An Open Letter to Guy Verhofstadt


Universal geniuses do not exist in nature, as Guy Verhofstadt’s ill-informed and wrongheaded  remarks on the electoral victory of Vladimir Putin demonstrate amply.  Read on…


An Open Letter to Guy Verhofstadt


 by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


To the Honorable Guy Verhofstadt:


I am responding to your remarks on the results of the Russian presidential election as set out in today’s edition of ‘The Moscow Times.’


I don’t imagine you will receive many letters from the Belgian electorate to your statement last week calling for ‘turning up the pressure on Putin’ and condemning the business-like recognition of his electoral victory by Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom and by EU Commissioner Catherine Ashton.  So it would be nice if you took the time to read what follows.


Let me say first that I have had the greatest respect for your profoundly intellectual and values based approach to politics. In particular, I take with the utmost seriousness the issue which you identified publicly and prioritized in your time as PM: the ‘democracy deficit’ in Belgium which resulted from the too-clever power sharing arrangements of years gone by, all of which yielded a passive, sullen electorate in this country. In this sense I can appreciate your interest in democracy levels in Russia today.


However, there is a big difference between being an onlooker to Russian developments and attempting to influence Russia’s internal developments, inevitably meaning that you take sides in disputes between their….ELITES.  And that is what it really is all about.  Because, unsurprisingly, Russia’s so-called ‘liberals’ (with whom you might nominally share the same political label) and its self-proclaimed pro-democracy forces are in fact mostly the offspring or grandchildren of competing Kremlin clans, the privileged classes who thirst for power, not for democracy. Or they are allied unscrupulous newcomers who have neither relevant experience in governance nor fully developed programs to take the country forward to their promised land. They are as likely to bring ruin to Russia as their immediate predecessors in the Yeltsin years.


My point is that finally, you are out of your depth. You don’t know what you are talking about and you are, in effect, a tool of American anti-Russianism.


The Vladimir Putin whom you evidently so detest is one of the few bulwarks on the world stage against a monopolar world. Working within BRIC, within the G20 and the G8 he will be a strong voice for genuinely collaborative management of international affairs, rather than via ad hoc combinations of ‘the willing’ which, in the end make a mockery of international law and undermine collective security.


As an intellectual political leader, Mr. Verhofstadt, you owe it to yourself to read Mr Putin’s 7 pre-electoral policy papers published in Russia’s leading daily newspapers in the period between January 16 and February 27th and available in impeccable English  on the Prime Minister’s website.  In these 150 pages , which constitute in  fact Mr Putin’s direct response to the anti-Kremlin street demonstrations of December 2011, he addresses separate papers to dedicated discussion of the economy, social welfare, the relations of state and society with emphasis on local self-government, the working principles of a multi-national state….and foreign relations. Under each heading he lists the threats and opportunities facing Russia in the coming presidential term of six years and beyond and lists specific proposals for responding.. beginning immediately. I think you will find in these writings a very serious interlocutor who brings his considerable experience in government and philosophical reflections on where to take state and society. I think you will also find that Mr Putin’s objectives are precisely to strengthen democratic institutions and assure the greatest possible prosperity for his people. And he proposes to do all of this by borrowing best practices from Europe, from the United States and from Russia’s own past, including from the Soviet period.

Democracy cannot be delivered to any people from outside.  Nor can it be delivered from on high within a country. The people must be ready for it and clamor for it.  The moment of civic maturity and engagement in Russia came only last December, and it was borne on the shoulders of a new generation in their 20s and 30s who have moved beyond the apathy and cynical indifference of their parents’ generation.  That apathy was not, as the Western press likes to repeat ad nauseum, the result of oppression from the Kremlin or of some tacit pact to the effect of:  generalized prosperity in exchange for political enslavement.  No, it was the direct expression of post-Soviet exhaustion, of people who had had 70 years of forced jollity and now wanted just to close their apartment door on everything and everybody and get on with their private lives.  The December street demonstrations marked the advent of new political forces in Russia, and , Mr Verhofstadt, they will get on just fine without any cheerleading from you or your peers in the European Parliament.  So, I heartily recommend that you collectively turn away from grandstanding over Russia and devote yourselves more to pulling Europe up from its knees. I urge you to respond better to the draconian and primitive austerity diktats coming out of Berlin and Paris, which are heading the EU towards disaster. That will be a more productive use of your electoral mandate.

Veuillez agréer, cher Liberals Leader, mes salutations distinguées

Gilbert Doctorow


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Post Script:


In Belgium, elections are universally recognized as legitimate and are largely unproductive. In Russia, elections are very productive but are often declared to be illegitimate.  Vive la democatie!


When in power, Guy Verhofstadt achieved little in rectifying the democratic deficit he so correctly identified in Belgium. His Flemish Liberal (VLD) and the Flemish Christian Democrat  (CD&V) administrations which succeeded him  left the country exposed to a nationalities/linguistic crisis which followed the spring 2010 elections and nearly shattered the Kingdom.

Belgium has a dysfunctional federal and even dysfunctional regional governments which leave large swathes of the population, majority and well as minorities, feeling powerless and manipulated by a political elite that merely allocates positions among itself – not at all differently from the exchange of posts between Putin and Medvedev which so infuriated the sophisticated and now engaged electorates of Russia’s capital cities.


The end result of such exchange of favors among Belgium’s ruling elite is, unsurprisingly, that ministerial portfolios can easily be handed over on the basis of party affiliations rather than any genuine competence. A case in point relates to the current Di Rupo cabinet, where Verhofstadt’s kindred  (Liberal) spirit across the language divide, Didier Reynders (MR) who very expertly ran the Finance Ministry for eight years under a succession of governments, was moved over to the Foreign Ministry, where his incompetence, meaning lack of experience and judgment, was manifest already during his first meeting with the press, when he expressed satisfaction with Belgium’s (shameful) participation in the NATO gang-up on Libya, saying in effect, that if you want to influence the big powers (US, UK), then you have to go along with the boys. One would have thought that the consequences of playing lapdog to Uncle Sam had already been made plain to all by the craven policies of Tony Blair which made possible a war of choice against  Iraq that never should have happened.  At least back then, in 2003, a certain Guy Verhofstadt was led by moral insight to keep Belgium out of the looming tragedy.

Given the mammoth sacrifice of innocent civilian lives in the NATO bombardments of Libya, given the barbarous murder of Colonel Gaddafi and the war crimes perpetrated against his supporters in Sirt by the victorious NATO ( Belgian) backed insurgents, and most recently, given the signs of incipient civil war in Libya, we can see plainly where Mr Reynder’s policies are leading Belgium and Europe: into a moral as well as Realpolitik cul-de-sac.


Dear Belgian Liberals of North and South:  it is high time for you to look in the mirror and see for yourselves how well you measure up. It is time to stop playing cheap politics by supporting pro-democracy movements in someone else’s back yard and do something positive to clean up your own house.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2012

G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book,Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback from and affiliated websites worldwide. An e-book edition will be issued shortly.