Musical politics

15 05 2022

As Ukrainian performers Kalush Orchestra, whose “political statement” was allowed by Eurovision organizers for “humanitarian reasons,” went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest (while Russian performers were banned), and as Vladimir Putin continues to complain about western “cancel culture” (while canceling those who disagree with him), the arts world more generally has come to heavily feature the cultural politics surrounding Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

Ani Bundel writes that Eurovision has always been “a stand-in” for the political climate, despite organizers’ insistence that it is not. The same thing can be seen in other places on the musical spectrum.

Time’s Andrew Chow writes about how “A Russian DJ’s Silence About Ukraine is Dividing the Electronic Music Scene.” The scene, as Chow writes, is divided between people like Clone Distribution’s Serge Verschuur — for whom “the house and techno scene [has] stood up for” (and been “built by”) “minorities, for the less privileged, for the oppressed” — and, on the other hand, the “toxic positivity” of the ravers who want to “have fun” and not “think about anything.” In contrast to DJ Nina Kraviz are others like Ukrainian DJ Nastia and Russian DJ Buttechno, who urges his fellow Russians “to admit the imperialistic and colonizing approach of Russian culture and politics throughout Russian history.”

And writing in the New York Times, Gabrielle Cornish describes Ukrainian musical modernism and its destruction at the hands of Stalinism. The article quotes Ukrainian-American ethnomusicologist (and my collaborator) Maria Sonevytsky, who perceptively refers to the association of “greatness” with Russian culture as “Russian soft power” — the “kind of exceptionalism that empires produce and make seem virtuous that smaller countries, depicted as the ‘threatening nationalists’ on the border, are denied.”

See also The Conversation on “How Russian musicians are taking a stand against the war in Ukraine,” The Guardian‘s interview with Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz, or my recent interview with David Novak.

Pomerantsev on how to end this war

2 05 2022

Documentarist and disinformation analyst Peter Pomerantsev’s latest piece for The Atlantic, “‘We Can Only Be Enemies‘,” is a brilliant dissection of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the ground, and of what it may take for Russia to be reclaimed by civilized life…

“Putin’s famed propaganda system has always been less about ginning up enthusiasm and more about spreading doubt and uncertainty, proliferating so many versions of “the truth” that people feel lost and turn to an authoritarian leader to guide them through the murkiness. In a domestic political context, these tactics make sense: They keep people passive, unsure of what is truly happening. But they show their limits when you want to move a country toward the rabid enthusiasm required for war.” […]

“Whether Putin has the repressive mechanisms necessary to rule purely through fear is unclear: The prisons are already packed. The endgame in Russia doesn’t involve anything as dramatic as regime change, to say nothing of revolution. All it needs is for people to stop pulling their weight, because they can see that the government is no longer competent or acting in their interests.”

The entire article can be read here.

Kuleba on the third superpower

28 04 2022

It’s the rare minister of foreign affairs who writes about reshaping the world order by referring to its “tripolarity,” with the third pole being the emerging community of digital “netizens.” That is what Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba has just done in a piece published in Foreign Policy, “The Fight for Ukraine Is Forging a New World“:

The world of tomorrow will be tripolar. Two obvious poles will be the United States and China. India will be gaining force as a strong democratic power. But the third, less obvious pole will be the newly emerging, decentralized community of global internet users, and it will be defined by rapid technological development and disruptive innovation.

Some of what Kuleba has to say sounds clunky to me (such as the sentence that follows the quoted one, which refers to the “third pole” “largely” centering on the “metaverse” — seriously?). With its digital utopianism and its references to Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity” and to “two political models: the communal future and the hierarchical past; the existing political order and the emerging one,” the piece reminds me a bit too much of the pronouncements of the early cyberlibertarians, and, more promisingly perhaps, of the New York Times and Jonathan Schell’s declarations, after the 2003 announcement by the Bush administration of its war on Iraq, that global civil society constitutes a “second superpower.”

Those comparisons aside, Kuleba is correct to point to the role that “netizens,” including the cyberhacker network Anonymous, have been “playing an active part in Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion.”

The piece can be read here.

Himka on Ukrainian history

20 04 2022

It’s difficult to briefly summarize Ukrainian history — the best books on the topic clock in at 432 pages (Plokhy’s) and 896 pages (Magocsi’s) respectively — but John-Paul Himka has done that in 10 “turning points” at Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, a web site that is in some ways very kindred to UKR-TAZ. HImka’s piece on Ukraine’s socialist heritage also fills in some of the blanks on that side of Ukrainian history (and shows how the worst thing that ever happened to socialism was Stalin).

Babij: “this is about ground”

17 04 2022

For the next several weeks I will be on the road and likely not posting very much. But occasionally I’ll share bits and pieces that come to me that I don’t find being shared elsewhere. Like this one.

Writer and curator Larissa Babij‘s blog A Kind of Refugee has been providing a kind of refuge of poetic and inspired reflection on the reality of the Russian war on Ukraine. Most recently she writes about spring sunshine in Kyiv and how the “great energy to do something fully in the moment” provides the ground on which Ukrainians stand today.

The choice, she writes,

between subjugation to Russia or obedience to the West was never a particularly palatable one. and so Ukraine just plodded along ambiguously, neither here nor there, but “not dead yet.”

But “under increasing pressure and finding no safe path or protection” Ukrainians began to fight, not out of a rigorously theorized perspective — “Ukraine doesn’t have philosophy,” she provokes — but

Ukrainians have the audacity to do things. without asking. without thinking too far ahead. without mapping out in their imaginations how it will work or endure in the long run.

UCSB talk: Causes & implications of the invasion (2 variants)

7 04 2022

My talk “The Invasion of Ukraine as a Turning Point” tries to make sense of the causes of the Russian invasion and its potential effects on the future of global media, migration and refugeeism, democratic and authoritarian politics, and climate change. It can be viewed here.

For those who don’t have time to watch webinars, I’ve also created a summary in the form of two Twitter threads. The first part is here (or click on the first image below). It continues here (or second image below). Or you can read the continuation as a thread here.

In the intro to the talk, I mention two ways we can learn from (and partially “redeem”?) such events: (1) by understanding their causes so that they can be prevented from arising again, and redirected if they do arise, and (2) by seeing the effects as a range of possibilities, of which some are better (and to be followed) and some worse (to be avoided), with some of the better ones being new and not so easy to see. The third, which must accompany the others, is justice and reparations.

Thanks to Professor Sarah Weld, the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, and the Graduate Center for Literary Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for sponsoring and organizing the talk.

Part 1:

Part 2:


Koposov: on Russia’s national interests

6 04 2022

One of the questions we will all have to struggle with, in the near term future, is how to reintegrate Russia back into the world community once all of this is over. (I say that in full recognition that “the world community” is very much a work in progress, and still needs a great deal of work before it feels like an integrated and inclusive place.)

Historian Nikolay Koposov’s “Nobody Knows What Russians Want, Not Even Russians Themselves” helps us think about that. It also raises basic questions about the importance of democracy — in the sense of some way of representing people’s real, legitimate, and considered interests — in any future that could possibly accommodate and include Russia. This is, of course, an issue that underlies the future of the world community, which is why it will require serious thinking about what democracy means and what forms it can take. But Koposov’s effort here is a starting point. He writes:

Having subjectivity here means being free to make rational and responsible decisions. The acquisition and possession of subjectivity entail several things. First, the group must have access to relatively reliable information. Second, it should be able to openly discuss its situation, formulate various action plans, and promote them in the public space. And thirdly, it must have agreed-upon decision-making mechanisms to determine which plan is the best.

None of these exists in Putin’s Russia.

[. . .]

Perhaps the time will come when Russia can take its subjectivity back from Putin and stop this shameful war. But until then, Russia has no subjectivity and no legitimate interests.

Musical interlude

5 04 2022

I was interviewed yesterday by UCSB music professor and KCSB DJ David Novak. The hour-long interview offers a highly personal take on Ukrainian music since the 1980s. It features an adventurous mix of work by contemporary Ukrainian composers and bands from Kharkiv (The Moglass), Odesa (Kadaitcha), and Berlin (Zavoloka), as well as a piece of Polissian (Chernobyl area) traditional singing by the authentic folk ensemble Drevo, and a little from my own late 1980s-1990s Ukrainian-Canadian band Vapniaky, a.k.a. Stalagmites Under a Naked Sky.

The interview can be listened to in Soundcloud; click below or here. The playlist, which you can find here, includes links to further listening.

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Miller on #IStandWithPutin

5 04 2022

As I’ve noted before, Russian information warriors may appear to be losing roundedly to their Ukrainian rivals, but this is only the case if we leave out the Global South. Writing today in The Atlantic, social media analyst Carl Miller confirms that Indian, South African, and other accounts in the Global South have been actively promoting support for Putin and Russia, framing the conflict in anti-colonial terms that equate colonialism with Western imperialism.

The memes pushed vivid anti-colonial and anti-Western imagery mixed with Putin strongman motifs and solidarity among the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Some applauded Russia’s great friendship toward India or Putin’s apparent role in African liberation movements, but many were really about the West, its own seeming hypocrisy, and the alleged aggression of NATO expansion. [. . .

The blunt reality is that in many parts of the world, antipathy for the West is deep and sympathy for Russia is real. 

This, in my estimation, is where a lot of the work in “information war” — or what I’ve called “information peace,” the effort to build a global information ecosystem that is reliable, trustworthy, and conducive to democracy — needs to take place if conflicts like these aren’t to completely unwind any capacity for the world community to take on common problems like climate change (which the IPCC just reminded us yesterday are massive and quickly worsening). That will be a theme of my talk/webinar later today, which will be recorded and shared online afterward.

The invasion as an inflection point

31 03 2022

I’ll be giving the following online talk for the University of California Santa Barbara next Tuesday at 4 pm Pacific Standard Time. It hinges on the idea that the invasion of Ukraine, like other unexpected “hyper-events” (such as the Covid-19 pandemic or the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster), provides a historical “inflection point” at which rearrangements of agency — that is, rearrangement of the structural forces and capacities by which human potentials are shaped and constrained — might occur. There’s of course no guarantee that they will occur, or that the rearrangements will be for the better and not for the worse. The talk will provide some speculation on the kinds of rearrangements that might be possible.

The Invasion of Ukraine as a Turning Point

What are the implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the hindsight of its first six weeks, for world affairs? This talk by Adrian Ivakhiv will highlight the role of media and “information war,” the refugee crisis, and policy responses by western and other countries, to understand how the invasion and its apparent failure could reshape the possibilities for global cooperation on other challenges including climate change, refugeeism and migration, and democratic and authoritarian politics. 4:00 pm on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022 via Zoom (Zoom ID: 825 9988 6556).

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