Bureaucracy, pseudomysticism and brutality

“Government by bureaucracy has to be distinguished from the mere outgrowth and deformation of civil services which frequently accompanied the decline of the nation-state—as, notably, in France. There the administration has survived all changes in regime since the Revolution, entrenched itself like a parasite in the body politic, developed its own class interests, and become a useless organism whose only purpose appears to be chicanery and prevention of normal economic and political development. There are of course many superficial similarities between the two types of bureaucracy, especially if one pays too much attention to the striking psychological similarity of petty officials. But if the French people have made the very serious mistake of accepting their administration as a necessary evil, they have never committed the fatal error of allowing it to rule the country — even though the consequence has been that nobody rules it. The French atmosphere of government has become one of inefficiency and vexations; but it has not created an aura of pseudomysticism.

“And it is this pseudomysticism that is the stamp of bureaucracy when it becomes a form of government. Since the people it dominates never really know why something is happening, and a rational interpretation of laws does not exist, there remains only one thing that counts, the brutal naked event itself. What happens to one then becomes subject to an interpretation whose possibilities are endless, unlimited by reason and unhampered by knowledge. Within the framework of such endless interpretative speculation, so characteristic of all branches of Russian pre-revolutionary literature, the whole texture of life and world assume a mysterious secrecy and depth. There is a dangerous charm in this aura because of its seemingly inexhaustible richness; interpretation of suffering has a much larger range than that of action for the former goes on in the inwardness of the soul and releases all the possibilities of human imagination, whereas the latter is constantly checked, and possibly led into absurdity, by outward consequence and controllable experience.

“One of the most glaring differences between the old-fashioned rule by bureaucracy and the up-to-date totalitarian brand is that Russia’s and Austria’s pre-war rulers were content with an idle radiance of power and, satisfied to control its outward destinies, left the whole inner life of the soul intact. Totalitarian bureaucracy, with a more complete understanding of the meaning of absolute power, intruded upon the private individual and his inner life with equal brutality. The result of this radical efficiency has been that the inner spontaneity of people under its rule was killed along with their social and political activities, so that the merely political sterility under the older bureaucracies was followed by total sterility under totalitarian rule.”

“The age which saw the rise of the pan-movements, however, was still happily ignorant of total sterilization. On the contrary, to an innocent observer (as most Westerners were) the so-called Eastern soul appeared to be incomparably richer, its psychology more profound, its literature more meaningful than that of the "shallow" Western democracies. This psychological and literary adventure into the "depths" of suffering did not come to pass in Austria-Hungary because its literature was mainly German-language literature, which after all was and remained part and parcel of German literature in general. Instead of inspiring profound humbug, Austrian bureaucracy rather caused its greatest modern writer to become the humorist and critic of the whole matter. Franz Kafka knew well enough the superstition of fate which possesses people who live under the perpetual rule of accidents, the inevitable tendency to read a special superhuman meaning into happenings whose rational significance is beyond the knowledge and understanding of the concerned. He was well aware of the weird attractiveness of such peoples, their melancholy and beautifully sad folk tales which seemed so superior to the lighter and brighter literature of more fortunate peoples. He exposed the pride in necessity as such, even the necessity of evil, and the nauseating conceit which identifies evil and misfortune with destiny. The miracle is only that he could do this in a world in which the main elements of this atmosphere were not fully articulated; he trusted his great powers of imagination to draw all the necessary conclusions and, as it were, to complete what reality had somehow neglected to bring into full focus."

-Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1958 edition, p.245

Mistral: a cold French wind blows east

epl Originally published in Estonian as Mistral: külm Prantsuse tuul puhub itta

David J. Smith*

The French Navy amphibious assault ship Mistral—named for a cold French wind—visits Saint Petersburg today. This is not just a port call; it is a sales call—with ominous geopolitical implications.

“We plan to buy one Mistral class ship in France and with technical support from the French to build four helicopter carriers of this class under license,” said Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Navy Staff. It would be the biggest ever NATO country military supply to Russia.

The Mistral class of ships is designed to attack the shore from the sea, an ideal weapon for Russia to intimidate its neighbors. Mistrals can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters, 4 landing craft, 900 soldiers and up to 70 military vehicles, including up to 40 tanks.

At about $800 million apiece, France’s motivation to sell Mistrals is understandable. Besides, sale proponents argue, a few modern ships to Russia’s barnacle-ridden navy will hardly threaten American dominance at sea.

However, is Paris prepared to reward Russian aggression against Georgia, ignore shredding of the ceasefire agreement negotiated and signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, accept the help of Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan but enforce an unacknowledged arms embargo on Georgia, and meanwhile sell advanced arms to Russia? Does France really want Russia to have this littoral combat capability?

Ignoring these questions may evoke pleasant noises in Moscow for a time, but Russia will not reciprocate in any concrete way. Indeed, it will demand ever more to be appeased. And eventually Russia will employ the Mistrals in another act of aggression, thereby making France complicit.

Regrettably, the potential sale of Mistral class ships to Russia appears to spring from worse than unprincipled economics. France’s partnership with Russia, Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently said, “can take several forms in the defense sphere, from military cooperation to close industrial partnership.” Recall that Fillon a day before the April 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, told France-Inter radio, “We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think it is not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia.”

It is difficult to imagine what power Fillon imagines France will balance with the sale of Mistrals to Russia. However, one can readily discern Russia’s motivation for the purchase.
Moscow will not soon challenge US Navy dominance of the oceans. The Russian Navy for the foreseeable future will be a green water navy, operating close to home, largely as a complement to Russian land forces. And those forces undergird Russia’s intent to halt NATO’s eastward enlargement, particularly to Georgia and Ukraine; to retain its Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol beyond the 2017 expiration of its leasehold; to discourage NATO from planning and exercising the defense of the post Cold War NATO allies; to challenge American cooperation with those allies; and eventually to roll back what it characterizes as encroachment from the west.

“All that we consider ours will remain ours,” said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, toasting the 80th birthday of well known Soviet and Russian foreign policy specialist Yevgeny Primakov. The Baltic Sea, once a Soviet lake, is no doubt one of the places that Putin had in mind. When the Mistral navigated Skagerrak and Kattegat, the straits that lead from the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea into the Baltic Sea, it steamed by the shores of united Germany; by Gdansk, catalyst to the upheavals that toppled the communist world that Putin so reveres; by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now NATO members, once occupied but never cowed by the Soviet Union.

On Baltic shores, apart from Saint Petersburg, only Kaliningrad—headquarters of the Baltic Fleet founded by Peter the Great—remains of the world for which Putin yearns. And it was no coincidence, therefore, that in Kaliningrad on September 28, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian troops who had participated in the exercise Zapad 2009, “I am convinced that we will be able to reestablish our navy in the next decade…We need a strong navy.”

And the Mistrals are part of the plan. On inland seas such as the Baltic or the Black Sea, Mistral class ships would make a big difference—and the Russians know it. Referring to Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia, Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy recently remarked, “A ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours, which is how long it took us.”

Consequently, the Mistral’s call in Saint Petersburg must capture the attention of every NATO ally. The French sale of Mistral class ships to Russia would be a major adverse geopolitical development and a potential alliance buster—it must be stopped.

*David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.

Separate tables

The French government appears to be trying to negotiate a private bilateral foreign policy deal of its own with Russia. A report from Sochi, where the French prime minister Francois Fillon has had talks with Putin, points out that

Fillon flew to Sochi at a time when the European Union is reviewing ties with Russia. The EU condemned Moscow’s intervention in Georgia, launched last month to crush Tbilisi’s attempt to retake two pro-Moscow regions.

The new French line seems to be that if the provisions of the Medvedev-Sarkozy deal – which has already been condemned by the U.S., amoong others – are carried out, then there is nothing to prevent France from pursuing trade and energy deals which were held up because of the Georgia crisis. However, statements by Fillon suggest that France’s efforts to resume “business as usual” with Moscow – a goal earnestly desired by Putin and the Russian leadership – go further than a deal between the two countries:

We wanted this meeting to take place at the original time because it’s very important to strengthen the partnership between the European Union and Russia, and France and Russia,” Fillon told Putin at their first meeting late on Friday.

It looks as though more dissension within the ranks of the European Union may now arise because of this, as several nations, including Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States have stated their opposition to such “partnership-strengthening” until Russian forces have withdrawn to the positions of before August 7, and the issue of EU and OSCE monitors’ access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia – which are being illegally annexed by Russia – has been settled. Neither of these conditions looks likely to be fulfilled in the near future.

Sarkozy agreement = no deal

Kommersant points out that the chances of success for the updated agreement that was brokered by Nicolas Sarkozy and signed by both parties to the conflict on Monday look slim, to say the least. For one thing, there is a total divergence between the way in which the agreement is viewed by Moscow and Tbilisi, to the extent where it is possible to talk of two different documents having been signed. The Georgian government signed a document which stipulated that the proposed international observers will operate not only in the so-called “buffer zones” established by Russian forces, but also on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Russia insists that a huge contingent of its regular armed forces will have sole responsibility for security in these Georgian provinces.

Another apparently unbridgeable gap between the two sides is the fact that Moscow intends to insist that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should take part in the regional talks that will begin in Geneva on October 15. This is categorically opposed by Tbilisi. Russia will also demand that Abkhazia be represented at the next meeting of the UN Security Council, and will use its influence to have the meeting moved to an alternative location in Europe if visas are not made available to Abkhazian representatives – a step that would effectively be a hijacking by Moscow of the UN’s authority.

Russia to keep 7,600 troops in Georgia

Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov has said that Russia will keep a total of 7,600 servicemen in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The announcement signals the failure of yesterday’s peace agreement brokered by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who had demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces to their pre-August 8 positions as a precondition.

France, Russia at Odds over Content of Leaders’ Phone Talks []

France, Russia at Odds over Content of Leaders’ Phone Talks

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 24 Aug.’08 / 01:34

French and Russian Presidents have agreed to replace Russian forces in so called “buffer zone” outside South Ossetia with OSCE monitors, the French President’s press office said in a statement – something which was strongly denied by the Kremlin.

French President, Nikola Sarkozy, spoke with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, on Saturday evening, August 23.

After the phone conversation the statement was posted on the French President’s website reading: “The two Presidents have agreed on the need to set up an international mechanism under the OSCE aegis to replace Russian patrols in the security zone in the south from South Ossetia.”

The Kremlin, however, has denied having such an agreement and even said that the issue was not at all discussed.

“There was no discussion of an issue related with the replacement of the Russian peacekeeping forces with monitors from OSCE,” the Russian news agencies quoted a statement by the Kremlin. “During the conversation with Nikola Sarkozy, Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed [Russia’s] readiness to cooperate with OSCE in this zone in accordance to the fifth principles of the [six-point ceasefire accord] developed jointly by the French and Russian Presidents.”

Russia, which is trying to capitalize on a vaguely worded ceasefire accord brokered by the French President on behalf of EU, has set up stationary checkpoints in the southern areas from the breakaway region. One of the checkpoints is about five kilometers away from the town of Gori, on the road to Tskhinvali.

In what appears to be another controversy over the two Presidents’ phone conversation, the Kremlin also said that President Sarkozy “gave positive assessment to the pull back” of the Russian forces “within the timeframe announced by the Russian side.”

The French statement, however, says that Sarkozy urged Russia to completely honor its commitment and fully withdraw troops from deep inside the Georgian territory, in particular from Poti and Senaki.

“President Sarkozy insisted it was important that Russian troops present at the Poti/Senaki area should withdraw as soon as possible,” the statement on the French President’s website reads.

Fighting Back

After Time magazine published an article about The Death of French Culture, France’s artistic elite fought back in no uncertain terms, the Telegraph writes, adding:

Indeed, France boasts such world-renowned figures as Pierre Boulez, the composer and conductor, as well as the diva Natalie Dessay who took centre stage at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s season.

And in how many other countries would a philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, be frequently seen holding forth on prime-time television shows?