21 April 2022

A growing Third World consensus position

Here’s an interesting map and dataset from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Now, the accompanying commentary is, of course, bourgeois nonsense (as to be expected from a neoliberal rag like The Economist)… however, the data itself are interesting for several reasons.

The great bulk of the world’s population have not, in contrast to what many in the Western media would tell you, chosen a side in this conflict. Most nations of the global south have either staked out a carefully neutral position through their diplomatic and economic policies, or else they tend to lean mildly in one direction or the other (with Asian and African countries generally leaning in Russia’s direction, and Latin American countries generally leaning in the West’s direction—though there are obviously notable exceptions in all cases).

If there are any commonalities in what one sees coming out of the global south in response to Russia’s assault on the Ukraine, then they are these. Global south countries are willing to condemn the assault itself, but are highly unwilling to back the West’s New Cold War hybrid-war strategy (including economic sanctions, freezing out of international agreements, and weapons sales / shipments) against Russia. The data show a fairly significant cleft between the Washington-Tokyo-London ‘triad’ (now joined unconditionally by Brussels, sadly) and the rest of the world at large. And they show nowhere near as clearly as in the EIU’s own breakdown of support for Russia by population vs by GDP. Countries with low financial clout are overrepresented among Russia’s supporters; while countries with high financial clout are overrepresented among Russia’s enemies.

Whether they take this position for economic reasons, reasons of political expediency, ideological alignment or security interests is a matter of debate, of course. And in most cases, this debate ends up being a façade for some rather patronising views of the global south generally. That is to say, Western observers tend to attribute resistance to the Western agenda in the global south to base mercenary motives, corruption or ‘authoritarianism’—while they attribute acquiescence to the same to good-faith democracy-and-human-rights idealism. But the data are what they are.

Not to toot my own horn too loudly on this, but this shows a tendency I’ve been talking about right along on my blog. Even here, though, I’ve been taking my queues somewhat from Dcn Steve Hayes over at his blog, Khanya. The fact that certain of my readers are only just now upset with me, whether for pointing this out or for agreeing with the global south over the new Western bloc, shows that they never have read me very carefully. Ah well, que sera.

It used to be the case that four primates of the Local Churches were devoted to finding a just ecclesiastical solution to Orthodoxy’s geopolitical woes between Moscow and Constantinople. That was before the primates of both Cyprus and Alexandria decided to break fellowship with and betray the Third World by decisively throwing in their lot with the US/NATO bloc. The primates of the Third World had been, in fact, Orthodoxy’s best hope for restoring a just ecclesiastical peace—which might very well have averted a shooting war. Jerusalem and Antioch—both of which have been and continue to be the sites of religiously-motivated violence and discrimination against Christians—may yet manage to be an instrument of God’s justice and of God’s peace in Eastern Europe.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of when a radical Jewish teacher from the backwater Syrian province of Galilee (al-Jalîl), from a humble background in carpentry, was put to death in Jerusalem for opposing the greatest empire in the world of that time, along with that empire’s religious toadies. This is a Jewish teacher Who was venerated by Rome’s official enemies, magi from Parthia, as well as by a Roman centurion; by local collaborators (tax collectors) of this empire, and by local resisters (zealots). In the end, He was crucified between two of these latter. He was betrayed by one of his own disciples. His own step-brothers did not believe in Him. His most trusted disciple denied Him three times. All of the (male) disciples but one fled from danger at His arrest.

This week of all weeks, we should not look for truth to the great centre of financial and military imperial power, to the latter-day Cæsar among his marble monuments and idols on the Washington Mall. Nor should we necessarily look for truth to the rival power, to the latter-day Parthian Shâh in the Kremlin. Adherents of truth may be found in either place, and it is probably easier to find them in the rival power, but those with power will not be likely to be among them. We should not look to the disciples who all fought each other to be at His right hand, yet at the Crucifixion had all deserted their teacher and were nowhere to be found. There is no doubt in my mind that Patriarch Bartholomew (with all of his strivings to claim for himself the honour of ‘first without equals’) is one such disciple… and the jury’s out on whether or not Patriarch Kirill will ultimately be found to be such. We shall see.

Instead, we must look to where the Theotokos stood, to where the disciple John stood, to where Saint Dismas was crucified by the Lord’s side. Look to where the forgotten and crucified peoples of the world are: the Christians and Alawites and other religious minorities of Syria, the Yemenis, the Congolese, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Kashmiris, the Palestinians, the refugees and civilians of Donbass. Christ will be among them.

05 April 2022

How the war is impacting Sápmi

In Arctic news, Sámi activist and anti-war protester Andrei Danilov is currently seeking (and being denied) asylum in Norway. Norway’s government claims that it cannot offer him asylum because he currently has a Swiss visa. But his case shows rather clearly, and sadly, how the current war is dividing Sápmi from itself, as the four states which encompass the Sámi nation draw up battle lines between them. Norway is a NATO member; and although Sweden and Finland are not formally aligned with NATO, their governments have certainly drifted closer to the NATO sphere in recent years.

Within Russia, Sámi opinion appears to be deeply divided, just as it is among the rest of the Russian population. Hard polling data among Kildin Sámi in Murmansk Oblast are not readily available on this particular question, but it seems reasonable to assume that there is a significant ‘Z’ contingent, a small but vocal anti-war contingent, and a solid majority between them who simply don’t want to get into trouble.

There is a substantial body of anecdotal literature to back up this trifurcated view. A significant number of Sámi within Russia, such as Anna Igontova (one of the three elected representatives of the Russian section of the Sámirađđi since 2018), have come out in favour of Russia’s ‘special military operation’. So has Kola’s Sámi Association, and the Russian Arctic indigenous advocacy organisation RAIPON. Others, like Andrei Danilov and exile organisations like ICIPR, are coming out strongly against Russia’s assault on the Ukraine. In addition, RAIPON and ICIPR have issued statements questioning each other’s legitimacy and right to speak on behalf of the indigenous peoples of the Russian north.

First order: this is truly heart-breaking, and it should be so for anyone interested in the welfare of indigenous peoples in the Arctic or anywhere else. What we are seeing is the instrumentalisation of indigenous concerns to prop up political actions elsewhere that they, prima facie, have nothing to do with. We should condemn equally this instrumentalisation, whether it comes from the Russian government, or the governments of NATO-aligned countries like Norway and Germany. It seems to me that both NATO and Russia are now actively playing the same chess game over the Arctic.

Second order: we need to understand why the Russian government gets the kind of support it does from RAIPON and other organisations like the Kola Sámi Association, which come the closest to actually democratically representing the Skolt, Kildin and Ter Sámi peoples within Russia. It isn’t enough to take the ‘official dissident’ line that these organisations are merely suborned by the Russian state to suit its own ends, though clearly a significant degree of political pressure has been applied there. As a broad generalisation: Russia’s indigenous nations have been active supporters of the current government for a number of years now, including on questions like the recent revisions to the Russian Constitution.

The first thing we need to understand about this, is that Russia’s smaller ethnic nations have by and large carefully cultivated a sense of civic nationalism that is defensively oriented against the ethnic nationalism perpetrated on some of the seedier corners of the Russian far-right. A careful distinction has to be made here between the terminology of ‘russkii’ (русский) and ‘rossiiskii’ (российский). English doesn’t preserve this linguistic distinction, and translates both terms as ‘Russian’. The first term is an ethnic designation. The ethnic ‘Big’ Rus’ of Novgorod, Pskov, Moscow, Tver, Ryazan, Rostov and so forth; the ‘White’ Rus’ of Minsk and Polotsk and Turov; the ‘Little’ Rus’ of Galich and Volhynia; and the Carpathian Rus’ of Užhorod and Maramoroš—are all русский. The second term, российский, is a civic designation. The idea behind российский is that you can be Tatar, Nenets, Nivkh, Ket, Evenki, Sakha, Tuva, Buryat, Selkup, Bashkir, Chuvash, Chechen, Dagestani, Adyghe or Sámi, and still be every bit as российский as this guy on YouTube.

The entire concept of российский civic-nationalism was eagerly embraced by most Russian indigenous groups, precisely because—in the wake of the collapse of the concept of the ‘new Soviet man’—the российский self-identifier was all that stood between them and oblivion. And this, of course, in a time when a great swathe of Russia’s ethnic-Russian population was also facing oblivion at the hands of a clique of neoliberal capitalist economists who literally left millions of them to starve or die deaths of despair, and of a government which had been rendered powerless to assist them. Perhaps ironically, this shared suffering between the русский-Russians and the post-Soviet, newly-российский indigenous peoples in the nineties, helped to forge a new sense of sympathy and solidarity between them.

But the generalised atmosphere of grievance also brought out the worst in some of the far-right enthusiasts for Руси-as-opposed-to-Россия. Ethnic violence in Russia, many of the organised forms of it being associated with the far-right ‘Russian March’ (of which Western liberal darling Aleksei Navalnyi has been a staunch supporter and for which support he has never apologised), peaked in the early 2000s. This allowed Putin—whether genuinely or cynically—to position himself as a defender of the interests of all россияне, when he cracked down on the ‘Russian March’ and its associated far-right ethnic extremism. This strategy worked—spectacularly. In the words of Mikhail Alekseev, writing for Edinburgh University Press:

Putin has faced practically no ethnic minority backlash over his Ukraine policy since the autumn of 2013. No survey or other systematic data on the issue have been available, but the reputable Levada Centre poll of 20–23 March 2014 showed that 88 per cent of Russia’s population (+/− a sampling error of 3.4 per cent) backed what the questionnaire described as ‘Crimea’s joining of Russia’. Only 6 per cent of those surveyed opposed it (Levada Centre 2014b). In a telephone ‘megasurvey’ of 48,590 Russians in eighty- three provinces, conducted on 14–16 March 2014 by the independent but government-loyal Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) and the Kremlin-run VTsIOM service, 91 per cent of the respondents sup- ported, and only about 5 per cent opposed, Crimea’s annexation. In all but one of the predominantly non-Russian ethnic republics (Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino- Balkaria, Karachaevo- Cherkessia, Mari El, North Ossetia, Tatarstan and Tyva) residents polled in the megasurvey supported Crimea’s annexation at about the same rate as residents of Russia did on average, plus or minus three percentage points.

Ultimately, then, the political strategy of the indigenous nations of Russia is entirely a defensive one. This is understandable. They naturally distrust the elements of the far-right that seemed to have gained in prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They also view liberal politicians as (to put it politely) unreliable, both because they backed the economic policies that immiserated Russians of all ethnicities, and because they flocked to the same politics of grievance as the far-right did when Putin came to power in 2000. They may not, and as seen from some of the anecdotal evidence above clearly do not unanimously, support all of Putin’s policies. But their political options are few and unenviable.

A side note here. People in Russia are not stupid, and they do have access to foreign news media. Among the Finno-Ugric nations of the Russian Federation (including not only the Sámi but also the Karelians, Veps, Votes, Ingrians, Erzyans, Mokshas, Maris, Udmurts, Permian-Komis, Mansis and Khants) in particular, I would imagine that the hateful racialist rhetoric coming out of, for example, the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance toward Finnic-Ugric peoples in general probably hasn’t won them many friends in that quarter. Now, of course, I’m not a Mari, nor am I a Moksha, nor anything in between. But if I were, I’d imagine it would be rather hard for me to sympathise with Ukrainians who consider me a barbarous Asiatic element that has contaminated historical Muscovy and are thus the distant historical scapegoats for all of their political woes. Note also how this charge echoes the grievance-politics of русский far-right ethno-nationalism. In fact, I’d probably be more willing to tolerate the annoying and somewhat-creepy sexualised patronisation of probably otherwise well-intentioned filmmakers like Aleksei Fedorchenko, than I would the caliper-wielding eliminationism of the race-purists who publish material for Ukrainian government ministries.

In addition, I would imagine that a lot of ethnic minorities in Russia are carefully scrutinising, insofar as they are able, how the ethnic Hungarians (also speakers of a Finno-Ugric language), Romani and Jews are currently being treated inside the Ukraine… in part because they fear that a resurgent русский ethno-nationalism could lead to the same treatment in Russia. They see Hungarians essentially being kicked out of their schools in Transcarpathia. (To get an idea of how unpopular the Ukrainian national cause is in Hungary because of this, consider: Hungary is a member of NATO and its government has, correctly, officially denounced the Russian assault. And yet, Orbán Viktor handily won his recent re-election there on a campaign promising not to send weapons into the Ukraine.) They see Roma being beaten, stripped naked, sprayed with iodine, tied to lampposts and left to freeze. And of course they see marches in honour of war criminals who perpetrated the Shoah. All of this context makes the entire narrative of Ukraine-as-hardscrabble-liberal-democracy versus Russia-as-despotic-villainous-aggressor an incredibly hard sell, particularly to ethnic minorities in Russia who remember all too well how the domestic русский ethno-nationalist far-right has treated them in the recent past.

Again, none of the foregoing is to excuse, let alone to defend, Russia’s recent actions in the Ukraine. Putin lost my support precisely when I heard that he bombed Kharkov. But some level of strategic empathy is called for in this instance. The Sámi in Russia, like other indigenous peoples there, have lived through three decades now of extreme uncertainty. If Western media imagine that they are the victims of state repression and manipulated by propaganda, one must even more so consider that the context of their very real hopes and fears rests precisely on this uncertain footing. Where can they look for defence? Not to the capitalist Western countries, who showed zero concern for their health, safety and welfare in the nineties. (Even now, Danilov is being denied asylum—see how much Norway cares for the Sámi!) Not to the old Soviet ideals—these can only be of comfort in nostalgia, in total abstraction from the present reality. And certainly not to the liberals, who happily allied themselves with the worst forms of far-right ethno-nationalist grievance politics. But if Putin fails, then they will find themselves again the scapegoats of a politics of grievance. That is not a happy place to be.

So, again, if you are a person of conscience, pray for the Sámi: whether they are pro-war, anti-war or anywhere in the middle. Pray for the Sámi in the West as well as in the East. My position, and it will continue to be my position unless and until something drastic happens, remains the same as that of the Sámirađđi: I oppose military action as unjust, I oppose escalation, I oppose punitive sanctions aimed at the civilian populace… and I advocate for a negotiated settlement that respects both Ukrainian sovereignty and Russian security.