On the day the war started, I started a new job. (I am not supposed to do this kind of work under conditions of my work permit, but I can’t do another kind of work, thus I do what I can. That scheming Eastern European.) The job is at a cemetery, or rather for a business that’s next to it. I won’t go into details for obvious reasons, I need it to last, as long as there’s peacetime. Arriving on my first day of work, I’d had to heap the makeup onto my pinkish and swollen face: a morning spent in tears, woken up to the news. The day the war started in Ukraine also demarcated an ending, finalizing the process of quiet subsumption — of Belarus into Russia. Belarus, where I was born and raised, and through which the tanks pass on the regular now, has been reduced to a peripheral Russian “oblast’”, a long-cherished dream of the Russian dictator, at last true. Effectively the warzone includes two countries — an active site of assault: Ukraine, and the passive site, ceded by Lukashenko’s junta — the territory of Belarus, now used as a launchpad, or preparation/recovery zone for the Russian forces. Apparently, Belarus will soon be sending our soldiers as fodder into the fight that no one supports. It is beyond my comprehension why Belarusians have sat on their hands and have not come out with protest, until today, unlike people in Russia, under the same threat, of the arrest. Irrationally to a degree, I am ashamed. Sadly, this level of Belarusian oppression reminds me of why I had left at 18. Though if at that age I could still believe in transcending the issues that held me down and demanded that I abide, by skipping across the border into an aspirational future, I now know the future was not to be found — not where I am.
Unnecessary effort, the make-up I piled on since my employer arrived in a similarly disheveled state. Stunned by the news we gaped at the world outside where swaths of white and lilac crocuses can be seen budding, pushing through the spring dirt, brightening the somber but peaceful historic gravesite. A squirrel hurried past, carrying pilfered from a grave toy, which it tried and failed, with much comical ado, to drag up a tree to its nest. The world went on with or without us. Can we stay in it? I’d like to.
My new employer is from, broadly, Eastern Europe, hence it’s easier for me to get employed. My situation, as it were, is easier to, ahem, contextualize. My employer’s country too, like Belarus, has endured the Soviet invasion, and rule. They too are the periphery of Europe, one foot in one foot out. The job interview question included: “So, where is home?” — she clarified: “I ask because I don’t know where it is for me.”
I was glad to be working because otherwise I’d be glued to the news. After the shift’s end, I poured some hot tea into a thermos, threw a few snacks into my bag, checked in with Telegram channels, and headed to Brandenburg gate. The square filled up. The mood was, in summary, rude. Expletives abound. In the thick of the vibrating crowd, bristling with the razor-sharp language, two young Germans held up a sign that said something along the lines of “let’s just have world peace and relax”. A shouting match ensued between them and a red-faced man with a mountain bike, also German. Considering where we were, the message read tone-deaf, someone translated for me. Written on a yoga mat, the anodyne missive was then quickly rolled up and put away by the two hapless supporters, who nevertheless stayed in the crowd. Sweaty foreheads, visibly distraught and embarrassed, but owning it, even if, with bulging eyes. Yoga mat, an appropriate substrate for the message of numbing ascend, so characteristic of the neoliberal drift.
Crowd grew. Ukrainian, Belarusian, Syrian flags flew, making a point of unity against the same intruder. The German Greens Party unfurled theirs too, they positioned themselves to the side. The same Greens who now head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany, and who failed to make a dent in the policy to do with Russia. (But what about our energy prices? Our economy. — Fuck you too.)
On the way back from the protest, I found police units encircling an area by my home. A few blocks away, at a constructions site, a bomb from the previous war had been uncovered, and nine thousand people living within a radius of five hundred meters were being asked to evacuate for a night. A routine for Berlin’s peacetime lit by police lights, an afterglow of the past. Luckily, I was not on the list of evacuees, and could (attempt) to sleep in my own bed, despite the events far away and so close. Gale winds scratched at the windows, as I sat in my living room reading the latest from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. In the street outside, the sirens of passing emergency vehicles continued to blare. I switched to the local news: a roof on a building a few blocks in the other direction of the evacuation zone had been ripped off by the weather. The firefighters managed to keep it in place. In a historical domino, pieces were tumbling all around me.
The domino of extractivism:
Europe (and friends) is an addict, (I still, legacy mode, absolutely include the UK, firmly, in this geo-historic category, as we can include the Commonwealth countries and the United States here too). Europe is EB, or Madame Bovary that Maggie Nelson discusses at length in her latest book “Freedom”, where the whole chapter is titled: ”To Enjoy A Drug One Must Enjoy Being A Subject”.
Or, EU could mean Emotionally Unavailable, as specified in the title of the track by Nerija.
EB, EU, Madame Bovary, Emotionally Unavailable, keeps chasing a hit of “good life”. Thieving, living beyond its means, amassing karmic credit, playing high society with the mafia, militia, and kleptocrats, where Belarus and Ukraine, and many other countries and regions, are strategic, or far removed, buffer zones from various unstable but useful mining sites and cheap labor sources. It’s a global economy, but we are coming to your countries. But how do we designate ownership, borders, belonging, public funds (for which i.e. I’d had no recourse in Germany throughout the pandemic) — if these boundaries are constructed of unpayable, invisible debt?
In 2020 Belarus has been neutralized, neutered, through a hybrid operation that some hopefuls have called Revolution, and I will call: “voluntary demilitarization” using Putin’s newly introduced semiotics. Voluntary part decreed by the man in charge, Lukashenko, whose survival strategy, besides imprisoning all protestors and oppositions, has been to sell out the territory in exchange for the guarantee of his personal immunity, his rule after all has been funded by Russia. And Russia, in turn, is sponsored by Europe, etc. Putin’s regime would not be what it is without a certain global business plan that has empowered it, turning the blind eye on a portfolio of local and internationally enacted atrocities. (This is where Boris Groys called Putin “provocateur”, re: Biden’s “he’s a killer” —”takes one to know one”. Meaning, the strategic blind eye is a sort of extended condition of many developed countries’ own practices.)
When Belarus took to the streets in 2020, after twenty-six years of apathy, it looked so surprising and new that when questioned if I was concerned about Russia’s potential of intervention, I said something hopeful, and, retrospectively, cloyingly naive: if Russia were to send in the army, it would be a blood bath. We have no faction, no eastern flank longing to break away. It would mean war. And in that case, surely, the UN would send in the peacekeeping troops? While I was right about the factions, I was far too optimistic about Belarusian resistance, and I understood nothing of military maneuvering by alliances such as NATO, UN. No one just sends the peacekeeping troops it turns out! But I did understand that Putin has been in a long game of stealth mode global conquest.
Meanwhile, Europe watched the annexation of Crimea, watched poisonings, and arrests, watched the Belarusian uprising stomped out, business as usual. Europe watched an international plane with civilians being hijacked, and later released minus two passengers; watched as more people, this time from across the planet, from other warzones, also undoubtedly blessed and sponsored by Putin and Co, were dragged into the Belarusian forests, and abandoned by the emotionally unavailable EU, to freeze to death. The activists and journalists from Kazakhstan have been right to point out the racism in fetishizing “the peaceful Belarusian protests”. Lukewarm responses in the western media when Russian troops intervened and ultimately ended the uprising in Kazakhstan prove the point.
Ah, the Belarusian revolutionaries, unlike the brutes elsewhere, so dignified and hell-bent on peaceful protests, politely, with flowers, rescinded the country, too much applause from the west-ward onlookers. This allowed things to proceed everywhere else as they were. The self-effacing performance served, as ever, as a buffer for someone else’s safety. A high price for membership in a myth of Europeanness, whiteness, that emphatically offers no helping hand and does not match its own history books. In a similarly specific racially preferred fervor, the EU is now making statements of preparations to host the Ukrainian refugees, a marked difference to the treatment of those arriving from the Global South, from similar situations, incited by a similar set of actors. This is not the time to talks about? The time to talk about it is now.
At the end of the day, this convoluted and disorienting array of preferences and gradations imposed on human lives conceals an elaborate architecture created as a delaying tactic to the inevitable. It has never been about these distant or close sites of conflicts, nor about the people in the locations, or in flux, as much as about the long-reaching consequences: the digging of a grave into which the diggers will one day lay their own heads.
In 2021 I wrote a post on the site of my journal, about a dictatorial piece of theater. The journal, cursed with: “you won’t succeed… with that”, by a certain British art publisher some years prior, is now defunct. Because I can’t find funding and I am tired — with my own, personal surviving logistics etc, etc. Always etc. She was right, the publisher, assessing the project in her the realm of algorithm and margins, often summarized in a particular kind of benign, bougie textual exercises, regurgitations. “Gentle critique” I read and cringed in a London literary agent’s Twitter bio (since I pointed out to her, the avoidance embedded in such statements between the lines, the bio’s been changed.) I am not saying the polar opposite of whatever is meant by “gentle” is what I am after. But the insistence on bracketing parameters of intellectual pursuit, into a purported purity of intention, or worse, someone’s idea of kindness, measuredness, enoughness, dictating content, subject and style have frankly led us to where we are now.
In October I wrote on Tide:
“ Swan Lake, 2021, “Putin Productions” featuring Belarusian Armed Forces. If you are not familiar with the context: in the USSR it was customary to play the Swan Lake ballet on all TV stations after the passing of a leader. It was also played on all channels during USSR dissolution, in 1991.
Curiously difficult to find footage of Putin’s 2021 commission of ballet on tanks, that’s not a pixelated repurposed recording. But find it, I did. And I highly recommend taking it all in: watch the whole thing, including tank pirouettes (firing as they move) and a dancer doing splits at the tip of two parting gun barrels.
So what’s going on here? It’s clear to me that as he prepares to take over Belarus, Putin is embalming Lukashenko alive. Belarus to be followed by the rest of the world, while Europeans enjoy pipelines and such.”
What do I mean to say with all this? With my analysis, and complaints…
That ballet on tanks was largely ignored in the western press and dismissed as an eccentricity of a dictator, but to me, quiet in my designated cultural corner, it was a clear message of what was to come.
Inconveniently Zelensky went left field with the “I need ammo, not a ride” , so we won’t be having another numb buffer zone conveniently handed over to psychopaths for the sake of general “peace”. Stakes have been raised.
Dear Madame Bovary, please step this way. Let’s begin your addiction recovery program. I know something about this particular form of dependency, on an idea of comfort and safety, and I’d like to share some insights with you. I feel like you know this already, but it is easier if I am the one to say it out loud? Since you’re so used to outsourcing unpleasant tasks.
To use less than gentle critique, what was the major threat, or what was behind the reason for delaying the axing of Russia from SWIFT? The reverberations. The pull of the current on “stable” economies built on a neocolonial grid. Though at this late stage, even the SWIFT sanction alone, will come much too late, will come as not enough. Meanwhile, what does the Russian ballet on tanks, for example, plan to do with the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, now in their domain? A sarcophagus grave, in this case.
What I mean to say is: enough with the fantasy of a delicate life-extended branded future where polite thin-lipped elegant people are sat around on soft rugs and designer furniture in a well-lit climate-controlled room someplace sunny. That dream has never been, and cannot be, as cannot be the “garden or a farm with friends” scenario of escaping to a cute countryside commune with your chosen few. Expletives, FFS, deal with it. Get with the mess, ruin your style, your godforsaken canon, your theory lineage. I don’t mean anything so simple as reactionary austerity and self-flagellation. Nor savior-ism, please. It is clearly time for many to step into a supporting role, in this play with no leads. What’s left is the endless work of leveling the people who are used to protection and cushioning to get familiar with the ongoing discomfort, to realize and accept the depth of their passive existing involvement with the hardship they had mined and outsourced. There is no place left, for anyone, to seek cover.
Technosolutions and data charts will not solve what is first and foremost, emotional, relational, and intellectual issues that have been dragged out and stalled for centuries.
If we don’t start to bridge this divide now, between the idea of place, comfort, and the resources on which all of it has been built, there will be no more economy, culture, or climate to discuss. Because, as someone wrote bleakly on Twitter — we won’t be here.
Those in the position of rootedness, stability, birthrights, have to start being so much more ready to be uncomfortable, and so much more comfortable with doing free intellectual labor, free structural labor, much much more than you have been.
It’s not time for advocating for what has failed us: communism, it’s not time for fantasizing of anarchy as a way of escape, it’s time to invent new concepts and terms for the present conditions.