Thursday 18 August 2022

Truss, Sunak, and the reluctant genie


For a Russian nationalist like Putin, it is entirely obvious that Ukraine is not, and never has been, a country at all. It is merely a part of Russia, and its people are just Russians with a funny accent and an odd dialect which some of them insist on using instead of standard Russian. It follows that, in those parts of Ukraine occupied by his forces, it is entirely proper that the school curriculum should be replaced by a proper Russian one, that the people should be issued with Russian passports, and that the flag of Russia should be flown everywhere instead of the previous ‘regional’ flag. Since it is clearly unacceptable to have different laws applying in a single country, obviously the laws laid down in Moscow will henceforth apply in occupied Ukraine also. All this will help those people previously ‘confused’ about their identity to understand that they are Russians, and to start behaving as such.

In the real world, a strategy of Russification will have mixed effects. Those who already identified as Russian (and those of us outside Ukraine tend to forget that that is a significant proportion of the population, particularly in the east of the country) will welcome it; some will comply with varying degrees of reluctance; others will double down on their Ukrainian nationality even if (like Catalans and Basques under Franco) they express it largely in secret, clandestinely passing on their language to their descendants. Some might think that the utter destruction being wrought on the territory taken over by Russia might push more people into the third camp, but the reality is that those in the third camp are perhaps the most likely to have moved westwards ahead of the invasion (or subsequently been deported to the far-flung reaches of Russia ‘for their own safety’), leaving a population predominantly consisting of those who are either delighted or else willing to comply. That is the advantage of using military force to impose a change of nationality on a reluctant people.

But leaving aside the use of military force as the method of choice, how different is what Putin is trying to do in Ukraine from what the English conservative party is trying to do in Wales, and more particularly in Scotland? Demanding that we all accept that the UK is not a union of four nations but a single country in which the same laws should apply everywhere would surely ring a bell or two in the Kremlin. As would branding everything with the Union flag. OK, expecting the devolved administrations to be accountable to the central government in performing tasks which are in their purview would probably look to Putin more than a little bit like going soft on the rebellious natives, but abolishing the devolved parliaments without the use of force leaves the Tories forced to take things a step at a time. And attempting to eliminate any ‘local dialects’ is not a venture which has been met with unqualified success over the last four centuries, with or without violent imposition.

The crucial difference though is that without repeating the highland clearances (which is sort of what Putin is doing in Ukraine), the impact on public opinion of those remaining may not quite work in the same way. Whilst they both start from the assumption that identity can be changed by imposition and central dictat, Putin is driving out those with Ukrainian sympathies so as to leave nothing to chance. Truss and Sunak, on the other hand, are assuming that most of those Scots and Welsh who aren’t already fervent supporters of the Union will simply comply and fall in behind the new reality rather than doubling down on their own sense of identity. Only time will tell whether they are right on that, although in Scotland at least it seems highly unlikely as things stand. They seem to believe that Blair’s devolution let the genie out of the bottle; others might think that the genie would have found a way out eventually anyway. Either way, from what I remember of the myths from my childhood, genies are not often amenable to being controlled, and putting them back into bottles is not an endeavour generally accompanied by huge amounts of success. I suppose, though, that it might divert a bit of attention from the looming economic disaster.

1 comment:

dafis said...

Citing the "highland clearances" is interesting. To many of us that is what is already under way with the procurement of land in rural Wales for energy parks, carbon offset forestation scams, and gifts to festival organisers ! What makes all this even more unpalatable is the lead part played by the Bay regime in putting all these scams into play. We don't need a Putin in this drama when we have our own bunch of Quislings happy to do the bidding of Westminster, globalist corporates, and a multitude of grantgrabbing opportunists that feed on this kind of destructive neo- colonialism.