The current crisis, looked upon from further east
This summer we stopped back in Latvia on our way to Russia.
During the week as we were waiting for visas, I overheard a lot of things along the lines of “they have completely broken away from the collective and become remote from their people.” But the main shock for me was a one-off attempt at reading the latest Russian-language press. The quotas of refugees for Latvia were being discussed just then, along with the great reluctance to take in these same refugees.
I scanned several newspapers. They all wrote about the “nightmare brewing in Europe” in a tone of aggressive and malicious ignorance that I found quite unfamiliar. I really had the feeling I had opened a neo-Nazi website. The only difference was the gloating at the Latvians, who had discriminated against “us,” the good guys, and now were going to end up with “them,” those awful people.
At first, I decided something had changed over the years, and then I realized it was I who had changed. I tried to remember how things had been before and realized these newspapers had always written in a similar tone. I just used to think this was normal. I had even considered the Russian-language press internationalistically minded in comparison with the already quite right-wing Latvian press.
By Andrei Nechayevsky
Translated from the Russian by The Russian Reader (original post)
“I would like to live in a province near the sea, but not in a place where ‘unreliable elements’ are purged.”
I am from Donetsk myself. My wife and I moved to Crimea ten years ago. We built a house outside of Kerch, in the backcountry. There isn’t a soul there in winter.
Suddenly, in February 2014, Russian choppers were flying over us every night. Then troops marched through Kerch. I saw it with my own eyes.
There was this fabulous thing: Russian religious pilgrims, columns of buses filled with people who were supposedly traveling en masse to worship Crimea’s Orthodox relics. I watched them change into army uniforms in a church yard.
Kerch was inundated with completely atypical characters: there were a huge number of Cossacks. I was getting hassled in town on the street, something that had never happened before. Drunken, fairly strong men would come up to me and ask, “Where you from, lad?” And this “lad” is fucking forty-five years old!
I got the feeling that everyone had lost their minds.
Movements and Migrants in Central Asia*
Movements in Central Asia have become large-scale and permanent, involving all social groups, rich and poor, women and men, young and old. They move around their own countries and among countries. Some go for several weeks or months and come back, while others live far from their place of birth for years, only occasionally visiting their homelands. Still others leave forever, breaking all ties. Some travel in search of a new homeland, so to speak. Others go to make money, study or receive medical treatment. Still others go for fun and excitement.
All this movement has come as a surprise to experts and politicians. I still remember the debates in the Soviet Union in the 1980s as to why the people of Central Asia were reluctant to travel outside their region. Even then officials and academics in Moscow, observing the beginnings of the demographic decline in Russia itself, were planning to relocate people from borderlands with an excess labor force to the central regions of the then still-unified country.
These plans failed, because few people wanted to leave their homes. Only organized and, in fact, involuntary labor recruitment and military labor brigades partly solved the increased need for labor power. The weak affinity that Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz felt for voluntary mobility was proclaimed, on their part, an inherent and incorrigible attachment to family, community, and the hot climate.
However, all these explanations were put to shame only a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when millions of people from the titular Central Asian nations felt an irresistible urge to hit the road, leaving and, sometimes, literally abandoning their homes.
Let us try and make sense of these circumstances, to understand why movement in the region has suddenly become a vital life strategy among a considerable number of people.
Transcribed from the 28 February 2015 episode of This is Hell! Radio and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the full interview:
“This is the funny thing: when people don’t believe in anything, when they’re cynical about everything, they’re actually incredibly easy to manipulate.”
Transcribed from This is Hell! Radio’s 27 September 2014 episode and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the full interview here:
“There’s a lot of real old-fashioned class antagonism at the heart of this. When, on top of that class antagonism, you add an actual war with shooting, it becomes really ugly.”
Chuck Mertz: Our guest, live from New York City, is Keith Gessen, founding editor of n+1 magazine. Keith is co-editor of the new collection celebrating ten years of the cultural literary magazine n+1, Happiness: Ten Years of n+1. Keith also wrote the piece “Why Not Kill Them All?” on Ukraine for the London Review of Books. Good morning, Keith.
KG: Good morning.
CM: You start your story about a Mikhail Mishin, who grew up in a large town next to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, for several years playing football, rising to the Ukrainian second league. Eventually, as you write, “his father helped him find work in the sports section of city government, where he lobbied for money for sports facilities and attended their opening ceremonies, where he always gave a short speech about the moral and physical benefits of sport. No scholar of languages, he was never able to master Ukrainian fully, which perhaps would have kept him from climbing higher in politics if things hadn’t taken a strange turn for him in the Donbas region earlier this year.”
I think this is a good place to start, because we hear so much about a Russian-Ukrainian divide in Ukraine. How would you describe that divide?
AntiNote: Freelance photographer Alexander Belenkiy posted these photographs* on his livejournal this month, after a trip to Sochi. This is the ghost town he encountered there, only six months after the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Alexander points out in his own commentary that the Olympic Village is not completely abandoned; indeed he took care to include photographs of people there. Ultimately this deepens the images’ chill by providing a sense of scale. Hearing that the Sochi Olympics were a $50 billion waste is somewhat stultifying; seeing the vastness of this crime in (literally) concrete terms really leaves an impression.
by Gavin Rae for LeftEast
“What’s abnormal is not the worst. What’s normal, for example, is world war.”
The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War takes place in a growing atmosphere of global conflict. The world seems to be once again teetering on the verge of catastrophe. A wave of violence is spreading around the globe, leaving destruction and death in its wake. This surge towards war has developed a momentum that at times seems uncontrollable. Palestine, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Iraq – the list of conflicts is growing and war is once again becoming normal.
The anniversary of World War One should be a time of deep reflection for the left. How was it possible that the vast majority of the socialist parties in Europe could drop their avowed internationalism and fall in behind the imperialist war adventures of their countries’ elites? How could they become so subsumed with nationalism and chauvinism that they allowed millions of young men to fall on the battlefields?