“The Slavic peoples are like one family. I can’t bear the idea of fighting with Ukraine.”
— Man skating on Moscow’s “packed” outdoor ice rink, quoted on “PM,” BBC Radio 4, 20 December 2021
Beyond freedom and justice, peace on earth is the ultimate purpose of political action. Violence and aggressivity are among the instincts that our nature has equipped us with to achieve the purpose of peace via devious and costly ways. This is Kant’s thesis in Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View. I find it realistic, politically. Art is ridiculously powerless on the political level. Its domain is the purposiveness without the purpose. It places its bets on sensus communis, the faculty of agreeing by dint of feeling, as if it were an instinct, knowing well that the chances are great that it is merely an idea. My talk, I realise, is a plea for empirical pessimism combined with transcendental optimism, which is why I embraced neither the optimistic nor the pessimistic view of today’s glocal art world. I am the observer who reflects on the situation. But I am a militant when I claim that there is a difference between the expanding glocal communities involved by the various art biennials and the singuniversal community demanded by the aesthetic judgement when it is uttered as ‘this is art.’ The latter community is humanity itself, all of us.
— Thierry de Duve, “The Glocal and the Singuniversal: Reflections on Art and Culture in the Global World,” Third Text, vol. 21, no. 6 (2007), pp. 687–88
On August 2, 2013, Russian Paratroopers Day, Kirill Kalugin, a Petersburg university student, took to the city’s Palace Square alone to protest the country’s new anti-gay laws. He was immediately set upon by reveling paratroopers (or as he himself suggested, by national activists masquerading as paratroopers), an incident captured on video by Petersburg news website Bumaga.
Kalugin returned to Palace Square this year on August 2 to protest Russia’s increasing militarism and imperialist misadventures in Ukraine. He was roughly detained by police some fifteen seconds after attempting to unfurl a rainbow flag emblazoned with the slogan, “My freedom defends yours.” Despite the fact that Kalugin held his anniversary protest right next to Manifesta 10’s provocative metallic Xmas tree, his protest has so far gone unremarked by progressive humanity (i.e., the international contemporary arts community) and the foreign press.
The interview below was published in August 2013 on the local Petersburg news web site Rosbalt three weeks after Kalugin’s first protest on Palace Square. Unfortunately, it hasn’t lost any of its timeliness, especially given the total absence of an anti-war movement in Russia and the singularity of Kalugin’s bravery and insight.
— “Kirill Kalugin: ‘My Freedom Defends Yours,'” The Russian Reader, 5 August 2014
December 17, 2021
A Treaty on the “End of History”
Over time, it has become clearer why the Putin regime started rattling military hardware near the borders with Ukraine. It’s not only about the fear of “NATO expansion” and the struggle for a sphere of imperial influence, as it had seemed at first.
Putin’s “draft treaty” with the collective west is a more profound, existential document, reflecting the regime’s fear of the logic of history, which naturally pushes Russia along the path of European progress and demolition of the dictatorship.
A desperate Putin has offered the west something in the spirit of Fukuyama that would secure the “end of history” and guarantee that the “political system” of Putin’s Russia would remain unchanged. The belief in the power of a document that would stop historical progress is somehow touching in its naivety.
Fully in keeping with Saltykov-Shchedrin’s imaginary town of Glupov, where “history has stopped flowing,” the Putin regime does not propose ruling out “NATO expansion” as such. Rather, it dreams of consolidating the rejection of support for “color revolutions” in Russia, as if revolutions were fueled not by the system’s rottenness, but by the insidious west.
That is the funniest thing about the draft “treaty.” It transpires that it has nothing at all to do with NATO and imperial ambitions in the spirit of a “Yalta 2.” It has everything to do with humdrum fear for the internal stability of Putin’s political system. The deal proposed to the west is not fueled by imperial ambitions (although lip service is paid to them in the treaty, it is unlikely that its authors themselves believe that Ukraine can be returned to Russia’s imperial orbit), but by fear of impending revolutionary change.
It is especially comical that a whole paragraph of the preamble is dedicated personally to Alexei Navalny, his regional organizations, and the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).
Navalny’s surname is not mentioned, but it sticks out of the draft treaty like a sore thumb. Putin demands “strict compliance with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs, including refraining from supporting organizations, groups or individuals calling for an unconstitutional change of power, as well as from undertaking any actions aimed at changing the political or social system of one of the Contracting Parties[.]”
The Putin system’s fear of “individuals,” which has even seeped into the text of an international document, is impressive in its scale.
All is in order with the demagoguery here too. It is a con man’s clever trick to tear up the Russian Constitution through a “plebiscite,” change the political system, and then demand respect from the west for it. (Redraw the borders, grab Crimea, and then yell about the “principle of non-interference.”)
We are going back to the bad old Soviet Union in terms of international agreements. What kind of language is this? “Changing the political system”: as if we were not talking about democracy (something shared by Russia and the west), but about the struggle between two political economic formations — between capitalism and socialism.
It is no accident that the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” has wormed its way into the “treaty” in homage to the glorious Soviet past, for which the Russian kleptocracy yearns. In the 1970s, however, the Kremlin demanded that the west keep its hands off its socialist ideology. Today, the demand is different: “Keep your hands off our kleptocracy!”
The Kremlin stubbornly reproduces the worldview which collapsed along with the USSR a long time ago. Putin has not learned any lessons from history, however.
In fact, the whole draft “treaty” with the west is a desperate call to stop history, freezing Putinism’s collapse due to its internal depravity. It is an attempt to pretend that the reason for the failures of the “social system” is the west’s influence and support of Navalny. It was the same way in the USSR, which sought the cause of its own decrepitude in dissidents, “anti-Soviet agitation,” and “western propaganda.” But the cause was much simpler. Everyone was fed up with the Soviet regime: that was why it collapsed.
The “elites” of the “Pu dynasty” have learned nothing. They want everything to be as it was under “granddad” (Leonid Brezhnev), offering the west an immoral and anti-historical picture of the world in which there is no place for living history with its logic of progress, only for the “insidious influence” of secret services and foreign agents.
They have “Chekism on the brain,” as has been said. A fatal case of it.
But there is an upside to this ridiculous document and its proposal to put the “end of history” down on paper à la Ugryum-Burcheev. It gives us a glimpse of the finale awaiting a “political system” which has lost touch with reality and lives in a dream world.
If you don’t understand where history is headed, have a mystical dread of progress, and are nostalgic for the bad old Soviet Union, then ultimately you’ll get another “geopolitical catastrophe,” one for which you will be to blame, not Navalny or the United States.
Strange as it may sound, Putin wants the United States to subscribe to his version of history. This is not a dispute over spheres of influence, but over what kind of world we live in. The madman wants the doctors to recognize his hallucinations as the norm. (The doctors don’t know what to do with the patient yet: he is not alone in the ward and has a knife in his pocket.)
But regardless of how things turn out for the “crazy old man,” kudos to Alexei Navalny. It is not given to just anyone to be identified in Russian Foreign Ministry documents as the principal threat to Russia and its “political system.”
Thanks to Alexander Skobov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader