The unfolding tragedy in Ukraine… Boris Johnson mouths off… listening to Rachmaninov…

WHENEVER Boris Johnson says something regrettable, another minister is sent out to clear up the mess, like a zookeeper trailing after an incontinent baby elephant.

This morning it was Sajid Javid’s turn to carry the slopping bucket.

The health secretary was valiant in his insistence that Johnson had not just made a direct comparison between the fight for freedom in Ukraine and the vote for Brexit.

To which the impatient bystander can only squeal: wash your ears out, mate – that is precisely what he did say at the Conservative spring conference in Blackpool.

Should you have been fortunate enough to have missed the words that tumbled from Johnson’s careless gob, let me spoil your day…

“I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom, every time…When the British people voted for Brexit in such large, large numbers, I don’t believe it was because they were remotely hostile to foreigners. It’s because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself…”

As President Putin attempts to bomb and starve the people of Mariupol into submission and surrender; as millions of Ukrainians flee their beloved country, our prime minister feels happy to make a cheap political point comparing their brutal plight to the Brexit referendum.

It seems to have slipped his mind that Ukraine wants to join the EU, applying last month after the Russian invasion began. Only three weeks ago, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “Our goal is to be with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be equal.”

Whereas Putin’s goal is to bomb Ukraine to shit, to murder innocent citizens, and to reduce once-proud cities to rubble.

There seems to be no logical reason for this war, other than Putin’s acrid resentment at the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his refusal to accept that post-Soviet Ukraine has a right to exist on its own terms.

There are people who will tell you differently, who will say that this is the fault of NATO or the US or that we are no better. This may be true, but it is beside the point when Putin needs to be defeated. Will he be defeated – is there any way for him to be defeated without a wider war? I am only a man sitting on a ledge, so don’t ask me.

As for Johnson’s insistence that the Brexit vote was nothing to do with being “hostile to foreigners”, that was the undercurrent throughout, from endless tabloid newspaper headlines to Nigel Farage standing in front of his anti-migrant ‘Breaking Point’ billboard showing a queue of mostly non-white migrants.

Johnson and his Brexit-besotted cohorts cashed in on such hostile sentiment while pretending that it didn’t exist.


Sergei Rachmaninov

ANYWAY, time for a bit of Rachmaninov.

Much social media hostility recently greeted the decision of the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra to pull music by Tchaikovsky from a concert at St David’s Hall.

The 1812 Overture famously celebrates Russia’s defence against the invasion of Napoleon and features a volley of cannon fire. Some members of the leading non-professional orchestra were unhappy about this after the invasion of Ukraine and opted for a different programme.

Assorted commentators ridiculed their decision, with the right-wing comedian Geoff Norcott tweeting: “Cancelling a Tchaikovsky concert is so daft ordinary Russians will write it off as mad Vlad over-doing the propaganda.”

The American political advisor Matt Duss got in on the act too, tweeting: “Doubly absurd because Tchaikovsky spent a lot of time in Ukraine, and incorporated a lot of Ukrainian folk music and stories into his work.”

You know, I think the cannons had something to do with it.

Anyway, Rachmaninov.

Wishing to be reminded of the glories of Russian culture, rather than the barbarity of its present leader, I dug out my CD of Rachmaninov Vespers 1-15 (All-Night Vigil), composed in two weeks in 1914.

This beautiful choral music reminds you of a different Russia, as indeed does the music of Tchaikovsky normally: as do the plays of Chekhov or the novels of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

Incidentally, Rachmaninov and his family left Russia two years later, in 1916, just before the Russian Revolution, moving to New York, and the composer never again set foot in his homeland.

Whether those Ukrainians fleeing their country will ever return to their homeland is anybody’s sad guess.


  1. “Putin’s goal is to bomb Ukraine to shit, to murder innocent citizens, and to reduce once-proud cities to rubble.”

    You really don’t have the faintest idea what is really going on over there, do you, Julian?

  2. The problem is that these stories get hijacked by people who want to keep politics out of art. When I first heard the 1812 story on the radio, commentators pointed out that there was a musician with Ukrainian family in the orchestra. I think, if I were in their position, I would feel more than uncomfortable playing Russian triumphalist music. During the siege of Leningrad in the 2nd World War, Shostakovich composed and organized a performance of a symphony, No. 7, which was blasted out by every loud speaker they could muster as an act of defiance against the Nazis. For a while, I thought this would be a grand ironic gesture that the citizens of Kyiv could make, even if it was only a recording of the symphony. Trouble is, Putin would turn it on its head and claim that the good Russian citizens of Ukraine were making a symbolic gesture of friendship with their Russian liberators. Whilst I can understand that composers, poets and the like want to divorce art from politics, it is inevitable that art becomes one of the tools that politicians use – dictators more than most! I think it should be said that the non performance of the 1812 did not cancel the concert and that performances of the piece won’t be given later. I bet that there are plenty of performances of Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony being given in Germany and Italy, during this year.

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