No sooner was President Trump derided for “brightening” upon Vladimir Putin’s arrival at the Armistice Day centenary last month than he canceled his planned meeting with Russia’s president at the recent G20 summit. This left Putin to high-five Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a gesture, no doubt intended to troll the Western hypocrites pretending to not know either.
Pretense and hypocrisy, however, seem to rule the day, and their current mascot is French President Emmanuel Macron. At last month’s Armistice Day observances, which his country hosted, he presumed to lecture the American president on nationalism.
Quite rightly, Trump skipped the peace forum Macron “had arranged with the intention that his fellow leaders ruminate on the murderous follies of the Great War and compare it to the rise of nationalism today,” the Guardian reported. World affairs editor Julian Borger observed an “absence of Western solidarity,” concluding that “Trump showed himself ill at ease with most of his European counterparts and the fleeting encounter with Putin was a reminder of his much greater affinity for autocrats.”
Or perhaps his greater affinity for those who can smell a rat. This is the same “united West” which uniformly snubbed a commemoration that was at least as important: the last major celebration of Victory Day that any veterans may still be alive to celebrate. In May 2015, the 70th anniversary, Washington gave an instruction to world leaders to boycott Russia’s observances. Only the Czech Republic defied it, President Zeman sending the American ambassador packing, and reaffirming that his visit would be a thank-you to Russia “for not having to speak German in this country.”
There were Americans who saw the snub for the insult it was to our own dead from World War II. The following letter from Michael Gardner of Jacksonville, Florida appeared in English-language Pravda:
. . . When I heard our U.S. government was not going to send a delegation to Moscow for the 70th anniversary victory celebrations, I was very angry. It was an insult to the men of all the Allied Forces who fought and died in Europe. Their sacrifice was ignored because of petty politics by the U.S. government . . . I was moved by what I saw in Moscow, and . . . boycott or not, I will be in Moscow in 2020 for the 75th anniversary victory celebration and I will carry a picture of my father, Corporal James P. Gardner, and honor all those who fought in the Great Patriotic War.
The spectacle of Macron, Merkel, and company holding forth on remembrance and history’s lessons was even more galling for the fact that Serbia—which lost the most in the war being remembered????was predictably humiliated, its president omitted from the official stand and “placed outside the range of television cameras,” wrote Le Figaro’s Jean-Cristophe Buisson, “which is an unacceptable failure, since Serbia in the Great War lost 1.2 million of its children.”
Atypical of the snub was that it was followed by an apology to Serbia, which the great powers generally don’t view as apology-worthy, designated as it is a pariah state (our 1990s surrogate in the Yugoslav preamble to our plans for new pariah Russia).
“We have messed up,” a senior member of the Elysee Palace protocol admitted, and responding to “the shocking imagery from Paris,” French ambassador to Serbia Frederic Mondolini offered that on December 5, Macron would be the first French president to visit Serbia in 17 years. (That trip has now been postponed because of the riots.)
Let’s not underestimate the significance of the seating, as it is a metaphor to the inverted dystopia in which we live. Le Figaro’s Buisson thankfully saw fit to point out, “Around President Macron were representatives of the allies in the First World War . . . but also the presidents of Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as the German chancellor, who were [our] enemies 100 years ago . . . [Serbian president Aleksandar] Vucic was shoved as far below as could be done…among lower-level ministers, diplomats and [World War I enemy Austria] . . . We can only imagine how Vucic felt while watching opposite himself . . . the notorious Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or Hashim Thaci, president of a country that Serbia does not recognize [Kosovo], and which in 1914 was only a region within Serbia.”
War loser Croatia also was given more prominent placement, and Kosovo’s terrorist-cum-president Thaci was strategically seated behind Putin, whose Russia is a holdout on recognizing Kosovo statehood. It all recalls the bizarre vision of Vice President Joe Biden in March 2013 at a once-in-600-years event: a papal inauguration after a pope abruptly steps down. Bizarre, because seated next to him was—of all people—crime-boss-turned-prime-minister Hashim Thaci. Not an eyebrow was raised, not a head scratched, despite Thaci being implicated just two years earlier in his Kosovo Liberation Army’s murder-for-organs scandal. Seated close to Angela Merkel, meanwhile, was infamous racketeer and then-president of Germany’s World War II ally Albania, Sali Berisha.
Imagine: modern-day Mengeles are foisted upon us as statesmen by people who then moralize to us peasants about nationalism and fascism, even as they avidly repeat history. But the headlines from Armistice Day weekend—such as Business Insider’s “Trump torches allies, threatens NATO pullout”—meant for us to shake our heads at our current president. The man whose foreign policy seeks to push back the undoing of our service-members’ World War II sacrifices, while all our two-faced generals rotely “honor their sacrifices” in word but effect quite the opposite in deed.
In a 2015 email exchange, Balkans analyst Nebojsa Malic exposed the deeper truth about all this:
There is an order, established at the end of World War II, for which [Russia] paid with millions of lives and we with hundreds of thousands. Even through the Cold War, it mostly held together.
The assumption in 1991 was that the United States and NATO would adhere to this order, which is why the Russians agreed to dismantle the Soviet Union. Instead, the United States violated it, bombing, regime-changing, color-revolutionizing and “reforming” everyone to hell and gone . . . [plus] backed Nazis in Croatia, Ukraine, etc.
For a Western leader to lecture that nationalism (“the exact opposite of patriotism,” Macron said) leads to war, defies decency. Macron and those who think like him speak of patriotism while trying to erase borders and the very existence of the nation-state. Even putting aside their transnational progressivism (which is antithetical to patriotism), it was nationalism that Germany, America, Great Britain and France stoked, unleashed, and used in Yugoslavia, ensuring that its inevitable disintegration would be as violent as possible, and ultimately breaking it up into mono-ethnic statelets.
That’s why they obfuscate the national with the “nationalist” label, and identity with “supremacy.” Obliterating national identity, history, and ultimately statehood for some “greater good” is what leads to war, as people will sense that “the actual benefits of national suicide are maddeningly vague,” as Malic wrote in 2014, the centennial of the Great War’s start. With Serbia as a cautionary tale, he continued that “The courtiers in Vienna a hundred years ago . . . thought any Serbia was too big, and the only good Serb was a former one. We should all do well to remember how that turned out.”
On Armistice Day, Le Monde recalled President Trump’s April meeting with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which he “opened by chastising the Baltic leaders for starting the war in the 1990s that ended with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia,” Slate paraphrased on November 11. “The Baltic leaders were apparently very confused and it took them ‘a moment’ to realize that the commander in chief was confusing Baltic states with the Balkans.”
And yet, even with Trump’s blunder, he is closest to the truth. Mistaking today’s “American allies” (pro-Axis Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) for today’s other “American allies” (pro-Axis Croatia, Bosnia and Albania-Kosovo), the president nonetheless seemed singularly to understand “who started it” in Yugoslavia. And while the latter three had us destroy Yugoslavia, today the former three would see us do the same to Russia.
It turns out that our anti-nationalist West is the warmonger that’s been resuscitating real fascists for decades. So let’s take the Trump-Fascism rhetoric down a notch, lest we want to get an even fuller view of ourselves and the glass house of mirrors in which we live.
Photo credit: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images