Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The wrong reasons?

Such a strange op-ed by Vadim Nikitin (or maybe not - it is the NYT, after all):

From Madonna to Bjork, from the elite New Yorker to the populist Daily Mail, the world united in supporting Russia’s irreverent feminist activists Pussy Riot against the blunt cruelty inflicted on them by the state....

Yet there is something about the West’s embrace of the young women’s cause that should make us deeply uneasy, as Pussy Riot’s philosophy, activism and even music quickly took second place to its usefulness in discrediting one of America’s geopolitical foes.

Hm. I'm not really convinced of this, and no evidence is provided in support of the claim. Since "the West" isn't really defined, it's hard to say....

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, are dissident intellectuals once again in danger of becoming pawns in the West’s anti-Russian narrative?

OK. It's always worthwhile to consider how your activism might be coopted by reactionaries, it's true. Human rights activists especially should take steps to avoid being used and resist prepackaged narratives and an imperial "humanitarian savior" self-image. Again, it doesn't strike me as the case here, but I'm not really familiar enough with this situation to judge.

But there was already something in this paragraph that had me tilting my head and furrowing my brow, and what follows seemed to confirm it:

Back in the ’70s, the United States and its allies cared little about what Soviet dissidents were actually saying, so long as it was aimed against the Kremlin. No wonder so many Americans who had never read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books cheered when he dissed the Soviet Union later felt so shocked, offended and even betrayed when he criticized many of the same shortcomings in his adoptive homeland. Wasn’t this guy supposed to be on our side?

Whose side? To whom is this addressed?

Using dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime is as dangerous as adopting a pet tiger: No matter how domesticated they may seem, in the end they are free spirits, liable to maul the hand that feeds them.

Wait, what? Who is the audience of this?

Pussy Riot and its comrades at Voina come as a full package: You can’t have the fun, pro-democracy, anti-Putin feminism without the incendiary anarchism, extreme sexual provocations, deliberate obscenity and hard-left politics.

Not me, obviously. :) (And I'd like to inform everyone that anarchism is all of the former.)

Unless you are comfortable with all that (and I strongly suspect 99 percent of Pussy Riot’s fans in the mainstream media are not), then standing behind Pussy Riot only now, when it is obviously blameless and the government clearly guilty, is pure opportunism.

Huh? I'd think that if this is addressed to liberals, they would want to support people subject to the "blunt cruelty" of an authoritarian regime, when they are obviously blameless and the government clearly guilty. This would seem to be fairly basic liberalism. Are people who support human rights supposed to require liberal purity tests? Should I, as an atheist and opponent of religion, not support the rights of religious people jailed for blasphemy? Is he suggesting that 99% of these people in the media don't support human rights?

And just like in the bad old days, such knee-jerk yet selective support for Russian dissidents — without fully engaging with their ideas — is not only hypocritical but also does a great disservice to their cause.

First, again, I'm not sure who he's talking to who must agree with the ideas of anyone whose rights they're defending. Second, so now he's worried about their cause? Their cause, as I understand it, includes not being persecuted. This should be supported by anyone who opposes persecution. How on earth is it hypocritical to support the human rights of people whose every political tactic and goal you don't agree with?

A former Soviet dissident and current member of the anti-Putin opposition, Eduard Limonov, knows such cynicism too well. Thrown out of the Soviet Union and welcomed in New York as a Cold War trophy, Limonov soon learned that it wasn’t the dissent part that the United States loved about Soviet dissidents, but their anti-communism. A bristly and provocative anti-Soviet leftist, he got to work doing what he did best — taking on the establishment — and quickly found himself in hot water again, this time with the Americans. Limonov concluded that “the F.B.I. is just as zealous in putting down American radicals as the K.G.B. is with its own radicals and dissidents.”

The comparison is overdrawn, but sure. Anyone who expects anything else from the FBI is ignorant or deluded.

But so what? Who's "the United States" here? Madonna?

At the core of much of the media fever over Pussy Riot lies a fundamental misunderstanding of what these Russian dissidents are about. Some outlets have portrayed the case as a quest for freedom of expression and other ground rules of liberal democracy. Yet the very phrase “freedom of expression,” with its connotations of genteel protest as a civic way to blow off some steam while life goes on, is alien to Russian radical thought. The members of Pussy Riot are not liberals looking for self-expression. They are self-confessed descendants of the surrealists and the Russian futurists, determined to radically, even violently, change society.

What the hell? So they're not genteel liberals. No kidding. Why does he think defending their freedom of expression has to be based on a misunderstanding?

Anyone who has bothered to see them beyond their relevance as anti-Kremlin proxies will know that these young people are as contemptuous of capitalism as they are of Putinism. They are targeting not just Russian authoritarianism, but, in Tolokonnikova’s words, the entire “corporate state system.” And that applies to the West as much as to Russia itself.

I may swoon.

It includes many of the fawning foreign media conglomerates covering the trial, like Murdoch’s News Corp., and even such darlings of the anti-Putin “liberal opposition” establishment as the businessman and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny.

So this is addressed to the corporate media and the "liberal opposition" establishment? He's telling them it's not in their interests to support PR? I agree that it's risky for them to give attention to people who oppose the corporate state system (I'll note that this is the reverse of the problem hinted at in the introduction: that liberals and leftists supporting PR can become pawns of the US government; as such, it's the opposite of a problem).

But it's weird how the audience of this piece appears to change from paragraph to paragraph, while a thread of "Think twice before supporting them!" runs throughout.

Pussy Riot’s fans in the West need to understand that their heroes’ [?] dissent will not stop at Putin; neither will it stop if and when Russia becomes a “normal” liberal democracy. Because what Pussy Riot wants is something that is equally terrifying, provocative and threatening to the established order in both Russia and the West (and has been from time immemorial): freedom from patriarchy, capitalism, religion, conventional morality, inequality and the entire corporate state system.


We should only support these brave women if we, too, are brave enough to go all the way.

That's ridiculous.


No comments:

Post a Comment