It’s a basement bar commiseration with your boys to get over a bad breakup, drinking until time evaporates, raising you glasses and crying, “Long Live Death!”
Fascism is doing everything that led to the overdue end — the bacchanalia it inspired — over and over again, without a hint of self-awareness.
Fascism is not reflection. There’s no examination of one’s actions, mindset, and all the things big and small that keep vicious cycles from being broken. It’s a self-satisfying blame game, an image of other created for your glass smashing brethren that fuels the blowout but does nothing for the impending hangover.
It’s not the unseen, tireless work, the daily grind of dedicating your life to being the best average man you can be. Fascism is the drunken cry of the under-average overcompensating though abandon, omnipresent hint of violence just waiting to be expressed again innocent strangers refashioned into the monsters you need them to be.
Facism is bumblebee Fred Perry, childhood regression, false friendship and falser sincerity. Fascism is “sovereign” citizens relegating consciousness to a YouTube algorithm.
Fascism is not facing yourself. It is subsuming fact to feeling, subsiding on the dopamine drip of social media-fueled moral outrage, and yet calling others snowflakes without a hint of irony. Fascism is anger at the house which you have made.
Yes, fascism is easy. And it’s no surprise that in many parts of the world, fascism is on the rise.
As a teen in Biblebeltistan, listening to Rush Limbaugh long after the witching hour in an old Tennessee farmhouse, I was transfixed by the siren song of Armageddon.
I believed that demons might come for me in the night. I believed I might be left behind. I was transfixed by the black helicopter whir over our cornfield bathed in Methodist church light.
I was bible-coded for dispensational premillennial tension. I got over it. I was fortunate enough to figure it out before we became so adept at backing up every last indiscretion to the cloud.
And for today’s futureless young men circling the drain of American empire, I reckon fascism must be, if not easier than ever, still pretty damn easy. What porn-drained dropout on a snake oil drip of the intellectual dark web and JRE isn’t falling short of the idealized men the alpha brains are teaching them they should be?
Worse are the ones who become adept at choking you out before learning the patience to have a conversation. One can only shudder at the thought of a generation of Jordan Peterson lost boys backsliding into their thirties — lumpenproletariats surfing the bell-curved wave of Charles Murray straight to their (or your) grave.
Years ago in one of my last posts, I wrote about Trump and the death of the American dream. I was a month away from moving to Bangkok, what became a new chapter, as well as a return to an old one, in my life.
Just as Russia gained relevance in American discourse for reasons real and imagined, I abandoned ship. I was never very good with timing. Perhaps I should have built up a Twitter following on the Russiagate grift, peppering my posts with “dezinformatsiya” and other jargon to show the natsec bona fides I didn’t have. But that type of self-promotion and narrative spin isn’t in my wheelhouse. I’ve always felt like a fraud as it is. The last thing I need is to actually become one.
Then, I wrote about how misguided American idealists and vulture capitalists wanted to make them more like us. At the same time, we were well on our way towards engineering a decades-long decline that would make us more like them.
Trump is gone. But with the war of my lifetime finally coming to an end, the crazy train to THE END is only picking up steam.
I think the January 6 insurrection has only born out the consequences of unmitigated institutional rot. The fever dream that is REN TV, Russia’s most out-there vector of conspiratorial dispensation, is now shared by many Americans.
The New World Order was one thing. QAnon quite another. Some 17 percent of Americans believe Satan-worshiping baby eaters are pulling the strings. Even your average REN TV producer would struggle with the mental gymnastics to jump that shark.
What’s been more interesting is seeing age-old Russian boogeymen take center stage in America’s own pantheon of the fatuous and half-baked. George Soros. Bill Gates. Pedophile rings at the heart of government.
Least you forget, in 2011 political wing nut Yelena Mizulina claimed that a “pedophile lobby” was pulling the strings behind the scenes of the ruling United Russia party.
Years later, Russia’s former child’s rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov (who lost his job for dunking on ship-wrecked kids) concurred.
And somehow omnipotent Putin was powerless to do anything about it. So we’re back to Epicurus’ trilemma — Dear leader cannot (or won’t) stop evil. Not that logic was ever needed in the politics of wolf tickets.
Yet even these cognoscenti of batshit endowment might have viewed “adrenochrome harvesting” and its blood libel subtext as a bridge too far.
And then COVID-19 came. Fucking covid. An absolute accelerate for bio-engineered Wuhan flittermouse feculence.
Facemasks and micro-chipped vaccines are the real plot? The plot to do what?
Hand over the keys of our country to the unscrupulous captains of industry? That ship has long since sailed.
Really think it through. What’s the end result of the resurrected FEMA camp fantasy? Does Jeff Bezos need to enslave you to own everything? Did Zuckerberg put a gun to your head and demand you hand over the contents of your life? Did the kitchen sink of pharmaceuticals Joe Rogan threw at COVID-19 cost less than the free vaccine the same pharmaceutical companies are dispensing? Hello, Ivermectin alone might set you back $100 bucks, not to mention the cost of fixing a rectal prolapse.
But it’s no surprise the Proud Boys are providing security at anti-vaccine rallies. You see, like fascism, conspiracy is easy too. Resisting barcodes bearing the mark of the beast in some dystopian world born out of Hollywood has a certain charm.
But logging off of Facebook, who’s harvesting your metadata alongside the NSA, is just too hard.
There’s something romantic about evading the spooks in an East Berlin plattenbau with a stethoscope up against your wall. But resisting your own need for agency, to be seen, to telegraph every felony on livestream, with cell tower pings, global positioning, and never-deleted keystrokes giving a God’s eye view of your every damn thing — No, we won’t be having any of that at all.
Sorry folks, but the conspiracy is here. As far as this RICO case goes, we’re all getting indicted.
We gave away our communities for convenience. We chose instant messages we could pretend not to check over heart to hearts whose potential demands on our time seemed too dear to bear. And we don’t bear them. Or bare ourselves. And we feel so damned alone as a result.
We voted to transfer trillions to endless war and Virginia suburbs. We voted for bombs there while inertia brought here down without a sound. We vote for the outsourcers. The tax dodgers. Those who say no to new infrastructure. Those who oppose the economics of a living wage. We gave a mandate to hangmen and then went looking for scapegoats at the first sight of ropes.
You think the vampires really need to enslave us? We enslaved ourselves. And now we’re crying for a way out. But not the actual way. And not actually out.
And that’s why fascism is easy. Vaporwave vaping kids can’t shut up about being nostalgic for times they never lived in. Late night Western doomers dream of snowy nights and panel buildings in post-Soviet purgatory.
Life seems so much more beautiful as a YouTube visual loop. The world’s remains within a frame “like a painting on a wall.” Us not standing, but lying down in awe.
Throw another beautiful comment into the void for likes. We don’t know what else to do.
Real solutions are hard. LARPing, military cosplay is easy. Incels street fighting polyamorous anarchists seems like a solution rather than anomie expressing itself in the abyss.
Every daydreamer knows what they’d imagine they’d do when confronted with a hero’s quest. Every grifter spun them the solipsistic yarn of being a hero in their own story, rather than a member of a society.
So we keep on looking back to a there that was never there. We keep turning inward, until despair turns us inside out.
Yes fascism is easy. Just like reaching the end of the rainbow looks like a cakewalk. While walking a narrow road on brass tacks seems a bridge too far. And we’re not very good at investing in bridges these days. And on the bridge’s cracked parapet, the heads of the hanged will get a bird’s-eye view of collapse. So here we are, ready for the fall.
*By fascism, I mean the Ur-Fascism as described by Umberto Ecco.
Dead for a Snickers bar. Put that on my tombstone. You’d think running for your life — in the prime of your life — a person wouldn’t be some damn slow. But there you are, an underfed chain smoker in 20 below, cinder block boots half sliding on packed-to-ice snow, expecting that knife to puncture your back any minute now.
The dead eyes of the people watching your lead-legged run add to the absurdity. It’s the middle of the day in the arrested heart of this God-forsaken town. Passersby look on with the impassivity of cows chewing cud while you — cowardly you — cry out for help without an ounce of conviction.
You’d always heard life was cheap here. What, you think that don’t apply to you? Turns out the crew of flat caps didn’t get the memo regarding your American exceptionalism. Lungs already burning. Just wait til’ the first stick — air whooshing out the bubbling red.
You hang a left past the market. The home that isn’t home is more or less straight ahead. Thinking about the ossature-heavy warren you’ll have to cut through to get there. That’s where they’ll cut you. Toss your corpse in a culvert to be flushed out with the melting snowdrops of Spring.
So this is how it ends. Rather, this is how it begins.
A bus hurdles down nearby Barakhamba Road; engine roar seemingly red-shifting forever until auto rickshaw bleats punch holes in the rumble. The leaves continue to rustle soundlessly through glass. The palms stand at attention. The partially eclipsed gulmohar paints an orange aura of flame around the evergreen leaves. A wire dangles overhead.
Amid these wide-landed tree canopied streets of New Delhi, I get a hint of what peace could be. Sometimes the sing-song chatter of the orange-faced, black-masked mynahs is the most noise I contend with.
Other times it’s pigeons scrapping claws across stacks of air conditioners in the throes of dead, read-eyed passion above my balcony. Those same air conditioners click on and rumble like John Deeres racing a short track on a gravel lot, spurring the birds to scatter.
But in that sweet spot of time on the crap-covered mirador when the compressor cut out, the Old Monk kicked in, the cooing birds had yet to return and the smoke was breathed in — it was heaven.
Staring out at that angry red sun as big as god getting swallowed by the pollution-steeped sepia sky, I knew I was 10,000 miles away from that Kazakhstan death run of a decade prior. But all those steps were merely scales on the back of the Ouroboros in this flat circle of time.
“You f* our girls, we f* you!,” the one with the gun said.
Fenced in by a horseshoe of mob-deep middle-aged men, I scanned the decor of the hollowed out bunker this provincial nightclub passed off as a bathroom. Rough concrete walls, no sinks, one flickering light and a few partition-less holes to piss and shit in just about covered it. A clerestory window or two could have worked wonders for the place.
My blurry eyes returned to the scally-capped shooter as my heart remained stuck in my throat.
“I’m not trying to f*** your girls,” I replied in pulverized Russian. “I only want to dance.”
They all just glared at me. Was this just a warning, or was the actual f***ing about to commence?
At that moment my friend Owen began pushing his way through the flimsy door, which was being blocked by one of the crew. He saw the circle of heavies around me and immediately knew the score. I don’t know how, but he managed to negotiate my escape. My poor Russian and high blood alcohol level kept me out of the loop on what was actually said. Perhaps circumstances had sealed my relatively auspicious fate.
Around two dozen Peace Corps volunteers had descended on this provincial nightclub in Taldykorgan to celebrate Thanksgiving. A beating — a blood letting — would have been far too conspicuous. There were too many Americans to bear witness. With megaphones for mouths, the world was sure to have heard. So they let me go. Maybe they just wanted me gone, one way or the other.
Three weeks later, my would-be captors would try to finish the job they never got to start.
When I touched down in Delhi on an early April morning, a driver was unexpectedly waiting for me at the airport with a little sign bearing my name. I had to push my way through a throng of touts pulling at my bags to reach him. Some were scammers posing as taxi drivers who en route to your hotel would claim the military had shut down your street or some other tripe, only to take you to a fake tourist center that would send you on some exorbitantly-priced package holiday.
Others were unsolicited porters looking to carry your luggage for a 10 rupee tip. Somewhere in the mix was a legitimate rickshaw driver or two. Not needing to negotiate with that mob was a relief. So I was promptly whisked off in the back of an SUV, sun rising over the dust and dearth on the edge of near-endless sprawl.
Sleepy eyed, the ride passed like a dream until we reached the city proper. But to my surprise, the driver didn’t take me to the much-maligned apartment of the sojourning Moscow stranger who had invited me over on a whim.
Rather, approaching a round about in the heart of the city, we pulled off the road into an aisle of luxury. Emerging into a cloud of burning diesel and burnt plastic stench, actual porters pounced on us post haste, taking up perhaps the worst kept luggage to ever be offloaded at Claridges Hotel.
The jasmine-infused lobby cut a sharp contrast to the Eau de smog outside.
“Mr William, your room is ready sir.”
I was promptly escorted to the luxury lodgings I didn’t know I had. Deposited outside a door, garlands of flowers adorning corridors cut from the past, I turned the handle and stepped inside.
It was all mahogany, imperial art and black marble — a replica Raj-era oasis. Curtains were drawn over the private terrace. My paramour was in bed feigning sleep.
The remains of that year would be the best of my life. The culmination of nine years in Russia, a diversion precipitated by my Kazakhstan collapse, had finally come to an end. I was in the anteroom of life’s second act.
If only I had had the patience to wait around a bit longer. For there is no going back.
Fear and delusion drove me to Kazakhstan in my 20s. The place didn’t need me; I had nothing to give. But there I was, two months after some expedited “training”, dropped off into a provincial backwater in a swirling cloud of dust.
I will never forget that first day standing on the side of the road by my new home. What now, what now…
I was a site pioneer — the first and only volunteer to grace the place — largely on account of me. Graft was the name of the game.
Getting a bunch of computers donated by the feckless Yanks to be sold off by school administrators and similar schemes were rife. Few volunteers were in any position to help. We had neither the connections nor savoir faire for the job. Some certainly caused more harm than good. A few were genuine stars. In the end, it was all about resume building and filling the future ranks of spooks and State. As with any mass expansion, we were apples that had fallen far from the tree Kennedy planted.
To make matters worse, I’d never had an interest in Eurasia. Few of the volunteers did. Many were literally trying to get as close to Russia as possible, seeing as Peace Corps had gotten the boot there two years prior. My mind had always drifted farther East. A spot in Thailand was my dream. But after rejecting an assignment in Mongolia, it would have been months before a position opened up somewhere outside of Central Asia. And at 24 I was antsy to to get on with my life. Funny how years, decades can be shaped by choices we make when unable to wait. Virtues are virtues for a reason.
Nestled in the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains, my town-cum-village was all depopulation and dilapidation. It was named after the Kazakh poet and writer Ilyas Zhansugurov, who was executed in 1938 — five years after a disastrous man-made famine wiped out some 40 percent of the natives.
Everyone you met was the product of some sort of tragedy. The Chechens deported in 1944. The much-maligned Uhyghurs who fled neighboring Xinjiang during the Great Leap Forward. The Russians fearful of retribution after a mass exodus left them a minority in a once occupied land. And of course the Kazkahs themselves, whose blooded fed the soil after the “catastrophe”, which was by and large forgotten by history.
A nomadic people scattered across the steppe bisected by the Silk Road, there was very little on the way of settlement save the ruins of a few way stations from antiquity and the Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi commissioned by Tamerlane.
The mountainous southeast where I lived and the vast steppe beyond was thus widely marred by Soviet brutalism — clusters of crumbling five-story apartments stuck in the middle of a thousand nowheres.
That Fyodor Dostoyevsky was exiled to the northeastern wasteland of Semipalatinsk was telling. It would later served as the Polygon nuclear testing ground — irradiating the locals Lavrentiy Beria claimed were not there and “tearing apart” the air.
My town, for all of its privation, had never suffered such a harrowing fate. But its fate was bleak all the same. Numbering just over 8,000, Zhansugurova had shed over two-thirds of its population since the Soviet fall, with the collapsing pre-fabricated skeletons of buildings bitter reminders of a time when growth was on the horizon. Instead, it was far more reminiscent of war-torn Afghanistan.
There was hardly anyone there between the ages of 18-40. Young people left. Those who stayed had already given up on life before it started. The future was gone. And yet there I was, an uneducated “teacher” with self-aggrandizing plans to develop the community.
Their loss was deeply punctuated by the monuments of Soviet futurism left to rust in ramshackle parks and soulless public spaces.
It took years to discover the word to express the sombre longing it evoked in me — retrofuturism — the past’s idea of a future that will never be. Weary people now spent their lives under the shadows of dead dreams.
Locals used to joke that I had been sent to spy on their sugar processing plant. The only thing one could really document was ruin porn. But claims of espionage were rife and are believed to have played a part in the Peace Corps’ pullout from the country in 2011. So were the disproportionate rates of physical and sexual assault suffered by volunteers, which made us infamous among our regional counterparts.
Before I became just another statistic, I learned everything you could learn about tedium. No internet or smartphone, no friends, no ability to communicate; just frustration, meaningless work and a huge chip on my shoulder. I realized just how long a second could be if subdivided into infinity. I also learned the perils of torching a newspaper for light in an outhouse and then being stupid enough to throw it into the shit pit below. I will say this — Gehenna burned in my eyes that night.
I learned to fear many a moon as the sun rose. I learned to fear the wolves as it fell. I learned to fear man all of the time.
People there chain smoked and binge drank with reckless abandon. They routinely victimized each other, fueled by the inherit violence of their own lives.
With no venues for entertainment or dining out, sans a solitary concrete bunker with plastic chairs where beer was served in big plastic jugs, the only options for escape were to set off for the sun-scorched hills above, or drown in the valley below.
I smoked an impossible amount of cigarettes to make the time pass. I relished books, reading hundreds of pages in a single setting. Nothing was better than literally shedding skin in the banya — your first bath in weeks and 40 below snow staked up around the dimly-lit steam shack. Afterwards came homemade wine and cheese, the only true escape from endless days that ended all the same.
I miss that intense focus and joy such privation brings. Knives always have to be plunged deep to suck out all the marrow of life. But then my mind has already edited out the sad parts. You can simply never relive the feeling of waking up and looking to kill every passing second with no end in sight. Yet transient moments of elation forever haunt your consciousness.
Such is the grand lie of the past. So much is left on the cutting room floor, while the present is nothing but a series of dailies in all their stark reality.
Our minds are made for post production. No wonder they search out any time but now.
Leaving our apartment on Hailey Road, I walked past the Agrasen Ki Baoli — a magnificent 108 stepped-well descending into green water pond, and past the Iranian embassy onto Barakhamba Road.
Hemmed in by characterless office complexes that swallowed up the majestic bungalows of another era, there was always something distinctly Soviet about this “twelve pillared” thoroughfare.
After the chaos and grit of the world above, the high-ceilinged, modern feel of the metro station gave me a false sense of security. It was mostly empty. Maybe that crush of humanity above had not yet taken to the trains and tunnels en masse. Oh how I was mistaken.
Three stops later and hands pulled me into a rugby scrum pack as we clashed head on with the testudo formation trying to break our lines and push onto the train. I wanted to tell them there was a better way, but then my headphones got ripped out of my ears and as i turned around, a woman offered a smile to complement her elbows in my kidneys.
Never turn around in a stampede.
From that point on the inertia takes you over and you just ride the wave onto the escalator. Then the eyes find you, and they never let you go. You are ejected into the open sewage smell of the ‘moonlight market’ in Old Delhi, where a few neo-colonial buildings and tumble-down Havelis are mostly overshadowed by the crumbling cardboard box feel of not-so-high rises being quartered by a massive tangle of cross cutting wires. One giant hand on that mass of cable could make the whole thing rise or fall depending on the decision to push or pull. A hand just like that had found its way to neighboring Nepal.
The Red Fort frames the scene in the heat-haze distance. It’s all street food, stray dogs, rickshaw drivers, shoppers, walkers, errant tandoori-baked tourists; ammonia stench, soot, exhaust and wet shits; mosquito-coil cancer, camphor and incense burn a miasmic soot cloud swirl in a Mughal urn.
So you dive into the swirling dust like Pig-pen being mauled by the Tasmanian Devil, make a b-line through a sea of makeshift stalls, and find yourself in the splendor of the Jama Masjid, where beggars line stair cases ascending to the northern gate.
The candy cane minarets of red sandstone, white marble and perfect gumdrop domes are glorified by the blue sky.
The overhead eagle swarm is awe-inspiring. The legion eyes swarming on you, less so. The massive stone courtyard sucks up the sun and cooks your feet for those stupid (or tough) enough to ignore the trail of cloth snaking its way around the complex. I plead the former.
While walking back through the madness on sole-burned feet, my mind tried to trace a line between Shah Jahan and Tamerlane. An entire world had come out of Temüjin Borjigin’s overcoat.
The more you see, the more your ignorance is cut in sharp relief. From Central Asia to the subcontinent, I walked in the shadows of emperors and dynasties of which I knew nothing. Oh the irony! The smaller your world, the larger your place in it.
And running down that iced-over, crumbling street, I could scantly believe the center of my solipsistic world could ever die. I was almost proven wrong that day.
Headed towards the town center, powder crunched beneath my feet; a gauzy cloud cover stuffed between the sun and light. Snow sprinkled the foothills and mountain ridge beyond. I was on my way to the post office to call my then-girlfriend — another volunteer.
A remnant of Soviet modernization, post offices served a broader function than their American equivalents, with telegraph and telephone services, along with utility bill payments, folded into one place. Seeing as we had no phone at home, it was one of my few connections to the outside world.
Unlike the drunk heading up the family who lodged me, my girlfriend’s host father was an Akim or mayor. He had a phone to go with his villa in a town 900 miles away near the Uzbek border.
We were all searching for clout in the hardship Olympics and she was rounding out the bottom of the pack on that count, much to her chagrin. It doesn’t surprise me I was reading Into the Wild at the time. We were all chasing the same fevered dream of Thoreau:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Fetishizing experience in Spartan-like digs, reducing life to its lowest terms, all for status in a pre-social media age, was the name of the game. Our technologies change but our base instincts remain — me over the other, at all costs, even if that cost is me.
Looking back, I probably should have read The Beach first and saved myself the self-defeating search for “authenticity.”
I should have done a lot of things differently…
As for me and the object of my coup de foudre, an American-made refugee of the Islamic Revolution, most of the time we did our best to make an already difficult situation impossible on each other. But those few minutes on the crackling line were brief intermissions of hope which ended in infinite longing.
Truth be told, after the heart-jump feeling of hearing each others’ voices, there was never enough time to say anything of substance. There was the awkward settling in, the guarded intimacy as strangers stared at the foreigner prattling away on the only phone, and the obscene price making every minute worth its weight in gold, while the words themselves were aerials.
Then the click and the great big empty to follow. Nothing but cold, white light and the whistle of wind outside. It was just before noon and there was nothing but nothing ahead. So I headed back out, down the road and past collapse, to a poorly-stocked corner store on the edge of nothing.
When I arrived, Sveta, the middle-aged Russian woman behind the glass counter, smiled an upturned gendèr at me.
During the course of her affable interrogation designed to probe the limits of my Russian, I noticed a Snickers bar behind the counter. I hadn’t had one in ages. Supply chains were like everything else in this neck of the woods — broken. Excitement welled immediately. Life is all about the little things, like diabetes.
Struggling to maintain a conversation, I barely noticed as the bell on the door rang upon opening. I jovially told Sveta that I’d be taking the Snickers — the one and only Snickers — along with cookies and a Coke. A gruff voice behind me said he wanted a Snickers too.
I turned around. A hard-boiled Kazakh man in a black leather jacket and matching cap had locked his eyes on me. I thought he was joking and turned my attention back to my bounty. Settling up, I took my things and left. A mellow yellow Lada was parked outside. I tried to ignore the seated-men in black rubbernecking me.
But my self-contained world was already under attack. After crossing the street, a hellion began hollering at me. I did what people normally do, pick up the clip as the adrenaline kicked in, hoping they’d keep their discontent at a distance.
I was mistaken. The man from the store began running my way. I kept my brisk pace but didn’t speed up. I was still trying to wish the confrontation away. A strong arm wrapped itself around my jacket and began patting down my chest in search of my wallet. I looked over as the mugger snarled incomprehensibly between clenched teeth. I couldn’t even tell if he was sibilating to me in Russian or Kazakh.
Much like the fire in his black eyes, all I could glean was unadulterated hatred.
I kept walking with the weight of his arm on my neck as the car from the store came barreling down the road. After passing by it swung back and cut us off at the pass.
“Get in the car!”, the man screamed, this time clearly, in Russian.
I pushed him off of me and pushed on, as if I were trying to call his bluff without saying a word. I mean it was the middle of the day, in the center of town. People don’t get robbed, killed, in the middle of the day! My shove prompted a guttural scream. I looked back and saw he had drawn a knife and was coming at me.
Turns out I didn’t know one lick about propriety in perdition. And for a fraction of a second I stared at the monster in man as if I were in a day-lit dream. That fraction of a second nearly cost me everything.
I don’t remember my 25th birthday. A couple of months after returning home with a broken heart — a broken life — I slept away a good four month period of my life back home in Tennessee. My whole soul shook like a toothache, though I could not hear myself sing.
Somewhere in there I flew up to Chicago and absolutely blew a job opportunity in Japan after staying up all night with a captain and a few flight-less attendants chasing the depths of escape.
Some of my volunteer friends had headed off to India that summer, as we had talked about many a time. But I was as far away from there as there could be.
I spent that time on a well-worn bed keeping my eyes shut until the sun set. I slept until my body could countenance sleep no more. And then I whiled away the hours until I could sleep again.
In October I would make my way to Russia, thinking I needed to return to a place adjacent to my sense of loss. I just wanted to be anywhere but here. But who knew here was everywhere? Who knew you’d one day miss the you who could hurt so much for anything at all?
Ten years after a day I cannot remember, I met my 35th year as the sun rose on a mountainous road to Dharamshala, home of the Dalai Lama. From a mountain holler in Tennessee to the top of the world, I would render myself through sky funeral and study the scatterings for the sake of extispicy.
I was a still a chain-smoking Bukowski loathe to eat, pray and love. Kazakhstan had already taught me the perils of turning others into self-serving set pieces. The older I got, the smaller I got. That was a good thing. The scale of everything around me grew to infinity. Miraculously, I was a part of it all. So there I was, interdependently arising with the sun. And despite watching the remains of my youth dissipate, I was happy.
In all of those Himalayan days the sun did shine on me. The permanent days unending of a decade prior did end. And I did my best to pull long-gone me out of his hole to show him the heights to which he could ascend. Sure, the fall would come again. But the real struggle is learning to play the long game of leveling out.
———— I was too afraid to look back and too tired to go on. I’d never make it back home. I knew once and for all, if they caught me in that warren, I was a goner.
So after rounding the corner, I took shelter in a store. Scared to death, I was expecting that gang to come charging in any minute. I frantically tried to explain to the skittish shopkeepers what was happening. They insisted that I take my troubles elsewhere. The propriety of the proprietors’ request aside, to acquiesce would have sealed my fate.
And then I remembered my counterpart at the local school was married to a cop.
It took some convincing, but the store owners begrudgingly agreed to call her at home. And her husband did come and pick me up. The thing I remember the most about the good officer was that he had somehow managed to lose his ring finger while drunkenly falling out of a bus. The symbolism was not lost on his wife. He had learned little in the way of responsibility since.
I’d later discover that prior to my call, he’d just slaughtered a horse for some sort of celebration. After taking me home, he went right back to the festivities without a second thought.
After Peace Corps learned about the whole fiasco, one of his superiors caught wind of his dereliction of duty. For the sake of appearances, there was hell to pay. To my misfortune, the Keystone Cops were called into action.
I was brought into the station to file a report the next morning. The shit their boss took had clearly rolled down hill and they were laying it thick on me.
My statement, which was elicited via interrogation, took forever to complete. They then proceeded to drive me around town dragging random (and soon-to-be irate) men from their homes in a wanton fishing expedition.
By sundown half the town absolutely hated me. Ironically, Sveta likely knew exactly who was behind it and wasn’t talking. So in perfect post-Soviet fashion, the statistic became more important than the crime.
The cops would later visit me at night, pressuring me to say I’d filed a fake police report. Otherwise, the case would remain open forever, and they’d be forced to work it in perpetuity.
It was all one big con. Being the young, idealistic American I was at the time, I refused to comply. The calumny came hard and fast.
My name was mud in a place that had already tried to kill me. My paranoia grew beyond bounds.
I remember being in the back of a car with a few Russian toughs that a truly concerned neighbor had charged with taking care of me.
Stuck in the middle seat tumbling down a snow-covered but unpaved and unlit street in the dead of night, I was certain I would die there. And “I” did die. And from then on I learned just how many times a man could be reborn in a single life. ——— [May 2005: Some shitty bar in Arlington, Virginia]
Jeremy: “Someone tried to kidnap you? Are you f***ing serious? Jesus Christ! You f****king Peace Corps volunteers. Do you know how many times I almost got blown up in Serbia?”
Me: “I wasn’t trying to compare…”
“Jeremy: “Dude, JUST F*** OFF!”
Jeremy was right. But he didn’t have to be such a dick about it.
The years will make a mockery of you. It’s inevitable. Earlier iterations of yourself wrapped in a cocoon of defense mechanisms, fueled by narcissistic avoidance and steeped in stupid pride. Time does it dance. Consciousness expands. And then you begin to catch a glimpse of how others once saw you — a you you were incapable of seeing.
Then the memory hits you. The sting of shame in your overfed belly. But all that shame and pain can prove to be the golden joinery of a shattered soul if you let it. Though learning its lessons and then letting go is another matter altogether.
Just before leaving Kazakhstan, I took a car to the capital of Almaty. After months of snow, the culmination of the cold season had come and gone, even as I was approaching the winter of my life.
The March air was filled with life and light that I had forgotten. Cumulus Humilis was strewn across the cerulean sky. Uncovered grassland ran to the craggy feet of giants. After so much struggle, the world on the cusp of rebirth, I would forever regret that I never saw the spring.
If I’d know I’d never be able to return, perhaps it all would have played out differently. But I think it’s been playing out the same way for eternity.
My face pressed to the cold glass, the infinite beyond me, I was in awe of my own sublime disgrace — the ecstasy on the boundary of the “impossibility of living”.
Oh, how amazing it is just to be here. Even if here is gone.
You grow up in a lazy summer sunset where not much gets done and no one seems to mind. Then people start getting bored, thinking life’s only good if you’re buying something your neighbors can’t buy or on the road to somewhere, anywhere, forgetting you worked your whole god-damned life to get where you are now, and your father before you, and his, and his, and his.
And one evening you’re making eyes at a beautiful bird during a riverside rendezvous, thinking this is it, this is what you’ve been waiting for. But Boris stops by with Mikhail in toe, spinning yarns about Shangri-La down the road.
So after a bit of convincing you finally leave your tangerine sky bleeding beautiful across the still water to chase out the unknown promise of the night. Before you know it, Boris and Mikhail started squabblin’ ‘bout which is the right way to go. Bunch of folk from the town over yonder meet you at the crossroads with fists full of wolf tickets, and you’d be damned lucky if a tooth’s the only thing you lose running into that lot.
‘Dem bastards, need I remind you, ain’t even poor. Hell, they’re richer than you ever were. Whole damn town is richer by far. Never earned it, just lived off of others like the parasites they always been.
And they don’t just up and clobber ya.
When they approach, they’re decked out in the height of fashion, looking so spick and span you can’t help but hide your thick peasant hands behind the threadbare jacket handed down by mitts even bigger than yours.
So they say they got something for ya over yonder, swear up and down you’ve been led astray. But if you just come with Bill over here, he’ll show you a short cut to that big ‘ol tusovka in the sky, the very same one you were dreaming of watching shadows diffusely swing hips in streams.
Before you know it, you’re face down in a ditch swearing you and your two left feet managed to kick trip and face plant into a makeshift grave. And when you finally drag yourself out, last flicker of dusk waning until all that’s left is the purple grey nothing soon fading to black; a few flickering stars dim against the cinereal coffin lid horizon.
The sting in your skin sets your palms aflame. Just about everything hurts a little bit, but nothing is broken more than your soul. And somehow Mikhail and Boris both managed to come out relatively unscathed.
So a little scuffed up and a poor man made yet even poorer, you stumble the rest of the way to the party when you were, at worst, supposed to stumble and sing your way back.
Now your mood’s as sour as your hot breath and there ain’t even any girls to sweeten you up.
The vodka’s bootleg shoe cleaner, and, wouldn’t you know it, the band ran into that same group of bastard bandits who likewise relieved them of their instruments. Yanka the singer gets so depressed she goes off and offs herself. Tsoi hit the highway long before this lot showed up, though in truth they’d long since crashed his party too.
So there you sit in a basement’s piss-colored light all stinkin’ from Belomorkanals and boot-leg shine. Sun’s long since set on that river that was so beautiful you’d have sworn it was full of snake oil.
And out of nowhere, an argument breaks out that don’t make much damn sense on account of all the syllables being smushed to fit into that bottle of illegal buckwheat brain elixir.
Now the piss light room is all anger, man sweat and garlic-pickled-herring-peppered-boot-juice spittle being sprayed in every direction.
Just the chaos of three souls sloshing around in top-heavy sacks of chemicals pursuing muddled trains of thoughts in rimless cars shooting sparks ’til this whole failed bit of bonding wipes out on a road to nowhere.
Yep, ‘dem sparks of consciousness were doused in too many soulless spirits tonight and now ya’ got a fire down below.
Alcohol inspirits long-since dormant creatures of the deep; drunken tears raising sea levels, methane from bullshit distending the bellies of bloated beasts until they float like putrid death vessels on the rocky sea of memories.
Mikhail’s calls for calm get drowned out as a few animated fossils drag him out the door. Meanwhile, Boris has already found his way to his feet and is surveying your sweet spot from spitting distance.
You’ve still got size on him and a cast iron chin, while he’s all anger heating a glass jaw to bend and not break.
And you can’t help but want to take that malleable material and pound some sense into it, not too much, just back into a bulb to shed some light on what’s otherwise madness.
“You dragged me to this shitshow and pumped me with poison when I done told yavI was happy down by the river!,” you hear yourself say.
But what you have to say falls on deaf ears. And wouldn’t you know it, the fat man looks to put the blame on you, yelling how he’s got something for ya!
Or so he thought, and his thinking wasn’t so bad. For all your size you keep putting yourself on your own ass trying to get a paw on him.
All of that subcutaneous largess has shielded him from the biggest of peasant hands. Then wolves in epaulettes drag you out back for even thinking about reaching up to touch their ceiling.
And they crack your filament a few times until the darkness comes.
And then you wake up in a puddle leaking pain, sun beating down on a pounding head, the same sun that has long since set on salad days.
So you stumble back home past the river and pause before pissing in it for good measure.
And then you ask yourself: What does it matter anyways? The sun surely would’ve set whether you’d gone or stayed.
In a world where the assessments of intelligence agencies are fake and fake news is real, Donald Trump risks dragging America into the trap of gullible cynicism.
In my more solipsistic moments, I almost feel like I brought this all on myself. From the time I first stepped foot onto Kazakh soil in June 2004 until the moment I left Moscow for India in April 2015, my reality, with a few intermissions, was a post-Soviet one. The learning curve was so steep I have trouble remembering former iterations of myself left scattered up and down those those myriad peaks and valleys. I came to Kazakhstan a Peace Corps volunteer with cookie cutter leftist politics, a Christian’s metaphysical armor, American idealism and enough cognitive dissonance to have my brain dancing like a washing machine on its last legs.
Something had to break.
A few years later, Russia obliged.
All the courtyard’s drunks and mutts Humpty-Dumptied me back into something both better and worse.
I was forever given an outsider’s view on my own culture. I was never fully allowed back in. When the time came, I thought I could leave Russia. But follow rivers long enough and you learn that they’re all connected. The slippery waters of White Sea unreality are now lapping on Atlantic shores.
So here’s the thing that everyone who’s ‘seen behind the veil’ already knows: the intersubjective order governing all human interactions is based on myths. Once people stop believing in those myths, the order collapses.
This is no conspiracy, you’re not Tyler Durden and the wool has not been pulled over your eyes sheeple.
Without collective intentionality, money is nothing more than a Rorschach Test on colorful paper; dead Syrian children are decaying organic matter and not war crimes. When teenagers who have never thought about metacognition first stumble upon Sartre and realize that “objective reality” isn’t something that pours unadulterated into their looking glass eyes, a few fits of philosophy often follow. Most search and ultimately find their footing on firm-enough ontological grounds. But when entire societies chase the rabbit down the hole and never find their way back, cynicism triumphs— authoritarian drift begins.
It has always been discomfiting for humans to accept that law, human rights, culture, religion and economies are underpinned by nothing more than shared agreement. It is in our nature to want an arbitrator to stand above the fray and keep the goalposts in place. Thus the original power vertical was born: God, god(s), kings, courts and commoners.
Get past that regressive thinking and you realize we ourselves are endowed with the awesome responsibility to create the architecture of our systems. We fashion the imagined order that shapes the material world.
The Soviet Union, for example, was swept up into a dialectic of Hegelian exuberance with Eschatological Marxism promising heaven on earth for the faithful. Philosophy was elevated to science; the mechanics of history’s movements oiled by pioneering engineers.
And although heaven on earth was not found (in fact, at times it was closer to hell) belief did propel man into space.
When the cracks began to appear on the canvas of socialist realism, people themselves split. As Peter Pomerantsev has noted, homo sovieticus grew up lying in every public moment, for the cost of truth-telling was the loss of job, liberty (and possibly life.)
As I previously wrote, Russia, unlike the West, first came into contact with critical theory and post modernism not during the halcyon days of social revolution and economic boom, but during a time when everything was falling apart. In the absence of genuine civil society, a robust economy or any form of institutional mooring, rather than sail through the death of a godless god and the birth of another, Russia was left in a two-decade long holding pattern — existential purgatory.
Then, when Russians who came of age before 1991 came to power, “they created a society that was a feast of simulations, with fake elections, a fake free press, a fake free market and fake justice,” as Pomerantsev noted.
Thus was born triumphant cynicism, which can be summarized as a power-obsessed culture’s compromise with abject powerlessness. You can’t do anything, you don’t do anything, but that’s ok, because nothing can be done. At least you are in on the lack of need to do. It’s the idealists working against the grain who have lost their way.
Such cynicism, of course, is useful to those behind the levers of power.
“When people stopped trusting any institutions or having any values, they could easily be spun into a conspiratorial vision of the world,” he wrote. “Thus the paradox: the gullible cynic.”
Americans, at our worst, have long been the opposite of that: gullible optimists. But optimists are creatures of doing. Belief in the efficacy of acting creates action. That action shapes the material world. The idea of money will die with man, but styrofoam created on account of the profit motive will live forever. The belief in human rights created both Amnesty International and an ex-post facto pretext for invading Iraq.
Which is to say, optimism has its downsides.
The true danger of Donald Trump, beyond retrograde environmental, immigration and economic policies is that, as a sufferer of narcissistic personality disorder, he believes in nothing beyond the barriers of his own soma.
Trump, in so many ways, is a living, breathing manifestation of America’s Jungian shadow; an oversized beast with body dysmorphia unatttuned to ambient noise, smashing countless fragile things underfoot and unawares. He’s an entitled rich kid who envisions himself a self-made man, a gaudy vulgarian interested in gilded, and not ivory towers. He has no time for reading but knows it all; a true exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Trump is a white man born in a cradle shaped like a tanning bed who doesn’t know if he still exists when people stop looking at him. And in case you hadn’t guessed, he’s got a big dick.
He is the cacophonous swell of disintegrating Union when the better angels of our nature have been bludgeoned to death by tone-deaf demons singing the National Anthem as a form of onanism. But it was America that ultimately begot Trump, secreting him from its oversized bile duct onto the polity. And now it shall be Trump that fashions America in his own image.
Like most narcissists, Trump displaces any sense of shame through projection. There is no institution that he would not set on fire for the sake of his own ego. Today it’s the CIA, tomorrow it’s an independent judiciary.
Trump’s rage against Saturday Night Live’s portrayal of him is reminiscent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose notoriously thin skin is routinely ironed out with botox.
When a popular satirical program called Kukly (often translated as ‘Dolls’, perhaps better translated as ‘Puppets’), routinely depicted Putin as an impotent groom or a big baby, the Kremlin asked NTV, which broadcast the show, to stop portraying the not-yet omnipotent president.
The channel responded by showing Putin as biblical theophany the very next episode (ironic, as near deification would be his future failsafe against televised satire).
That, coupled with their critical coverage of the Second Chechen War, sealed the channel’s fate.
NTV’s owner was ultimately jailed, his media holdings were brought under state control and Kukly was taken off the air.
Be careful Alec Baldwin.
Trump is the kind of man who would build an arc out of an orphanage rather than drown for the sake of saving children. Just don’t remind him of it, or he might try and drown you too. And don’t use hyperbole to prove a point, for he just might beef up those liable laws and sue you. This is the first time I’ve ever second-guessed myself when writing about an American politician. That’s how this all starts…
A narcissist views self-worth as an all or nothing, zero-sum proposition. The national interest will be subsumed to the magical thinking needed to keep the myth alive.
As a result, Trump would rather undermine the “rigged election system” than lose an election. Even when he won the electoral vote tally, he couldn’t countenance having lost the popular vote. Instead, he claimed he had also won the popular vote, if one were to deduct the millions of people who “voted illegally”.
When the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the Russian government had sought to secure a Trump victory, he retorted that their claim was “ridiculous”, adding that “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
Alex Jones, the Infowars founder who believes Obama turns frogs gay with chemicals and views Sandy Hook as a false flag, backed Trump in denying Russian involvement.
Calling Obama’s citizenship into question, declaring 9/11 an inside job and accusing FEMA of setting up concentration camps is one thing. Accusing a hostile foreign power of attempting to influence your election through hacking? Beyond the pale.
Trump also doesn’t receive daily intelligence briefings from “those people” because he views himself as a “smart person.”
By contrast, when Trump falsely accused a man who attempted to rush the stage during one of his campaign rallies in March of having ties to ISIS, he later said: “What do I know about it? All I know is what’s on the Internet.”
As for Putin, there’s a reason Trump saves his invective for his own intelligence community intended to safeguard his nation and not a hostile foreign leader who has been working tirelessly to send the City on a Hill into a ditch.
“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”
But the problem is not just Trump’s narcissism, opaque business practices, or questionable connections. It is the decay of American institutions that ultimately helped propel him to the White House in the first place — the same institutions that are the only thing standing between American democracy and Trump’s most despotic tendencies.
When Trump tweets of fake elections, his supporters salivate at the sound of the dog whistle. False stories about dead souls and illegal immigrants voting have long been meant to disenfranchise minorities. They’ve also undermined faith in the electoral process.
When he speaks of the lying mainstream media, his supporters are already primed for the message. For decades, it has long reverberated in the echo chamber that fake news is news one disagrees with while real news is actually fake news that reinforces one’s preexisting beliefs about the world. Hence Balkan-generated clickbait is fact and meticulously fact-checked exposes in Newsweek are “fiction”.
But it’s not all a ruse.
When he talks about the fake free market, he isn’t entirely off the mark. Throughout the rustbelt, the bailout of Wall Street and the sell out of Main Street is dolefully discussed under decaying monoliths to days of manufacture gone by.
Maybe they could never stay in a globalized world. But they had to be replaced with something.
The King and Queen of the party of labor did rack up $153 million in speaking fees from the captains of finance; neither Trump nor Macedonian teenagers made that up.
You don’t have to be a Trump supporter to know that no one from HSBC went to prison for helping Mexican drug cartels launder money, but Patricia Spottedcrow did get 12 years for selling $31 worth of weed.
You thought that only the sons of Russian politicians, Southeast Asian aristocrats and Indian actors were allowed to run people over with near impunity. Then affluenza spread stateside like SARS, Ethan Couch was deemed too rich to be a vehicular homicider, and banana trees began sprouting in Burleson, Texas.
Trump also wouldn’t be wrong to excoriate fake justice, although somehow, in some bizarre inversion of logic, those who long found themselves on top of America’s psychologically suppressed racial hierarchy realized that privilege had diminishing returns as the wealth gap widened under their own party’s policies. But rather than confront their own intersubjective myth — the self-made man unencumbered by social debt —they turned their ire on those who had long suffered from the sort of injustice they are just beginning to glimpse.
And now, self-made men are calling for protectionism. They want the free market to bring down the price of drugs that are more costly than anywhere else in the free world because of…the free market. The cognitive dissonance has turned large swaths of the republic into a pressure cooker. And then the other is hated beyond rhyme or reason.
America is already so, so close to the edge.
Another attack on the scale of 9/11 would do much to stoke Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. America’s institutions, while more robust than those of other states where authoritarian leaders have used crisis to consolidate power (Russia, Turkey, Weimar Germany), are diminished. The party of Reagan seems unwilling to take on Trump so long as they can gut the EPA, further wealth polarization for the sake of their own failed myth and bring a woman’s reproductive health more firmly under the state’s control.
They were never democrats to begin with. Voter suppression is part of the party platform.
But even their base is becoming disenfranchised. And what do you do when the party of bloodletting wins again while the party of penicillin has been accused of corrupting souls with their witches’ brew? You know who gets the blame when somebody dies.
So as reason continues to falter, as the Commander in Chief leads the charge against reality, conspiracy will take hold of the increasingly dispossessed.
Live with fear long enough and reality starts to become slippery. It’s hard to stay balanced when you stop believing in the certainty of tomorrow (or the certitude of yesterday).
And if all of that time in Russia taught me anything, it’s this: all is lost when the little man stops believing. It’s one thing when the president is a crook, quite another when it’s cops, tax agents and postal workers. The fish may rot from the head, but a building never collapsed due to a twisted spire.
The elite have had, since time immemorial, the luxury of disbelief. After all, it’s an entirely different matter to play a rigged game when the game is rigged for you.
Americans have long believed the game was relatively fair. The Union is imperfect, but we were always moving towards our greater ideals.
“The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice.” Or so we believe(d).
Russians, have, for most of their history, seen the arc of history bend towards iniquity. Then a wind of change seemingly came a quarter century back. It turned out to be a storm.
American idealists and vultures got behind that slipstream and set sail to former Soviet states for myriad reasons all born of the same mind.
They always thought we were naive; we thought they were pessimists. Who knew we were both making it all up as we went along?
Ultimately, the Harvard crooks, Christ-complexed, volunteers, civil servants and bored backpackers were all caught up in the same strange missionary effort to make them more like us.
Who would have imagined, 25 years later, that it was us who just might end up like them?
One candidate doesn’t know what Aleppo is, but is quite certain that whatever is going on in Syria, the only way we can deal with it is by “joining hands with Russia.” The other argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has been a leader, far more than [Barack Obama] has been a leader.” His pick for VP, hailing from the northern fringe of the Bible Belt, said that opinion was “inarguable.”
But how exactly did a country which in one iteration was the the world’s first constitutionally socialist state, only to mutate into a “gas station masquerading as a country”, as one prominent critic put it, become a beacon of hope for America’s increasingly fractious (and fractured) right?
The answer to that question, of course, is as varied as the sundry state of American conservatism itself. Putin has become a Rorschach test for the American afflicted. Knowledge of his actual policies or how they manifest themselves in Russia society has little bearing on his perceived efficacy as a leader. Much like Trump himself, perceptions of Putin are far less a matter of rational choice than emotional need.
Establishment Republicans, who had long excited the passions of Americans who saw elections in eschatological, and not political terms, one day woke up to find they had lost control of a base they had been whipping into a frenzy for decades.
Is it really shocking that a party which ignored (if not actively undermined) the interests of the working class at every turn while engaging in dog whistle politics and playing upon the most paranoid fears of pre-tribulationists would one day decry the fact that the lunatics had taken over the asylum?
The rise of Trump, and the seemingly oblique embrace of Putin, have been fueled in part by the establishment’s perceived betrayal of the social contract with the white working class. The post-war years were defined by rising living standards, two-tone ideological considerations and political realism.
Americans were the good guys fighting the good fight against an Evil Empire that built concrete walls and dropped iron curtains.
But then the end of the Cold War ushered in the end of history, a much heralded utopia that for many devolved into a post-industrial wasteland where neither gender, God, nor well-paying jobs appeared to actually exist anymore.
As it increasingly seemed that the culture wars and America-first rhetoric were in fact smoke screens for a two-party duopoly beholden to the movements of global capital and other shadowy “cosmopolitan” forces, right wing political movements from Tea Party populists, libertarians, paleoconservatives, outright nazis and the so-called alt-right have all sought to pour a healthy dose of iodine into brackish political waters.
How these same groups would come to lionize one of the most opaque and unaccountable political systems in the world is, to put it mildly, ironic.
But, for leading libertarians like Ron Paul, his son Rand Paul, their ideological bedfellow (and Aleppo-amnesiac Gary Johnson), arch Paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan and white supremacist Richard Spencer, Putin has at worst been given a bad rap, and at best serves as an exemplar for the type of leader needed to pull Western civilization from the brink.
In this strange, post-Reagan world of the right, Americans no longer tear down walls, they build them; Russia is no longer viewed as the Evil Empire, but is rather the levy holding back America’s decadent globalist tide.
Otherwise, after Putin comes the flood…
‘One of us’
In a December 2013 article entitled ‘Is Putin One of Us?’, Buchanan bemoaned the fact that “our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live.”
Given the fact that Buchanan’s grandfather actually fought on the side of the Confederacy, one is free to take from that statement what they will. He goes on to write that Reagan had once called the Soviet Union “the focus of evil in the modern world,” though, as Putin implied in a recent speech, “Barack Obama’s America may deserve the title in the 21st century.”
Buchanan continues that Americans caught up in a “Cold War paradigm” have missed the decisive struggle of the 21st century, which entails “conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite.”
In a later essay published this past May entitled “Why Russia Resents Us,” Buchanan, in reference to NATO’s expansion, poses the question, “If there is a second Cold War, did Russia really start it?” Buchanan is not the only one who who believes the US policy establishment is stuck a Cold War paradigm (while otherwise missing the plot).
On the eve of military operations that would see Russia annex the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Senator Rand Paul argued: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time and I don’t think that is a good idea.”
Then, in April 2014, after Russian had already annexed Crimea and was clandestinely fomenting unrest in Eastern Ukraine, Johnson, the Libertarian party nominee, had choice words not for actual Russian intervention, but perceived US meddling, while speaking on RT America.
“When you look at The Ukraine [sic] right now, that would be analogous to Russia getting involved in Puerto Rico. They’re not going to do it. We shouldn’t get involved in The Ukraine [sic].”
Months later, when Russian-backed rebels shot down passenger flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, Ron Paul was quick to jump to Russia’s defense.
“Just days after the tragic crash of a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine, Western politicians and media joined together to gain the maximum propaganda value from the disaster. It had to be Russia; it had to be Putin, they said.”
Those more establishment figures echo the views of Richard Spencer, a leader of the alt-right movement which is, in many ways, a synthesis of 20th century white supremacy and 21st century 4chan sophomoric snark.
This past December, RT gave him a platform to both advocate for a Trump presidency and further join the chorus of right wing cheerleaders rallying against a Western-agitated Cold War 2.0.
In his words, Putin and Trump to some degree offer “an alternative to what you call neo-conservative or neoliberal foreign policy.”
He continues that it was ridiculous for former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to say that Russia was America’s number one geopolitical adversary.
“Anyone who would say that is not looking at the world as it is; they are looking at the world through some 1980’s Cold War rosy glasses.”
Spencer had previously written about what he called “Putin Derangement Syndrome, what he called “a common affliction among Washington consensus journalists” following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
“Symptoms include delusions that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is not simply a totalitarian dictator at home but a super-genius strategist in foreign affairs. If anything unusual happens in his part of the world, it’s all part of one of his wicked schemes for more power,” he wrote.
In short, Putin, through his embrace of traditional values and penchant for, if not non-interventionism, at least spheres of influence, resonates with political actors themselves who are struggling with the perceived decline of nation-states and the alleged rise of unaccountable globalist forces. For his troubles, he’s been consistently demonized by the Western establishment.
Further below the surface, there is a tacit belief among many that white Americans are being deracinated in their own homeland, and Putin, somehow, offers a chance at mooring one’s nation against inundation of the other.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has grasped at the basic tenants of these intellectual undercurrents, both in his praise of Putin and denigration of Obama, his threats to deport 11 million Mexicans and ban Muslims from traveling to the United States, and his promise of protectionist policies to somehow stem the tide of transnationalism.
Trump has also embraced non-interventionism by coming out against the Iraq War, though he did tell NBC’s Matt Lauer “it used to be [to] the victor belong the spoils. Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victory. But I always said, take the oil.”
That he would advocate non-intervention and pillaging at the same time is likely a sign of his deep political illiteracy. But then, Trump is grasping at ideas put out by more intellectually dexterous members of political movements he scantly understands but primally embraces.
He further solidified that targeted ideological incorporation by choosing chairman of Breitbart Media and alt-right promulgator, Stephen Bannon, to lead his campaign.
Nothing is real
Many non-ideological Trump’s supporters, in turn, are simply harkening back to the postwar years where everything, from the rules to remaining a productive member of the middle class to the immutability of the now endlessly mutable sexual, moral and cultural values, were more concrete.
Despite fears of nuclear war, the binary battle between communism and capitalism provided a model which, at least in hindsight, was more intellectually (and emotionally) tractable. No matter how formidable the opponent, the spectacle of well-trained pugilists having it out under the Marquess of Queensberry rules provided a metanarrative everyone could follow.
The post 9-11 era, in turn, brought a Royal Rumble with the referee having been concussed by a folding chair outside of the ring. Everything has been decentralized and deconstructed. Perpetual watchers of the 24-hour news cycle have long since had the bends.
Proponents of Putin are looking to return to that world of Hegelian conflict, though this time, it will, as Buchanan put it, be a decisive struggle between traditionalists and the secular, multicultural, transnational elites. This time, it is America, or at the very least the American establishment, sitting on the wrong side of history. This time, it is our house which needs to be burnt down and built anew.
Matthew Heimbach, a self-described white nationalist and leader of the US-based Traditionalist Worker Party has followed Buchanan’s logic, telling eurasia.net this past July:
“[The World National-Conservative Movement] is a broad coalition of all ethno-nationalists – all nationalists that reject neoliberalism, and reject globalism, coming together as a united front, based out of Russia. [During the Soviet period] there was the Comintern, the Communist International. And in the modern era, it’s almost like a nationalist version – or the Traditionalist International.”
He further said that “Putin is the leader, really, of the anti-globalist forces around the world.”
Trump, with his rhetoric about Muslims and Mexicans, mixed in with protectionist promises and anti-PC swagger, has modeled himself, not exactly on what Putin is, but rather on what he perceives Putin to be.
It was enough to earn him the support of former-KKK leader David Duke, who has shown sympathy towards the Russian president, writing in 2005 that “Putin and the Russian people dare to defend themselves from the powers of Jewish supremacism.”
Duke for his part has been traveling to Russia, a country he once labeled “the key to white survival,” throughout the duration of Putin’s tenure.
He was an early adopter in the belief that Russia, along with other Eastern countries, had the “greatest chance of having racially aware parties achieving political power.”
They know not what they speak
For many of globalization’s discontents, Putin’s Russia has become an imagined bulwark against an ever-changing social and economic tide. That Putin himself is a neoliberal completely enamored with the benefits of transnational finance is seemingly lost on many of them. How, after all, do staunch opponents of “creeping islamisation” tout Putin as the vanguard defender of Christendom when he successfully lobbied for Russia to be granted observer status in the Organization for Islamic Cooperation over a decade back?
Putin, who opened Moscow’s new grand mosque last year, heralded “traditional Islam as an important spiritual component of Russia’s identity” during a visit to Uffa in 2013.
Ironically, Rustam Batrov, the deputy mufti of Tatarstan, expressed a sentiment to Al Jazeera America that sounded shockingly similar to a something Buchanan (or Heimbach) might have said:
“Just like after the fall of Byzantium, [when] Moscow saw itself as the Third Rome, defending orthodoxy, under Stalin we were the defenders of the proletariat, [and] today Russia is the defender of traditional values on the world stage.”
Begging the question for Putin’s Western cheerleaders: What fruits, exactly, have these so-called traditional values borne at home?
Russia has been chided by pro-life activists for having an “abortion culture” while the number of registered cases of HIV exceeded the one-million mark in January.
The country also boasts some of the highest divorce rates in the world. It is beset with a raging heroine epidemic and endemic alcohol abuse. Domestic violence is rampant.
Due to Putin’s economic policies which have led to a protracted financial crisis, prostitution has also surged in Russia. Vladimir Zazhmilin, deputy head of the campaign group Vice Squad, told Newsweek earlier this year that the number of Russians engaged in sex work had “exceeded 3 million a long time ago.”
And while Barack Obama is ostensibly a closeted Muslim, it is Putin’s Russia where, according to RT, “girls as young as three undergoing genital mutilation.”
Then there are the child brides and polygamy , which anti-gay activist and archconservative lawmaker Yelena Mizulina said would be “ridiculous” to criminalize, as there are “not enough men with whom women want to start families and have children.”
That “traditional” idea has long held by leader of the faux ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who a decade back said polygamy should be instituted in Russia “because we have 10 million unmarried women”.
That such a country has been reconceptualized as some sort of Valhalla for white, Western, Christian traditionalists and outright neo-nazis beggars belief.
Russia, the non-interventionist, has invaded two of its neighbors in eight years, annexing (both de facto and de jure) parts of their territories, while holding other neighbors hostage by leveraging frozen conflicts that the Kremlin can help reignite at any time. Then there is Russia’s at times indiscriminate intervention in Syria.
Another bugbear of conservatives in general and Trump in particular — immigration —is an issue that also resonates with the Russian right.
Russia, after all, has the world’s second largest migrant population, trailing only the US. And unlike in the United States, many of those migrants are Muslims. Regardless of rhetoric about creeping Sharia in the UK, France and Germany, it is Russia that boasts Europe’s largest Muslim population.
And from the 2010 Manezhnaya Square riot to the 2013 riot in Moscow’s Biryulyovo district — both sparked by the murder of ethnic Slavs by Muslim migrants — multicultural-free Russia is anything but free of ethnic tensions. Putin’s embrace of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, along with his penchant for “feeding the Caucasus”, meanwhile, has never sat well with Russian nationalists themselves.
Though in truth, none of this really matters. Such misconceptions about Putin’s Russia are essentially myths for disaffected Westerners grasping for an alternative view of reality. For those piecing together the world via message boards and broadband rather than direct experience, anything and everything can be whatever one needs it to be.
Ultimately Trump, who has long aped the affectations of the authoritarian strong man, implicitly offers a key component of palingenetic ultranationalism: the promise of societal rebirth following period of moral decay. Putin, through his rhetoric and carefully-crafted strong man image, has proved an exemplar for those looking to bring the United States from it knees, even if, in the end, they are merely dragging it into the gutter.
Viacheslav Datsik’s recent rampage, in which he forced nearly a dozen prostitutes to march nude through the streets of Saint Petersburg, represents the nexus in which Russian nationalism, state-condoned vigilantism, sexism, and a pathological hatred of the weak collide.
When Datsik busted his way into a bordello on Vasilievsky Island early on May 18, his so-called “war on prostitution” was already in full swing. In the first video clip, released to Russia’s security service-linked Life News, his fellow travelers can be seen rounding up terrified women, one of whom was chocked against a wall to silence her screams.
The unclothed women (and a couple of johns), many visibly in tears, were then led down five city blocks to a police station, whereby befuddled officers attempted to cover them up after Datsik expressed his intention to file a report before slipping off into the night to do it all again.
But the second time around, security, perhaps being tipped off, were prepared for Datsik and crew, upon which they subdued him and his cohorts before turning them over to police.
When asked why he had led the women on a shameful procession through the streets, he told the Fontanka news portal that Russia should “know its heroes”.
Is Datsik insane? Russian authorities had previously declared he was schizophrenic before locking him up in a mental institute in 2010 following a rash of armed robberies several years prior. After escaping that facility (by allegedly tearing through its fence with his bare hands), fleeing to Norway, and shortly ending up back in custody there, a Norwegian police physician argued he was not suffering from a serious mental disorder at all. Whether or not Russian authorities agreed with that second opinion, they did opt to put the self-proclaimed Red Tarzan, the son of the Slavic god Perun, in prison for the next 5 years rather than return him to a psychiatric facility following his extradition.
Then, this past March, he was released. So what does a self-described neo-pagan, racist, cage fighter, and man of questionable mental stability do after spending half a decade behind bars?
It seems that he embraced a zeitgeist, which, during his stint in prison, had increasingly come to resemble his own strange, demiurgic dispensation of reality.
Conspiracies, paranoia, xenephobia; muscular shows of tradition disseminated via modern portals like YouTube. In Russia, the situationist’s prank has been inverted. The muckraker’s are tools of the state trying to soil the righteous; bizarre, larger than life punks and outlaws engaged in acts of avant garde civil obedience.
Is it any surprise that Stanislav Baretsky, the 400-pound former gravedigger, musician, performance artist and Leningrad-contributor most famous for publicly ripping apart beer cans with his teeth to protest foreign libations, accompanied Datsik on an earlier leg of his crusade?
The point of contrast is one that cannot be missed. Both men, corpulent cowboy’s in a lawless land, are cut from much the same cloth; a world of fenya — criminal slang — and seedy characters romanticized in ‘blatnaya pesnya’ — prison songs.
But whereas Baretsky is merely a self-aware jester, aping the affectations, argot and image of the hardened criminal for the sake of art and theatre, Datsik is the cage-fighter turned convict, unburdened by a sense of irony, restraint, and perhaps reality itself.
From the ersatz to the earnest, it is the convict’s worldview, and how it has permeated broader Russian society, that colors, if not underpins Russia’s social media age vigilantes.
For they are, to some degree, enforcing the power structure that exists in the ‘little zone’, as prison was known in Soviet times, across the ’big zone’ — society as a whole. They have made themselves the enforcers of what Natalia Antonova has called sublimated gulag culture.
As sociologist Anton Oleinik noted in ‘Russia’s Prison Subculture: From Everyday Life to State Power’, Russian prisons are organized along a three-tiered hierarchy. At the top are the blatniye: the elite who both make and enforce the rules. The second group, muzhiki — variously peasants, salt of the earth, and inhabitants of Russia’s eternally working and manly class (be it good or bad) — are the everymen battling to keep a sense of themselves in this hard world. The last tier are variously subdivided into the shestyorki, six groups who, in their own ways, have been stripped of their autonomy and suffer abuse at the hands of the prison’s ruling class. At the very bottom of that barrel is the “rab” — literally slave — a position reserved for child molesters, homosexuals (though not prison wolves) and those saddled with debts they cannot repay.
The prison authorities themselves, representing state power, have employed smotryashchiye or overseers from among the general population, ostensibly to keep order. Bur for who and what that order is kept is an entirely different matter.
Outside, a similar structure has increasingly been solidified since 2012, when Vladimir Putin’s third term as president kicked off. His focus on social conservatism and traditional values has led to a slew of witch hunts targeting both the political opposition and otherwise disempowered groups in society.
But in the big zone, it is armies of cossacks, bikers, anti-maiden protesters and extreme nationalists (if not outright nazis) with, varying degrees of state support, harassing, attacking, filming and degrading the shestyorki of Putin’s Russia —homosexuals, punk-rock supplicants, illegal immigrants and every other variety of dissident and social deviant.
It is, as always, an attack on the weak, with a camera on hand.
During the short-lived St. Petersburg crusade, one telling incident saw Baretsky stoically standing by as Datsik manhandles more than one Nigerian women, whom he accuses of “infecting Russian citizens with AIDS.”
It is reminiscent of Maxim Martsinkevich or Tesak (Hatchet)’s Occupy Pedophilia movement, which itself involved hunting down young gay men they found online, outing torturing and shaming them in horrific videos later spread through social media; all in the name of protecting children.
In both campaigns, using coercion to publicly out people existing on the margins of society was integral.
It is similar to the phenomenon of facial recognition technology being used to identify, embarrass and harass Russian women performing in pornographic movies.
As Antonova wrote, citing Snob columnist Arina Kholina, Russian attitudes towards “fallen women” are notably vicious.
“For generations, we pass down this very strange and cruel rule – a whore is inhuman,” Kholina wrote.
And then there are criminal groups with no ostensible ideological motivations who have increasingly begun targeting homosexuals for blackmail, knowing that many victims will not go to the police for fear of being outed.
In this dark world where the weak are targeted with the tacit consent of the state, it is no coincidence that both Datsik and Martsinkevich have deep links to the far right.
For these appeals to tradition, “contempt for the weak” and need to purify the nation and stem the tide of decadence through redemptive violence are among fascisms primary markers.
It should also come as no surprise that of all Russia’s family values YouTube muck rackers, Martsinkevich was actually incarcerated (though for racist remarks, not for brutalizing gay men) while Datsik risks returning behind bars.
The reason is quite simple. Datsik and Martsinkevich themselves belong to movements, that, to the degree they have not been absorbed through state sanctioned channels, represent threats to the current order.
Attacks on brothels and migrants fly in the face of Putin’s regime, which tolerates decadence in private and is, to his credit, genuinely open to Russia’s ethnic and religious diversity (so long as non-Slavic groups do not rally for greater autonomy.)
Through genuine political disenfranchisement, the government allows for controlled violence to be directed at the state’s enemies, or groups that are otherwise viewed as disposable, as a means of sublimating social tensions bred through their policies.
But those whose rage risks being redirected back at the state will quickly be neutralized.
Ironically, those who take the rhetoric of the Russian state at face value risk finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Many of the state’s enforcers are already there.
Datsik himself is the apotheosis of exaggerated masculinity in a country of manly men primarily raised by single mothers. He is a disenfranchised chauvinist, a hard man with a soft mind and a maximalist approach to life that many Russians embrace, if only rhetorically, with a sense of pride.
But to see this figure, eight limbs of madness and a penchant for taking the government’s toxic spew of hate and paranoia to heart, is to witness a grotesque manifestation of what it has come to mean to be not only a moral agent in Putin’s Russia, but a man.
Russia’s New Year’s holidays have ended. Groggy eyes on the metro, aching heads on electric trains. The stories of ten days of debauchery trickle in one by one. The doctor who punched his own patient dead. Lazarus who drank himself to death and back to life. The homeless men who drank themselves from death to deader after finding an unidentified brown liquid in a dumpster and going full on YOLO.
Plunging like the blood sugar of the morning commute funeral mass and their post 10-day communion wine hangover, oil hit a 12-year-low, bringing the long-suffering ruble even further down with it. Following previous claims Russia was rebounding from recession, both Moscow and the IMF now expect GDP contraction for 2015 to be at 3.8 percent. Rising economic tides are not predicted for 2016.
In December 2014, Putin vowed the Russian economy would start growing again in two years under what he called the worst case scenario. He’s still got a year to pray for the global oil glut to go away, all the while pretending that much needed economic diversification will just manifest itself in a virtual mafia state where personal initiative is deincentivized via legal nihilism and systemic rot. It doesn’t help that the best of Russia have been leaving in droves. But what does one do in a country where the glass ceiling has nails?
In a revelatory interview with the Germany daily Bild published on Monday, Putin appeared to be straining under the bad news, economic and otherwise. Looking at the state of Russia and the world today, Putin argued that Russia should have been stronger after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then the world would somehow be a better place. The question is: A better place for whom?
Putin’s latest use of Western media for yet another “J’accuse…!” screed against the West offers a potent glimpse into the “other world” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said he now inhabits. His lack of consistency and belief are seemingly the hallmarks of a sociopath, a chekist who believes in nothing beyond intrigue and raw power, or both.
Putin can, on the one hand, bemoan how former NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner allegedly promised Gorbachov during the 1990 negotiations on German reunification that NATO would not expand eastward. Never mind that this alleged promise from an official who has been dead for two decades referred to Eastern Germany itself, and not Eastern Europe, as has been argued. Never mind whether a promise holds the weight of a ratified treaty.
Every perceived slight against Russia has the half life of forever.
On the other hand, Putin has absolutely disregarded Russians obligations under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for assurances its borders would be respected, force would not be used against it, and economic pressure would not be levied to influence its politics. Which of those points has Russia not broken time and time again? Violations of the third point, in particular, most certainly predate the “fascist junta” in Kyiv.
In reality, the attempted dismantling of Ukraine echoes the anger of Munich 2007, with the spheres of influence Putin actually believes in ultimately clashing with the rule of law he pays lip service to. Ukraine, of course, never joined NATO, it was never even close. But there is always the chance. In Putin’s world, that chance fit into his own version of ‘The One Percent Doctrine.’
When asked if the Eastern European states had the right to organize their own security affairs by joining NATO, Putin dismissively noted he had heard this argument “a thousand times.”
“Of course every state has the right to organize its security the way it deems appropriate,” Putin said.
“But the states that were already in NATO, the member states, could also have followed their own interests – and abstained from an expansion to the east,” he continued.
Translation: “I claim to support the principle in spirit, but I will take a torch to it in practice.
I know Central and Eastern European states had every right to join NATO, but it was in the member states interests to deny them this right so as to avoid illegal military action on Russia’s behalf.”
In other words, a pure attempt at dismay. Don’t do what you have every right to do; do what we say you can do or there will be trouble. Then deflect your own aggressive actions by claiming you were pushed into a corner and forced to act defensively against your weaker neighbors…by invading them.
If Putin’s complete disregard for a rule-based international order was not already apparent, his 19th century imperialist thinking shone threw when discussing the annexation of Crimea.
“For me, it is not borders and state territories that matter, but people’s fortunes,” he said.
“Napoleon once said that justice is the incarnation of God on Earth,” he would go on to say.
“I’m telling you: the reunification of Crimea and Russia is just.”
Never mind a small man evoking Napoleon and making his actions coequal with a theophanous manifestation. Stick to his far less esoteric claims of support for the “people’s fortunes” when an estimated 160,000 were killed to crush Chechnya’s dream of independence.
When Grozny was razed, filtration camps were set up, and rape and torture were used as instruments of collective punishment against a civilian population, whose interest was Putin acting in again: “Borders and state territories” or people?
Is Putin not the one who deemed calls for “separatism” in Russia illegal, making them punishable by up to four years in prison? Has Putin not forced the same type of federalization on Kyiv that he has actively opposed in Russia since becoming deputy chief of the Yeltsin’s presidential administration in 1998?
Just how absurd is it? Rafis Kashapov, a Russian Tatar activist, was sentenced to 3 years in prison for criticizing Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. In Russia, you can literally (ok, figuratively) cleave off part of another country, and then imprison people who criticize that illegal land grab on…separatism charges. The mind boggles.
And yet, after once again evoking Kosovo, Putin says “everyone should comply with uniform international rules and not want to change them any time one feels like it.”
In the codex of Putinist propaganda, this is called mirroring —accusing others of doing precisely what you are doing.
He then goes on to claim that Western sanctions are not about helping Ukraine, but “geopolitically pushing Russia back.”
If by geopolitically pushing back Russia, he means expelling Russian soldiers from Ukrainian soil, he is correct. But in Putin’s world, invading a foreign country and then being sanctioned for it is deeply unjust.
He proceeds to call European Union sanctions “a theatre of the absurd.” But saying the tens of thousands of Russian troops to have actively taken part in military operations in Ukraine are on holiday (with uninterrupted supply lines) is not absurd? In what world is using economic pressure rather than military force to compel an aggressive party to back down somehow beyond the pale?
Putin, one can be certain, has an answer to that question. It just might not correspond to any knowable reality.
As I previously wrote, in the “graveyard of ideologies”, for many Russians in general (and Putin in particular), a simple rule of thumb has come to define morality of action: “If Russia does it, it is right.”
Putin is not for or against military intervention in principle, but he is for Russian military interventions. Putin is not for or against security services meddling in the internal affairs of other states, but he does support Russian security services meddling in the affairs of other states. Putin is not for or against imperialism, but he does support Russian imperialism. He is not for or against international law, but he opposes it when it’s not in his interest, and supports it when he sees an opportunity to stick a finger in Washington’s eye.
And Putin has no particular regard for “the freedom of expression of the people,” as he claims to have had in Crimea. But he will use the pretense of the democratic will as a trojan horse to carve up neighboring states, as has been done in Georgia and Ukraine, as could easily be done to Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia and beyond. As for the “freedom of expression” of Chechens and Russia’s other ethnic minorities, well, no need to belabor that point.
In a rational world, a leader of 15 years and counting with carte blanche to do whatever he wants might hold some sense of accountability for the state of the nation.
But, rather than face up to the monolithic failings of his power vertical, he is doubling down on rage and victimhood. Time and time again, he cries about where his neighbors have built their fences, all the while, burning his own house to the ground.
Russia is on the ropes and punching itself in the face. But to hear Putin tell it, the West has once again given her a black eye.
And just like with the ten-day-drinking binge to have engulfed Russia over the holidays, the hangover from Russia’s hallucinated reality is coming. The big question is: On the Monday morning after the masses finally come down from the latest Russian trip, how many people will be left lying dead in the snow?
After persistent denials, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemingly admitted to a Russian military presence in Eastern Ukraine (before he didn’t). In any “normal country”, coming clean about a clandestine military operation on live television would have huge political implications. But in Russia, it didn’t even make the evening news.
It all started on December 17 during Putin’s annual marathon Q&A session, a PR exercise in which he vacillates between his roles as global statesman and provincial Santa Claus.
Putin faced many queries, some serious, some prosaic. Due to Russia’s economic woes, his usual air of confidence was punctuated by more bluster than usual. This was especially true when questioned over recent corruption allegations leveled at the family of Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika.
But from Chaika’s alleged mob ties to a quasi-admission that Katerina Tikhonova was in fact his daughter (because only in Russia is the identity of one’s children a matter of state security), it was his answer to a question about Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov, two alleged officers of the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) captured during fighting in East Ukraine, that gave pause to many watching the proceedings.
“We never said there were not people [in Eastern Ukraine] who performed certain tasks, including in the military sphere,” he said. “But that does not mean there are Russian (regular) troops there, feel the difference.”
Putin, of course, has vehemently denied that very thing before…
The noose is tightening around Russia’s increasingly shrinking civic space. On Monday, activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in prison by a Moscow court for taking part in multiple, unsanctioned protests. He is the first victim of a repressive 2014 law that criminalizes the act of violating public assembly rules more than twice within a 180-day period.
As Amnesty International notes, a single violation of the so-called ‘anti-Maidan law’ is now punishable by a fine or up to 15 days in jail. Three strikes and a five-year prison sentence might be on the table. In Dadin’s case, the prosecutor had asked for two years, a sentence which the judge (or whoever ultimately handed down the verdict), found too lenient.
Ironically, at the time of the bill’s signing, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the authorities would not fight “radicalism” in the country by “tightening the screws.” And yet, Dadin certainly appears to have been put in a vice…
Much has been said of the “legal nihilism” which consumes Russian society. Few, however, have realized that rather than some esoteric expression of the Russian soul, the orgy of corruption in the Third Rome is a logical reaction to the world its citizens have been forced to navigate.
In 2008, Russian presidential place holder Dmitry Medvedev argued that “if we want to become a civilized state, first of all we need to become a lawful one.”
Nearly eight years later, Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika believes the battle against corruption, following a rocky road and more recent economic dips, is going swimmingly well.
“Over the past two years, the Prosecutor-General’s Office has been keeping impartial crime statistics on whose basis I can confidently say that the fight against corruption in the country has been intensified substantially recently,” Russian News Agency TASS cites Chaika as saying.
Over the past nine months, officials had been implicated in corruption cases amounting to 30 billion rubles ($423 million). One-fifth of that sum has been reimbursed. While Chaika himself admits those figures could be higher, he also believes they should “command respect.”
In a country where corruption accounts for anywhere between 25 and 48 percent of an ever-contracting GDP, how much respect the authorities deserve on that account is debatable. But then, how does one stamp out corruption in a nation where graft is not a byproduct of the system, but rather the raison d’etre?