Boris Johnson’s Putin-Hitler comparison is a provocation too far

John Wight
John Wight has written for a variety of newspapers and websites, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal.
Boris Johnson’s Putin-Hitler comparison is a provocation too far
Boris Johnson’s latest outburst, comparing the upcoming World Cup in Russia to the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Hitler, is a provocation too far.

Appearing in front of a Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, the UK foreign secretary enthusiastically took up the outrageous assertion made by Labour backbench MP Ian Austin that “Putin is going to use it [the World Cup] the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics.” In response, Johnson said, “I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right and frankly, I think it is an emetic prospect to think of Putin glorifying in this sporting event.”

Britain’s Eton-educated foreign secretary now appears intent on singlehandedly fracturing relations between Russia and the UK beyond hope of repair, to the point where unless he is reined in, and soon, the damage he does may well live on long after his tenure in frontline British politics comes to an end.

In ordinary times, such a deranged outburst, tantamount to an insult directed not only at the Russian government but the Russian people in its entirety, would see the foreign secretary sacked. However, these are not ordinary times, and given the rolling thunder of Russophobia that has been unleashed across the UK’s political and media landscape of late, open season on Russia has been declared up to and including the willful and unconscionable distortion of history.

Russia’s role in defeating Hitler in World War II, the role of the Russian people in liberating Europe from the scourge of fascism, is an objective and unalterable fact. It is a role acknowledged by none other than Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson’s supposed political hero.

During a statement to the House of Commons on August 2 1944, the very same House of Commons in which Boris Johnson now sits, Churchill said: “It is the Russian armies who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army. In the air and on the oceans we could maintain our place, but there was no force in the world which could have been called into being… that would have been able to maul and break the German army unless it had been subjected to the terrible slaughter and manhandling that has fallen to it through the strength of the Russian Soviet armies.”

Twenty-seven million dead tells its own story when it comes to Russia’s sacrifice in the struggle to defeat Hitler. It is a sacrifice that renders Johnson’s studied insult in comparing the upcoming World Cup in Russia to the Berlin Olympics of 1936 well-nigh unforgivable. Moreover, Johnson’s statement was made as part of a campaign to sabotage the upcoming World Cup – a campaign that is now well underway in the UK – thus making it all the more contemptible.

Though he and they may not succeed in sabotaging the World Cup, the foreign secretary may well have succeeded in making it difficult for England fans to attend, what with his invective guaranteed to whip up anti-English sentiment in Russia.

From the moment Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England on March 4, Johnson has embraced the rolling thunder of open and unending anti-Russia invective unleashed in response, in process of which we have borne witness to nineteenth century Russophobic tropes being peddled by the country’s establishment press, dredged from a swamp of British jingoism and racism. This is despite the fact that as yet not one shred of concrete evidence has been adduced in support of the accusation that culpability for the attack lies at the door of the Kremlin.

Indeed, with the investigation into this crime still ongoing, the only people who are certain of Russian state involvement is a political class in Britain that is acting not in the interests the British public but instead the interests of the country’s aforementioned establishment press, combined and in cooperation with a murky and evermore influential network of neocon think tanks. They have, it is clear, bounced a pusillanimous British government mired in crisis over Brexit, and therefore susceptible to the malign influence of the most extreme anti-Russia elements within the media, into making a grievously premature claim of Russian state culpability in the Skripal case.

Finally, indulging Boris Johnson’s foray into the sporting history of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, we direct the foreign secretary to 1938, two years after the Berlin Olympics – a Berlin Olympics which en passant Moscow boycotted unlike Great Britain – at a time when the British government and ruling class, with few exceptions, were mired in the appeasement of Hitler’s fascist regime.

It was a shameful period in the country’s history, culminating in Britain colluding in the fascist dictator’s expansionist ambitions in Europe with regard to his desire to annex Czechoslovakia. This collusion was enshrined in the Munich Agreement, reached in conjunction with France and fascist Italy on 30 September 1938.

In May of the same year, England’s national soccer team had travelled to Berlin to play a friendly against Germany. As both teams lined up for the usual pre-match rituals, the England players, under instruction from the UK Foreign Office, gave a Nazi salute. England won the match, but Hitler won something far more important: cultural and sporting recognition of the barbarous master race ideology that was to lead to the death of tens of millions across Europe and beyond over the succeeding decade.

That Putin is not Hitler and Russia is not Nazi Germany goes without saying. What remains in doubt is whether Boris Johnson and his ilk are dangerous clowns or fanatical ideologues in whose eyes Russia can only exist as a vanquished enemy or a deadly enemy that needs to be vanquished.

While such people may have prospered in British political life in 1818, in 2018 they have no business occupying positions of responsibility and leadership in frontline politics within a country that wishes to be taken seriously.

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