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.Â 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?