Let’s have a round of applause for Spain’s King Juan Carlos. Yesterday, during the last working session of the XVII Iberoamerican Summit in Santiago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist.” “Fascists are not human,” Chavez declared. “A snake is more human.”
Spain’s current prime minister, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, began a dignified response when the Venezuelan repeatedly tried to interrupt him. The King then lost his patience with Chavez and snapped, “Why don’t you shut up?”
Diplomacy is almost always a matter of nuance and inflection. Sometimes, however, we just need to use plain words. Chavez has no trouble telling us what’s on his mind. It’s high time that Western leaders tell him what’s on theirs. Short of slapping the Venezuelan bully upside the head, words are our best weapon to put him in his place. And while we’re at it, let’s also belittle the world’s other autocrats when we have the opportunity. The West’s high-minded language of the last decade has only legitimized a whole new crew of despots.
In the meantime, I hope King Juan Carlos will give Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe a piece of his mind as well. Why stop with Chavez?
A splendid DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, Rafael Kubelík: A Portrait, reminds us that multiple tyrannies can govern a conductor’s life. Kubelík (1914 –1996) was a mightily gifted Bohemian-born conductor, scion of a legendary musical family (his father was the superstar violinist Jan Kubelík). Rafael Kubelík was music director of the Brno Opera when the Nazis shut the company down in 1941. A year later they executed the Opera’s administrative director, Václav Jiříkovský (1891-1942), who had smuggled Jews out of Occupied Prague. Small wonder that Kubelík states in a 1970’s documentary (which is reprinted along with brilliant performances of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bruckner on the new DVD), “A conductor should be a guide, not a dictator. I could never stomach dictatorships.”
When he was named wartime conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, he declined to perform Wagner, and would not give German notables the Nazi salute as required, nearly causing him to be arrested. A stunning interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven, Smetana, and Dvořák, Kubelík helped establish the Prague Spring Festival in 1946, but finally was driven from his homeland by the 1948 Communist coup.
One of the subtexts to much of the discussion surrounding Annapolis is the belief that a breakdown in the current peace process will have the same consequence as the breakdown in the previous peace process—that is, the explosion of another “intifada.” To take one example among many, on Thursday, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl ominously wrote that
For Olmert, Abbas, and Rice, the motivation for bulling through this familiar pattern of resistance may not be just courage but fear. All three know that if they fail this time, the result will not be the mere continuation of a miserable status quo. More likely, it will be another eruption of bloodshed and the consolidation of Hamas as the preeminent Palestinian power.
These kinds of predictions inject the Annapolis proceedings with a compelling sense of drama and urgency, but thankfully the stakes are not quite this high. It is easy to see why people who believe that the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2005 is accurately described by the word intifada (Arabic for “uprising”) would think that another one could come on the heels of failure at Annapolis. Intifada implies a spontaneous, organic, and democratic response to injustice and frustration. But the campaign of organized terrorism that was launched in 2000 was nothing of the sort—it was Arafat’s answer, supported by almost the entirety of the Palestinian leadership, to the question with which Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak confronted him at Camp David: Are you prepared to abandon being the head of a terrorist organization in order to become the head of a peaceful state?