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THE INDEX — September 2, 2009

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Jonathan Power: Russia, Europe's Other Half

Read it for yourself, and don’t dismiss it, as most western commentators have. The Pan-European Security Treaty, proposed by Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, is worth a read. Doubtless it can be modified, improved and ambiguities removed. But it makes a lot of sense, and it would be another step forwards to what the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, urged—the creation of a “European house”, that contains Russia as one of its inhabitants. Only those “with one foot in the Cold War,” to quote President Barack Obama on the eve of his recent visit to Moscow, should find it objectionable. Indeed, play down Bolshevism and the Cold War. The moment communism, the Cold War and all its baggage were over, Russia itself quickly revived. This was, after all, a period of only 70 years in Russia’s long history—which began even before Prince Vladimir, its ruler, accepted Orthodox Christianity for himself and for his people a thousand years ago. It is 500 years since Byzantium Orthodoxy handed over the torch of the Church’s leadership to Russia. When Constantine in 326 AD moved the throne of the Roman emperor to Constantinople and took his newly adopted Church with him, the city became the headquarters of the Christian faith and its patriarch. When it was overrun by the Ottomans in 1453, the only place for both the spirit and the headquarters of the Church to move to was Orthodox Russia and the Slavic lands.  The “legitimate Church” was now the heritage of Russia. And 1453 was also the end of the Roman Empire. The consequences for Europe have been immense. The cushion of Orthodoxy in Russia saved Europe from the full impact of the eastern nomads and Islam. A Muslim Russia would have meant a very different history for the West. In 1767, the Empress Catherine categorically stated that “Russia is a European state.” In his ambitious study of Europe, Norman Davies wrote that “Fears of the ‘Bear’ did not prevent the growth of a general consensus regarding Russia’s membership in Europe. This was greatly strengthened in the nineteenth century by Russia’s role in the defeat of Napoleon, and by the magnificent flowering of Russian culture in the age of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Chekov.” Indeed it is clear that when it comes to the proficiency in all the arts, Russia has no peer in Europe. Even in the worst of times under Soviet totalitarian rule many individual Russians, not only Gorbachev, in their hearts wanted a European identity—not difficult to believe among those who were conscious of the natural links of their country’s artistic talents and their (repressed) Church. The end of the communist dictatorship enabled Russians and many of the other peoples of the former Soviet Union to greet, in Vaclav Havel’s phrase, the “Return to Europe."

Jonathan Power: Food Security That Works

At the summit meeting that opens in Italy on Wednesday, the leaders of the G8 are expected to announce a food security initiative—an effort to reverse “the tendency of decreasing official development aid to agriculture” and, instead, to increase investment in food production in the developing world. According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Washington spends 20 times more on short-term food aid in Africa than it does on long-term agricultural programs to develop local food production. A similar bias exists in the policies of the European Union, which uses the guise of food aid to dump production surpluses in developing nations. Nothing may come of the new promises, as nothing came of the big hoo-ha at the G8 summit four years ago when a massive increase in aid, especially to Africa, was agreed upon. But long-term investment in food production is just what poorer countries need. Most of the world’s poor live in the rural backwaters of Africa, Asia, and Latin America; most are small farmers or landless farm workers. Despite the cries in 2007-08 when world food prices suddenly shot up to historic highs, there was actual benefit, albeit long term, for the global poor. Last summer's price spike was a long-overdue correction in the terms of trade. For too long, the world's urban minority (whether they be shanty-town dwellers in Lagos or the inhabitants of middle-class suburb in Mumbai) has been subsidized by the cheap food produced by the poorest of the poor—those left behind in the remote reaches of the countryside. For the majority of the world's rural poor, there exist far too few schools, agricultural advisers, or health clinics; a lack of investment has not even fixed the rutted roads and battered trucks that bring their produce to market. I was in the Nigerian countryside in 2007, as prices were beginning to skyrocket. The peasants I talked to, who were largely growing the local staple crop, cassava, were happy about the turn in events. It meant they could sell their produce at a substantially higher price than before. They planned to expand their seeding the following year, and have done so, though prices have now fallen. Fortunately for the farmers, the prices have not yet hit bottom.

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