During a public event Tuesday (17 March), Ró?a Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein, a Polish MEP from the centre-right EPP, said and repeated that the Russians belong to a different culture, and that they have no respect for human life.
Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein spoke as a panelist during the presentation of a booklet published by the Martens Centre, the EPP think-tank, The Renaissance of the West.
“Those who didn’t have contact with Russians didn’t realise what an extremely different culture it is,” she said, adding that Russians had no respect for the value of life and respect for the dignity of human beings.
EURACTIV asked her to clarify and perhaps explain that she was critical of the Russian governing elite, and not the Russian people in general.
But the Polish MEP insisted that she was referring to the Russians in general.
“We have different cultures”, she said, and continued: “if you read literature, if you listen to the speakers today, if you see even the organisation of the armies during the war, the attitude to human life or the price of human life in the West and in Eastern Europe, it’s different.”
As she prepared to further elaborate, the moderator jumped in to prevent that, helpfully saying “you refer to the governing system”.
But the panelist didn’t avail herself. She continued:
“Of course this is an authoritarian regime, and in an authoritarian regime, there is no respect for the individual, this is very characteristic. But […] practice of the religion is very different, there is a different attitude and different values about human life. Without offending anyone, we are different cultures”.
Although most of the assessments in the book may appear as hawkish, and in a way neoconservative, one of the authors, Roland Freudenstein, also jumped in to make sure he doesn’t associate himself with the statements of the Polish MEP.
“Let me come to this cultural question. Is there something in the Russian DNA that makes them incapable for democracy? No, that’s not what Ró?a wanted to say,” Freudenstein said, speaking on her behalf, in a brave attempt to defuse the situation.
The presentation of the booklet was also marked by the elegant criticism of another panelist, Fraser Cameron, the Director of the EU-Russia Centre, who won massive applause of an audience largely dominated by people close to the EPP.
Cameron, who is a former Commission official, said that the paper, which tells the EU to prepare for a long cold war, doesn’t set the scene in terms of the wider picture, and doesn’t recognise that the West has proven wrong in some important areas.
“There is no mention of the impact of the war in Iraq, which was in my view a complete disaster for the West and the West’s image in the world, I would say Afghanistan was pretty bad as well, and I would add [the West’s] response to the Arab Spring was pretty bad”, Cameron said.
“In short, there’s no analysis of some of these big events of recent years, while the rest of the world views us as hypocritical”, he said.
“We may put sanctions on Myanmar, but we don’t put sanctions on Saudi Arabia”, he said, adding “If we cannot resolve the name of Macedonia over the last 20 years, if we can’t resolve Piran bay [a territorial water conflict between Croatia and Slovenia], or Cyprus, how on earth are we going to resolve some of the wider problems of the world? Let’s be more modest about what the EU can and cannot achieve”, said Cameron, who largely stole the show.
“Let’s also be a little bit more self-critical about problems in our member states. […] Let’s be a bit tough on Orbán, lets’ be a bit tough on Saakashvili,” Cameron also said, referring to the anti-democratic tendencies in Hungary and to the mistakes by the former Georgian President which led to the 2008 Georgia war. Both leaders are EPP-affiliated.