Friday, August 16, 2013

Bloody Russia

As far as I am concerned, this ...

is the identical twin to this ...

When it comes to this kind of shit, the only difference between Christian fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists is a shave... and in Russia with its bearded priests there is not even that.
Singling out gays is another version of the anti-semitic campaigns of the 19th and 20th centuries, a way of rallying the suckers around the flag by vilifying a vulnerable and despised population.  Like extreme Islamists, Russian nationalists associate gays with Western decadence and aggression.

The American right wing homophobes cheerleading Russia's pogrom like Bryan Fischer and Scott Lively should take a good look at the work of their champions.

Recently, there was an outstanding article on Daily Kos by a blogger identifying himself as Pico, someone who speaks Russian and has clearly had a lot of first hand experience with Russia.  He points out Russia's current spasm of homophobia is rooted in Russia's peculiar brand of nationalism, which in some ways is strikingly similar to American versions of nationalism, and in other ways is very different.
Pico points out that while the Russian Orthodox Church is growing in power and influence, it is not growing in membership.  Less than half of all Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, and only a small fraction of those are regular church goers.  The Russian Orthodox Church is less an object of religious belief than of nationalist identity.  It was the Church that promoted the idea of Holy Russia with a messianic mission to the world for centuries.  That sense of messianic exceptionalism survived the 1917 Revolution and became central to the visions of Lenin and Stalin.  Since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, Russia always saw itself as under threat and surrounded by enemies, a conception that sadly was not entirely mistaken.  Russia suffered all kinds of foreign aggression from the Teutonic Knights, Sweden, Napoleon, British and American interventions in the civil war that followed the 1917 Revolution, and culminating in Hitler's catastrophic invasion in World War II.  The word "survival" appears in a lot of Russian nationalist rhetoric.
Pico points out that since the early 19th century, there was a particularly anti-Western aspect to Russian nationalism:

The most pernicious aspect of this national movement was its rejection of what its founders considered the centerpiece of Western thought: Rationalism. If Catherine the Great's francophilia a century earlier had been bound up in Enlightenment thought, the 19th century Slavophiles would cast themselves as the anti-Enlightenment, focused instead on an intuitive, communal link between God, the community, and the natural world (sobornost'). It was the national antidote to the West's radical individualism. As one of the most well-known and oft-quoted lines of Russian poetry admonishes us, you can't understand Russia with your (rational) mind. (If you've read your Dostoevsky, you've heard this spiel before.) Instead of playing catch-up to Europe, what Russia needs to do is find its own "special path" [osobyi put'] (though as one sympathetic commenter put it, it appears to be a path to nowhere.) The "special path" is one of the most pervasive linchpins of contemporary political discourse in Russia, and Putin has wielded it effectively. Incidentally you'll recognize the word "path" [put'] in the root of a certain head-of-state's name [Putin]. The man has national self-identity built into his name!
Russian nationalists see same-sexuality as but more Western decadence, and a kind of Western plot to lower ethnic Russians' already very low birthrate.  Western racist movements vilify homosexuality for similar reasons, as a threat to racial survival.
Exceptionalism and messianism are not exactly unknown in American nationalism.  In an age of dramatic demographic change, American right wing nationalism certainly sees itself in a similar "survival" mode.

Pico points out that the complexity of this history should not paralyze us, that the worst would be to do nothing about Russia's homophobic pogroms.  I think we should take our lead from the very courageous Russian LGBT activists in Russia who are not calling for boycotts.

Pico also points out that Russia once had a large and extravagant gay culture, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Russia's LGBT activists remind their fellow citizens of that history in a series of striking posters and campaigns.

We all know about Tchaikovsky, but how about these others?

The great poet Marina Tsvetaeva who had passionate love affairs with men and women.

The great film director Sergei Eisenstein

Impresario of the Ballets Russe Sergei Diaghilev 
with the Ukrainian dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar

Rudolph Nureyev

And a painter from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that would make Paul Cadmus blush, Konstantin Somov who began his career in Russia and ended his days in Paris.


It turns out that gays and lesbians played a disproportionately large role in Russian literature in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Here are a few examples:

Mikhail Kuzmin who wrote Wings, a novel about a homosexual love affair with a happy ending, the first such in Russia.  This is Somov's portrait of Kuzmin.

The poet and translator Valery Pereleshin who lived most of his life in exile in Brazil.

Yevgeny Kharitonov was a writer and poet who wrote candidly about the gay subculture of the Soviet Union.  He was also a pioneering and influential literary modernist.  Most of his work went unpublished during his lifetime.  He died of a heart attack on the streets of Moscow in 1981.

  There are all sorts of gay rumors about one of the greatest of all Russian literary figures, Nikolai Gogol, but I can't confirm any of those.



JCF said...

the 19th century Slavophiles would cast themselves as the anti-Enlightenment, focused instead on an intuitive, communal link between God, the community, and the natural world (sobornost')

I resonate w/ all of these (don't forget Byzantine art!), yet I'm . . . well, me.

So (absolutely no offense to you, Doug) it's got to be something else. Certainly, the pathological nationalism. The Victim Mentality (which SUCKS EVERYWHERE it raises its ugly "They're oppressing me w/ their neck under my boot!" head).

And, per always, poverty and its "savage inequalities". It's a terrible, toxic brew.

Counterlight said...

And yet, if it wasn't for that awful Enlightenment, there would be no constitutional democracy, only autocracy (which the 19th century Slavophiles embraced enthusiastically).

JCF said...

Foolish consistency, yada-yada-yada... ;-/

I freely admit I love the, um, "sausage" of Enlightenment Rationalism. Just not so much the sausage-making (all that "Count, Measure and Weigh" business).

But you're an artist, Doug: surely I don't need to explain that? That "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", not in a paint-by-numbers formula?

I see Rationalism in our opponents, frankly. All that "Man + Woman = Baby" business, repeated AS IF a reproductive fact (for now!), were a productive Truth. I don't think it is (but that's just my intuitive hunch ;-/).

Counterlight said...

Reason and rationalism are not synonymous. The fundies and the haters definitely rationalize. You are quite right about that. The libertarian crowd also rationalizes a lot. A string of syllogisms strung together by their "therefores" is not a compelling case.