I don't think I'm one of them either. I'm one of mine.

Month: December 2023

The “Kyiv, not Kiev” thing is performative bullshit

In case you haven’t noticed, I habitually refer to the capital of Ukraine as “Kiev,” despite the general turn towards “Kyiv” over the past four years in the Anglophone media. Why do I refuse to use “Kyiv”? Because the entire thing was a dumb campaign run by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the ultranationalist president Petro Poroshenko back in 2018 or so, targeted at airports and English-speaking news sites (apparently nobody cared much about Spanish, French or German media, which mostly use Kiev or Kiew). I suspect the reason why “Kyiv” caught on was that (a) the media were discussing it more because of Ukraine’s involvement in Trump’s impeachment, (b) everyone was salty at Russia for the electoral interference back in 2016, and (c) Trump was being investigated for Russian ties in 2018. And since there was so much pre-existing anti-Russian sentiment, it was easy for Ukrainian nationalists and the compliant media to double down in early 2022. And in doing so, they turned “Kiev” into a shibboleth: anyone, especially news sites, who uses the traditional name is open to criticism for “opposing Ukraine’s sovereignty” or “supporting Russian imperialism.” (No, I oppose Ukrainian nationalism. There’s a difference.)

I’ve noticed that some antinationalist Ukrainians, as well as government critics, frequently use “Kiev,” rather than “Kyiv.” This doesn’t seem to be limited to native Russian-speakers or people from Eastern Ukraine, because I’ve seen it from antinationalist Western Ukrainians as well. (These Ukrainians seem to use geography and history as a guide to how they refer to places in English, so places in the west like Lviv, Vinnytsia, and Rivne get Ukrainian names, whereas Kiev and other heavily Russian-speaking areas like Kharkov, Zaporozhye, Nikolaev, and Odessa get Russian ones.) Admittedly, this is anecdotal, not scientific.

On top of that, Kiev is historically Russian-speaking. Even nowadays, very few preschoolers in Kiev speak Ukrainian regularly—and this was nine years after nationalist administrations took over and banned the use of Russian in education.

(And if you really want to get into the weeds, “Kiev” resembles the historic name much more than “Kyiv” does. But I’m not going to do that.)

The #KyivNotKiev thing is 100% performative bullshit. Seriously, I blame Donald Trump for this. (It’s always a good idea to blame Trump.) I hate Vladimir Putin and oppose the invasion, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to defend the nationalist bullshit emanating from some parts of the Ukrainian government and its supporters.

I am sick to death of genteel transphobia.

As much as I despise the cultish Christian-nationalist evangelical movement, at least they don’t claim to be feminists. They’re patriarchal and proud of it. The same goes for right-wing bloviators (or outright dictators) like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Rhonda Santis Ron DeSantis, Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán, and Vladimir Putin.

The genteel transphobes, on the other hand, cloak their authoritarian gender normativity in rhetoric about feminism and “fair play for women.” They’re often in their forties or fifties, typically younger than the fulminating family-values crowd, but still old enough to have grown up in a society where gay sex was often illegal and trans people were nowhere to be seen outside parodic figures. And this is why they get so much traction, especially in the UK, where sticking out too much is Not The Done Thing, unless you’re doing it in a vaguely ironic way like a panto character. Even lefty, ostensibly progressive and socialist publications like The Guardian, The New Statesman and The Morning Star have a history of publishing transphobic content. The BBC constantly tries to play both sides, publishing both pro- and anti-trans content, as though opposition to a minority group’s rights is as valid as that minority group’s right to exist. (This also happens with homophobes and anti-abortion conservatives. Would they do this with antiracist activists and white nationalists? Sexism, including homophobia and transphobia, seems to slip through in ways that racism does not, at least in the respectable press.)

As bad as “TERF Island” is, it’s not the only source of virulent transphobia masquerading as concern for children or right-on feminism. The UK is arguably the birthplace of genteel transphobia, but it has become much more widespread in American discourse, too, especially in upmarket publications like the New York Times (home of the obsessive transphobe Pamela Paul) and The Atlantic (which often publishes Helen Lewis’s TERFy screeds). Anti-trans activists in red states aren’t pulling out the Jesus card any more, since they know it won’t work in 2023 the way it did twenty years ago. Instead, they’re referring to fairness in sports, equal chances for women, women’s safety, irreversible damage. Of course, many of those activists are evangelical conservatives. But they’ve honed their playbook over the years to try to pull moderates onto their side. And since trans people are a small and marginalised minority, it’s hard for them to fight back when they’re being portrayed as freaks and predators rather than normal people. (It probably doesn’t help that transphobic laws are being passed in the kinds of places that trans people leave after they come of age because they’re isolated and homogeneous. There are few or no people left who can push back, so the DeSantis types can push through all kinds of regressive legislation.)

Genteel transphobes’ prattle about “sex-based rights” is a smokescreen for the same regressive agenda that evangelicals promote. Unfortunately, many self-styled feminists believe it because they have been conditioned to see trans people as a threat for a variety of reasons—it could be because they simply don’t understand gender dysphoria and are susceptible to conservative arguments, they’ve had the fallacious “groomer” argument drummed into them (even if they know it’s bullshit for gay people, they’ve fallen for the same warmed-over propaganda about trans people), they have underlying patriarchal ideas that remain unquestioned, they have authoritarian-follower personality traits, or they are simply bigoted bullies. Or many other reasons, all of which are wrong because they rest on the idea that there are some people who aren’t real people worth listening to through no fault of their own.

Genteel transphobes are sneaky and dangerous. And I’ve had enough of them.

Playground bullies don’t go away; they just support authoritarian politics instead

The bullies in middle school who pick on the poor kids for having unfashionable hand-me-downs don’t go away. The ten-year-olds who mock the gender-non-conforming kids don’t suddenly become enlightened without intervention. The high schoolers who snub the Syrian refugee for not speaking English well enough or knowing all their cultural references will not magically lose their prejudices just by reaching the age of 18, 21 or even 50. The snooty Mean Girls who got away with bullying the weird kids because they earned straight A’s, sucked up to the teacher, and maintained their popularity with the “normal” kids continue to get away with it in the workplace. The 12-year-old who made fun of the disabled kids on the short bus isn’t going to abandon ableism, though he may “reform” and become a behaviour analyst. The kids flinging around racial slurs on the playground may grow up to join Atomwaffen Division or the Rise Above Movement. Grown-up bullies may have learned to stop beating up queer, poor, disabled, immigrant, Black, brown, or otherwise different kids on the playground, but they continue to attack them with their social media posts, votes, and policies.

Time alone will not heal bullies. If their xenophobia, racism, and other prejudices are allowed to fester, they will become abusive parents, vindictive bosses, radicalised crusaders against minorities’ civil rights, or at the worst, totalitarian dictators. People like this are taught to value social conformity over individual or collective well-being—and they will use any method available, including bullying and ostracism, to ensure that anyone who sticks out is punished. If you follow the rules, nothing will happen to you; if you don’t, you’ll pay for it.

Whenever you see a politician, commentator, writer, or random Twitter gadfly rail over and over and over again about some disliked minority, it is time to wonder whether they were a bully in school.

Right-wing politics tends to attract this kind of bully, since the right tends to favour arbitrary social conformity over diversity1. (Yes, regardless of what right-wing commentators say. “Viewpoint diversity” frequently means “I want to get away with opposing pluralism in a pluralistic society,” which isn’t far off from “War is peace.”)

I want to emphasise, though, that your average conservative is not a bully. The problem with your typical right-leaning voter is that their unfamiliarity with or discomfort around minorities or nonconformists (which usually comes from living in homogeneous and highly conformist communities) makes them easy pickings for reactionary leaders who turn discomfort and unfamiliarity into hate. These Trump or Putin voters’ primary goal is not to inflict harm on anyone else, but they are afraid of what their bullying leaders may do to them if they dare step out of line. These are the archetypal authoritarian followers. They want to be loved by the Mean Girls—they’re too normal to be terrorised by them, but they don’t have the charisma to join the clique. They’re more scared than scary. I used to be this flavour of conservative as a teenager, and the conservatives I currently know are like this as well.

The right-wing authoritarian followers to fear are the petty bullies, the office tyrants, the social media trolls who go out of their way to bully awkward autistic trans women who are just coming into themselves, the people who kick and piss on homeless Latino immigrants in Boston and use Trump as a motivator. They are the police officers who wantonly shoot Black people who are just minding their own business. They are the ones who record their autistic kids having meltdowns and post the entire affair on YouTube to shame them into not having any more embarrassing meltdowns. They are the parents who kill their disabled children, citing how burdensome they are. It is those people, the ones who have made social conformity into a fetish and have lost their ability to see the Other as a person, who are the ones who will enthusiastically follow the next Hitler or Mussolini off a cliff. And these are the people I fear the most, even more than the Hitlers and Mussolinis themselves. Hitler cannot be Hitler if there is no throng of eager Nazis to march behind him.

Are there left-wing bullies and jerks? Of course. Are there Black, Brown, gay, trans, disabled bullies? Absolutely. We’re all human, and unfortunately, some human beings are assholes, no matter what they fill out on a census form. I am the last person to claim that because someone is marginalised, he cannot be a bully or harasser. But authoritarian leftism has comparatively little draw in North America or Europe compared with its right-wing counterpart, and the stories the authoritarian left tells are different.

Hitler and Mussolini tell you that the dominant culture should stay dominant, and anyone who doesn’t fit should be exterminated or severely marginalised. Stalin and Kim Il Sung, on the other hand, tell you that marginalised people will be liberated from colonial or royal oppression, that the outcasts will now gain control. But instead, they set up a new authoritarian dictatorship instead, just with new guys on top. The school analogues for left authoritarians are the autistic-adjacent geeks who got made fun of in school, go into Big Tech, and start becoming bullying assholes themselves. (I have known autistic people like this, mostly young white guys. They are deeply unpleasant and a pain in the ass in disability activism.) They are more sympathetic than the Mean Girls, but they are still repugnant and unworthy of support.

To sum it up: Right-wing authoritarians favour the current hierarchy. Left-wing authoritarians want to get rid of it and bring in a new hierarchy instead. Neither is particularly concerned about social justice, human rights, or basic decency.

  1. (as opposed to the good kind of conformity, like “don’t be a sociopathic asshole”)

About freedom

We talk a lot about freedom, but what kinds of freedom matter?

Freedom of speech. Freedom of association. Freedom from poverty. Freedom from unemployment. Freedom to hire and fire as one wishes. Freedom to be an entrepreneur. Freedom from homelessness. Freedom of assembly. Freedom to set the definitions of one’s labour.

There are two kinds of freedom: positive freedoms and negative freedoms. Positive freedoms are the “freedoms to”: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association. Liberals, centrists, right-libertarians, and moderate conservatives focus on positive freedoms, often disdaining negative freedoms as an unwanted constraint on individual (or corporate) liberties. The rhetoric of Marxists, some progressives, and other leftists focuses on negative freedoms, or the “freedoms from”: freedom from hunger, freedom from poverty, freedom from homelessness, freedom from illness. Traditionalist conservatives and fascists care neither about positive freedoms nor negative freedoms, except for the ruling class.

Both positive and negative freedoms are necessary for a functioning society. They are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are synergistic (and I use this word advisedly; it’s not just business jargon if you use the term to say “these things work together and the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Without negative freedoms, you have a lot of rights that won’t put food in your belly, keep a roof over your head, protect you from preventable diseases, or keep you safe from domestic violence—and others may have the right to exploit your labour, refuse to serve you because of your race, rip you off because there are no regulations on the books. Wage slavery deprives people’s lives of meaning. Without positive freedoms, you can’t speak truth to power. You can’t make your own choices about how you live. Everything you do is tightly regimented. With no choice, you may see life as futile.

Lopsided freedoms make people’s lives miserable.

If you’re homeless, starving, and hungry, is that really freedom? Even if you are not constrained by the law—after all, under “at-will” employment, you are just as free to quit as your company is to fire you—you are constrained by your material conditions. Free speech matters—after all, leaders need to be held accountable—but you can’t eat free speech. But under a dictator, you are under both the constraints of an authoritarian regime AND your material circumstances. If the state assigns you a job and you end up hating it, how do you find fulfilment when you’re occupied with tedium eight hours a day, even when there is no risk of being fired? Instead of these nightmarish scenarios, it’s better to give companies some discretion, but ban workplace discrimination and provide a generous social safety net for those who can’t find fulfilling work or simply can’t work at all. This way there is freedom from want and freedom of association.

This is why I vehemently disagree with both tankies and libertarians about their idea of freedom: their utopias are dystopias for everyone… including them.

Kiev me a break! Ukraine’s divisive language policies get worse

[all links in Russian]

A few days ago, Volodymyr Zelensky signed a new law that increases protections for speakers of official EU languages in Ukraine (the good part), but removes the time limit for the current restrictions on the use of Russian (the bad thing). This law is unconstitutional—although the Ukrainian constitution deems Ukrainian the sole state language, there are provisions to protect the use of Russian and other languages—but the Kiev regime has been using the constitution as toilet paper. Yet again, Ukraine is continuing to divide its people rather than uniting them. If they keep doing things like this, they won’t have a state left to defend. Russia will continue to exploit Ukraine’s refusal to incorporate its ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking citizens (who may or may not support the Russian government; I suspect most of them don’t).

Russia doesn’t even need to fabricate propaganda about the mistreatment of Russians or Russian-speakers (not the claims about genocide, which are fabricated, but the ethnic-chauvinist “total Ukrainianisation”). The Ukrainian government is doing it for them. And then disgruntled Ukrainian citizens who are tired of being told that they can’t speak Russian, or that all Russians are synonymous with Putin, get fed up and start working directly with the Russians. Or maybe they’re in an occupied area and just need to eat, so they will “collaborate” with the local Russian-installed authorities. Ukrainian propagandists act accordingly and claim that they’ve been proven right, so they make life even harder for the “superfluous Ukrainians.” But then the Russians seize on the new anti-Russian laws and regulations, claiming that it is they who were right. And the cycle continues inexorably until someone gets the sense to say, “Wait a moment. Why are we doing this? All we’re doing is playing into the Russians’ hands.”

Is it any wonder that a country that constantly scores own-goals is failing on the battlefield? I despise Putin and want Russian troops off Ukrainian territory, but the bunglers in Kiev can’t seem to get their act together and work strategically—or avoid alienating at least a fifth of its population. And I suspect that its reckless actions, both with regard to domestic and military policy, have led to its inability to regain most of the territory it lost last year.

Bullet-point thoughts too short for independent posts

… really, these could just be shitposts, but they’re too serious for that, so I’m combining them into a convenient bullet-pointed list.

  • Russia and Ukraine are both using cultural and ethnic minorities as scapegoats to keep the public in line. The Russians are notorious for systematically targeting LGBTQ+ people as a symbol of “Western decadence” and “extremism.” They’re also a convenient sacrificial lamb for the ultraconservative, rural Orthodox Christian voters that Putin depends on. The Ukrainians, meanwhile, are doing the same with ethnic Russians, as well as Russian-speaking Ukrainians and socialists who are critical of the government. Although some of these opponents are pro-Russian, not all are. To keep the support of the hardline nationalists, especially in the West, the central government will happily sacrifice these “superfluous Ukrainians.” I expect this from Russia, since its human-rights record has been spotty for a long time, but Ukraine’s actions disappoint me more because I expected better from a country that aspires to be more democratic than its former ruler. Being of Russian descent, speaking Russian, or preferring socialism over capitalism is not the same thing as supporting the Putin regime. (See also my comments about the Ukraine War being Russia’s proxy war against the West, and the own-goals by Ukraine and Russia.)
  • People who support terrorists are assholes? Who would’ve thought? I hate to say this, but I have seen more empathy and compassion from progressive Zionists than anti-Zionists or hardline Netanyahu supporters. Every day I continue to be dumbfounded at how cruel, vengeful and inhumane some anti-Zionists can be. I can’t side with anyone who’s being that cruel and vindictive. Not in an anodyne “why don’t we all just get along when the Israeli government is doing monstrous things” way, but the idea that it is morally acceptable to kill civilians or take hostages for being “settlers.” I know there are several anti-Zionisms, but I am talking about the people who support or do nothing but make apologies for Hamas. I shouldn’t expect humane behaviour or decency from anyone who actively supports a terrorist organisation. I have said this before and I will say it again: this isn’t Nelson Mandela. Mandela wanted to make a South Africa for everyone. His goal was not to kill everyone in sight and kick out non-Black South Africans. Hamas’s goal is to eliminate and destroy, not merely to liberate.
  • Western countries should drop sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Not because anyone should approve of these countries’ practices (I certainly don’t, which is obvious to anyone who’s read this blog), but because the main people who suffer from these sanctions are ordinary Russians, North Koreans, and Iranians, not their leadership or oligarchs. Russia has enough global influence (and oil) to make up for the revenue lost from sanctions. The South African sanctions worked, but that’s probably because South Africa had historical ties to the West. American and British pressure worked. There’s no love lost between Iran/North Korea and the West, and the relationship between Russia and the West has been adversarial since at least 2014, after the Obama administration’s “Russian reset.”
  • Many Marxists can be reductive and dismissive about any relationship of dominance and oppression that isn’t economic, but their universalism is refreshing in a polarised society. I’d like to see a communism that keeps some of Marx’s ideas but makes them more expansive, easier to understand and responsive to today’s modern needs.
  • There’s a difference between being a supporter of human rights and being an identitarian woke-scold. In the first case, you acknowledge systemic oppression and want to rectify it. You do this by implementing policies that allow the historically oppressed group to be a full member of their society. It’s about including everyone, not acting at someone else’s expense. Identitarians, on the other hand, use real grievances to justify an eye-for-an-eye, dog-eat-dog, hyphenated-thing-to-reflect-violent-actions morality. Gandhi never said, “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind,” but it fits all the same. Social equity is not a zero-sum game. (This kind of violent “morality” is an own-goal by social justice activists… and I think that will be my next full post.)

ProleWiki is always good for a laugh.

The last I checked, China, Russia, and Iran all had empires. All three of these countries have had leaders typically called emperors.  “Anti-American” and “anti-imperialist” are not synonymous. If you’re an expansionist country with a leader called an emperor, you’re an imperialist power or have a history of imperialism. Russia, China, and Iran may have different geopolitical interests from the US and its allies, but that doesn’t stop them from being imperialist powers.

There are tankies—yes, hardened Stalin-idolising tankies—in Russia who seem to get the difference.

A screenshot of ProleWiki's "state media of anti-imperialist" countries, including Chinese, Iranian and Russian state media.

There is a difference between understanding something and supporting it.

It is worth trying to understand why some Palestinians fight with Hamas, or why some Ukrainians actively collaborate with the Russians, why some Israelis equate non-eliminationist Palestinian liberation movements with antisemitism, or why the Ukrainian government and its supporters have become even more ethnonationalist than they were before the full-scale war started.

Understanding the fault lines in Israeli and Ukrainian society can lead to healing. If we don’t understand what is happening, then we will be at a loss to end the suffering.

But this understanding need not—must not—justify Netanyahu’s genocidal aims, Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion, Kiev’s petty ethnic nationalism, or Hamas’s slaughtering of civilians and hostage-taking.

On throwaway politics

The world has seen an epidemic of throwaway politics over the past decade or so. What do I mean by “throwaway politics”? Throwaway politics is the practice of treating entire demographics as expendable, useless, superfluous. Throwaway people are second-class citizens, Others, subalterns. They are often ethnic, racial, religious, gender, or sexual minorities, but not always—for example, Black South Africans were throwaway majorities under apartheid.

Politicians and constituents who adopt throwaway politics are usually on the right, but the right doesn’t have a monopoly on the practice—consider left-wing Hamas supporters’ callous attitude towards Jews, or certain left-wing politicians, such as Sahra Wagenknecht, who vilify migrants to outflank their right-wing counterparts.

The demographic characteristics of throwaway residents may vary, but the underlying dynamics are the same: there are some people who are less equal than others. In Europe and European-influenced countries, typical throwaway people are often Muslims, immigrants from the “wrong” countries, refugees from the Middle East (who are typically Muslims), LGBTQ+ people, and occasionally Jews.

Once you’re a throwaway, nobody cares about your rights. You’re not worth listening to. You may as well not even exist. You are no longer deserving of empathy or consideration.

We know where this leads: the events of 1933–1945. Hitler’s primary target was Jewish people, but Jews were not the only throwaway Germans. Disabled people, dubbed “ballast existences,” were targeted through the Nazis’ Aktion T-4. So were the Roma. The Nazis didn’t care much for Russians, either. Queer and trans people were also fodder for Hitler’s hate machine.

Why the hell are exclusivist ideologies, or the remnants of exclusivist ideologies, given any credence in supposedly inclusive (most Western democracies) or anti-fascist (Russia) societies? We know where this can go. It’s not as though we’re in 1920 and had no record of an industrial-scale genocide. Hitler’s Germany is still in living memory. Why are TERFs’ arguments taken seriously, especially when their “sex-based rights” model is a few steps away from Kinder, Küche, Kirche? Why is the Russian government endlessly pursuing LGBTQ+ people and claiming to be “anti-fascist” when their attitudes towards the community are little different from those expressed by the Nazis? Why are Christian fundamentalists, whether American Protestant or Russian Orthodox, treated as a legitimate political constituency when the same liberal or progressive politicians see right through their Islamist counterparts? Why do American police officers disproportionately target Black people with violence? Why are US presidents calling neo-Nazis “very fine people” and calling for the “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”? Why is the new, modern, liberal, European government in Kiev treating ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers as fifth-column traitors, in a shadow of what the US government did and has done to Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11 and now the Hamas attacks? Why is the Israeli government bombing Gaza instead of trying to live alongside the Palestinians? And why are supposedly “woke,” enlightened people claiming that every Israeli Jew is a throwaway person blocking Palestinians from their freedom?

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A queer antinationalist on Ukraine and Russia

I am queer. I am also a vehement antinationalist. These facts make it impossible for me to offer ideological support to either Moscow or Kiev.

Let’s start with the obvious one: the Putin regime. Russia has heightened its repression of LGBTQ+ people, including a new Supreme Court ruling that effectively outlaws pro-queer activism as “extremist.” LGBTQ+ activists face the risk of fines and imprisonment up to 12 years. Putin has already used these tactics against dissidents like Boris Kagarlitsky, Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza. Putin’s Russia tries to contrast itself with the “decadent” West with its persecution of LGBTQ+ people, even though our right-wing politicians hold views that are just as bad as Putin’s. Like western conservatives, Putin weaponises religion—in this case, the Eastern Orthodox Church, rather than evangelical Protestant denominations or the Roman Catholic Church—to impose an authoritarian social agenda. And I could go on about Russia’s other reactionary, repressive policies and laws, but there’s already ample coverage in CNN, the New York Times, NBC, The Guardian, etc.

Ukraine, for its part, is aggressively pursuing an ethnonationalist agenda that conflates Russian ethnicity and language with Putin’s vile regime. Even soldiers in the far-right, extreme nationalist Azov Battalion have been attacked for speaking Russian, primarily by the now-fired Lviv Polytechnic professor Iryna Farion, who used to be a member of the Nazi-adjacent Svoboda party (link in Russian). Nationalism has infected even otherwise progressive circles in Ukraine: according to the Kharkov-based anarchist group Assembly (link in Italian and English; English is on the bottom), many feminist and LGBTQ+ activists are closely tied with Ukraine’s nationalist movement. Instead of uniting the entirety of the Ukrainian people against the Russian state, the Ukrainian government and many of its supporters have chosen instead to create even more divisions. As I’ve said before, Kiev’s own-goals push people towards supporting Russia, even though it’s unlikely they’ll get any more freedom there than they do in Ukraine.

The situation is undoubtedly worse for people who find themselves ostracised from both sides—for example, I can’t even imagine what it feels like to be a queer leftist in occupied Eastern Ukraine (especially one who primarily speaks Russian) who runs the risk of being persecuted by Kiev or the Russian occupiers. Or for pro-Ukraine (or merely anti-war) Russians who want to leave the country: many of Russia’s European neighbours have closed the border; Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Poles distrust Russians, regardless of their support of Putin; and Putin’s dictatorial rule has made it impossible for them to stay home in Russia with the people they love the most. They’re being told that there is something inherently evil inside them for being from Russia, and they’re also being told that there’s something inherently wrong with them for opposing the Russian regime.

I can’t support either position. Both Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ repression and Ukraine’s ethnonationalism are incompatible with a functioning pluralist society. They imply that if you’re not an ethnic Ukrainian who speaks Ukrainian, you’re not a real Ukrainian, or that if you’re gay or bi or trans, you’re not a real Russian. If you’re not a nationalist, you’re not a real feminist. If you’re a leftist, you’re not a good Ukrainian. If you’re a liberal or progressive, you’re not a good Russian.

And once you’re no longer seen as a real member of your society, you’re open to persecution, since civil rights and liberties are reserved only for real people, not superfluous ones.

I don’t know what the right answer is, either to put a stop to Russia’s increasing repression or Ukraine’s nationalist obsessions. I don’t think anybody does, no matter how many thinkpieces are written, no matter how many declarations are made on TV, no matter how much people rant and rave on Telegram and Reddit and Twitter.

What I do know is that people are suffering, dying and praying for a better chance for themselves, their families, their friends and their communities. And neither Russia’s sexist repression nor Ukraine’s reactionary ethnic nationalism will bring their people the peace they so desperately deserve. You don’t want real liberation or justice if your goal is to make a new group of second-class citizens.