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The Politics of Figure Skating

When Anton Sikharulidze, the former figure skater and current United Russia member, was asked why he awarded low marks to a pair of figure skaters who had just given a touching portrayal of lovers who reunite during the fall of the Berlin Wall, he answered, “Because their performance was overly politicized.”

Nonetheless, all of the other judges at Saturday’s “Ice Age” show, broadcast on Channel One, gave the couple the highest marks of the evening, showing that either they did not notice the political aspect of the piece or that it did not rankle them. Sikharulidze’s comment gave the impression that even on the ice skating rink, he is determined to follow a strict United Russia party line.

By a twist of fate, the prerecorded ice show was aired on the same day that other television channels showed the opening ceremonies of the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. I was surprised and almost moved to tears by the words of German President Horst Kohler, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who expressed more kind words about the Soviet Union than I have heard in a very long time.

But the problem is that our anti-Western paranoia is matched by an equally virulent anti-Russian paranoia from the United States and Europe.

Recall the decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe equating Nazism with Stalinism, something that is tantamount to sacrilege for Russians who had helped defeat Hitler.

Remember the international commemoration of the 70th anniversary in September of the start of World War II. At times I almost forgot that the leaders were speaking of their common tragedy and mutual victory and half expected to see the Polish president lunge, fists flailing, at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who would promptly defend himself with a couple of swift judo chops.

Then there were the strange open letters from ruling and former leaders of “New European” countries and Ukraine imploring U.S. President Barack Obama not to abandon them to their fates before an “increasingly aggressive Russia.”

And finally, recall the sharp criticism that Obama endured by his countrymen for having voiced in Moscow the obvious truth that the end of the Cold War was not a victory of the United States over the Soviet Union but the result of their combined efforts.

There is much to criticize regarding how both sides have behaved in this cycle of mutual distrust that has bordered at times on outright hatred, but in the light of Saturday’s inspiring ceremony in Berlin, I don’t have any desire to find fault. It was important to hear leaders say “thank you” to the Soviet Union for giving freedom to its Eastern European satellite states. Seeing Gorbachev, Bush and Kohl together on the same stage and listening to their wise words was a throwback to the late 1980s, when an atmosphere of trust and goodwill dominated East-West relations. Unfortunately, that era has been almost entirely forgotten.

If only the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly and the U.S. Congress would pass a resolution equating Gorbachev’s communism with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s anti-communism, that would correct the historical imbalance and allow us to get on with the business of expanding European unity — this time to include Russia.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP magazine for publishing business professionals.

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