The other day I had the pleasure of attending the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA. It was given by Garry Kasparov and addressed authoritarianism in general, and Putin and Ukraine specifically. Also in attendance were the lovely Mrs. P. and Dana and her husband, as well as my old friend David A. (David and Dana’s husband are somewhat less lovely on the outside but very lovely on the inside.) I also saw Eugene Volokh and my old neighbor from Marina del Rey. Everybody wanted to be there.
I wanted to highlight two things Kasparov said that I thought were important.
First: the moderator, who is (I believe) a UCLA professor of international relations, asked a question I found to be dopey. The essence of it was: even if you don’t think so, Mr. Kasparov, this war will inevitably end in a negotiated settlement, and shouldn’t Ukraine be willing to trade away some minor territorial concessions? After all, there are a lot of ethnic Russians who speak Russian in Crimea! I felt my blood boiling as the question was asked and at the end I muttered under my breath: Let him have it!
Kasparov let him have it.
Among other things, he pointed out that the borders in question are universally recognized borders that Russia agreed to in 1991. He said: “I understand you have a department here at UCLA that studies international law. Why not just abolish it?” Because if a country can simply invade another peaceable nation and destroy those borders, and have the world tell the victim country they have to accept it, then we have no more international law. As to what concessions Ukraine should make, Kasparov said, he would not presume to advise them because it’s their business. It’s their country being invaded. As for the presence of ethnic Russians in Crimea, he said, well, there were ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland. That did not give Hitler the right to simply annex it.
Second: on the topic of nuclear weapons, Kasparov said that of course we have to be mindful of the possibility of their use, as we always do, but the chances of Putin using a nuclear weapon are very low. (I agree.) In this connection, he made a point that resonated with me: if Putin uses some kind of tactical nuclear weapon, which seems very unlikely, he would use it on Ukraine, not the United States. But it seems that the people most fearful about Putin using a nuclear weapon are people sipping cocktails in Los Angeles or New York, while the people in Ukraine, who are after all the ones who face the real threat, don’t care.
I spontaneously applauded at that line and a number of people in the room followed suit.
It occurred to me that this phenomenon is very similar to the one I discussed here recently, wherein the folks at the British Academy Film Awards disinvited Christo Grozev, the Bellingcat researcher who uncovered evidence that Putin was behind a poisoning plot against Alexei Navalny’s life. The cowards were worried about their own skin, while Grozev didn’t care. As I said:
Christo Grozev is a brilliant researcher who, by taking on Putin, has put his own life at risk. He knew the risks and he acted anyway. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.
Now here are a bunch of artsy ponces — from the nation that made famous the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On,” no less — scurrying in fear at a ridiculous non-threat to the safety of an audience at a self-congratulatory event for the glitterati. Grozev, I’m sure, would have had the courage to attend if he were allowed to. And it’s his neck that was truly at risk, not the audience’s.
Imagine. This crowd could have told themselves they had the COURAGE and BACKBONE to attend an event where, somewhere else in a room, a man sat whom Vladimir Putin would like to kill. They could have applauded him as he won a prize, and congratulated themselves on their incredible courage in being willing to sit in the same room, dressed in fancy tuxedos and dresses, with a man whom Putin wanted dead. And they lived to tell the tale! They could have kept friends spellbound for weeks at their tales of personal bravado.
My, my, perhaps they could even have sent Alexei Navalny a letter in prison telling him how brave they were.
But no. It was not to be. These fancy-clad nobility of the film arts remained safe in their seats, and did not have their safety threatened by the presence of the likes of Grozev.
The people at the British film awards were never in real danger. Grozev was in real danger, and he didn’t care. He would have come. But they had to make it about them.
If you spend your days arguing that we should not help Ukraine resist Putin’s genocidal war, because you are wringing your hands about the remote possibility of Putin using a nuclear weapon, Kasparov and I have a message for you: it’s not about you. You are not in real danger. The people of Ukraine are the ones in real danger.
So drop the narcissism. The universe does not revolve around you. Stop making it all about you. It’s not.
Thanks to Dana for alerting me to the talk and making it possible for myself and my wife to attend.