In Post-Soviet Russia, social justice advances you
The fake viral story from a year ago was the tipping point playaz. I was almost finna' let it go, because it's TPP month. But if debunked stories about Russian gold medal winners kissing in protest are gonna blow up my spot on my news feed, then the TPP can wait a week, 'cuz I ain't havin' it on this jingoistic ignorance. Look, I understand that the Winter Olympics are going on, but did the media take this time four years ago to break expose after expose on the horrid conditions in British Columbia, or Italy, or Japan, or Utah? First it was Tsarnaevs, then it was Snowden, then it was Syria, then it was gay rights, then it was Ukraine, now it's the Olympics, tomorrow it'll be something else. In every instance, Russia has emerged as the recently-unfrozen General Zod to our atrophying Superman. Would that this current sentiment were just an Olympics-time performance of nationalism, but even after the closing ceremony, the narrative remains: America good, Putin's Russia bad. True to Saul Alinsky's advice, instrumental in these new-same-as-the-old imperial struggles is to pick a central figure in your target and make that person the embodiment of all things evil. Henceforth, any time Russia shows up in US media, the focus is entirely on that murderous thug, that tyrannical dictator, that shirtless silent figure that exerts iron-clad control over every facet of Russian society. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me is that I finally understand how George W. Bush came off to the rest of the world. Because for the US's foreign policy, as my MSNBC-faithful dad says, “it's all about Putin.” And this is a dynamic that, while heavily useful for the State Department, is also obfuscatin' as a mo'fo. Russia's actions are not just the whims of a madman, there are real-ass geopolitical interests at play people. Take Ukraine for example. Over here, the situation is played as the freedom-and-West-loving Ukrainian people wanted to join the European Union and the end of history, with all of its human rights and limitless prosperity until evil ole' Putin blackmailed Yanukovich into being back under his Soviet thumb. Proceed revolution. Of course, what is often ignored is that the proposal from the EU would have required heavy amounts of austerity, turning Ukraine into Greece way before it would have become Germany. Furthermore, Putin's so-called blackmail basically amounted to Russia accepting the terms of the agreement and treating Ukraine as it would any other European nation, supplementing with import tariffs and visa restrictions as necessary. Also hidden in the EU agreement is that it would have brought Ukraine into closer alignment with NATO and here is where the real battle lines, literal and metaphorical, get drawn. When Russia views itself as inherently adversarial towards the West, it's not just because they like tweaking Obama. NATO's been steadily expanding eastward since the break-up of the Soviet Union, in a move that can't be viewed as any way other than aggressive. Indeed, key to the problem Russia poses is its lack of willingness to play ball with the US/Western Europe's imperial/neoliberal agenda. But the opposition to the West is more than just military, it is also cultural. Enter the fake viral story. Currently, gay rights in Russia appears to be the most pressing human rights crisis for the concerned liberal and the patriotic Fox News watcher. Ain't jingoism just the best for social justice y'all? I'm sure that the teenagers getting their face kicked in at this moment by Occupy Pedophilia are finding great comfort that the US sent Brian Boitano as part of its Olympic delegation. There have been some half-hearted attempts to tie the odious law solely back to Putin, but on the real, it passed the Duma unanimously, which, come to think of it, isn't a margin that much larger than the Defense of Marriage Act passed by not even twenty years ago. We like to ascribe the passing of laws like this one (whose name I can't even find. Western media FTW) to the unmitigated villainy of our opponents, but there is a reason it passed so readily and does unfortunately have broad public support. Chiefly, after being suppressed for decades under the Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church is back in a big way, and Putin is finna' ride this religious nationalism wave for a minute, as any politician worth his or her salt would do. More salient though, a meme has taken hold in globally Other-ized countries that homosexuality is a Western invention. And of course, the West being the West, we don't know how to champion any global social justice issue without coming across as imperialist, since you know, we kinda are. Resistance to cultural imperialism takes many forms, and quite a few of them are rather unsavory. The saddest part though is that it's all bluster. There is always a rather specific agenda as to which human rights issues dominate our media discourse, though there is a common denominator that we will do precisely jack about all of them. No matter how much the US/Western Europe hates Russia, they still need that gas son, and there's that veto on the UN Security Council, and the fates of some gay people in Russia aren't worth endangering all that. And this is precisely why social justice jingoism is so pointless. International relations is a fundamentally amoral enterprise. Statecraft is a fundamentally violent practice. Any stated concern about human rights is nothing but rhetorical cover for states to enact their agendas based around their real interests. Russia is as guilty of this as the U.S. is. But it's not just about explaining the chess game. We need to remember that Russia also has values that they claim to fight for: sovereignty, right to self-determination, lack of foreign intervention in domestic affairs, and these values are just as legitimate as the proclamations about freedom and democracy that we regularly contradict ourselves over. I understand the desire to sometimes impose comic book morality onto global affairs, if for nothing else than to avoid total depression, but Russia is particularly ill-suited for this task. They're not your usual former colony acting up. They have internalized none of the myths about Western supremacy (they did give us space travel, Dostoevsky and Stravinsky after all), and for better or for worse, they have and still do provide an important check on our global ambitions.