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10 March, 2014

The Curse of the Worn-Out Vocabulary

Over the past days and weeks, on a quick look at Russian TV channels (I have one even in my hotel at Strasbourg not to relax from the disturbing complexities of our life in the EU and in the vicinity – especially after comparison of Russian TV with BBC News or French TV) it was difficult to get rid of a déjà vu feeling. Every piece of information about Ukraine there is strikingly and frighteningly similar to what I had long been listening immediately after 13 January 1991 when the Soviet troops killed fourteen peaceful civilians in Vilnius.

When Lithuania declared its independence on 11 March 1990, it was just the beginning of a long and winding road of the first breakaway republic of the former Soviet Union. The country had a turbulent period full of unsafety, uncertainties and insecurities, which was a logical outcome of the threat that Lithuania posed for the mortally wounded and slowly dying empire. Yet the highest price was still to come. And it came on 13 January when fourteen people lost their lives depriving the Soviet Union the remains of its political and moral legitimacy. 

Although peaceful and innocent people were killed, there was not a single case of blasting Russia or Russians as a nation. Everybody understood that the USSR was the name of evil. The reaction of the Kremlin had nothing to do with the feelings of the Russian intelligentsia, not to mention fearless and noble-minded Russian dissidents. Immediately after bloodshed and casualties in Vilnius a group of Russian writers and academic came to Lithuania to express their sympathy to Lithuanians coupled with their dismay at the Kremlin’s actions. Among them, Sergei Averintsev, an eminent Russian cultural historian and poet, read out his poem on Vilnius as the city of freedom on whose stones the blood of innocent people was shed.

Yet there was another side of the coin – the official reaction by court journalists and various groups of sycophants which had gone so far as to suggest that Lithuanian snipers were killing their own fellow citizens to compromise and discredit the peaceful and progressive Kremlin – that same Kremlin whose master was at that time in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize which he received for his “humane policies.”

However, the point is that Lithuania spoiled the show – just like Maidan spoiled the Sochi Olympics for the new master of the Kremlin and the real mastermind of the Olympics as a high point in Russia’s history and as a seeming comeback of the country to the club of the most powerful and significant global players. Gary Kasparov has made a good point suggesting that for the sake of gold medals Vladimir Putin gladly sacrifices his imperial chauvinism buying foreign talents and offering them Russian citizenship. According to Kasparov, had Adolf Hitler been less fanatical in his mad racist mythology, he would have bought in 1936 Jesse Owens to win four gold medals for Germany. I wish many gay and lesbian athletes won the gold medals in Sochi proudly emphasizing their identity and sexual orientation – for a gay or lesbian athlete for Putin would be what Owens was for Hitler.                  

Watching Russian TV channels and reading comments of state officials and culture people, one cannot help feeling of being back in time. Astonishingly enough, nothing has changed in terms of rhetoric and perception of reality. If the megaphones of the Kremlin sounded aggressive and bitter in the late 1980s about how the Baltic States will unavoidably fail both economically and culturally (“Who needs you there in the West?”), now they reached the depths of madness and folly – suffices it to mention the fascist political clown Vladimir Zhirinovsky launching the campaign of military volunteers to save their Russian brethren in Ukraine, a grotesque form of exploring how far the Kremlin can go boosting the fighting morale of court patriots. The worn-out vocabulary of some writers and public figures appears no better than pathological tirades of Zhirinovsky.

Labeling Ukrainians en bloc as Banderovites (banderovtsy in Russian), terrorists, fascists, or else, is not only morally repugnant. It shows how miserable, cynical, misguided, and misplaced the whole public political discourse is in Russia. The irresponsible and embarrassingly inadequate use of the term “fascism” can only be explained by the spell of the political-historical narrative which legitimized the description of anyone crushed by the Red Army during and after World War II as a fascist, and any form of anti-Communism as fascism. It would be sobering for those in Russia who crave for exposing the supposed Ukrainian nationalism and antisemitism to remember the darkest traditions of antisemitism in Russia.   

All in all, the logic of this picture bears family resemblance to the logic of Jean Baudrillard’s simulacrum: just like Disneyland camouflages the fact that it is not Disneyland that should strike us as a freakish thing but, instead, the whole USA which is a single Disneyland. Labeling Ukraine as fascist camouflages the rise of fascism in Russia itself. Russian society increasingly gets close to fascism due to the atmosphere of hatred and xenophobia. Coupled with homophobic legislation and crackdown on NGOs and civil society at large, it leaves a feeling of the failed democratization of Russia. The projection of one’s own deceases and traumas onto others does not help much.

This is why it is pivotal to resist these regrettable insinuations against Ukraine whose people continue to be on the frontline in the battle for decent and civilized politics, and against cleptocracy, mafia state, and crony capitalism defending everything that modern Europe stands for – including the fight against real, and not imagined, fascism.


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