Tag Archive: Eastern Europe


The groundlessness of revolution

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Every violent suppression of dissent is violence against the humanity that is being born. The world to come is at stake in these encounters.

That’s what I tweeted last night while watching what looked like the squashing of a revolution, when riot police appeared by the thousands and began moving in on the territory held by Ukrainian protesters in downtown Kyiv (Kiev, pronounced “kay-eev” in Ukrainian). Watching these events on the multiple live video feeds available to a global audience was transfixing. Together with the constant stream of commentary in social media — I followed Facebook, Twitter, and the feeds on the streaming TV sites, but there were other options available — made it seem like a genuinely global insurrectionary event.

The following are some reflections on this experience, contextualized within global geopolitics, Ukrainian politics, the ecology of media, and the recent history of analogous events elsewhere (such as those I have blogged about earlier in Iran and Egypt).

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The human cost of neoliberalism

A new study in The Lancet has determined that mass privatization in former Communist Eastern Europe — what was once called “shock therapy,” but is more usefully considered a form of “shock neoliberalization” — resulted in an excess of about a million deaths in that part of the world.

A few quotes from the Oxford University summary:

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Post-Soviet riot grrls

While this doesn’t have much to do with the usual themes of this blog, it is an interesting case study of media culture and political protest (and one that my Ukrainian studies background qualifies me to comment on).

It’s the case of Pussy Riot supporter Inna Shevchenko, an activist with the Ukrainian feminist protest group Femen. Let’s figure it out:

A (western-style) feminist activist-performance group best known for (literally) exposing themselves to gain media exposure (with the help of happily obliging male photographers) chainsaws down a cross commemorating Stalin’s Ukrainian victims as an act of solidarity with anti-authoritarian punk-feminists Pussy Riot. (Those are the three musicians recently sentenced to two years in jail for their “sacrilegious” anti-government performance in a Russian church. More on them later.)

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authoritarian body politics

(This post has been sitting in my Drafts folder for several days, but since it mentions The White Ribbon, which I just named 2009′s best film, I thought I might as well share it.)

I just got around to reading Timothy Snyder’s brilliantly lucid article Holocaust: The ignored reality, fittingly after recently seeing Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. Snyder’s piece puts a fresh face on what we take for granted and don’t much think about anymore.

One of the things that struck me while reading it was the absolutely systematic nature of the Nazi death factory. Snyder’s analysis is like a historian flying over a war zone long after the battle, drawing connections that one couldn’t have possibly made from the ground. For those who were caught up in it, none or little of this may have been visible: glimpses of horror, and of humanity, are what make a war for those living it (which is why even the brightest individuals, like Martin Heidegger, can say they knew little of the things we know now). After the fact it’s less helpful to assign blame than it is to try to understand what happened and why it happened. Those causes have been much discussed and debated, and Haneke’s film, while not making an original argument, is probably as good a cinematic distillation of one of those arguments as any. Specifically, The White Ribbon is a kind of Freudo-Reicho-Foucauldian dissection of the repression that makes us enjoy the violence of authority and that nudges us toward the fascism in our hearts. (I say “us” and “our” because Haneke has said he doesn’t mean for the film to be just about turn-of-the-century Germany.)

The other things that struck me in Snyder’s article concern the territories, those soft pieces of dank earth, that were most bloodied by virtue of their being caught between the two great bone-crushing machines (the Red and the Brown): Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. (I have some familiarity with those areas, in addition to ancestry, and understand the difficulty of exhuming their pasts and dealing with their ghosts.)

Despite the deadliness of the Nazi machine, both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union were systematic attempts to realize a certain political ecology, that is, to organize its production of material goods (food and fuel) from the ground up so as to feed and sustain a certain organization of social power and authority. Understanding the way such a social organism, such a body politic, comes to life remains one of the challenges of our time. That understanding requires taking into account not only social processes, but affective, somatic, and ecological processes and the ways these all interact. One might think of this as a kind of golem construction, the making of an artificial creature out of production practices (the ways the earth is turned into food and fuel), somatic and affective orientations, and social structures, all of them premised on certain delineations between an inside and an outside, an us and a them, a certain identification of the enemy, and certain local and global goals. As Snyder writes:

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