Covid-19.
On Tuesday, nearly 600 Romanians died, the most during the pandemic. The country’s death rate relative to population is almost seven times as high as the United States’, and almost 17 times as high as Germany’s.
A related Nov. 8, 2021 New York Times article, also dealing with the relationship between messaging and decision making during the pandemic, is entitled: “U.S. Covid Deaths Get Even Redder: The partisan gap in Covid’s death toll has grown faster over the past month than at any previous point.’
An excerpt (I’ve omitted embedded links) reads:
Some conservative writers have tried to claim that the gap may stem from regional differences in weather or age, but those arguments fall apart under scrutiny. (If weather or age were a major reason, the pattern would have begun to appear last year.) The true explanation is straightforward: The vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe Covid, and almost 40 percent of Republican adults remain unvaccinated, compared with about 10 percent of Democratic adults.
Charles Gaba, a Democratic health care analyst, has pointed out that the gap is also evident at finer gradations of political analysis: Counties where Trump received at least 70 percent of the vote have an even higher average Covid death toll than counties where Trump won at least 60 percent. (Look up your county.)
As a result, Covid deaths have been concentrated in counties outside of major metropolitan areas. Many of these are in red states, while others are in red parts of blue or purple states, like Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Virginia and even California.
A Nov. 9, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Ontario education workers face ‘shockingly high’ rates of workplace violence, new report says: Violence against education workers becoming normalized, University of Ottawa researchers say.”
An excerpt reads:
Most educational assistants went into the field to help students, but they have become subjected to violent days in their workplace, she said.
“It should absolutely not be an expectation of an educational assistant,” she said.
Mario noted that most education workers are female and the violence is not only violence in the classroom but also violence against women.
Code White: Sounding the Alarm on Violence against Healthcare Workers (2021)
A blurb reads:
When health care workers call a Code White, it’s an emergency response for a violent incident: a call for help. But it’s one that goes unanswered in hospitals, clinics, and long-term care homes across the country. Code White exposes a shocking epidemic of violence that’s hidden in plain sight, one in which workers are bruised, battered, assaulted, and demeaned, but carry on in silence, with little recourse or support. Researchers Margaret M. Keith and James T. Brophy lay bare the stories of over one hundred nurses and personal support workers, aides and porters, clerical workers and cleaners. The nightmarish experiences they relate are not one-off incidents, but symptoms of deep systemic flaws that have transformed health care into one of the most dangerous occupational sectors in Canada. The same questions echo in the wake of each and every brutal encounter: Is violence and trauma really just ‘part of the job’? Why is this going underreported and unchecked? What needs to be done, and how?
The Limits of #MeToo in Hollywood: Gender and Power in the Entertainment Industry (2021)
A blurb reads:
When, in October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano sparked the #MeToo movement, the ensuing protests quickly grew to encompass far more than Harvey Weinstein and the entertainment industry. They expressed women’s outrage at decades of male workplace behavior in every sector and social class and even helped elect a new generation of women leaders in the next midterm elections. But what has been the effect of #MeToo in the entertainment industry itself? This book traces #MeToo’s influence on the stories being told, on changing representations of women’s lives and bodies, and on the slow institutional changes among the producers who shape the stories we consume. Analyzing a wide set of TV and film genres – including crime, legal and medical dramas, comedies, horror, and reality programming – it covers the complex ways that media responds to social movements, sometimes giving voice to brand-new or previously silenced stories, but just as often making facile references that can blunt the potential for change, or even fuel cultural backlash.
The blurb is of interest because it highlights the distinction in life between rhetoric and reality. In this case, representation of reality for purposes of entertainment inevitably involves a particular set of distinct and predictable features. Similarly, the representation of reality in a range of historiographies involves another, particular, set of distinct and predictable features.
It occurs to me that Erving Goffman and Raymond Chandler are among a number of notable observers who provide a cogent overview of what those features are, in both the entertainment industry and in a wide range of historiographies.
A Nov. 9, 2021 Reuters article is entitled: “Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election officials: Law enforcement has taken little action as backers of Donald Trump aim stark threats at election officials. Reuters tracked down nine of the harassers. Most were unrepentant.”
An excerpt reads:
In an interview, Thibault said Vermont laws pose unique challenges for pursuing such cases because they offer greater protections for individual rights than federal laws. He added that the threats and the rise of extremist rhetoric are leading to a push for tougher anti-harassment laws.
Vermont State Representative Maxine Grad said she plans to introduce a bill in the January session aimed at broadening protections for people who have received criminal threats, such as election workers.
All of the articles (such as the one above) featured in these notes function as blurbs – as glimpses related to a larger picture. For a closer and more comprehensive analysis of topics of interest, I like to read a wide range of evidence-based books, in each case a book in which the author presents a focused, balanced, and cogent view of things.
A Nov. 18, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Justice denied: Decades after the murder of a Cree teenager, Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry provided a blueprint for change, but 30 years later, critics say racial injustice remains.”
For some years, I have been following the narrative arc related to topics highlighted at the current post. In some cases, an inquiry takes place, recommendations are made, and the underlying problem is to some extent addressed or is pretty much left unaddressed, as the case may be. The first requirement is that we document what is going on, in ways that amount to more than a brief, inconsequential blurb. The second requirement is that we take a long-term view of things, and continue to work toward ensuring that the views (and, as well, the input with regard to decision making) of all parties, to all issues that face us, are closely taken into account.
An excerpt from the above-noted article reads:
In November 1991, relying on approximately 21,000 pages of transcripts, they released a two-volume report. Their findings were stark.
“In almost every aspect of our legal system, the treatment of Aboriginal people is tragic.… Canada’s treatment of its first citizens has been an international disgrace,” Hamilton and Sinclair concluded.
The report outlined 296 recommendations intended to right the racism-fuelled wrongs of Manitoba’s justice system.
Yet three decades later, the majority of the recommendations have not been implemented. Indigenous men and women continue to be targeted and assaulted, overrepresented in jails and underrepresented in the judiciary process.
“After 30 years, somebody is not listening,” says Garrison Settee, Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents 26 First Nations in northern Manitoba. “Somebody is not doing anything to change the status quo.”
A Nov. 29, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “Chris Cuomo Played Outsize Role in Ex-Gov. Cuomo’s Defense: Chris Cuomo, the CNN host, participated in strategy discussions and shared a tip on at least one woman who had accused his brother, Andrew Cuomo, of sexual harassment.”
The article concerns itself with the language that power sometimes speaks – or, to be more precise regarding the case at hand, the language that power sometimes attempts to speak.
An excerpt reads:
Beginning last December  with the first public accusation by a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, the records lay out in unvarnished detail how the tight-knit group of advisers discussed a series of increasingly drastic steps to manipulate the press, discredit his accusers and retain a grip on power that became less and less tenable.
After debating the legality of the move, they agreed to pass Ms. Boylan’s personnel file to reporters, portraying her as politically motivated and unhinged. They sought — and failed — to rally dozens of former female aides and supporters to pen an op-ed defending him.
An additional excerpt reads:
Replete with stories of screaming matches, cursing and deep mistrust, they collectively paint a portrait of the kind of toxic work culture that many of those testifying before the attorney general’s team were trying to undercut as they fought to maintain their boss’s job and their own.
The current post brings to mind a wider topic, namely world history and the events of the Second World War.
I’ve recently been reading an article in the Journal of Perpetrator Research:
Crimes of the Wehrmacht: A Re-evaluation
Authors: Alex J. Kay , David Stahel
Of the up to eighteen million men who served in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War, ten million were deployed at one time or another between 1941 and 1944 in the conflict against the Soviet Union, a theatre of widespread and sustained mass violence. In order to determine how extensive complicity in Nazi crimes was among the mass of the regular German soldiers, it is necessary first of all to define what constitutes a criminal undertaking. The sheer brutality of the German conduct of war and occupation in the Soviet Union has overshadowed many activities that would otherwise be rightly held up as criminal acts.
Keywords: Wehrmacht, criminality, mass violence, occupation, Second World War
How to Cite: Kay, A.J. and Stahel, D., 2020. Crimes of the Wehrmacht: A Re-evaluation. Journal of Perpetrator Research, 3(1), pp.95–127. DOI: http://doi.org/10.21039/jpr.3.1.29
Published on 05 May 2020. Peer Reviewed CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
A Nov. 30, 2021 Reuters article is entitled: “Sexual harassment rife inside Australian parliament, report finds.”
An excerpt reads:
The review detailed widespread improper behaviour, and found that more than half of the people who responded had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment, bullying or actual or attempted sexual assault.
“Such experiences leave a trail of devastation for individuals and their teams and undermine the performance of our parliament to the nation’s detriment,” it said.
For some time I’ve been adding links to the current post about the history of the Romanian Revolution of 1989. Many reflections have come to mind as I’ve been posting such links. I will highlight such reflections at a separate post. These are recent links that have prompted me to prepare a separate post:
Violence against women
A Dec. 8, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “23 women have died after intimate-partner violence since the 1970s in this rural Ontario community: Isolation, lack of transportation, poverty, lack of affordable housing and access to guns may all be at play.”
An excerpt reads:
“The lack of housing and lack of access to financial support is a big barrier … especially in rural, remote communities,” said Peter Jaffe, psychologist and director emeritus of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University in London, Ont.
“When it comes to domestic violence, if you’re a woman, you’re at much greater danger in a rural community.”
He suggested several other factors are at play in rural communities, including isolation, lack of transportation, poverty and access to guns. Those unique circumstances require approaches that don’t necessarily work in big cities, he said.
A Dec. 5, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Chiropractors’ association ‘appalled and disappointed’ by anti-vaccine statements at B.C. meeting: 173 licensed, practising chiropractors — about 13% of B.C.’s total — voted for resolution to oppose mandates.”
An excerpt reads:
Her views are shared by the college, which posted a statement online Friday addressing the meeting. It also expressed concern over the “inaccurate and misleading information about COVID-19 vaccination” shared by some of the chiropractors who spoke.
“Regulated health professionals occupy a position of public trust due to their knowledge and training in a specific field of health. Their ethical and professional responsibility is to provide information that is factual, backed by science and directly related to their scope of practice,” the college statement says.
It goes on to stress that chiropractors aren’t trained in treating or preventing infectious disease and are forbidden from providing advice to patients about vaccination.
A Dec. 3, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “Behind Low Vaccination Rates Lurks a More Profound Social Weakness.”
An excerpt (I have omitted an embedded link) reads:
Americans began thinking about health care decisions this way only recently; during the 1950s polio campaigns, for example, most people saw vaccination as a civic duty. But as the public purse shrunk in the 1980s, politicians insisted that it’s no longer the government’s job to ensure people’s well-being; instead, Americans were to be responsible only for themselves and their own bodies. Entire industries, such as self-help and health foods, have sprung up on the principle that the key to good health lies in individuals making the right choices.
Amanda Santiago, a St. Mary’s Park tenant, told us, “I’m not necessarily anti-vaccine.” But she decided against the shot, she explained, as “a personal choice.” A growing body of research suggests that Ms. Santiago’s views reflect a broader shift in America, across class and race. Without an idea of the common good, health is often discussed using the language of “choice.” At a recent anti-vaccine-mandate demonstration in Brooklyn, some protesters wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts and chanted, “My body, my choice!” When the Brooklyn Nets banned their star guard Kyrie Irving for refusing the vaccine, the Nets’ general manager, Sean Marks, acknowledged, “Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose.”
A Sept. 12, 2021 Brookings Institution article is entitled: “The vaccine divide will drive even worse economic divides.”
An excerpt reads:
In sum, as unvaccinated communities—nurtured by the politization of the pandemic response—resist safety precautions, their lagging economies could fall further behind faster-recovering “blue” communities. This dynamic will likely serve to exacerbate the polarization of American society and stoke red county resentments of better-off, healthier blue county elites. As a result, the challenge of pulling our country together is greater than ever.
A Dec. 8, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Sisters say mother’s death could have been avoided if church had taken COVID-19 seriously: Pearl Lane, 83, was 1 of several deaths linked to a cluster in Bishop’s Falls.”
Hibbs and her sister, Beverley Dean, say their mom’s death could have been avoided, if COVID-19 prevention measures were more strictly followed during church services in September.
“If they had went by the government rules and the protocols that were in place and wore their masks and done the six-feet distancing, then this would have never happened,” said Hibbs.
Rev. Leroy Gee, the head of the church in Bishop’s Falls, refused an interview. In an earlier interview in October, he said physical distancing, sanitizing and mask-wearing “was not a hard problem because we don’t have a big crowd.”
Hibbs and Dean point to a series of gatherings in the first half of September called “camp meetings.” That’s where they believe their mother and father were exposed to the coronavirus.
Dean said people gathered from across the province and from as far away as New Brunswick, for the meetings.
Trust in government
A Dec. 1, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “Trust in Science and Scientists Increased Globally, Poll Finds: An international survey found that the pandemic had enhanced public faith in researchers and science, up from 2018.”
An excerpt reads:
As the coronavirus pandemic put a spotlight on scientific research, people around the world gained trust in both science and scientists, according to a new survey released on Monday.
Results from the public opinion poll, in a report published by the Wellcome Trust, a foundation focused on health research in London, showed that about 80 percent of people from 113 countries said they trusted science either “a lot” or “some.” About three-fourths of the 119,000 surveyed said they trusted scientists, either “a lot” or “some.”
“I am not surprised by the results of the survey,” said Fatima Tokhmafshan, a geneticist and science communicator who was not involved with the poll. Ms. Tokhmafshan suggested the interdisciplinary response to the pandemic among scientists, in fields ranging from public health, to immunology, zoology and epidemiology, helped people to understand the connections between science and their own well-being.
An article at the Environmental Defence website (accessed on Dec. 8, 2021) is entitled: “THE BIG SPRAWL.”
An excerpt reads:
Last year, Ontario imposed THE BIG SPRAWL, a set of policies designed to enrich land speculators by pushing 81 per cent of new households and jobs over the next 30 years into car-dependent suburbs, often on farmland, and to exclude them from the walkable & transit-friendly existing neighbourhoods where people want to live and work.
Unless we stop it, THE BIG SPRAWL will destroy green space, worsen urban flooding, waste millions in extra infrastructure costs, prevent us from meeting our climate change targets, and squander the millions of new homes and workplaces that are our last best chance to repair the post-war suburbs Ontario is saddled with already.
A Dec. 16, 2021 Associated Press article is entitled: ‘Vaccine skeptics in Eastern Europe having change of heart.”
An excerpt reads:
In Romania, a EU nation of about 19 million, the vaccination rate hovered around 28% until mid-October, when a sharp spike in new COVID-19 infections and deaths forced some hospitals to put body bags in their hallways as morgues ran out of space.
Fear — combined with stricter anti-virus measures introduced by authorities, including a nighttime curfew and requiring proof of vaccination, a recent recovery or a recent negative test to enter most public venues — has sent the vaccination rate in Romania spiking to over 40% by Dec. 10, according to Our World in Data.
“I was scared, there are so many (negative) rumors” about vaccines, said Ofelia Gligor, who got her first COVID-19 jab on a frigid December day this week in the main vaccination center in Sighisoara, a small, historic Romanian town 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of Bucharest, the capital.
The 18-year-old trainee nurse had to overcome her fears for a practical reason — without proof of vaccination, she wouldn’t be allowed to attend her training program at the local hospital.
“My advice to people now is to get vaccinated, because sooner or later vaccines will become mandatory” for all, she said.
I like to think about the history of Romania because the history is a refection of human history. We can start with the history of any nation-state upon the earth and soon we are dealing with universal history; we are dealing with the history of humanity; among other things we are dealing with how the mind works – how our minds work; we are dealing with how we make sense of things.
A Dec. 22, 2021 Guardian article is entitled: “‘A moral issue to correct’: the long tail of Elena Ceaușescu’s fraudulent scientific work: Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romanian communist regime hailed his wife as an eminent chemistry researcher, though she had no genuine qualifications. But her name lives on in academic journals, and British institutions have yet to retract honours bestowed on her.”
An excerpt reads:
Chris Isloi, a neuroscience and psychology researcher based in London, and Andrei Dumbravă, a doctor and senior lecturer at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iași, are leading the call to have the scientific record corrected. But Isloi says it is proving difficult “since no academic publishers ever wrote their publishing guidelines anticipating an author might be a communist dictator’s illiterate wife”.
A second excerpt reads:
Isloi says Ceaușescu’s impact on science in Romania persists.
“In Romanian academia, plagiarism is rampant, as is nepotism,” he says. “Sloppy science is ubiquitous, [much of it] a consequence of Elena Ceaușescu’s nefarious and outsized influence in the 70s and 80s.”
Click here for previous posts about plagiarism >
Also of interest:
Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History (2022)
A review at the Toronto Public Library website reads:
A child’s sense of safety, security, and national pride is upended as family histories surface and a political system splinters in this beautiful debut from Guardian contributor Ypi. The author, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Albania, recounts her coming-of-age in 1990 as the country (the last with Stalinist-type rulers in Europe) began to shed its Communist identity. She reflects on her puzzlement as a young girl when protesters demanding freedom and democracy took hold of her city that December. “We had plenty of freedom,” she writes. “I felt so free… my freedom as a burden.” That mindset, nurtured by her teachers at school, directly opposed the beliefs of her family, intellectuals and property owners whose own ideas of liberty led to their punishment in what the Party referred to as “universities,” where “different subjects of study corresponded to different official charges.” When the government crumbled, her parents felt it safe enough to finally reveal to her “that my country had been an open-air prison for almost half a century.” Out of this comes an electric narrative of personal and political reckoning, suffused with sharp cultural critique, that underscores history’s contentious relationship with independence and truth. This vivid rendering of life amid cultural collapse is nothing short of a masterpiece. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
The book is included at a webpage (which I found of interest) entitled: Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021 longlist is announced.
Meanwhile, the story from Kazakhstan unfolds day by day.
A Jan. 7, 2022 CBC article is entitled: “Intensity of Kazakhstan’s political violence leaves: Week of upheaval in Central Asian country has left many protesters and police officers dead.”
An excerpt reads:
Still, the fact that Tokayev felt he had to summon help — “peacekeepers,” as he referred to them — may suggest Russian troops were needed to give his side an edge, or that local security services were reluctant to use violence against their own people.
Outside human rights groups say the arrival of troops from both Belarus and Russia means greater repression of civil rights in Kazakhstan may be imminent.
“We’ve seen an absolute crackdown against civil society in both Belarus and Russia, really unprecedented,” said Marie Struthers, director of the Central Asian office for Amnesty International, citing a “stamping-out of freedom of expression, freedom of political association of assembly.”
“I fear that such a scenario might be in store for Kazakhstan.”
Russia is already engaged in a tense confrontation with Western nations over the future of Ukraine. Tens of thousands of Russian troops, tanks and heavy machinery are currently within striking distance of Ukraine’s eastern borders, and emergency talks involving the U.S., NATO and Russia are set for next week to try to defuse tensions.
A Jan. 8, 2022 Guardian article, which provides a certain amount of nuance, is entitled: “As order is restored in Kazakhstan, its future is murkier than ever: The tragic events of last week, in which dozens lost their lives, have exposed hidden political tensions.”
An excerpt reads:
As attention shifts to the behind-the-scenes infighting and the geopolitical implications, some inside the country are urging that the human tragedy of the past days should not be forgotten. On Saturday, a group of Kazakh civil society organisations penned an open letter to the authorities: “Unrest and violence have no place at peaceful demonstrations… We ask the authorities to carry out a full investigation of every part of this tragedy.”
A March 2018 Harper’s Magazine article by Rebecca Solnit is entitled: ‘Nobody Knows.”
An excerpt reads:
All the world is not a stage: backstage and beyond the theater are important territories, too. There, people at all levels of power act outside the limelight, out of reach of the official rules. For underlings, this can mean a measure of freedom from a system that represses them; for those who wield power, it allows rank hypocrisy. Often they act in the confidence that the people who see them do not matter or cannot affect their reputation among those who do. Because it’s not just the knowledge itself that matters, of course — it’s also important who knows, whose knowledge it is. You could say that when the powerful insist that nobody knows, what they mean is that their acts are witnessed by nobodies. Nobody knows.
An additional excerpt reads:
Twenty years ago, I knew that I was moving on from the backstage world. I was no longer young, and I was gaining the power that writers have: to put events on the record. This meant that things would be concealed from me. It was as if I had immigrated to another country, or been deported from my home. With the transition came an invitation to shift my loyalties and forget where I had long resided.
And then I was on the other side. I had been the confidante of many women, and then, some years ago, I found that I was too often banished to the company of the powerful and the deceived. I spent several days with a group of people, and on the last day, one young woman opened up to me about a powerful old man among us who had pressured and harassed her during our time together. He had hidden his pursuit from those in the group whom he considered to be somebodies, which now included me. I was furious on behalf of his target, and to a lesser extent on behalf of his wife, but I was also disgusted to have been so deceived. I had been ushered into an unwilling audience to witness a lie. Some of the younger women in our group had known what was going on but had remained silent beyond their circle. I had always been part of that circle. Like the law students and clerks warning one another about Kozinski, we had whispered among ourselves about avoiding certain men and rolled our eyes as another duplicitous performance was staged. Now I was on the outside.
Two earlier posts are entitled:
Mr. Putin (2015) illustrates that you can write a first-rate biography even if standard biographical details are missing
The Anatomy of Post-Communist Regimes: A Conceptual Framework (2021)
A Jan. 21, 2022 Globe and Mail article by Amy Knight, which I accessed through the Toronto Public Library website, is entitled: “On Ukraine, NATO and more, Russia’s Vladimir Putin lives in an alternative reality. How did he get there?: The Russian leader’s personal background and thirst for wealth offer clues to his state of mind – and the things he could do next – as his armies amass on Ukraine’s borders.”
The article notes that Amy Knight is the author of six books on Russian history and politics, including, most recently, Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder .
An excerpt from the article reads:
The problem is compounded, Mr. Gudkov said, by the fact that Mr. Putin is surrounded by yes men. He is told only what he wants to hear because, when his advisers have told him the truth, he has exploded in anger. And his main foreign policy consultants are allies from his KGB days, such as Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev, who is so bellicose toward the West that he has openly advocated for Russia’s military doctrine to include a pre-emptive nuclear strike option.
Mr. Putin and his Kremlin team are not motivated by the ideological convictions that propelled the KGB when the Soviet Union was at the height of its power. When Mr. Putin served in Dresden as a low-level KGB officer in the late 1980s, all he and his comrades cared about was getting their hands on Western goods. (One of Mr. Putin’s prize acquisitions was a Blaupunkt stereo for his car, pilfered for him by a German contact.)
An insatiable thirst for material gain has been the driving force behind Mr. Putin’s kleptocratic regime, which views democracies in bordering states as Western-inspired threats to its power and vast wealth.
Mr. Putin’s “geopolitical anxieties” also stem from his personal background.
Small in stature – about five-foot-six without his shoe lifts – he grew up in a rough Leningrad neighbourhood, where he had to defend himself against larger, tougher courtyard thugs. According to his biographers, he reacted by becoming a bully himself, lashing out against anyone who tried to humiliate him. Later, in an apparent effort to cultivate a macho image, he took up martial arts.
A second excerpt reads:
But Mr. Putin and his clan also have a strong instinct for self-preservation. If NATO governments stand firm on threatened sanctions and continue to provide Kyiv with crucial weaponry, it is always possible that the Kremlin will back down and confirm what it has been saying all along – that Russia is only conducting military exercises. After all, the narcissistic Mr. Putin has already achieved one of his main goals: placing himself back in the centre of the world stage.