Roman Holiday

A still from the motion picture Roman Holiday (1953). Courtesy of Republic

The debate about whether Schengen visas should cease to be issued to Russian nationals has tilted in a completely wrongheaded direction. In fact, it should not focus on the right of Russian nationals to visit European countries, including as tourists, but on Europe’s right to protect itself and to take measures that establish a direct political and legal link between citizens and the actions of their state. No one can or should deprive refugees or persons who are persecuted for their anti-war stance of the right to request asylum in EU countries. But this right should not be confused with the right to tourism, recreation, use of property or trouble-free business dealings in Europe.

What arguments are made by those who think that European countries cannot and do not have the right to stop issuing certain types of visas to Russian nationals?

Argument No. 1. The Russian intelligentsia argues that Europe, as an axiological benchmark for educated and non-war-supporting Russian nationals, has no right to close its borders to such nationals. This argument is based on a double omission.

Omission No. 1. It is not a matter of defending the right of all Russian nationals to vacation in Europe or find refuge there, but of the rights of only those Russian nationals who have linked their lives to Europe as an axiological (or consumerist) beacon. Everyone else, they imply, can do without visas — meaning it is a matter of triage, not a matter of rights or their lack. But this kind of sorting is a blatant injustice vis-a-vis one’s fellow citizens. Why should Russian nationals who know who Caravaggio and Ibsen are have visas, while those who don’t know who they are do without them?

Omission No. 2. Europe as a political entity is supposed to have a moral obligation toward certain nationals of a state that for six months now has been bombing European cities, from Lviv and Vinnytsia to Mykolaiv and Odesa, without cause and without declaring war. Europe has no such moral obligation.

Europe has a political obligation to protect its nationals from the belligerent state and its “soft” power. It also has a moral obligation to take all necessary, sufficient or at least potentially effective measures to protect the European state that has been subjected to the aggression — meaning Ukraine (which is European, so far, only in a geographical, not legal sense). In this case, everything has been working as it should. The EU has welcomed several million refugees from Ukraine and granted them legal status.

Argument No. 2. A crackdown has begun in Russia: opponents of the war, cultural figures, academics, and artists have been persecuted for their stance. If European visa are canceled, these people will not be able to escape. An analogy is immediately drawn with the philosopher Walter Benjamin, whom the Spanish border service did not let into the country from occupied France during the Second World War. Benjamin committed suicide.

Although this analogy is flattering to those who make it, it has nothing to do with real life. There are at least four countries where it is possible to evacuate from Russia quickly, cheaply, and nearly risk-free: Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. There are flights there from Russia, the Russian language is in widespread use there, and no visas are required to stay there. Moreover, you can enter Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan without your foreign travel passport.

So it’s not that there is nowhere to run, but that people want to escape “poshly.” They want to escape to Europe. This raises another objection. Fleeing to the EU on a tourist visa not only means slyly embellishing the hopelessness of the situation, but also engaging in deception. Either you choose Kant’s Europe and apply for refugee status and prove the right to be called a refugee, as the President of Ukraine has advised Russian nationals to do. Or you don’t bother with Europe at all if you want to go to there because you want to live according to Kant, but think you can cheat a little to get there.

Argument No. 3 against visa restrictions is that the European countries, by introducing such restrictions, will punish the innocent and encourage those who are not involved. That is, they will consolidate the majority supporting the war and make life difficult for those who do not support the war and just want to travel to Europe. This argument is based on the false and harmful premise that for some unknown reason the EU countries should play a part in Russia’s internal politics as an insider.

For thirty years, Europe invested a great deal of effort and resources in developing civil society in Russia, in supporting education, science, and culture in the country. These investments all went up in smoke on February 24. They proved completely and absolutely unproductive from a political point of view. Despite the possibly credible opinion that popular support for the war is imaginary, and Russian society is actually opposed to it, it is impossible to understand whether this is true or not. How can one continue investing in something that either exists or does not exist, but should exist?

Argument No. 4 is even simpler: Russian nationals have the right to travel to Europe. Period. It is an inalienable human right. This is simply not the case. If we take the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a standard, it states that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state,” “[e]veryone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,” and “[e]veryone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Neither the spirit nor the letter of a ban by European countries on issuing tourist visas to Russian nationals will violate these three principles governing freedom of movement as a basic human right.

Argument No. 5 is made in desperation and looks completely ridiculous: defamation. First-rate countries versus second-rate countries. These can versus those cannot. I needn’t remind readers about refugees from Syria, that the EU continues to issue visas to people in countries whose standard of living is much lower than in Russia, and so on. It’s not a question of “quality.” The fact is that every day on the social networks I personally see wholly content Russian nationals (including those who support the war, work for the Kremlin, and get paid for producing propaganda and maintaining the infrastructure that simulates “popular” support for the war inside the country) roaming peaceful European landscapes. Every single day.

The war in Ukraine is not a dictator’s safari. It is a terminal event for Russian statehood. Meaning that it is a terminal event for Russian nationals, too. Europe would be in its rights to underscore this fact by taking a simple decision. Peaceful tourism for nationals of a belligerent country is a political oxymoron. Therefore, and for this reason alone, such tourism should be halted at least for the duration of the war.

Source: Konstantin Gaaze, “No, Europe doesn’t owe us anything: In defense of visa restrictions for Russian nationals,” Republic, 18 August 2022. Konstantin Gaaze is a sociologist and journalist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Grigorii Golosov: An Anti-American Dictatorship

An Anti-American Dictatorship: The Russian Concept of Sovereignty
The regime is sovereign, not the people, and only if it does not seek to benefit from cooperating with the US
Grigorii Golosov
Republic
November 9, 2017

4f1d12efea4954e40cedcc6cf03e3d2bVladislav Surkov. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Azarov/Kommersant

Recently, after a long silence, Vladislav Surkov made another public appearance in print. The article itself, entitled “A Crisis of Hypocrisy” and written in a style typical of intellectually pretentious picture magazines, is not very interesting. It is not that Surkov rebukes the west for insincerity. That would be like the pot calling the kettle black. He does claim, however, that the effectiveness of hypocrisy as a means of control has been forfeited in modern democracies. Surkov thus finds himself agreeing with “prophetic comics” and other authoritative sources that a king of the west might appear to forcibly lead the world out of chaos. A good example, perhaps, of how such a king might act is Surkov’s own work in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic.

As many of you will remember, until his forced immersion in the affairs of a neighboring country, Surkov laid claim, albeit not very successfully, to the role of the current Russian regime’s ideologue. It was Surkov who back in the day coined the controversial term “sovereign democracy,” which was supposed to be either an alternative to western democracy or a variation on it. In this case, Surkov messed up royally, as was pointed out to him with appropriate severity by his more senior comrades. The point of Russian electoral authoritarianism, like electoral authoritarianism anywhere else, is to feign being a democracy without actually being a democracy. Since everyone realizes there really is true democracy in the west, any juxtaposition is invidious. Russia has democracy, and that is that. It is no worse than other democracies. It is just like them. There is thus no need to qualify it with any adjectives.

Now Surkov, being a person who is, on the one hand, quick on the uptake and, on the other, not averse to particular flights of fancy, has adopted the politically correct stance while creatively elaborating on it in the sense that democracy in the west is on its last legs, even as Russia still cherishes the ideal of people power. Naturally, there is no point in debating the nature of democracy when the issue is put this way, and sovereignty comes to the fore as in Surkov’s original take on the matter. Sovereignty is the central concept of modern Russian ideology.

Sovereignty is now the talk of the talk of the town, the favorite topic not only of the media but even of those people who speak from the highest bully pulpits. The Russian concept of sovereignty includes two axioms that we should examine thoroughly. I should note in advance that neither of these aspects is unique. Each of them is ordinarily found in any logically consistent concept of sovereignty. The whole trick is how they are applied specifically to modern day-to-day circumstances.

The first axiom states that all decisions about power in a given country are taken at a purely national level.  The point is incontestable. It suffices to have a look at how acutely the Americans react to any outward attempts to shape their own politics to be convinced that they, too, operate in full accordance with the axiom. The specific nature of the Russian interpretation, however, is nevertheless apparent. To detach it from its basic content we should look at the events in Syria.

The cause of the events was the crisis generated by the extremely brutal, truly barbarous dictatorship established in Syria by the Assad family. Only an intellectually unscrupulous person could publicly state the Assad regime had been the choice of the Syrian people, at least at some point in time. The Assads came to power in a military coup and were elected to the country’s presidency solely on an uncontested basis, under circumstances in which all opposition was quashed. An uprising took place in 2011. The regime survived it, but was unable to crush it completely. A civil war broke out. It is characteristic of modern civil wars in more or less important countries that they involve outside actors.

The last point has been at the heart of the Russian concept of sovereignty. Frightened out of their wits at one time by the specter of “color” revolutions, the Russian authorities, first, regard any regime in any country, except Ukraine, as legitimate, and any attempt to overthrow it, however bloody and tyrannical it may be, as solely the result of outside interference. I would again underscore that outside interference is a perpetual occurrence, but nor does Russia miss its own chance to catch fish in troubled waters. This aspect is always secondary, however. Western political thought has traditionally argued the people’s sovereignty consists, in particular, in its ability to put down tyrannies. Since elections in such circumstances are not a tool for doing this, all that remains is civil disobedience and insurrection. If we approach the matter differently, the notion of sovereignty has been replaced by the notion of the regime’s sovereignty. This is exactly how sovereignty is treated in modern Russian ideology.

Second, the Russian concept of sovereignty consists in the notion that all decisions on foreign policy must be taken at the national level. When expressed in such concise form, the claim is also indisputable. However, when it is applied in Russian public discourse, the claim is more controversial: since most national governments take the interests of the US (or, alternately, the EU) into account when making foreign policy decisions, their sovereignty is limited.

The problem with this interpretation is that it is advantageous to pay attention to the interests of the United States or the European Union, or both. This coincides with the preferences of most governments. They themselves limit their freedom to maneuver when it comes to foreign policy. Take one of Russia’s biggest grievances against the west: Nato’s eastward expansion. It is true that when the Eastern European countries joined Nato, they limited their freedom to operate, but they did this not merely voluntarily, but with colossal enthusiasm. They applied to join Nato and celebrated their joining the alliance as if it were a national holiday. Ask Donald Trump why they wanted to get in. He would tell you what percentage of the alliance’s expenditures are footed by American taxpayers. It is not even worth enlarging on the fact that the new European Union members received certain perks. Actually, back in the old days, even Vladimir Putin was given to saying it would not be a bad idea for Russia to join the western alliances. It follows that he saw the benefits.

For it would be wrong to say no one takes Russia’s interests into account. Even some of the Eastern European countries, which the Russian media arrogantly disparages as satellites of the western powers, occasionally express a dissenting opinion on issues sensitive to Russia, such as sanctions. When they do this, are they limiting their own sovereignty in favor of our country? No, they are just taking care of their own business. The general rule, however, is that most countries regard the interests of the US as more important than Russia’s interests. There are exceptions: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and five or six other countries. By a coincidence that is hardly strange there is not a single democracy amongst them. All of these countries are small or medium sized. It is naive to believe China is one of these countries. China regards the US as more important.

We no longer speak of sovereign democracy. The idea has not vanished, however, but has merely acquired a more appropriate guise as an anti-American dictatorship. It is this guise that has become Russia’s own political pole star. And why not? It is a matter of choice. We should be aware, however, that how you define yourself defines how people treat you, taking this into account when assessing the prospects for improving relations with the rest of the world.

Grigorii Golosov is a professor of political science at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader 

Hafsa Sabr: Geneva or Bust

Refugees in Europe demonstrate in support of France and against ISIS terrorism. Photo by Hafsa Sabr. Courtesy of Maria José Ferreiro
Refugees in Europe demonstrate in support of France and against ISIS terrorism. Photo by Hafsa Sabr. Courtesy of Maria José Ferreiro

Geneva or Bust
antidotezine.com
January 28, 2016

AntiNote: Hafsa Sabr is a vital presence at the enormous, improvised, and barely survivable camp in Dunkirk, northern France. She has been instrumental both in coordinating with independent aid and solidarity organizations operating in the camp as well as in insurgent media work, filming conditions in camp and reporting day-to-day on activities and incidents there.

The following could be a model script for the dystopian road-trip movie of the future. Its hopeful, tragic anger not only fits the Antidote vibe, but it also reveals much about revered institutions and the real effects their often arbitrary decisions have on people. We have edited it lightly for clarity, and thank Hafsa for her kind permission to print it.

Geneva or Bust
23 January 2016
by Hafsa Sabr

We need to talk. Everyone asked us what we did in Switzerland. This is our answer.

One week ago we heard that the UN would make an urgent conference in Switzerland: A journalist from New York came with her team to film the miserable conditions in the camp. She also made interviews. Her video was supposed to be shown during the UN meeting!

At this moment we all thought that the UN could change the world, and would make huge decisions about the camps of Dunkirk and Calais.

On Tuesday morning we (Sarhang, Besh and I) prepared ourselves to go to Paris. We were in a hurry and positively excited, thinking about what we were going to say.

We had an invitation from the UN, and that’s right: Sarhang and Besh are refugees and they don’t have any passport or ID card, but according to international laws on humans rights after 1948, everyone is free to travel anywhere.

Anyway, in Paris we met the journalist, Dina. She organized the way to participate in the conference (the open forum “Immigration to Integration”) and talk, mainly about the jungle in Dunkirk and the more than three thousand refugees there—men, women and children, and babies of course.

In the train station the French police surrounded Sarhang and Besh. They said they could be potential terrorists! I told the police guy that the refugees ran away from ISIS; how can they be terrorists? After ten minutes of negotiations they let us go to take the train.

While we were in the train, the journalist told us that the UN warned the police! Because Sarhang and Besh don’t have any papers! And if they enter Swiss territory, some people who invited us will be fired from the their jobs. This is the UN.

We wanted to go back home! The UN canceled our invitation!

When we crossed the border from France into Switzerland, at the first train station the border police stopped us. They were looking for us! They put us in jail for almost six hours! We were interrogated! And one guy from the police told me, “I’m sorry, what I’m going to say might hurt you, but we received the order to focus on Arab people. We don’t distinguish between Kurdish or Amazigh.”

After a few hours they asked for a lot of money from us. They wanted 170 euros. Sarhang and Besh could not afford it, so they let them off it. We even showed them the paper of invitation, but they didn’t care…After that, they told us we were all free. On our way to the last train to go back to France, a woman and a man from the police team stopped me once again and told me to stay here, and to pay 480 euros in taxes!

Sarhang and Besh told the lady they would not go back to France without me. I warned the two police that I would not give one euro to them because this money in my wallet was not mine! This money was for the refugees! And in my religion it’s called amana, which means a trust! I was upset and crying. The police man was kind. He told us, “I know that, but it’s my boss’s orders…otherwise I’m so sorry for what’s happened to you.” We were disappointed about everything, and we went back to the police office.

I will stop here and go back to history, to the 1880s when the people of southern Europe ran away because of inequality and the dictatorial law of rich people. Many people sacrificed to get to a life with rights and safety. In 1908 the same thing happened in Europe with African people.

And now in 2016, in a period of modernity and technology: in power and politics, no one cares about people who fled because of war, even Kurdish people who are fighting ISIS.

Dina was in contact with UN staff to find a way to get us free of the Swiss border police. But after another five hours they fingerprinted Sarhang and Besh. Then the police started shouting among each other. And then they let us go. We were FREE. El hamdullilah.

We thanked the one kind policeman, he had tears in his eyes.

We returned by bus to Mulhouse, and we slept there; the day after, we took a train to Paris and from Paris to Dunkirk. We were “home.”

We had spent a lot of the money that the refugees raised to help Sarhang and Besh join the conference. But it’s the UN: everyone in the jungle was waiting for great news from Sarhang and Besh. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything to say.

They had a last hope with the UN.
Just think about it: the UN made a conference about refugees in Dunkirk and Calais, but they didn’t let one refugee come to represent them.
Shame on them.

They called the cops! The UN.
I give up on humanity.

Please share this post as much as possible.

Sarhang, Besh and Hafsa

The Life and Times of a Russian Lawmaker

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The topsy-turvy life and times of Alexei Zhuravlyov, Russian “lawmaker”:

MOSCOW, November 29 (RAPSI) – A Russian lawmaker said Thursday that the State Duma will throw its weight behind making sure that the Russian language is recognized as an official language of the EU. The drive could become a reality after changes to EU rules allowed citizens to propose adding languages as long as they could collect one million signatures, Defense committee member Alexei Zhuravlyov told a roundtable. Zhuravlyov said the signature-collection drive should not pose any problems as there were large Russian communities in the EU and that the initiative would be [supported] by a federal agency that promotes international cooperation. The proposal was first aired by Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

Source

MOSCOW, October 19 (RIA Novosti) – A bill that proposes stripping gays with children of their parental rights, introduced by Russian lawmaker Alexei Zhuravlyov, has been withdrawn from the parliament, a spokesperson for the lawmaker said Saturday. “Yes, he has indeed withdrawn it,” spokesperson Sofia Cherepanova said, adding that the document would be later revised and again submitted to the Russian State Duma. She said that the author’s position on the matter “remains unchanged.” “Anyway, we are interested in passing the bill,” Cherepanova added. Zhuravlyov, a member of the ruling United Russia party, submitted the bill to the lower house of the Russian parliament in September. However, the proposal has not received any significant public backing.Between 5 and 7 percent of the Russian population are gay, a third of whom have children, Zhuravlyov’s bill claimed, citing unspecified experts. If true, between 2.3 million and 3.3 million Russians could possibly lose their children if the bill was passed.

Source

Photo © RIA Novosti and Sergey Mamontov