In case you were wondering – and I doubt if you were - I’ve fallen a little further behind with the challenge. I accept that this is not very encouraging news to report, but I have reasonable excuses, I assure you. However, my concern about my inadequacies in keeping up (and yours too, gentle reader), should mean nothing. For no, of more concern to all of us at this time should be the impending collapse of the world order. In short, it’s the end of the world.
Do you remember the optimism that we all felt when the Berlin Wall came down and when almost the whole of the Eastern Bloc in Europe emerged from behind its curtain, blinking into the sunshine, to join the rest of us as we skipped along in our happy democratic freedoms? How simple everything seemed then, and how refreshing. The Soviet Union was no more, and the Russians - who for years had been blamed for everything that went wrong in our lives, from the weather to the decline of the butterfly and even to the reducing size of Mars Bars - were now our new best friends. Hurrah! A new era of world peace had dawned.
Leningrad became romantic St Petersburg once more. Our old view of the USSR where there was never anything in the shops, where everyone wore drab grey clothes, where the only car you could drive was a Lada and where everyone was unhappy, was replaced by a glittering confetti of newly independent countries, including Russia. The Russian Federation, as it became, seemed to be restored to its former status as a vibrant and exotic land of delicious mystery; a land of golden domes, sleigh-rides on the ice, and fur hats. It was all rather jolly, wasn’t it?
Were we being deluded, naïve, or were we just being plain crazy? Boris Yeltsin - as the first President of this new, exciting and freshly free-market country - emerged as an avuncular, slightly bumbling, lovely old bear of a man. Someone from whom we had nothing to fear. But poor old Boris soon fell from grace and his attempts to pull Russia into the twentieth century soon got completely out of hand with widespread corruption, inflation and economic collapse. His popularity fell and although he struggled hard to hold things together, he finally left office with a public approval rating of only 2%.
Waiting in the wings, like the evil fairy at Sleeping Beauty’s christening party, was an up-and-coming young politician who, only a few months before, had been appointed almost from nowhere as Russia’s Prime Minister. Yes, dear reader, the man to succeed our bumbling bear as President of the Russian Federation was none other than the shirtless pin-up we all know as Vladimir Putin. That was December 31st 1999 and almost fourteen years later, Mr Putin has never been far away from the seat of power. In a convenient job-swap with his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, our dashing Vladimir managed to swerve around the Constitution which bars a president from holding a 3rd consecutive term, only to swap back again in 2012. In the eyes of the world, however, it was always Putin who was pulling Medvedev’s strings throughout these apparent ‘wilderness years’ and we can be confident that his power and authority have never waned.
None of this would matter, of course, if the President had simply stuck to the new order, and hadn’t decided to revive some out-dated imperialist ambitions for his once happy land. The West, which considers itself to be the arbiters of democratic reasonableness of course, was keen to embrace Russia into the New Age of Freedom. We wanted the handsome and macho Mr Putin to come to our party – we like having new friends who will dance with us, drunk, into the oblivion of the night. But Vladimir had other ideas, and now seems hell-bent on reforming the old USSR in his own image. Crimea was just the start, and he only succeeded there by appealing to the jingoist emotions of its inhabitants, but he plans to spread his net wider and seemingly will not rest until he has restored the Empire to its former glory.
I despair. Like most of us, I had fondly imagined that war-mongering in Europe was a thing of the past. It seems that I was wrong. The current situation threatens to escalate into an outright conflict of ideologies, something that could soon become very dangerous for us all. Why, Mr Putin, could you not exercise some restraint and leave things well alone? Why risk more misery and bloodshed than we need? Isn’t there enough of that elsewhere in the world? Why not just come to our party instead? We could be friends. If you did that, we could all have a jolly good time and we could all happily dance together until dawn. Please come – and bring a bottle. Vodka, of course.