Mahatma Gandhi and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,
The Two Giants Who Blessed the 20th Century.
Will Vladimir Putin, Other World Leaders Listen?
By Vladislav Krasnov (aka W George Krasnov)
Personal page: https://peacefromharmony.org/?cat=en_c&key=752
Full publication: https://www.unz.com/article/mahatma-gandhi-and-aleksandr-solzhenitsyn-the-two-giants-who-blessed-the-20th-century/
FEBRUARY 3, 2020
We all know of Samuel Huntington book "The Clash of Civilizations," where, after the collapse of Communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, he predicted that "the fundamental source of conflict will not be primarily ideological or economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural".
There is no reason to rejoice at the prospect of cultural--rather than economic or ideological-- hostilities and possibly wars, especially now when such wars present a real risk of annihilating humankind. I believe that public initiatives, such as Leo Semashko’s the Global Harmony Association (GHA), Rene Wadlow's the Association of World Citizens (AWC), Andre Sheldon's Global Strategy of Nonviolence.org, Sander Hicks' newyorkmegaphone.com, and several others offer a different, more promising and more harmonious paradigm for international relations based on Nonviolence, Harmony and Tolerance necessary for all civilizations, now matter how different, to co-exist for the benefit of all. So, implicitly my essay on Gandhi and Solzhenitsyn aims at buttressing this new paradigm of international relations embodied in the above organizations and individuals.
My list of cultural heroes is far from complete in my article below. I welcome any suggestion of outstanding men and women who promoted the idea of harmonious co-existence and co-operation of all "civilizations" and ethnic cultures no matter how small. At a time when ecologists affirm the need for biodiversity, politicians should be nudged to doing the same for all civilizational and cultural groups.
This essay honors the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that fell on
January 21, 2019
On October 2, 2018, the world honored Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birthday Anniversary. Few weeks later, on December 11, there was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s first Centenary. At about the time of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom by a bullet of an overzealous Hindu nationalist in January 1948, Aleksandr Solzhenitsynhad just begun his Via Dolorosa going through all the circles of Soviet Hell. He started with the First Circle at a sharashka-style research lab for prisoners, and then went down to hard labor at lower circles. After he had graduated from the GULAG to internal exile in Kazakhstan, he also survived a bout with cancer. only after his exile was cut short in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev’s rehabilitation program for the unjustly sentenced, was he able to dedicate himself to healing Russia, from its own political cancer, by truthfully describing the affliction of totalitarian society.
He won. In 1991 the USSR collapsed, and in 1994 he was able to return—now from an external exile in the USA—to his beloved Russia where he then began to describe what has gone wrong since 1991. He died on August 3, 2008. Dmitry Medvedev, then president, and his predecessor and successor, Vladimir Putin, were among the mourners who joined the Nobel laureate's family and friends for a funeral service held at Moscow's historic Donskoi monastery. Thus one might say that Gandhi and Solzhenitsyn dominated the 20th century as two mighty spiritual powers for truth, justice, harmony, and Non-Violence in domestic and foreign affairs.
The name of Gandhi in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution
The name of Mohandas Gandhi has been known in Russia since the time he had an exchange of letters with Leo Tolstoy, the world-famous novelist and the founder of “Non-Resistance to Evil by evil means” movement. Reading their correspondence one gets the definite impression that the two kindred souls found each other in 1909. However, the promising interchange was soon cut short by Tolstoy’s death in 1910. The Bolshevik Revolution and the bloody Civil war followed (1917-1921).
The Soviet Union lost no time in cancelling the very idea of Non-Violence, be it in a Tolstoyan or Gandhian form. To add injury to the insult, many of Tolstoy’s followers found themselves behind bars and in the far away regions of the GULAG. While Soviet school programs included the study of Tolstoy the writer, the wisdom of his later years was dismissed as “counter-revolutionary” and his writings untoward were not published. Thus, in my school years, I was able to read some, but only via the risky samizdat distribution.
Khazrat Inayat Khan
Another great line of Indian-Russian spiritual synergy that was cut off by the Bolshevik Revolution was embodied in Khazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927). A Muslim-Sufi philosopher and musician, he came to Russia 1913 and stayed for several months. Inayat Khan gave several concerts in both Moscow and the Imperial capital Sankt-Petersburg. He also befriended such important cultural figures as the composer Alexander Scriabin, the Symbolist poet Vyacheslav Ivanov, the composer Vladimir Pohl, and Leo Tolstoy’s son Sergei. As a result, Russian culture was enriched not just with Indian music, but also with the first translations of Inayat Khan’s Sufi writings into Russian.
Apparently, Gandhi and Inayat Khan were acquainted; at least, they knew and respected each other. Below is a short exchange between the two wise men.
Salaam and Greetings of Peace:
Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviors. Keep your behaviors positive because your behaviors become your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.
– Mahatma Gandhi
Our success or failure depends upon the harmony or disharmony of our individual will with the divine will.
— Hazrat Inayat Khan
What is just as important is that Inayat’s daughter Noor Inayat Khan, the future heroine of World War Two, was born in Moscow.
Both Noor and Inayat’s son Hidayat Inayat Khan were Gandhi’s followers. The latter, the founder of Sufi movement in Canada and a composer, composed the Gandhi Symphony which has been performed world-wide.
As for Russia, after 1921, all contacts with Inayat Khan were broken, and his name vanished until the collapse of the USSR. However, since 1991 Inayat Kyan’s books on Sufism have re-emerged to become a favorite reading of cosmopolitan Russians. Some of his music is also now available in Russia.
Gandhi in the USSR
The name of Gandhi reappeared in Russia when the USSR and India under Jawaharlal Nehru were forging mutual ties via the Non-Allied countries movement to counter both Communist China and “Imperialist” America. Those ties were further strengthened under Nehru’s daughter and India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She was not related to Mahatma Gandhi, but his heritage was fundamental to India, both domestically and in foreign affairs. To be sure, Soviet respect was officially paid to the founder of India’s independence from the British rule. Still, in spite of the official proclamations of Indian-Russian brotherhood—the slogan of “Hindi –Russi bhai bhai” was ubiquitous in the USSR-- Soviet propaganda made it clear that Gandhi’s non-violent tactics were not just inferior but contrary to the Marxist-Leninist theory of violent world revolution of which the USSR was the first champion.
Helena Blavatsky, Nicolas Roerich, and Rabindranath Tagore
Of course, the range of Russian-Indian cultural interface was considerably wider than that of Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Inayat Khan. Helena Blavatsky (1831 –1891), thanks to her inroads into India, emerged a very significant conduit of cultural interchange with India and on a global scale.
Her creation of the Theosophical Society affected not just India and Russia, but also the United States, United Kingdom and other Western countries. According to Wikipedia, “in November 1889 she was visited by the Indian lawyer Mohandas Gandhi”. Having become an associate member of Blavatsky's Lodge in March 1891, Mahatma Gandhi emphasized “the close connection between Theosophy and Hinduism throughout his life”. However, her dabbling with theosophy, ancient religions, and esoteric science virtually excluded her from the attention of Soviet-born generations of Russia.
Nicholas Roerich (1874 –1947), the famed Russian painter and cosmopolitan philosopher, was more fortunate in the USSR, in spite of his early opposition to the Communist revolution. Later, he was partially “rehabilitated” due to his staying close to the Indira Gandhi family which promoted better Soviet-Indian relations. A lover of peace, Roerich was thrice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He worked for the creation of the Pax Cultura, a sort of "Red Cross" for art and culture.On April 15, 1935 the United States and twenty other nations of the Pan-American Union signed the Roerich Pact at the White House. It was an early international instrument protecting cultural property for the benefit of mankind. There is the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York, as well as in a number of Russian towns.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941), a poet, musician and artist, has also become not just an Indian cultural hero, but a pillar of universal culture. His opposition to racism, chauvinism and narrow nationalism made him friends with many world figures, including Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), who was also a great admirer of Gandhi’s Non-Violence. (Einstein called Gandhi "a role model for the generations to come.") In the USSR Tagore was regarded as a friend, and his works were published, however, selectively. Einstein, on the other hand, was proscribed because Communists viewed Marx’s “science” so absolute that it could not stand any “relativism.” However, for the purpose of this essay, I have to leave these three personalities aside precisely because their great achievements require more space than what I can now offer.
Back to Russia’s National Identity
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it became necessary to find a new ideational, ethical and spiritual framework for Russia’s domestic as well as foreign policy. A general feeling was that the New Russia, in order to buttress its claim to sovereignty, had to fall back on its pre-Communist national past for inspiration, if not for the framework. It was not an easy task, for the early Lenin government and its successors left no stone unturned in their efforts to erase Russia’s national identity, especially its Eastern Orthodox Christian heritage, as well as its ancient customs, art, and literature, both in Russian language and the languages of national minorities who identified themselves with Russian civilization.
After the collapse of the USSR, the triumphant USA was not interested in the New Russia’s sovereignty, much less in the revival of Russian civilizational identity. As convincingly argued by professor Janine Wedel among other authors, during the 1990s the USA spared no efforts to establish in Russia an economic system fully compatible with and subordinated to the neoliberal brand of economics that garnered then currency in the West. Along with the shock therapy economic reforms the American cultural influence flooded Russia with mass advertisement, consumerism, “political correctness” in gender politics, drugs, cheap and sexy Hollywood products, etc.
Solzhenitsyn warned of trouble from the West
But the one man who had in advance warned the Russians against surrendering to Western cultural imperialism was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the foremost champion against Soviet totalitarianism, whom Soviet leaders kicked out of Russia. Of all countries, he chose the United States as a place of refuge from which he was best able to restore Russia’s true history from the sources unavailable in the USSR. Solzhenitsyn appreciated American liberties, but was also aware of the shallowness of its mass culture and the lack of commitment to spiritual values. Above all, he knew that one cannot simply export a form of government, no matter how “good,” from one country to another as a kind of commodity. That’s why, before he returned to Russia in 1994, he had warned fellow Russians “not to lift the Iron Curtain in a hurry, for as soon as you do, you will get flooded by a flow of sewage”.
Repentance and Self-limitation in the Life of Nations
Solzhenitsyn was more prescient than that. In 1973 he wrote REPENTANCE AND SELF-LIMITATION IN THE LIFE OF NATIONS, an essay in the collection of several Soviet dissident authors. Titled “From Under the Rubble” the collection was circulated in clandestine samizdat as it was aimed to explore how Russia could exit from what they felt was the dead-end of Communism. It was published by Russian émigré press in the West in 1974 and then translated into English.
“The gift of repentance, which perhaps more than anything else distinguishes man from the animal world is particularly difficult for modern man to recover. We have, every last one of us, grown ashamed of this feeling; and its effect on social life anywhere on earth is less and less easy to discern. The habit of repentance is lost to our whole callous and chaotic age,” started the essay. Solzhenitsyn clearly aimed at Soviet citizens who knew about the need to confess political mistakes to Party officials, but not about the need to clear one’s conscience for trespassing on a fellow next door.
Expanding his message beyond the USSR, Solzhenitsyn predicted, like Gandhi, that “true repentance and self-limitation will shortly reappear in the personal and the social sphere, that a hollow place in modern man is ready to receive them,” because it is a psychological need for healthy human relationships. Addressing his clandestine readers he argued that “…the time has come to consider this as a path for whole nations to follow.”
Alarmed by the escalation of the Cold War he warned: “Add to this the white-hot tension between nations and races and we can say without suspicion of over-statement that without repentance it is in any case doubtful if we can survive”.
Clearly, Solzhenitsyn’s concern was not only with the survival of his homeland but mankind as a whole.
“It is by now only too obvious how dearly mankind has paid for the fact that we have all throughout the ages preferred to censure, denounce and hate others, instead of censuring, denouncing and hating ourselves. But obvious though it may be, we are even now, with the twentieth century on its way out, reluctant to recognize that the universal dividing line between good and evil runs not between countries, not between nations … it cuts across nations and parties … It divides the heart of every man, and there too it is not a ditch dug once and for all, but fluctuates with the passage of time and according to a man’s behavior.”
Reading the above lines, one is bound to think that they could have been uttered by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Non-Violent philosophy. Though he did not mention Gandhi in this instance, Solzhenitsyn’s essay reveals an uncanny affinity with Gandhi’s philosophy of Non-Violence.After all, do not great minds run in the same channels?
As much as Solzhenitsyn was concerned with Russia, he knew that the virus of Marxist-Leninist violence had already affected a third of mankind and targeted the rest. He was intently looking for the antidotes and, ultimately, for the cure for this dangerous universal affliction.
Also remarkable is the fact that Solzhenitsyn was the initiator of this collection. It had been hand-copied and circulated in “samizdat” before it was published in the West. As early as the 1970s Solzhenitsyn was planning a peaceful evolutionary exit from the dead-end of Communism across the rubble left of pre-1917 Russia.
Letter to the Soviet Leaders
Not only did Solzhenitsyn initiate the dissident authors’ collection in 1973, but he also wrote his famous “Letter to the Soviet Leaders”. To make it difficult for “the leaders” to plead ignorance and thus avoid personal responsibility, he mailed copies to each of a dozen Party Politburo members. Thus, he followed one of the principles of Gandhi’s non-violence philosophy: to appeal to the conscience and good reason of your opponent in order to make a friend out of a perceived enemy.
Indeed, he did not offend the Soviet leaders by asking them to resign. He did not insist on an open national election. He did not insist on disbanding the ruling Communist party. He just asked them to be more pragmatic and less dogmatic rulers. Just stay in power, he told them, but allow patriotic Russians of non-Communist persuasion, especially Orthodox Christians, into the governing bodies. Stop insisting on the purity of your ideology. Or, even better, since Mao Zedong was then accusing Soviet leaders of revisionism, Solzhenitsyn advised giving away the whole ideological business to Communist China. As to the border republics, allow them to hold referenda to decide if they want to stay part of our country. Clearly, all of Solzhenitsyn’s suggestions were conciliatory in a Gandhian sense as they aimed at a gradual and peaceful evolution of Soviet system away from its totalitarian dogmatism and inflexibility.
Alas, the Soviet leaders proved to be back-sitting bureaucrats. Even worse: soon they voted with Leonid Brezhnev and his Politburo to deprive Russia’s brave and wise son of his native land. A real chance for a gradual and peaceful evolution of the USSR into a Russian nation-state was missed.
Solzhenitsyn invokes Gandhi in his Commandment: Live Not by Lies
Solzhenitsyn knew that his immediate task was to free his fellow Soviet citizens from Fear: the fear to be deprived of social privileges, to lose job, even to be imprisoned. For, as soon as one expressed doubt about the Marxist-Leninist ideology, the official faith of all Soviet people and the guiding star for the “liberation” of mankind, one became a pariah. on February 12, 1974, Solzhenitsyn penned a short Manifesto titled “Live Not by Lies” in the hope to have it circulated among Moscow's intellectuals.
It is dated the same day when secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. The next day he was exiled to West Germany. The essay is a call to moral courage. It serves as light to all who value truth. “Live Not by Lies” is the only text, as far as I know, where Solzhenitsyn invokes the name of Gandhi.
Painfully aware that the means to resist the totalitarian state for Soviet citizens were extremely limited, he could not ask them to participate in non-violent Gandhi-style protests and acts of disobedience. He knew that all attempts to organize or participate in such protest would immediately end in arrests. He could not even ask journalists, professors or teachers to truthfully describe what they saw in the country. No such acts were tolerated. So, “Let the (official) lie cover and possess the whole country. But the least one can do is not to repeat it. Let the lie rule, but not via my mouth. And this would be a real break-through out of our habitual inaction. Such a decision is the easiest one can take, and yet the most effective in destroying lie. For when people step away from a lie, the lie loses its nourishment. For, like any virus, the lie uses people as its carriers”.
Solzhenitsyn states the dilemma of Soviet citizens: “When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: “I am violence. Run away, make way for me—I will crush you.” But violence quickly grows old. It has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally—since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies—all loyalty lies in lies”.
Western sovietologists, as the profession was then called, failed to understand everyday Soviet reality because they judged the USSR by the standards of an authoritarian Tsarist Russia and could not imagine that Marxist-Leninist ideology, imported as it was from the “progressive” West, could degenerate into a much more brutal and efficient totalitarian police state.
It was to explain the difference that Solzhenitsyn had to invoke Gandhi’s name: “No, we are not called yet to city squares to proclaim the truth or just say aloud what we think. We are not mature enough to do so because it is scary. Therefore, let us just resist the compulsion to say something that our mind refuses to accept. This is OUR WAY, the easiest and most accessible in view of our ingrained cowardice. In any case, it is much easier than—do I dare to say—Gandhi’s acts of civil disobedience. All we can do under the circumstances is not to consciously support the lie”.
Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals
Failing to respond to a growing pressure of dissident groups in the USSR, ignoring what Solzhenitsyn and other dissidents had published in the samizdat and abroad, Soviet leaders continued to waste time until finally Mikhail Gorbachev initiated perestroika and glasnost in an effort to start the country moving again. Alas, Gorbachev still held onto Communist ideology. But Solzhenitsyn proved steadfast. When the USSR was about to collapse, in 1990 he wrote the essay, “Rebuilding Russia : Reflections and Tentative proposals.”
Let me repeat what I wrote about Solzhenitsyn’s essay shortly after it had appeared: “Solzhenitsyn’s central idea is that the particular form of government and economy is secondary to a nation’s spiritual foundations. ‘If the spiritual resources of a nation have dried up’, he says, ‘then not even the best form of government, nor any sort of industrial development, can save it from death.’ one of the chief sources of the present malady is precisely the fact that the Communists reversed the order of priority by putting the ‘cart’ of economic and political power before the ‘horse’ of spirituality of human relations. As a result, not only the country’s political institutions, economy, and ecology but also ‘the souls’ of the people were destroyed in the name of the Marxist Utopia”.
As he did in the early 1970s, Solzhenitsyn again eschewed Western emphases on democracy in his suggested alternatives to the Soviet regime. He rather favored a benevolent authoritarian government morally bound by Russia’s remaining traditional Christian values. This does not mean that he was “against democracy.” No. He rather defended the right of Russia--or any country for this matter-- to sovereignty, that is, the ability to work out a social and political system that suits best its geography, geopolitical situation, historical and cultural traditions, and, yes, democratic aspirations of its people that are best implemented when the country is free from foreign meddling.
Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Ever since I founded in 1992 the Russia & America Good Will Association (RAGA.org), I have argued it is in both countries’ national interests to have friendly, at least, normal relation. More than once I urged US presidents, most recently in exchange of letters with President Barak Obama, to respect Russia’s sovereignty as the foundation for good relations.In a 2016 interview with Veterans Today I called attention to President Putin’s favorable attitude toward Solzhenitsyn, in particular, to his vision of Russia’s path of development.
Putin defined patriotism by quoting Solzhenitsyn, that it is not any sort of state ideology but a feeling of attachment to Mother Russia. Putin invoked Solzhenitsyn again when he recently spoke in favor of “nationalism in a good sense,” that is, not any sort of xenophobia toward other nations, but the need to affirm one’s national identity, nurture the roots of one’s national traditions, including religious beliefs of non-Russians, while affirming the secular foundations of its Constitution.
Also, to celebrate Solzhenitsyn’s Centenary on December 11, 1918, the Putin government supported scholarly conferences in a number of Russian towns. Russkiy Mir Foundation worked jointly with Northern Vermont University to sponsor Solzhenitsyn’s Centenary in Lyndon, Vermont, in September 2018. on December 11, 2018 Putin was present during the unveiling of a statue of Solzhenitsyn in Moscow.
But let me quote Joseph Pearce, the author of a brilliant 2001 book “Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile,” about his observations on the fate of Solzhenitsyn in Putin’s Russia-- and the USA: “In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the greatest classic of anti-communist literature is now compulsory reading in all high schools. If the same could be said of the high schools of the United States, we would not have the endemic historical and political ignorance that has led to the widespread sympathy for communism among young Americans. In light of this, and in light of Mr. Putin’s evident admiration for Solzhenitsyn, let’s not try to pretend that Russia is a communist nation. We don’t need to like Vladimir Putin. We don’t need to admire him. But we do need to acknowledge that Russia has moved on from the evils of socialism, even as we are in danger of embracing those very same evils”.
As I have lived long in both countries, I can confirm that Pearce’s observations largely coincide with my own. I certainly witnessed “the widespread sympathy for communism among young Americans” when I taught Russian and Soviet studies in the States from 1966 to 1991. Now those sympathies seem to have grown in the USA and other Western countries, albeit in different forms, such as the Neo-Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and so-called “Cultural Marxism”.
The only disagreement I have with Pearce is about “the evils of socialism” that he seems to equate with Communism. I think the ideals and practices of socialism need not be evil per se. However, in the reality of the USSR, they became “evil” because socialism was imposed by violence. Solzhenitsyn did express his criticism of socialism for being imposed by force in the USSR, most eloquently in his polemic with Andrei Sakharov.  But this does not mean that he rejected it in principle. In fact, both Russia and the USA have elements of socialism in healthcare (mostly in Russia), progressive taxation (more so in the USA) and US social security system. Moreover, the ESOP (Employee stock ownership plan) enterprises seem to be a form of socialism that is more widely spread in the USA and UK than in Russia.
Putin recently said he did not think that socialism could be restored in Russia. But at the same time he defended some socialist practices in Russia today. I think those practices are more needed to restrain oligarchic crony capitalism that perpetuates social injustice as it hampers economic vitality in both the USA and Russia.
However, I am much in sympathy with both Pearce and The Imaginative Conservative when they proclaim “the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility.” This agrees with Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy of polyphony and respectful dialogue that he proclaimed both as an artist and as a social healer.
Putin on Gandhi, Mandela, and Solzhenitsyn
Once, during an international press-conference at the G8 Summit in 2007, when asked whether he was a true democrat, Vladimir Putin, answered in the affirmative. But then, pointing out the wave of violence across the USA and Europe, he made Western infatuation with democracy sound hollow. Then he made the impromptu remark that “There is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died”. A few years later on December 8, 2016, he admitted that his oft quoted remark was made in a jovial mode. Yet, there is no doubt that Putin admires Gandhi as a prophet of Non-Violence just as he admires Solzhenitsyn as a man who challenged the mighty Soviet state with truth and courage—and won!
Western mainstream media failed to report on Putin’s courtesy visit to the South African Embassy in Moscow when Nelson Mandela, once an ardent Marxist-Leninist guerilla fighter, passed away on December of 2013.But The Economic Times of India did. That’s what it said on December 10, 2013 under the heading: Mandela's magnitude compares to Gandhi, Solzhenitsyn: Putin.
<<Russian President Vladimir Putin today paid rich tribute to Nelson Mandela, comparing the colossus of 20th century politics to Mahatma Gandhi and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Mandela "is undoubtedly one of the outstanding world figures in the 20th and 21st centuries, and his magnitude compares to that of Mahatma Gandhi and Alexander Solzhenitsyn…" Putin hailed Mandela as a "great humanist of the 21st century" and said his policy should become an exampleto follow…(He) compared Mandela to both Gandhi and Solzhenitsyn. "Courageous and wise, Nelson Mandela always fought consistently for his convictions but remained a great humanist and peacemaker. This approach is needed in today's world: the search for compromises is the best basis for consensus and cooperation," the Russian President wrote in the condolence book at the South African embassy here >>.
Reading these lines, especially, when Putin compared Mandela with both Gandhi and Solzhenitsyn, one has to hope that the three sages have served as guiding stars for Putin’s domestic and foreign policy. To be sure, wishing to follow somebody’s example, sincere as it might be, does not necessarily lead to adequate implementation of the goal. However, in the very least, Putin’s statement “the search for compromises is the best basis for consensus and cooperation” can serve as a bench-mark by which he and other world leaders will be judged. It is all the more remarkable because in the USSR where Putin was educated the very word “kompromis” was disdained as a bourgeois trick.
Recently, Rudolf Siebert, professor of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University, my friend and associate, wrote an article in honor of Gandhi for the Global Harmony Association. He convincingly argued that Martin Luther King, Jr., the American champion of human rights and peaceful resistance, who died a martyr’s death, was also inspired by Gandhi’s teaching of Non-Violence.
Siebert knows that Jesus preached the Christian commandment:“You have learned how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you; offer the wicked man no resistance. on the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away”. (Exodus 21: 24-25; Matthew 5: 38-42; 7: 12).
Siebert concedes, however, that Christian countries have largely ignored this commandment through centuries of history. Then Siebert resolutely credits Gandhi for reviving this Christian commandment in modern world: “The Christian Martin Luther King came to the Christian commandment of non-violent resistance through the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, and both practiced it, and both died for it a violent martyr's death of freedom, like the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount in the first place”.
Among all world leaders, Siebert singles out for praise Vladimir Putin for following the precept of Non-Violence in Russia’s foreign policy: thus Russia “did not retaliate, when in recent years its plane was shot down over Turkey, and its ambassador there was assassinated, and last Christmas its diplomats were sent back home from Washington D. C. to Moscow. That non-retaliation is moral progress in world history!”
It is hardly surprising then that the Gandhi theme has been central for the latest exchange of visits between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Putin. In December 2015, during Modi’s visit to the Kremlin, Putin presented him a page of Mahatma’s handwritten note. Putin’s second gift to Modi was an 18th century Bengali sword, alluding, perhaps, that the two countries, committed as they are to peaceful co-existence, do not forget about the need of military cooperation in defense. Three years later, when Putin arrived to New Delhi, Modi honored him by the presentation of Gandhi’s favorite bhajan ‘Vaishnava Jana To’ performed by a Russian artist Sati Kazanova on a mobile phone – a gesture that reflected the close friendship between the two leaders.
Sharon Tennison’s New Year Greeting
After talking about a whole roster of outstanding wise men who dedicated themselves to the ideals of peace, justice, and harmony in domestic and foreign affairs—Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Solzhenitsyn, it would only be fair to conclude with a New 2019 Year Greeting I got from an American woman who has been just as dedicated to the same ideals. Sharon Tennison, the founder and work-horse of the Center for Citizen Initiatives of San Francisco (CCISF.org), has been an energetic promoter of peace since the old Cold War.
Best Wishes to You for a Wonderful Creative Year in 2019 upon which we are now embarking! I wonder if you are deeply grateful as I am that our planet has survived this past tumultuous year? Given the numbers of surrogate war-making threats and incursions in numerous areas of the world, i.e. Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, the Baltic states and others … we are lucky that none have ignited an all-consuming conflagration. Perhaps parity of nuclear weapons and instant delivery systems maintained the tenuous peace between the two nuclear giants of the world––our nation and Russia.For whatever the reasons, I’m deeply grateful that we have a bit more time ahead to develop beyond the warring mentalities among us.
Sharon’s letter was not personal and did not need to be. I just happen to be on her list as she is on my RAGA.org list. Sharon knows Russia, as she has been taking American group to Russia every year. It still helps to send such letters to hundreds of kindred souls to alert them that we live in a world that is more dangerous now than it ever was during the Cold War of the 20th century. Our Planet, abused, injured, neglected and defamed as it has been, is still Our Beautiful Mother Earth. Its Beauty is in the eyes of the beholders who are now urged to hurry to her rescue. First of all, we should call for an extra-ordinary UN General Assembly session with one item on its agenda, Arms Control and Nuclear Disarmament, starting with the reductions of nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems. I am sure that all of the great men I mentioned above would support the agenda. But they need help! So I say “Planetarians of the World, Unite!”--before it is too late.
Dr. Vladislav Krasnov (aka W George Krasnov), former professor and head of the Russian Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, currently runs the Russia & America Good Will Association (www.raga.org ). He is the author of Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky: A Study in the Polyphonic Novel and Russia Beyond Communism: AC hronicle of National Rebirth
January 21, 2019, Moscow
© W.G. Krasnow, 2019