Sevastopol Sketches

The events in Russia and Ukraine in the past few weeks have sapped all my energy for writing.  Instead I’d like to present a few items which serve as rays of light in otherwise dark times.  First I’d like to start with RT host Abby Martin’s courageous statements on the situation in Ukraine. I’m posting the link to the video on RT’s own website, where it is in fact still hosted, so the reader should skip to about 26.40 if you want to catch the whole thing without watching the entire program.

Martin still has her job at RT, and contrary to some idiotic Youtube comments I have seen, her life is not in danger. The head of RT in Russia did fire back, claiming that her statements were “pro-Ukrainian” and “American propaganda.”  No, they were not propaganda, they were totally consistent with what RT and the Russian government has said about military intervention, including “humanitarian intervention,” for years.  The heads of RT in Russia, and indeed a great deal of those who have the pro-Kremlin point of view, clearly don’t understand the concept of consistency or principle.  They have the same “it’s okay if we do it” attitude as people like John Kerry, or John McCain.

RT’s heads apparently don’t take notice of the fact that much of their commentary comes from dozens, if not hundreds of Americans, Brits, Canadians, and Europeans who routinely and openly criticize their governments’ policies and actions. Now to be fair, some of those people are utter nutcases, conspiracy theorists, or both, but the fact is that most of these people suffer no government harassment as a result of their actions, nor do massive state-run media outlets accuse them of being paid by the Russian government.  Recently I wrote an article about a WSJ article on Tim Kirby.  Obviously the article was critical of Kirby, but rather than just smear him as a traitor in the pay of the Russian government(technically true), they just simply took an interest in his views, even if they chose to highlight the most controversial among them. There is a sort of acknowledgement that Kirby came to those opinions on his own, as a result of certain experiences. By contrast, Russians who openly criticize their government, especially on matters of foreign policy, are routinely denounced as being paid by the US State Department. You don’t form your own opinions, you have no agency. Someone is paying you. I should point out that this is another example of projection, because it is no secret in Russia that pro-government organizations and parties do indeed pay people to show up at rallies, and in some cases state employees or students are forced to attend for whatever reason. There are numerous videos taken by Russians of virtually every political stripe of this sort of activity.

Returning to the topic of Abby Martin’s courageous statement, she did not back down in the face of criticism, as is evident in this video.

While this might seem a bit odd, I think it is uniquely appropriate that the person expressing this kind of principled solidarity with Ukraine is a woman. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the women of Ukraine, Russia, and other former Soviet republics have born the brunt of much suffering. In the most extreme cases, they have been forced either by want or by violence into prostitution, often being trafficked far from home, and in the best cases they find themselves in societies where they are practically second-class citizens. Patriotism, whether Ukrainian nationalism or the Muscovite variety, is a man’s game.

Abby Martin, if you’re reading this, this is for you. You’ve earned it.

If you are not RT's Abby Martin, you are not authorized to participate in this internet fist bump.

If you are not RT’s Abby Martin, you are not authorized to participate in this internet fist bump.

In other news, we’ve got Shaun Walker of The Guardian with this very objective article.  What he points out, quite correctly, is that while there is a clear fascist presence in the Evromaidan movement, many of the Russians in the Crimea and Moscow screaming about fascism are basically fascists themselves.  Here’s a choice quote:

On the ground in Crimea, what is particularly odd is that the most vociferous defenders of Russian bases against supposed fascists appear to hold far-right views themselves.

Outside the Belbek airbase, an aggressive self-defence group said they were there to defend the base against “Kiev fascists”, but also railed against Europe, “full of repulsive gays and Muslims”.

“What you foreigners don’t get is that those people in Maidan, they are fascists,” said Alexander, a Simferopol resident drinking at a bar in the city on Monday night. “I mean, I am all for the superiority of the white race, and all that stuff, but I don’t like fascists.”

This is really nothing new. I’ve often heard or seen people talk about how “Russia defeated fascism,” how “the West is fascist”, and then go on rants about black people, Jews, gays, and so on. God forbid you advocate being tolerant; that’s a dirty word in these parts. Indeed, the first Russian propaganda response to Evromaidan was “EUROPE = TEH GAYZ.”  First of all, European Union membership was not on the table, a lot of Maidan supporters and Russian opponents clearly missed that.  Second, even if I were a homophobe, when I think of all the potential problems of Eurointegration, I don’t think gay parades would be anywhere in the top twenty.  Unfortunately to many Russians(including those in Ukraine), things like unemployment, low wages, industry-killing free trade agreements,  brain drain, austerity, or prostitution and women trafficking all pale in comparison to the grave threat that a legally sanctioned gay pride parade might take place somewhere in their country. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that the Russian education system, and indeed probably the Soviet one as well, didn’t really do a great job of educating people on the topic of fascist ideology after WWII.  Today “fascist” is something like “Hitler” or “bad Germany,” and to many people it’s bad only because it attacked Russia. Some young people I’ve talked to think it would have been cool if the USSR had allied with Nazi Germany, so they could control the world. I had to explain to one of these poor, misguided youths that this was ultimately an ideological impossibility, and that it would have had dark consequences for the rest of the world.  But whereas the Soviet Union always denied being an empire, and decried imperialism, post-Soviet capitalist Russia revels in the idea. It was, to many Russians, a continuation of the old Russian empire, and all those Tatars, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, etc. should feel good about living in a country dominated by Moscow. Why would anyone hate that?   Oblivious.  Here’s a propaganda tip, which America has used successfully for decades: When people claim you are an empire who wants to dominate them, DENY THAT YOU ARE A FUCKING EMPIRE!

In case the reader happens to be an English-speaking Russian who suspects that he or she does not fully understand what fascism is, here’s a helpful guide:

Fascism is a right-wing, authoritarian system which often presented itself as a “third way” between capitalism and Communism(TIP: It’s not).  It often uses populist appeals and claims that it can bridge the conflict between classes based on national identity. It glorifies one leader, who is vested with the power to decide most issues. It is xenophobic, seeing anyone who disagrees with the fascist ideology as traitors. At its core, there is a melding of power between the political leadership and the richest industrialists( we can see this on both sides in Russia and Ukraine). Individual liberty is scorned, and fascists seek to shape people’s lives down to the last detail.  They determine how to be a proper Ukrainian, Russian, “good German,” etc.

Does any of this sound familiar? Does it not remind you of Svoboda, who wish the right to define what is or isn’t Ukrainian? Does it not remind you of the Duma deputy Mizulina, who is now introducing a whole set of new laws in favor of what she calls “the traditional family,” meant to encourage Russian young people to have large numbers of children yet without any serious increase in funding for pensions, housing, medical care, etc.? Does it not remind you of the press who declares that anyone who questions the government publicly must be a US State Department spy?

Fascists come in all shapes and sizes. They did not always wear swastikas, and like Praviy Sektor and Svoboda in Ukraine, they don’t always get along. Some sport blue and gold, others the Russian tricolor, and still others have the audacity to clothe their views under the Soviet flag, dishonoring the egalitarian and progressive values which that flag represented.  What all these people have in common however, is hate, paranoia, fear, ignorance, and ridiculously poor reasoning capacity.  At the top of these movements, as sponsors sit various wealthy businessmen or politicians, who may only partially subscribe to the ideology of these groups, if at all.  The ruling class in Russia or Ukraine doesn’t give a shit about Stepan Bandera or the “traditional family.” Ukraine’s nationalists had to make common cause with large masses of Russian-speaking people in order to seize power.  Russia’s tough-talking politicians consume massive amounts of Western products, own property in the West, vacation there, and send their children to university in that hated land of non-stop gay parades and fascism.  The ruling class, the businessmen, the investors, the holders of capital have no nation and are more than happy to work with anyone.  Until we learn to build solidarity and work across borders and other arbitrary boundaries, their power over us will remain totally intact.

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