Russia’s Palmyra Concert Reveals What the West Lacks

Russia’s Palmyra Concert Reveals What the West Lacks, by Tim Black. In the war on ISIS, only Russia is acting as if there’s something worth fighting for. Act 1:

A camera pans round the half-full Roman amphitheatre in Palmyra. The audience, children among them, look on, unsmilingly, as men with guns patrol their allotted sections. And then the video cuts to the main event: a line of Syrian soldiers are on their knees facing out from the stage, while, behind them, a line of teenage gunmen wait to plant bullets in the back of the soldiers’ heads. The scene is set for the final act. And as the young executioners perform their dismal duty, a large ISIS flag, draped across the the back of the Ancient stage, barely moves in the breeze.

Act 2:

ISIS’s 10-month occupation of Palmyra was brought to an end in March when Syrian government forces backed by the Russian military reclaimed it. Now…

This time, a camera pans round the packed Roman amphitheatre. The audience consisting of Russian ministers, soldiers and an army of journalists, look on, rapt, as the security forces keep watch out of sight. And then, the main event: Bach’s chaconne for solo violin from Partita No2; the quadrille for cello from Shchedrin’s Not Love Alone; Prokofiev’s first symphony… And, as the orchestra from St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre performs the concert of a lifetime, the sound of the ongoing artillery bombardment of ISIS lines less than 10 miles away is drowned out, if only for a few minutes.


The West ignored the cultural implications, because our media will not fight for western culture, only against it:

As a New York Times journalist admitted, ‘the concert was simply, starkly beautiful, and unfolded as the late afternoon sun faded over the ruins’. In just 30 sublime minutes, it managed to do what the West has failed to do since ISIS pranced on to the global stage two years ago: Russia produced a piece of propaganda to rival ISIS’s tweeted and vlogged barbarism; it allowed a glimpse of the civilisation that it might just be worth fighting for – a sight, amid the ruins of antiquity, of the heights to which humanity can soar. In itself, it was majestic; in context, awe-inspiring.

Yet in the West, the response to the concert has been marked not by awe, but by witless cynicism. …

Propaganda? Of course, it was propaganda. No one doubts that Russia staged the concert to propagate a certain idea of itself, to endow its largely decisive role in the conflict so far with a grander sense of mission. It wanted to assert itself as the defender not just of a particular regime, or a particular piece of territory, but of something more, too, of something that transcended this particular conflict – as the defender of Western civilisation. …

We are leaving it to Putin to fight for western values?

Putin has been positioning Russia as such for a few years now, ‘defending traditional values that have made up the spiritual and moral foundation of civilisation’, as he put it in 2014, largely in opposition to the West’s right-on, rainbow-hued culture war against Eastern Europe. …

Western states don’t lack the means to fight; they lack a sense of what it is they’re fighting for. To Russian ears, a concert in Palmyra resounds with the strains of a long tradition of cultural achievement; to Western ears, it only rings hollow. That’s why Europe and America’s war on ISIS has been so two-faced, with fist-pumping rhetoric about battling ISIS as this ‘imminent threat to every interest we have’ on one side, and, on the other, shady deals with ISIS-facilitating states such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia, and a deep-seated unwillingness to commit troops on the ground.

hat-tip Stephen Neil