gavin williamson putin
"Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up." On the face of it, these words from the UK's Defence Minister, Gavin Williamson - in a formal public statement addressing Russia's response to the British government's astonishing spy-poisoning claims - are just plain rudeness.

But they actually reveal much more than rudeness and lack of civility, which are unbecoming of any civil servant, even if he is the servant of Her Majesty, the Queen of England.

Where on Earth can the biggest country in the world actually go? Where is "away" for Russia, which extends from Europe to the end of Asia? But, in addition to poor breeding, these words also reveal more than absurdity.

Considered further, Williamson's statement is a diplomatic or geopolitical Freudian slip of sorts. His words exposed exactly what the Western establishment as a whole wishes for post-Yeltsin Russia, but has hitherto been timid about publicly expressing in such a frank formula.

In fact, Williamson's words echo through history, uttered by the powerful whenever they face opposition or challenge to their rule. Victims, dissidents, rebels - all have been told to 'shut up and go away' throughout centuries of oppression.

You! We find you guilty; you are to be exiled, your land taken away, and your children sold as slaves. You plead innocent? Why don't you shut up and go away.

You! Bruno, Galileo, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King - enough of your extravagant ideas! Confess your lies, or you will burn at the stake! This seems unfair to you? Why don't you shut up and go away.

You! Political dissidents demanding accountability, transparency, and equality: if you don't want to be exiled to Siberia, just shut up or go away.

There is nothing new about such an attitude. Germans and much of 'civilized' Europe wanted the Jews to shut up and go away; now Israeli Jews want Palestinians to shut up and go away.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West re-baptized itself in the myth of its own propaganda. Unipolarity is the only model, there are no alternatives, history has ended, and anyone who thinks otherwise should just shut up and go away. Get with the program, or else. Since the future is here, we're going to usher it in with force. Serbia, Iraq, and Libya have problems with us? We can bomb them until they shut up and go away.

'Might makes right' worked splendidly for a while, and the successes of this myopic belligerence had confirmed to its authors that they were right. They are not the first dogmatists who believed their own propaganda. The Roman Empire, Catholic Church, and Soviet Orthodoxy all had the same attitude toward dissenting views.

Of course, eventually, reality knocks at the door with such strength that the establishment realizes it had better accommodate it. After torturing and feeding Christians to the animals, the Roman barbarians adopted Christianity; after burning its opponents at the stake, the Catholic Church accommodated other faiths; after imprisoning dissidents, the Soviets went overboard accepting new ideas, frequently to the detriment of millions of Russians.

But the Western establishment is not quite there yet. They are still at the first stage of resistance, at what we might call 'the Williamson stage', in honor of the bureaucrat that has formulated it. Russia and China's rise means those countries are knocking at the door, announcing:
"We are here to stay, we are not going away. In fact, you must make way. You are tyrannical, oppressive regimes that imprison journalists and artists. You are semi- or crypto-communist. You do not share our views on morality and legality. Therefore you better shut up and go away!"
The Western establishment directs the greater part of its ire at Russia because it is loudest in articulating the new reality. The game is up: there is a new sheriff in town, and its name is multipolarity. You are no longer the hegemonic power that controls everything, from politics to ideology to culture.

As long as one side remains implacably antagonistic, the current imbalanced dialogue between Russia and the West is bound to continue. The West is going over the top to deny the changing reality. The West must defend its exceptional right to hegemony, and quell the rising tide of complaints within its realm, so no doubt there will be more provocations and unfortunate incidents to come - and those too will be magnified out of all proportion.

To 'put Russia in its place' and 'counteract its aggression', we can expect more unified statements from the Empire's myopic servants, more calls to surround it with more NATO bases, and more millions of taxpayers' dollars going to weaponry and propaganda. Putin may continue testing and demonstrating Russia's new weaponry in order to substantiate his rightful claim to being taken seriously, announcing loud and clear that it is time to talk, and that Russia is no longer willing to play the role of the bad guy, the scapegoat, and the pariah state. But to no avail: the West will retort with the Williamson formula.

History tells us, unfortunately, that there are only two ways this impasse can go: Western leaders could one day wake up, look out the window, and realize that the world has indeed changed, and that it is high time to conduct security, diplomacy and trade like grown-ups instead of childishly telling other parties to get lost.

But they can also choose to persist in their myopia. We're currently treated to the views of maniacs who pronounce that the West does not have to worry about confrontation with Russia because it would 'win' a nuclear war. Granted, all major US cities would be destroyed, but rural places in America would survive, whereas Russia would be wiped out clean. How idiotic does one have to be to claim 'victory' in the event that Moscow, St. Petersburg, New York, San Francisco, London, Rome and Paris are all wiped off the map; whereas tiny RedneckVille remains standing tall, as opposed to tiny Leninovka, which has been reduced to rubble?

Well, one still hopes that common sense will prevail, that this spasmodic clinging to old realities, old clichés, old comfortable lies, is a temporal thing, a psychological defense mechanism with which one delays accepting the inevitable. Perhaps one of these days, Western peoples will intervene to tell their corrupt and psychologically-challenged leaders:
"We've heard enough from you, and we are not buying it any more. So why don't you all just shut up and go retire to your Caribbean tax havens?"
About the author
Vladimir Golstein is a professor of Slavic studies at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. He was born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States in 1979.

Professor Golstein's scholarly interests embrace Russian culture, religion, philosophy, and poetry, of the past two centuries. He is the author of Lermontov's Narratives of Heroism (Northwestern University Press, 1998) and numerous articles on nineteenth-and twentieth century Russian authors, including Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tsvetaeva, and Bulgakov. He is currently completing a monograph on the conflict of generations in Russia.