Editor’s note: We’re not sure this is really a speech by Evo Morales, but it’s so good it’s worth reading because it’s something he could say.
President of Bolivia
News and Opinion
Roger’s note: I cannot vouch for the historical credibility of this, but it rings true for me. The East German Communist government was a brutal dictatorship and its secret police, the Stasi, was known for its ruthlessness. Nevertheless, from the mainstream media and North American academic world we get a highly propagandized narrative about the Berlin Wall, and there is always another side to the story. William Blum present one here. I think this is relevant now because we are experiencing the same phenomenon with the rise of Isis/Isil in Iraq and Syria, that is, a narrative that is virtually ahistorical and free of the U.S. provocations that in fact created and armed Isis/Isil.
I came across the following this morning in an article by Murray Dobbin analyzing the attack yesterday in Ottawa:
We are supposed to learn as children that actions have consequences so I suppose we are left to conclude that current leaders of the Anglo-industrialized countries (in particular) were badly neglected by their parents. A monstrous and catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of the West has led us to this point. The first failure belonged to Zbigniew Brzezinski one of the key architects of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Before the US armed, financed and trained the then-handful of religious zealots opposed to the godless Soviets, they were a threat to no one.
In an interview that appeared in CounterPunch in 1998 Brzezinski revealed his limited imagination when asked if he regretted creating Islamic terrorists: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
The answer is in.
OCTOBER 22, 2014
November 9 will mark the 25th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The extravagant hoopla began months ago in Berlin. In the United States we can expect all the Cold War clichés about The Free World vs. Communist Tyranny to be trotted out and the simple tale of how the wall came to be will be repeated: In 1961, the East Berlin communists built a wall to keep their oppressed citizens from escaping to West Berlin and freedom. Why? Because commies don’t like people to be free, to learn the “truth”. What other reason could there have been?
First of all, before the wall went up in 1961 thousands of East Germans had been commuting to the West for jobs each day and then returning to the East in the evening; many others went back and forth for shopping or other reasons. So they were clearly not being held in the East against their will. Why then was the wall built? There were two major reasons:
1) The West was bedeviling the East with a vigorous campaign of recruiting East German professionals and skilled workers, who had been educated at the expense of the Communist government. This eventually led to a serious labor and production crisis in the East. As one indication of this, the New York Times reported in 1963: “West Berlin suffered economically from the wall by the loss of about 60,000 skilled workmen who had commuted daily from their homes in East Berlin to their places of work in West Berlin.”
It should be noted that in 1999, USA Today reported: “When the Berlin Wall crumbled , East Germans imagined a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier with communism.” Earlier polls would likely have shown even more than 51% expressing such a sentiment, for in the ten years many of those who remembered life in East Germany with some fondness had passed away; although even 10 years later, in 2009, the Washington Post could report: “Westerners [in Berlin] say they are fed up with the tendency of their eastern counterparts to wax nostalgic about communist times.”
It was in the post-unification period that a new Russian and eastern Europe proverb was born: “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about capitalism turned out to be the truth.”
It should be further noted that the division of Germany into two states in 1949 – setting the stage for 40 years of Cold War hostility – was an American decision, not a Soviet one.
2) During the 1950s, American cold-warriors in West Germany instituted a crude campaign of sabotage and subversion against East Germany designed to throw that country’s economic and administrative machinery out of gear. The CIA and other US intelligence and military services recruited, equipped, trained and financed German activist groups and individuals, of West and East, to carry out actions which ran the spectrum from juvenile delinquency to terrorism; anything to make life difficult for the East German people and weaken their support of the government; anything to make the commies look bad.
It was a remarkable undertaking. The United States and its agents used explosives, arson, short circuiting, and other methods to damage power stations, shipyards, canals, docks, public buildings, gas stations, public transportation, bridges, etc; they derailed freight trains, seriously injuring workers; burned 12 cars of a freight train and destroyed air pressure hoses of others; used acids to damage vital factory machinery; put sand in the turbine of a factory, bringing it to a standstill; set fire to a tile-producing factory; promoted work slow-downs in factories; killed 7,000 cows of a co-operative dairy through poisoning; added soap to powdered milk destined for East German schools; were in possession, when arrested, of a large quantity of the poison cantharidin with which it was planned to produce poisoned cigarettes to kill leading East Germans; set off stink bombs to disrupt political meetings; attempted to disrupt the World Youth Festival in East Berlin by sending out forged invitations, false promises of free bed and board, false notices of cancellations, etc.; carried out attacks on participants with explosives, firebombs, and tire-puncturing equipment; forged and distributed large quantities of food ration cards to cause confusion, shortages and resentment; sent out forged tax notices and other government directives and documents to foster disorganization and inefficiency within industry and unions … all this and much more.
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of Washington, DC, conservative coldwarriors, in one of their Cold War International History Project Working Papers (#58, p.9) states: “The open border in Berlin exposed the GDR [East Germany] to massive espionage and subversion and, as the two documents in the appendices show, its closure gave the Communist state greater security.”
Throughout the 1950s, the East Germans and the Soviet Union repeatedly lodged complaints with the Soviets’ erstwhile allies in the West and with the United Nations about specific sabotage and espionage activities and called for the closure of the offices in West Germany they claimed were responsible, and for which they provided names and addresses. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. Inevitably, the East Germans began to tighten up entry into the country from the West, leading eventually to the infamous wall. However, even after the wall was built there was regular, albeit limited, legal emigration from east to west. In 1984, for example, East Germany allowed 40,000 people to leave. In 1985, East German newspapers claimed that more than 20,000 former citizens who had settled in the West wanted to return home after becoming disillusioned with the capitalist system. The West German government said that 14,300 East Germans had gone back over the previous 10 years.
Let’s also not forget that while East Germany completely denazified, in West Germany for more than a decade after the war, the highest government positions in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches contained numerous former and “former” Nazis.
Finally, it must be remembered, that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism forever, and that the Russians in World War I and II, lost about 40 million people because the West had used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War II the Soviet Union was determined to close down the highway.
For an additional and very interesting view of the Berlin Wall anniversary, see the article “Humpty Dumpty and the Fall of Berlin’s Wall” by Victor Grossman. Grossman (née Steve Wechsler) fled the US Army in Germany under pressure from McCarthy-era threats and became a journalist and author during his years in the (East) German Democratic Republic. He still lives in Berlin and mails out his “Berlin Bulletin” on German developments on an irregular basis. You can subscribe to it at firstname.lastname@example.org. His autobiography: “Crossing the River: a Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War and Life in East Germany” was published by University of Massachusetts Press. He claims to be the only person in the world with diplomas from both Harvard University and Karl Marx University in Leipzig.
William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power . His latest book is: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com
Roger’s note: Just as the Civil War had the “side effect” of ending slavery in the United States but was really fought in order to preserve the Union, World War II is often characterized as a war to promote freedom and defeat racism, but that too was mostly propaganda, the real dynamic was a power struggle between the Allied nations and the nations of the Axis. Just as government sponsored racism is alive and well today in the U.S. (cf. the recent Supreme Court decision against affirmative action), racism was universally upheld by the leadership and governments the the victorious Allied nations of the second world war, the so-called free world.
By Mike Thomson
Presenter, Document, BBC Radio 4
Many of the “French” division which led the liberation of Paris were Spanish
Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a “whites only” victory.
Many who fought Nazi Germany during World War II did so to defeat the vicious racism that left millions of Jews dead.
Yet the BBC’s Document programme has seen evidence that black colonial soldiers – who made up around two-thirds of Free French forces – were deliberately removed from the unit that led the Al lied advance into the French capital.
By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly West African colonial troops, known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais, lay dead.
Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages.
Their chance for revenge came in August 1944 as Allied troops prepared to retake Paris. But despite their overwhelming numbers, they were not to get it.
The leader of the Free French forces, Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted his Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris.
I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division
General Frederick Morgan
Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle’s division must not contain any black soldiers.
In January 1944 Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, “confidential”: “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.
“This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white.”
At the time America segregated its own troops along racial lines and did not allow black GIs to figh t alongside their white comrades until the late stages of the war.
Given the fact that Britain did not segregate its forces and had a large and valued Indian army, one might have expected London to object to such a racist policy.
Yet this does not appear to have been the case.
A document written by the British General, Frederick Morgan, to Allied Supreme Command stated: “It is unfortunate that the only French formation that is 100% white is an armoured division in Morocco.
“Every other French division is only about 40% white. I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division.”
Finding an all-white division that was available proved to be impossible due to the enormous contribution made to the French Army by West African conscripts.
So, Allied Command insisted that all black soldiers be taken out and replaced by white ones from other units.
When it became clear that there were not enough white soldiers to fill the gaps, soldiers from parts of North Africa and the Middle East were used instead.
In the end, nearly everyone was happy. De Gaulle got his wish to have a French division lead the liberation of Paris, even though the shortage of white troops meant that many of his men were actually Spanish.
We were colonised by the French. We were forced to go to war… France has not been grateful. Not at all.
Former French colonial soldier
The British and Americans got their “Whites Only” Liberation even though many of the troops involved were North Af rican or Syrian.
For France’s West African Tirailleurs Senegalais, however, there was little to celebrate.
Despite forming 65% of Free French Forces and dying in large numbers for France, they were to have no heroes’ welcome in Paris.
After the liberation of the French capital many were simply stripped of their uniforms and sent home. To make matters even worse, in 1959 their pensions were frozen.
Former French colonial soldier, Issa Cisse from Senegal, who is now 87 years-old, looks back on it all with sadness and evident resentment.
“We, the Senegalese, were commanded by the white French chiefs,” he said.
“We were colonised by the French. We were forced to go to war. Forced to follow the orders that sai d, do this, do that, and we did. France has not been grateful. Not at all.”
Mike Thomson presents Radio 4’s Document at 2000BST on Monday 6 April
All around the globe, record numbers of people from all walks of life are being thrown into jails because they are standing up to protect the most basic of human needs — uncontaminated water, unpolluted lands, and a liveable climate free from the ramifications of extreme fossil fuel extraction. If the greed-driven fossil fuel extraction corporations — and the governments that do their bidding to assure sustained record profits — don’t stop endangering our critical and already-compromised life support systems, there is little doubt that the numbers of individuals standing up will grow exponentially. People are increasingly recognizing the critical necessity to safeguard our communities and our ecosystems, and growing numbers around the world are taking that bold step to engage in the time-honored tradition of peaceful civil disobedience as a means of alerting others to the dangers that threaten us all. This map from The Public Society shows some of the major protests against fossil fuel extraction in the past year alone, and the reach is staggering.
Those of us who choose civil disobedience as a tactic, often of last resort, do so not because they are looking to get away with a crime, but because we are seeking to shine a light on laws that allow for injustice to prevail. No one wants to go to jail. But the history of righting terrible wrongs is first a history of individuals putting their bodies on the line, risking arrest, facing uncertain circumstances and sometimes going to jail (or worse), long before the nation or the world awakens to the realities of what amounts to legalized decimation, injustice, and oppression.
There were times in our history here in the United States of America where the law of the land allowed slavery, prohibited women the right to vote, left children unprotected by labor laws, and didn’t guarantee the civil rights of all citizens. In the USA’s many hard-fought movements of great social progress — the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage, labor and civil rights movements, as well as the free speech, peace, and environmental justice movements — there have always been those who were out in front, laying their bodies on the line and leading the way — well before the lawmakers followed with new legislation designed to make this a “more perfect union.”
The climate movement is well underway, and thousands of peaceful protesters and interventionists have already put their bodies and freedom on the line. As the world grapples with how to recognize the first of its climate refugees, and as it becomes desperately clear that carbon pollution must be urgently addressed, the quest for more difficult to access and dirtier oil and gas has never been more furious. In the states, lawmakers in the pocket of extraction industry make the pillaging easier and the public health concerns more profound by allowing exemptions from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. So, in the US alone, over 76,000 have pledged to engage in dignified acts of peaceful civil disobedience if the debacle that is the KeystoneXL pipeline is allowed to proceed through our country’s heartland.
The third largest threat to our planetary climate — third only to mining nearly all of China and Australia’s coal — would be drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic, where oil companies plan to take advantage of melting sea ice in this most sensitive region on earth. If their plan were to succeed, despite the technical obstacles and enormous environmental risks, the drilling would add 520 million tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere per year, as much as all of Canada’s annual global warming pollution.
That’s why Greenpeace activists and independent journalists determined to bring this urgent threat to humanity to light journeyed to the Russian Arctic to protest the first ever offshore Arctic oil drilling project. On September 19th, consistent with the tradition of peaceful direct action, Greenpeace activists scaled a Gazprom oil platform to hang a banner off of the side. They hoped to bring awareness of the frightening risks of runaway climate change and the devastating effect of oil spills that Arctic drilling could bring to the world.
The Russian Federal Security Services responded with force, firing 11 warning shots into the water just inches away from the Greenpeace small inflatable boats. Two activists were taken by the knife wielding agents, while the other 28 activists and journalists remained on the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise.
The next day, in international waters, 15 masked Russian troops rappelled on to the Arctic Sunrise from a helicopter, held all 28 civilians onboard at gunpoint, and seized the ship.
The Arctic 30 have been in Russian custody since.
While even President Putin said the activists and journalists were “obviously not pirates;” the Russian authorities detained and charged all 30 with piracy – a crime that carries a 15 year jail sentence in Russia. A few weeks ago, they added “hooliganism,” charges which carry even more disproportionate penalties of up to 7 years in jail. The illegal arrests on international waters and the outrageous charges have been condemned by governments and many human rights groups, including Amnesty International, while people in 220 cities from Jakarta to Hong Kong to California marched, calling for the release of the Arctic 30.
The disproportionate Russian response is like unleashing attack dogs on a sit-in.
History has shown us that peaceful activism is vital when all else fails to respond appropriately to the most pressing issues of our time. The great practitioners of non-violent direct action as a means of achieving social change knew this and practiced it only with love in their hearts. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr both said in so many words, “if a law is unjust, it is your responsibility to break it.” MLK once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That one profound statement of moral genius succinctly exemplifies why the world must not be silent until the Arctic 30 are once again free.
Please stand in solidarity with those who were willing and compelled to go to the front lines on behalf of all future generations. The risks that these activists have taken, and the cost to them personally and to their loved ones, need you to relentlessly demand that Russia free the Arctic 30 — and of course that the world move swiftly, urgently and in earnest to a planet powered by clean energy.
Roger’s note: I hope you find this correspondence as fascinating as I did. The left/progressive blogosphere these days is publishing more anti-capitalism analyses than ever. I am a life-long Marxist Humanist, so the notion of capitalism is something I have been thinking about for years (decades, actually). What I find troubling is that very few writers either attempt or demonstrate a precise understanding of exactly what capitalism is. Capitalism is not simply an ideology, although there are more than enough capitalist ideologues; and capitalism is not primarily about so-called free markets, nor is state ownership anything less than pure genuine capitalism (prime example: China). To understand what a genuine transformation of society will be, it is important to have a historical understanding of how capitalist economic relations developed. More important is the need to understand exactly what capitalist economic relationships ARE, and that has to do with the basic structure under which goods and services are PRODUCED (again, not marketed). Karl Marx discovered an entire new continent of thought that takes us into the heart of notions of human freedom and exploitation via capitalist economic relations. Much too complex for me to go into here; I just want to point out that being anti-capitalist is necessary but not sufficient. The dialogue below is a good example of revolutionary activist thinking, striving to understand in order to transform.
I hope you have been able to organise your life in prison around small rituals that make it tolerable, and that you have time to read. Here are my thoughts on your predicament.
John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: “They are really always saying the same thing. They don’t change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat.” Isn’t this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.
But what is this truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent, not only in Russia? All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous. What is so disturbing about Pussy Riot to the liberal gaze is that you make visible the hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.
[Žižek then explores what he sees as a global trend towards limiting democracy.] Since the 2008 crisis, this distrust of democracy, once limited to third-world or post-Communist developing economies, is gaining ground in western countries. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us?
But the crisis provided proof that it is these experts who don’t know what they are doing, rather than the people. In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.
No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.
Comradely greetings, Slavoj
Once, in the autumn of 2012, when I was still in the pre-trial prison in Moscow with other Pussy Riot activists, I visited you. In a dream, of course.
I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.
Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.
We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”
We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the “World Spirit” touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.
Laurie Anderson sang: “Only an expert can deal with the problem.” It would have been nice if Laurie and I could cut these experts down to size and take care of our own problems. Because expert status by no means grants access to the kingdom of absolute truth.
Two years of prison for Pussy Riot is our tribute to a destiny that gave us sharp ears, allowing us to sound the note A when everyone else is used to hearing G flat.
At the right moment, there will always come a miracle in the lives of those who childishly believe in the triumph of truth over lies, of mutual assistance, of those who live according to the economics of the gift.
I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.
You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.
For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?
The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”
But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.
With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!
Has modern capitalism really overtaken the logic of totalising norms? Or is it willing to make us believe that it has overpassed the logic of hierarchical structures and normalisation?
As a child I wanted to go into advertising. I had a love affair with the advertising industry. And this is why I am in a position to judge its merits. The anti-hierarchical structures and rhizomes of late capitalism are its successful ad campaign. Modern capitalism has to manifest itself as flexible and even eccentric. Everything is geared towards gripping the emotion of the consumer. Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.
You should not worry that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the “real hardship”. I value the strict limits, and the challenge. I am genuinely curious: how will I cope with this? And how can I turn this into a productive experience for me and my comrades? I find sources of inspiration; it contributes to my own development. Not because of, but in spite of the system. And in my struggle, your thoughts, ideas and stories are helpful to me.
I am happy to correspond with you. I await your reply and I wish you good luck in our common cause.
I felt deeply ashamed after reading your reply. You wrote: “You should not worry about the fact that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the ‘real hardship’.” This simple sentence made me aware that the final sentiment in my last letter was false: my expression of sympathy with your plight basically meant, “I have the privilege of doing real theory and teaching you about it while you are good for reporting on your experience of hardship …” Your last letter demonstrates that you are much more than that, that you are an equal partner in a theoretical dialogue. So my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched is male chauvinism, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue.
It is the crazy dynamics of global capitalism that make effective resistance to it so difficult and frustrating. Recall the great wave of protests that spilled all over Europe in 2011, from Greece and Spain to London and Paris. Even if there was no consistent political platform mobilising the protesters, the protests functioned as part of a large-scale educational process: the protesters’ misery and discontent were transformed into a great collective act of mobilisation – hundreds of thousands gathered in public squares, proclaiming that they had enough, that things could not go on like that. However, what these protests add up to is a purely negative gesture of angry rejection and an equally abstract demand for justice, lacking the ability to translate this demand into a concrete political programme.
What can be done in such a situation, where demonstrations and protests are of no use, where democratic elections are of no use? Can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but also to offer the prospect of a new order?
The Pussy Riot performances cannot be reduced just to subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of their acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. In some deeper sense, it is today’s society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense and measure, and it is Pussy Riot that de facto provides a stable ethico-political point. The very existence of Pussy Riot tells thousands that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.
So I also wish you good luck in our common cause. To be faithful to our common cause means to be brave, especially now, and, as the old saying goes, luck is on the side of the brave!
In my last letter, written in haste as I worked in the sewing shop, I was not as clear as I should have been about the distinction between how “global capitalism” functions in Europe and the US on the one hand, and in Russia on the other. However, recent events in Russia – the trial of Alexei Navalny, the passing of unconstitutional, anti-freedom laws – have infuriated me. I feel compelled to speak about the specific political and economic practices of my country. The last time I felt this angry was in 2011 when Putin declared he was running for the presidency for a third time. My anger and resolve led to the birth of Pussy Riot. What will happen now? Time will tell.
Here in Russia I have a strong sense of the cynicism of so-called first-world countries towards poorer nations. In my humble opinion, “developed” countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights. The European and US governments freely collaborate with Russia as it imposes laws from the middle ages and throws opposition politicians in jail. They collaborate with China, where oppression is so bad that my hair stands on end just to think about it. What are the limits of tolerance? And when does tolerance become collaboration, conformism and complicity?
To think, cynically, “let them do what they want in their own country”, doesn’t work any longer, because Russia and China and countries like them are now part of the global capitalist system.
Russia under Putin, with its dependence on raw materials, would have been massively weakened if those nations that import Russian oil and gas had shown the courage of their convictions and stopped buying. Even if Europe were to take as modest a step as passing a “Magnitsky law” [the Magnitsky Act in the US allows it to place sanctions on Russian officials believed to have taken part in human-rights violations], morally it would speak volumes. A boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 would be another ethical gesture. But the continued trade in raw materials constitutes a tacit approval of the Russian regime – not through words, but through money. It betrays the desire to protect the political and economic status quo and the division of labour that lies at the heart of the world economic system.
You quote Marx: “A social system that seizes up and rusts … cannot survive.” But here I am, working out my prison sentence in a country where the 10 people who control the biggest sectors of the economy are Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends. He studied or played sports with some, and served in the KGB with others. Isn’t this a social system that has seized up? Isn’t this a feudal system?
I thank you sincerely, Slavoj, for our correspondence and can hardly wait for your reply.
• The correspondence was organised by Philosophie magazine in cooperation with New Times. Longer versions can be found in German at philomag.de or in French at philomag.com. Tolokonnikova’s letters were translated from Russian by Galia Ackerman
Even words lose their meanings,” says the disembodied voice. It’s speaking to fill the space before the silence, to be present. “Are these your orders? Yes, those are my things…Somewhere here we close, dear listeners. The voice of Greek radio falls silent. Good luck to everyone. We’ll find each other, we’ll meet again. These microphones are shutting down. Deep soul.”
Early this morning riot police broke into the Athens headquarters of ERT, Greek Radio and Television, which was officially closed by ministerial decree on June 11th but whose journalists and technicians have continued to broadcast over the Internet. After dispersing protesters outside with teargas, armoured police cleared the building room by room. Union representative Nikos Tsimpidas was last at the microphone, calling for a “magnificent demonstration, not just for ERT, not for our jobs, but for democracy itself, against…this virulent repression, this rewind through decades, for all the things we should have stood up for but couldn’t …”
Even words lose their meanings. Increasingly, a mark of the Greek crisis (not so much a crisis now as a condition) is the fragmenting of perceived reality, along with a desperate struggle to control the story of what’s happening. I imagine it’s always like this with authoritarian regimes—for Greece is clearly now an authoritarian regime masquerading as a democracy—but I’ve never seen it from close up before. We’re living (as well as everything else) a war of words, a propaganda campaign designed to drown out dissenting voices—even moderate ones. Questions about whether ERT was wasteful, or padded with cronies, or captured by special interests—questions that might have been addressed in a functioning democracy—became irrelevant the day the broadcaster was shut down by fiat. This morning the other shoe dropped. The image is the message: platoons of armoured representatives of the state evicting a few dozen journalists and locking the doors with handcuffs.
As always in Greece, the message is two-faced, one visage for foreign consumption, the other for domestic. What it’s supposed to say to representatives of the Troika who are, once again, in Athens (if they’re stupid enough to buy it, or diplomats enough to pretend they have) is that everything’s under control: we’re meeting our obligations, turning around the economy, cracking down on lawlessness, breaking the unions. (The original shut-down of ERT was ostensibly designed to meet the Troika’s demand for public sector lay-offs.) The message to Greeks is this: You may see a government that’s scrambling to appease its creditors without upsetting its cronies, that’s lost control of the streets and its own half-tamed heavies, that has no idea how to get out of the maze; you may be jobless, hungry, disoriented and lost, looking ahead at a winter without heat or hope; you may think some kind of resistance is still possible. But the evidence of your senses is false, or at least irrelevant. Look! We’re installling free WiFi all across the country! Greece is a success story! And if you won’t line up behind our version of reality, we have the power to persuade you. Against the voice of a man in a room with a microphone, we play helmeted troops with teargas and batons.
Of course, people won’t be silenced, especially not now. (A few days ago, a bunch of Dogberries from the Greek police turned up at Radiobubble, a citizen radio station run out of a café in Athens, and threatened to prosecute because people were “talking too loudly” in the street outside. Perhaps they had read about it in the New York Times.) But (let them eat WiFi notwithstanding) most Greeks get their news from private television stations owned by politically well-connected oligarchs–which were given control of the digital airwaves by a vote in parliament hours before this morning’s raid on ERT. And the cacophony of unsourced hysteria and conspiracy theories that has longed filled much of the Greek media, across the political spectrum, doesn’t help the quest for a coherent, usable description of what’s happening.
The moment when stories fragment and words lose their meanings is also one of possibility, when different futures and arrangements might emerge. The nexus of oligarchs, financial interests and politicians ruling Greece (in symbiotic struggle with its creditors) now seems determined at all costs to close that down. The sense of repression is palpable; the scary thing is how quickly you get used to it. Two weeks ago I went out to dinner with friends in Athens. As we left the taverna—almost empty on a Friday night—a heavily armoured Delta police patrol roared by, eight or ten men in black, on motorbikes, two abreast. No one even turned to look.
On the other hand, as I write, the left party, Syriza—some of whose MPs were violently prevented from entering ERT’s headquarters this morning—is tabling a motion of no confidence in the government, to be debated tomorrow. The ruling coalition has a majority of only five MPs, some of whom blocked a motion to impose a new property tax a few days ago; of course, the pressure on them to conform will be immense. The private channels will broadcast this–with dire predictions of catastrophe–as another “thriller.” Meanwhile, protesters have gathered outside ERT’s headquarters in Athens and Salonika; one banner reads, “Deep Soul.” And ERT journalists and musicians are still broadcasting on the internet, from the street.
Roger’s note: please read the caveat just below the photo.
Editor’s note: We’re not sure this is really a speech by Evo Morales, but it’s so good it’s worth reading because it’s something he could say.
Roger’s note: Who writes the script for the IOC? Lewis Carroll? George Orwell? Franz Kafka” The IOC assures us that it is going to make clear Putin’s position on discrimination, which is: there will be no discrimination, but the discriminatory law will be enforced.” Perfectly clear.
A demonstrator holds a poster depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin with make-up as he protests against homophobia and repression against gays in Russia, in front of the Russian Embassy in Madrid on August 23, 2013. (GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
By NATALIYA VASILYEVA 08/23/13 02:22 PM ET EDT
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning demonstrations and rallies for two and a half months in Sochi around the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, published the presidential decree Friday, listing an array of measures tightening security in the Olympic host city, including the ban on public assemblies. All “gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” that are not part of the Olympics or the Paralympics will be prohibited in Sochi from Jan. 7 to March 21, the decree said.
The Winter Olympics is taking place Feb. 7-23 in the Black Sea resort, and the Paralympics are being held March 7-16.
Government-imposed protest bans across entire cities where Olympics are held are unusual. Putin’s decree could be aimed at heading off demonstrations against Russia’s ban on alleged gay propaganda, a new law that has been sharply criticized in the West.
Among other measures in the decree are restrictions on vehicles entering Sochi. Only cars with local license plates, emergency vehicles and those accredited by the Olympic organizers will be allowed to enter the host city between Jan. 7 and March 21.
Rights organizations have voiced concerns about what they described as the “harassment and intimidation of civil society” advocates in Sochi. Human Rights Watch said in a statement that environmental, human rights and other activists have been “the targets of attacks, detention for peaceful protests and police searches.”
The International Olympic Committee received a letter Thursday from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak giving assurances that the host country will comply with the Olympic Charter’s provision against discrimination of any kind. The letter, however, defended Russia’s new anti-gay law and said it would be enforced.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Friday that he is “comforted” by Russia’s assurance the charter’s ban on discrimination will be respected.
“We are going to inform now all the national Olympic committees and all the athletes who want to have clarity,” Rogge told reporters after addressing the U.N. General Assembly.
Gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev told The Associated Press on Friday that he would petition the Supreme Court next week to contest the presidential decree banning rallies in Sochi as “violating our right of freedom of assembly.”
Russian authorities have repeatedly denied gay activists’ applications to set up a Pride House in Sochi during the games, but Alexeyev said he would apply for permission to hold a gay pride rally in Sochi on the opening day of the games anyway.
Today in Switzerland: more than 50 All Out members delivered our petition of over 322,000 names from around the world to the International Olympic Committee.
In fewer than 200 days, Russia will host the Winter Olympics. Their anti-gay laws are fuelling terrible violence and murders across the country and they fly in the face of the Olympic values of friendship and respect.
That’s why we gathered at Olympics HQ today to ask the Olympic Committee to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, face-to face.
The Olympic Committee hasn’t hosted such a gathering before! Their Director of Communications accepted the massive petition and held a long meeting with us.
He listened to our concerns and announced that the Olympic Committee has now asked for the Russian government to state in writing that no athletes or visitors will be persecuted because they are gay. That shows they’re feeling our pressure to do more – but it’s not enough.
We’re going to keep asking the Olympic Committee to be a true guardian of Olympic values, by speaking out against the Russian anti-gay crackdown. The International Association of Athletics Federations spoke out today – it’s time for the Olympics to follow.
Today the 1.8 millionth member joined All Out, and together we did something really important for people power. We showed the biggest world leader in sport that we’re not just anonymous names on the internet. We’re real people and we want them to speak out for love and equality.
Right now, we’re figuring out the next things we can do together to persuade the Olympic Committee to speak out. If we can do it, it will build the pressure on President Putin to stop the anti-gay crackdown. So watch out for the next call to action!
Thanks for going All Out,
Andre, Guillaume, Hayley, Jeremy, Joe, Marie, Mike, Tile, and the rest of the All Out team.
PS: Recently, more than 3,738 All Out members chipped in for a fighting fund to power the campaign. That meant we could send some of our team to Switzerland to deliver the petition in person. There’s so much more to do – and it’s not too late to help by chipping in to support All Out. Click here to donate: https://www.allout.org/donate