The tragic emigres

I’ve just finished Smiley’s People, the third and probably the best of John Le Carre’s Karla trilogy. It’s a great read, but here’s an interesting point: the book opens with the murder of a retired British agent, an Estonian called Vladimir. Le Carre goes to great lengths to portray Vladimir as the hopeless partisan of a hopeless cause – deserted and ultimately let fall by his erstwhile British case officer, and leading a group of ageing, ineffectual campaigners for the utterly lost and tragicomic cause of Estonian independence.

Picking the Baltic states as poor old betrayed Vladimir’s homeland also had another resonance – the first of the Karla books, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, centres around the hunt for a mole based on the real-life agent Kim Philby, who spent the decade after the war successfully betraying pretty much every agent that the SIS tried to insert into the Baltic states.

In 1979, when Smiley’s People was published, Solidarity was still in the future – but the recent history of Polish protests against Soviet rule would have made Poland a bad choice for Vladimir’s fictional homeland. The Hungarians and the Czechs also had their histories of rebellion – and it wouldn’t be entirely ridiculous, even in 1979, for a Czech exile to dream of some sort of independence, or at least a degree more freedom from Moscow. Dubcek, after all, was only a decade gone.  But Estonia? Laughable.

And twelve years later, of course, this happened. If Vladimir had lived a bit longer, he’d have been around to see it.

Question is: what major impending changes are we missing now? “Collapse of the euro” is looking like one option – depending who you speak to, the chain Greece-Portugal-Spain-Italy-end of the eurozone is all but inevitable. “War in Korea”, unfortunately, is another – but that’s hardly unpredicted. Thoughts?

17 thoughts on “The tragic emigres

  1. Fall of the euro has been prophesied once a month, since it got founded, and I see no reason to take this round of doomsaying any more seriously than the earlier ones (Since people *always* predict this, no matter what happens, the predictions are void of informational content, and no actual collapse occuring could possibly be unpredicted, because, well. That song is a constant background refrain. I think its a strategic PR ploy to draw capital away from the eurozone..

    If you want a few guess at future events that people will not see coming..

    “Africa gets its shit together.”

    “the great South America/Mexican boom”

    “Russia/Iran finish Acquics Communitaire compliance, join European Union”

  2. It’s not geographic, but I think a major impending change will come from the tension between European ‘baby boomers’ retiring into pensions & healthcare funded from taxes on fewer younger workers who are themselves unlikely to be as generously supported in future.

  3. For some reason I misread your post as being about Etonians, and got confused….

    I remember speaking to a Russian audience in 1989, when there was already a strong pro-independence lobby in Estonia, even on the pages of “Estonskaya Pravda”. I said that Baltic independence seemed inevitable, and all the Russians said it was impossible, the Estonians and the Russians are great friends, etc.

    My own personal fear is about the rise of the bureaucracy as a separate, self-sustaining class in the democracies, who will steadily take a greater part of GNP for themselves. Which could lead to some sort of coup by this group.

    The other “black swan” that should probably be considered is some sort of major urban catastrophe. Something like an environmental accident that leaves Paris or London uninhabitable.

  4. RE: torn :
    Unpredictable cataclysm is commonplace – after all, if it was predictable, it would, in most cases, be prevented. Stretch your imagination a bit, and try to imagine unpredicted *positive* events on the same scale of importance as the fall of the wall.

  5. The fundamental soundness of the Muscovite superstate hasn’t exactly improved since 1991. If the price of gas goes the wrong way, an independent Northern Caucasus Emirate isn’t such an unreasonable expectation, given the already explosive ethnic tension. Likewise, an independent Tatarstan and/or a renewed Idel-Ural Republic could also emerge and surprise the hell out of everyone; history is ever being written on the Volga.

    On the other side of the Urals, an independent Siberia or Kamchatka, oriented toward closer trade with China and the rest of the Pacific Rim, seems less likely, but also not totally implausible. The thing is with Russia, you never know…

  6. ‘Unpredictable cataclysm is commonplace – after all, if it was predictable, it would, in most cases, be prevented. Stretch your imagination a bit, and try to imagine unpredicted *positive* events on the same scale of importance as the fall of the wall.’

    Financial, Political and Military unification of Europe. The UK joins in after much thought.

    The way things are showing now, this may sound just as unexpected as a visit by friendly Aliens from another Galaxy. But you never know..

  7. “Unpredictable cataclysm is commonplace – after all, if it was predictable, it would, in most cases, be prevented. Stretch your imagination a bit, and try to imagine unpredicted *positive* events on the same scale of importance as the fall of the wall.”

    Europeans growing a pair of balls when it comes to geopolitics.

  8. The death of the mainstream media, or in other words, the consensus megaphone. The internet is destroying the mainstream print media and the new digital cameras are going to seriously hurt the mainstream production studios. The world is moving from regulated electromagnetic information to unregulated digital. This will cause a profound shift in culture, especially politics.

    The whole “climategate” phenomena was an internet phenomena. In my bit of the world, the mainstream press did not touch it yet it was one of the hottest stories on the internet. It probably had a big role to play in the failure of Copenhagen.

  9. “The death of the mainstream media, or in other words, the consensus megaphone. The internet is destroying the mainstream print media and the new digital cameras are going to seriously hurt the mainstream production studios. The world is moving from regulated electromagnetic information to unregulated digital. This will cause a profound shift in culture, especially politics.”

    Yeah. That’s going to lead to less rationale, less thinking, more emotions playing a bigger role instead of actually analyzing what’s going on. Twitter is a great example of this. Respectable journalism, especially investigative, will become far more marginalized as “it’s just a stupid blogger with minimal readership, he’s easy to ignore”. Let’s be honest, there’s a blog here and there that’s well done but most of them are just random anonymous hacks with axes to grind spouting hot air. The mainstream press may be flawed, but it’s less flawed than our current alternative.

    I disagree on cameras hurting TV though. A picture is not in itself worth anything special. Broadcasting that picture though is worth a ton. The internet is far too splintered for such pictures to ever surpass the TV medium. Some people may point to Youtube but 1.) a lot of what’s on there worth anything they don’t actually own, and 2.) if they get 50k views over the course of a few days, so what? even the small niche news networks in the U.S. get a million viewers each night.

    The mainstream media is powerful because they have lots of eyeballs. Blogs and the internet essentially democratizes media, but that means instead of 5 people telling 5 points of view to 1000 people, you have 500 people telling 500 points of view to 1000 people, and they’ll each drown each other out so that none of them by themselves have any real voice or power, and then the people in our society that have real power – politicians, bankers, other elites – have no one keeping them accountable. If someone breaks a story on corruption in government and only 3 people read it, it’s not really worth anything.

  10. Why would an independent Siberia possibly be plausible, given that a Siberian separatist movement doesn’t exist, much less a Siberian nationalist movement? The North Caucasus is different, but the North Caucasus is exceptional for any number of reasons.

  11. The fundamental soundness of the Muscovite superstate hasn’t exactly improved since 1991.

    Really? I’d say quite the opposite: especially over the last three years, events have shown that Moscow is not only willing but (and much more importantly) entirely capable of expending whatever effort is necessary to successfully preserve their hold on their existing territories and to keep firmly in a position of power along their immediate periphery.

  12. The death of the widespread belief in the inviolability of the nation state. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia did not shake up complacency over the fixed nature of the world map, as these were seen as imperial breakdowns. Heck, the Soviet territorial divisions had even been called “republics” before the fall, so their transition to independent republics was no great challenge to complacency. But fixed borders are an illusion – Chechnya and Kosovo are the future, mass migrations won’t end any time soon, and conquest (a la the fate of Georgia) will follow right around the corner.

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  15. “Chechnya and Kosovo are the future”

    No, they’re the past. They’re artifacts of the collapse of the USSR and Yugoslavia.

    Index out those two and the others like them — Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, etc. — and you can count the number of successful separatist movements since 1990 on the fingers of one hand. And you won’t need all the fingers. You’ve got Slovakia and East Timor. South Sudan if you’re willing to wait another year. And Somaliland if you’re feeling generous.

    The number that have failed since then is much, much larger. Quebec, Catalonia, Aceh, Tibet, the Basques, the Baluchis, the Kurds…

    So I’m not really seeing the wave of the future here.

    Doug M.

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