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

Category: Ukraine/Russia (Page 1 of 4)

What the hell is up with “Zelenskyy”?

It looks weird, but the stenographers at the Associated Press and every publication that uses its stylebook standardised on it a while back, thanks to the Ukrainian government’s ridiculousness. The English-speaking world has typically written similar Slavic names translated from Cyrillic with “-sky,” as in “Gorsky” or “Magnitsky.” “Zelenskyy” looks like a typo, and it makes me wince every time I see it. (I also read it as rhyming with “tie,” as in Skyy Vodka.) Other contemporary Ukrainian figures, like Andriy Biletsky, don’t get the extra “y.”

I don’t know why, but Ukraine coverage has brought out a wave of stupidity in the Western press. (Yes, yes, yes, I am still talking about Ukraine, but that’s because there are things going on other than Trump’s tomfoolery and the theocrats fighting in Gaza. Also, I didn’t have this blog when the war broke out two years ago.)

The Kievstone Kops strike again

It never takes too long to find the Ukrainian government doing something stupid in the name of knee-jerk wartime nationalism. Instead of showing their valiant resolve against Russia, they end up looking like the Keystone Kops.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (yes, the ones responsible for the silly #KyivNotKiev campaign) is trying to get MAC Cosmetics to discontinue its “Russian Red” shade. This makeup has nothing to do with the Russian government or Vladimir Putin.

The more I see from Kiev, the more convinced I am that they’re losing this conflict from sheer stupidity from the country’s leadership. They need to throw the entire lot of them out and replace them with competent leaders who know what the fuck they’re doing. This isn’t to victim-blame them—regardless of how dumb their leaders are, they don’t deserve what Russia is doing—but it is still fair to criticise government incompetence at a time like this. (Also, a state at war, even one that is being attacked, is not the same thing as an individual victim of interpersonal violence, and it’s disingenuous to claim that. But that’s a post for later.)

Russia’s not the only source of anti-queer moral panics

… as anyone who’s watching US news closely should know. A Florida state rep recently filed a bill that could target LGBTQ+ content as “grooming,” reminding one of Russia’s various “gay propaganda” bills filed over the past ten years or so. This isn’t to let Russia off the hook, of course, but this is a worldwide problem led by coordinated “anti-gender” actors, mostly extreme-right politicians (e.g., Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán) and conservative Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christian groups, as well as their useful idiots: TERFs and members of centre-right parties like the British Conservatives. The anti-gender movement’s role is to enshrine rigid gender roles by pushing anti-LGBTQ+ policies, banning abortion, and encouraging women to stay home and have children.

According to Sonia Corrêa of CREA, a Global South–centric feminist NGO, the Vatican had a huge hand in establishing the anti-gender movement in the 1990s. Corrêa also goes on to say that the anti-gender movement is a reactionary backlash against the increased position of women and gender minorities in various societies. And in modern-day Europe, the biggest financial supporters of anti-gender political activism are European Catholic groups, US right-wing Christian organisations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Putin regime, and a few Russian oligarchs. The rise of Russian funding seems to be recent, but then again, Russia has redoubled its efforts to destabilise Western countries over the past decade.

TERFs are being taken for a ride by these fundamentalist nutjobs, but I don’t feel sympathy for any movement that is focused on restricting others’ rights. Also, the reactionaries behind the anti-gender movement know damn well what they’re doing. They want to disenfranchise women. It’s less about trans people on their own and more about their obsession with the patriarchy. TERFs’ “sex-based rights” bullshit is a one-way ticket to depriving women of the vote by claiming that it is men’s “sex-based right” to make political decisions and women’s “sex-based right” to be protected from predatory men by being excluded from the public sphere.

It is not just Russia and it will never be just Russia. Patriarchal oppression must be defeated, both there and everywhere else.

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.

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.)

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?

Continue reading

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.

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