Yurchak: “Little green men”

Russian-born UC Berkeley anthropologist Alexei Yurchak, author of the celebrated study Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, has written a fascinating account of the unnamed armed forces that appeared in Crimea before its referendum. It is entitled “Little green men: Russia, Ukraine, and post-Soviet sovereignty.”

A few excerpts:

“What we witnessed in Crimea is a curious new political technology — a military occupation that is staged as a non-occupation. These curious troops were designed to fulfill two contradictory things at once – to be anonymous and yet recognized by all, to be polite and yet frightening, to be identified as the Russian Army and yet, be different from the Russian Army. They were designed to be a pure, naked military force – a force without a state, without a face, without identity, without a clearly articulated goal. [. . .]

“The political technology of non-occupation is not only new (?) — it is also uniquely post-Soviet and post-imperial. It is applicable especially to the spaces that are part of the former Soviet Union, where Russian language is predominantly used and that have been perceived by many in Russia as Russian lands that were lost when the Soviet Union disintegrated along “unfair” lines. […]

“This technology is not only openly cynical – it is also designed to function as a cynical joke (if you share Putin’s sense of humor). Creating an army without insignia and saying, with a smirk, that “these are probably forces of Crimean self-defense who purchased their uniforms in a local store” (as Putin did on several occasions), is one of those jokes. Picking as the new Prime Minister of Crimea a man called Sergey Aksyonov (whom no one knew a month ago), is another. He is a name-sake of a famous Russian writer Vassily Aksyonov, author of a popular futuristic novel “The Island of Crimea.” The premise of Aksyonov’s novel is to imagine what would happen if early Soviet history went in a different direction. Crimea is the site where the White Army, fighting against the Bolshevik revolution, was finally defeated by the Red Army in 1920. But in Aksyonov’s novel the Whites are not defeated. They survive by cutting the narrow strip that connects Crimea to the mainland, thus turning the peninsula into an island. The island becomes an alternative capitalist Russia that develops quite differently from its mainland neighbor, communist Russia. Crimea becomes Russia’s Taiwan. While communist Russia gradually slides into totalitarianism, Crimean Russia becomes democratic, prosperous, modernized. It is crisscrossed by speedways, its seaports are surrounded with skyscrapers, its currency is wanted by international banks. When Putin picked Sergey Aksyonov to be Crimean Prime Minister, he must have done this with his trademark smirk.

“The Island of Crimea” is finally floating back, suggested Putin.”

 The entire article can be read here.

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