The latest victim in this war of attrition or “cold civil war” against what should be the Kremlin’s home team but which it treats as its sworn enemies is Moscow’s estimable SOVA Center. If the SOVA Center had not existed all these years, we would know 500% less about homegrown racism, discrimination, neo-Nazism, and the Russia state’s quirky battle against “extremism” than we actually do know thanks to the terrific research, monitoring, and analysis carried out by the SOVA Center.
But all the clueless blowhards currently having fun mocking and sending up the so-called red scare gripping, allegedly, the US and Europe, know nothing (or pretend to know nothing) about how the Putin regime has been chewing up the scenery at home for years, leaving an institutional and organizational void in its wake, and the grassroots pushback against this academic, cultural, and political scorched earth campaign. They could not care less about the “white” menace (if we’re getting our political colors right) that was unleashed years ago when Putin took over the country, and they are way too lazy to investigate the myriad of ways the Kremlin has been exercising its imperialist hard and soft power for years right out in the open.
So does it matter whether the Kremlin responded immediately or not to the expulsion of its diplomats? No, it doesn’t. It “gets back” at the Great Satan every single day by relentlessly pounding Russia itself into an unpalatable meat patty.
The previous text set off a storm of emotions. I was told I should clear out of “our” country, accused of insanity, named every name in the book, given advice (I really love that), and chided, of course, for my “Afghan” past. Since that’s how it’s going to be, here’s a New Year’s story for you on the topic.
I rang in 1989 at the 345th Guards Airborne Regiment, one of the toughest in Afghanistan. Its battalions were constantly sent into combat, and it was the rare operation in which they were not involved. They would return to base flying the regimental flag. That was not in the regulations. The regimental commander, Valery Vostrotin or, “Cap,” as they called him, thought that up. After his first wound in the literal sense, the surgeons sewed him up like an old sock, and he came back “over the river”for a second tour of duty, this time sporting a Hero of the Soviet Union Star. The soldiers adored Cap. His photo, clipped from newspapers, hung over many a man’s cot in the barracks. I had never seen anything like it.
We became friends in Khost, during the same operation [Magistral] on which the plot of the film The 9th Company is based. The 9th Company is part of the 345th Regiment, after all. Valera had commanded it himself once upon a time. Under his command, the 9th had been involved in storming Hafizullah Amin’s palace.
I cannot convey what the New Year’s celebration was like. The airborne troops pummeled the sky with everything that could and could not shoot. The commander made the rounds of all the battalions. As his guest, I tailed him, and then we stayed up and talked all night. It was then that he autographed this playing card “in pledge of [a] long friendship.”
When we said goodbye the next day, I recited him Igor Morozov’s lyrics to the song “We’re Going,” which was gaining popularity but had not made it yet to Bagram Airfield: “From once-conquered heavenly peaks we descend charred steps to earth.” There is a line in that song: “And we haven’t finished our business yet, but we’re going, going, going.”
Vostrotin listened and paused before saying bitterly, “We never had any ‘business’ in Afghanistan.”
By the way, it was Vostrotin who did not storm the Russian White House in 1991. He flew the Volgrad Division, which he was then commanding, to Kubinka Air Base, but when they had traveled as far as the Moscow Ring Road, he stopped, and did not advance any farther.
We had no “business” in Afghanistan. And we don’t have any in Syria.
* “Amongst the people killed on board the plane that crashed were Anton Gubankov, the Defense Ministry’s ‘minister of culture’ and his staff member Oksana Badrutdinova. Really good people… The plane, the ambassador, and dozens of servicemen. And there will be more. We have no business in Syria.”
Mikhail Kozhukhovis a well-known Soviet and Russian journalist and television presenter. In 1999–2000, he served as Vladimir Putin’s press secretary. Translated by the Russian Reader
I will perform my familiar role as Captain Obvious. The Alexandrov Ensemble, Doctor Liza, the ambassador to Ankara, and the two hundred and seventeen people flying back to Petersburg from Egypt over a year ago would still be alive if President Putin had not personally ordered our troops into combat in Syria.
It is impossible to calculate how many Syrian women and children were killed by Russian bombs, but nobody in Russia gives a shit about it. The Vesti TV news program said they were smearing their faces with tomato juice instead of blood, and everyone believed it, because it is easier that way. But it is odd that over the past year no one has bothered to ask Putin what higher purpose was served by the death of the twenty-five Russian children flying in the plane from Egypt that was blown up by Islamic State. It was possible to explain the Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow by invoking the battle for Russia’s so-called territorial integrity. The hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine had something to do with Ukraine’s being our nearest neighbor and the so-called Russian world. (Although that would be cold comfort to the families of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, blown to smithereens by a Russian rocket.) But no one in Russia has any clue why our army has put itself in the middle of the latest bloodbath in the Middle East. Ask anyone on the street. They won’t know what to say: I have checked. No one believes in the fairy tale about fighting Islamic State.
People believe more in the spiel about supporting the vampire Assad, but it doesn’t come across as persuasive either. After all, Assad is not Yanukovych, who, at least, was right next door and bought natural gas from us. More people believe we are involved in a tactical war with America. We have supposedly shown the Yanks we know a few tricks ourselves. That was the explanation given to me by a guy in Michurinsk. Yet he felt no indignation whatsoever, by the way. Hundreds of Russians have been killed in this war, a war the country is fighting the fuck knows where and the fuck knows why. You have to be utterly brainless, of course, to know everything we know about Afghanistan and get bogged down in the same deal again. But that is the saddest part: no one could give a flying fuck.
On television, they ramble on about GEOPOLITICS. It is now the magic spell, the national idea, the new Russian god that has replaced hydrocarbons, which have proved unreliable. It works like a charm, because any crap on either side of the border can be explained in terms of geopolitical interests. The majority of Russians still imagine that geopolitics is something remote and boring, something Pyotr Tolstoy would discuss on his talk shows, but in fact it has now made itself at home in nearly every Russian household in the shape of incipient poverty, inflation, unemployment, deteriorating medical care and education, rising utilities rates, and, more and more often, the violent deaths of loved ones.
The most surprising thing, however, is that Russia’s so-called geopolitical interests, to which so many victims have been sacrificed, is a myth, a fiction, the latest of Putin’s simulacra. You and I have no interests in Syria, and neither does Russia. All of Russia’s major foreign policy decisions, from the annexation of Crimea to the war in Syria, have initially been made by one man on grounds known only to him. Were rank-and-file Russians terribly worried about whether Crimea was part of Russia or Ukraine until the president took care of the problem? This is not to mention Syria, whose existence was a mystery to many Russians until we launched military operations there.
There is no separating Putin from geopolitics. Putin is geopolitics, and Russia’s so-called geopolitical interests are mainly the interests of Putin, who is guided by a rationale known only to him. God knows what is going on in his brain, but after sixteen years of individual rule, anyone’s brains would warp. This is a typical problem of authoritarian regimes: the illusory reality in the dictator’s overindulged, fevered brain becomes everyone else’s reality, and real people die.
A dictator thinks a thought, and it immediately becomes the national idea. We know that our dictator has long been uninterested in anything except self-assertion in the international arena. At home, he has everything sorted out (he even erected a monument to Prince Vladimir recently), but when it comes to authority on the world stage everything has been totally fucked. He has played the big shot every which way to Sunday, but it has only made those sordid faggots in other countries frown even harder. They have got Putin stuck on the fourth rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the need for reverence and respect. He cannot move on to the highest stage, the stage of spiritual development, where a lonely Gandhi and the coveted Nobel Peace Prize have long been waiting for him.
Putin sees geopolitics as a gamble in which he has been trying to beat the West by desperately conning it. He sees us as bargaining chips. It is clear he will continue to solve his profoundly personal problems using the entire country as a hammer. Of course he claims to be acting in Russia’s interests, but the trouble is that after so many years of unchecked power it is hard to separate national interests from personal interests. Putin has so fused with the system, he has short-circuited so many public institutions, that you pull him out of politics now and Russia really would crumble. Putin does in fact now equate with Russia, and if you oppose Putin, you oppose Russia—in the shape in which it now exists.
So you won’t get any optimistic pre-New Year’s predictions from me. The Napoleonic tricorn, propped on the head of Little Zaches, will grow so large it will soon completely obscure his view. The quantity of insanity and victims will thus naturally increase.
Andrey Loshak is a well-known Russian journalist. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to a number of friends for the heads-up
“I wrote a post in which I said Putin was responsible for the crash of the Defense Ministry plane. There was no malice or disrespect for the memory of the dead in what I wrote, just a take on well-known facts. A hour later, a hellish orgy kicked off in the comments section in which wishes for my immediate death were expressed. Who the heck knows whether they were trolls or not. Some of them were definitely real people. I think that if I had been tied up and handed over to them at that moment, they would have skinned me alive, ripped out my heart, and stomped on it. Such orgies had occurred before, as soon I would write something critical about Putin. You cannot imagine how many insults I have had to read, written by aggressive assholes who had never met me in real life but who nevertheless called me all the names in the book and dispensed idiotic jokes about my surname and my loved ones. I used to take such things ironically, but after my son was born, I have felt like personally smacking everyone in this pack upside the head. My ‘liberasty’ lasted for a long while. For almost eight years, my Facebook page was as open and pluralistic as the Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. I thought it was vital to maintain the possibility of interacting with people who held different views. Unfortunately, however, the absolute majority of them proved capable only of insults. This audience is, probably, what is pejoratively dubbed the vata: an aggressive, mentally limited pack, willing blindly to follow the alpha male anywhere, whether to the edge of the precipice or over the edge. Today I couldn’t stand it and acted liked Putin. I changed the comments settings: now only Facebook friends can leave comments. I must admit my little sociological experiment in establishing a dialogue with society has failed.”
To “Leftist” Admirers of Assad’s Syria
Farouk Mardam-Bey Pulse
December 24, 2016
As a Syrian who has always identified politically with the left, I am particularly appalled by those men and women who call themselves left-wingers—and are therefore supposed to stand in solidarity with struggles for justice worldwide—and yet openly support the regime of the Assads, father and son, who are chiefly responsible for the Syrian disaster.
Following four months of intense bombardment by the Russian air force, Bashar Al-Assad’s army, along with Shiite militias hailing from everywhere and mobilized by the Iranian mullahs, have now finished “liberating” Eastern Aleppo. Liberated from whom? From its inhabitants. More than 250,000 inhabitants were forced to flee their own city to escape massacres, as had the people of Zabadani and Daraya before them, and as will many more Syrians if systematic social and sectarian “cleansing” continues in their country under the cover of a massive media disinformation campaign.
That in Syria itself wealthy residents of Aleppo, belonging to all religious sects, rejoice over having been rid of the “scum”—meaning the poor classes who populated Eastern Aleppo—is not surprising at all. We are accustomed to it: the arrogance of dominant classes is universal.
That Shiite mullahs stuck in another era celebrate the event as a great victory of the true believers over Umayyad disbelievers, or proclaim that Aleppo has been Shiite in the past and will turn Shiite again, can also be understood if one is familiar with their doctrine, as delirious as that of their Sunni counterparts.
Finally, that in the West politicians and opinion makers of the far right or the hard right reaffirm, loudly, their support for Assad is also quite natural. Such people have nothing but contempt for Arabs and Muslims, and they believe, today as ever, that these “tribes” must be led with a big stick.
But how could one fail to explode in anger when one reads statements in support of the regime of the Assads, father and son, issued by men and women who claim to stand on the left, and who should therefore sympathize with struggles for justice everywhere? How could one fail to become exasperated when one hears them praise the independence, secularism, progressive character, and even “socialism” of a lawless clan that took power in an army coup more than forty-five years ago and whose only concern is to keep exerting power forever? “Assad forever,” “Assad or nobody,” “Assad or we burn the country,” chant Assad’s partisans. And his “leftist” supporters nod approvingly under the pretext that there is no other choice: it’s either him or ISIS.
And yet the Syrians who rose in 2011 were the first to vigorously condemn the jihadi groups of all sorts and kinds, and in particular ISIS, that have infested their popular uprising after it was forced into militarization. Completely alien to the demands of liberty and dignity of the popular uprising, these jihadi groups focused their attacks principally on the vital forces of the opposition, whether civilian or military, and cracked down on the population in the areas that they managed to control. In so doing, they buttressed Assad’s propaganda inside Syria as well as internationally, allowing him to portray himself as a defender of religious minorities.
The same Syrians who rose in 2011 have moreover often expressed their distrust of those who have pretended, and continue to pretend, to represent them, and who proved to be incredibly incompetent. Hoping for a Western military intervention that was obviously never envisaged by the Obama administration, subservient to this or that neighboring country (Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey), divided among themselves and non-existent on the ground, these self-proclaimed representatives were incapable of addressing the world with a coherent political discourse.
But neither jihadi intrusion nor the shortcomings of the self-proclaimed representatives of the Syrian revolution, nor any argument used to justify the unjustifiable, can invalidate two fundamental facts: that the Syrians had a thousand reasons to revolt, and that they did so with exceptional courage, under conditions of near-universal indifference, countering the ruling clan’s limitless terror, Iran’s imperial ambitions and, since September 2015, a US-approved Russian military intervention that has already killed several thousand civilians.
Is this “Syria of Assad”—where Iran and Russia act as they please, together as well as separately, and whose future now relies exclusively on their agreements and disagreements—independent and anti-imperialist? Let left-wing admirers of the Assad regime read the unconscionable treaty that it signed on August 26, 2015, granting Russia exorbitant privileges as well as complete and permanent immunity regarding all damages caused by its air force.
How can anyone seriously describe as “secular” a regime that, since its beginning and in order to perpetuate itself indefinitely, has striven to poison relations between religious communities, held Alawis and Christians hostage to its policies, presided over the contamination of Syrian society by the most obscurantist form of Salafism, and has manipulated all sorts of jihadists, and not only in Syria?
How “progressive” is it to promote the wildest type of capitalism, impoverishing and marginalizing millions of citizens who barely survive in the suburbs of the main cities? These impoverished Syrians were the main social component of the revolution, and they became the main target of the regime’s heavy artillery, barrel bombs and chemical weapons. “Kill them to the last” demanded the Shabbiha (Assad’s thugs) from the beginning of the uprising, so that the new “progressive” bourgeoisie could securely plunder the nation’s wealth and pile up billions of dollars in fiscal paradises!
If the above is not enough, one can also remind Assad’s “leftwing” supporters of the crimes against humanity perpetrated with complete impunity by Bashar’s father, Hafez, during his thirty years of autocratic rule. Two locations summarize them: the city of Hama, where over 20,000 people, possibly 30,000, were massacred in 1982, and the prison of Palmyra, the equivalent of an extermination camp where the jailers used to boast about turning the men they tortured into insects. It is this same impunity that some on the left alas want to extend to Bashar Al-Assad, the principal culprit responsible for the ongoing disaster with over ten million displaced, hundreds of thousands of dead, tens of thousands imprisoned facing torture and summary executions in jail.
Until the executioners are defeated and punished, Syria’s endless martyrdom risks foreshadowing many others in the world — a world from which Syria will have vanished.
Translated from the French by Joey Ayoub. Photo courtesy of Publishing Perspectives. Thanks to Danny Postel and the rest of the Pulse team for posting this article and their invaluable work in general.
About Farouk Mardam-Bey
Farouk Mardam-Bey is a Syrian historian, author, and editor who has been living in exile in France since 1965. He was Head of Arabic at the library for the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris (1972-1986), an editor and then director of a French journal of Palestinian studies (1981-2008), and a consultant for the Arab World Institute (1989-2008). Since 1995, he has been director of the Sindbad series, part of the publishing house Actes Sud, which aims at translating Arabic works into French. His co-authored/edited books include the two-volume Itineraries from Paris to Jerusalem: Franceand the Arab-Israeli Conflict (1992-1993), Being Arab (2007), and Our France (2011). He has also edited and published a number of historical, political, literary and bibliographical texts and translated the works of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish into French.
Quotation of the day
“What an interesting situation when Americans are fighting tooth and nail for the Kremlin’s right to destroy their democracy. This is the year when red and brown truly converged.”
— Idrees Ahmad