'SoD' ('Son of Duff' for the uninitiated) must have been in an introspective mood to write this. Perhaps he is a little harsh on Mr. Khordorkovsky who, after all, has served his time up 'the sharp end' of the interminable fight for liberality in Russia and who thus deserves some respite. Also, dwelling for too long on, or even worse, in, Russia tends to bring on an attack of the 'glums'! Anyway, he offered these thoughts to the blog and I am happy to publish them:
Under the spreading chestnut tree
Funny, I watched "Papillion" last night for the first time, just one of those classics that somehow slipped me by.
Then today I saw Khodorkovsky, the only real challenger Putin has had in recent years, emerge after a decade in a Russian prison, grey haired, gaunt, and with that "I'm broken, I'm not broken; I'm broken, I'm not broken; ..." oscillation in his facial expression and demeanor, flicking from one to the other, on / off like the electrodes were still attached, and I thought immediately of the white haired Steve McQueen standing on the cliff of his island prison trying to persuade his broken friend, Dustin Hoffman, to join him in a last desperate attempt to escape: yes, no; yes, no ...
And then Khodorkovsky said he wouldn't be standing against Putin, rather he would add his voice to the voices of the dissidents.
And I thought of the scene in 1984, where Winston Smith has finally departed the "Ministry of Love", room 101, and is reposing in the Chestnut Tree Cafe. And those corrupted lines from the poem:
"Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree".
The original poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
"Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And watch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!"
A straight talking sort of a poem, the original.
And then we see the sneering meaning of the corrupted variant: When you sell a friend, family, or lover out to the state, and they sell you out, they die to you, and you to them. The state doesn't have to put a bullet in your brain, for all intents and purposes, the job is done already. You are free to go; you're alone, without friends, without power, and no longer a threat. You can even hang out in places where enemies of the state are reputed to hang out (like the Chestnut Tree Cafe), but the state won't bother you any more. No-one in there has any real friends, family, or lovers, so there's no powerbase you might build, so there's no threat.
Orwell consumes the original poem to fill out the picture without having to apply his own words: like the blacksmith, Smith soldiers bravely on with life; neutered, powerless, dead-alive, but grimly admirable. Whether you are the working class (or like the blacksmith, a metaphor for it), or a ministry clerk, or an oil oligarch, once you've sold out your friends, family, or lover to the state, that is your lot: A sad, mechanical, zombie class or person.
No doubt Khodorkovsky will go through the motions at the UN, even become a human rights celeb; Putin might even shake his hand sometime for a PR media opportunity.
No doubt what was once the working class of Europe will stumble out of bed day-by day for a life of daytime TV; fed, clothed and sheltered by the state, life taken care of without any need for friends, family, or lovers, or indeed any sort of social behaviour, and an appreciative photo-op "hug-a-hoody" or handshake from whichever social democrat politician is around.
I wonder who Khodorkovsky sold out? His wide powerbase, probably not the nicest bunch you'll ever meet, but the only challenge to Putin's absolute power that Russia actually had: dispersed and destroyed. I know not who they are, but I think I might know where to find them: propping up the bar in the Chestnut Tree Cafe with the Chavs.
Victory Gin, anyone, I'm buying?