Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Words and Deeds

Writing in Bolshoi Gorod, in the aftermath of the Moscow City Duma elections at the weekend, Masha Gessen discusses one of the subtle (or not-so-so subtle, depending on how one looks at it) ways in which the Russian government restricts the public debate of social and political issues – not so much by overt repression, though that is always an option, but rather by interventions in the field of language. Commenting on how in Russia many resonant words – such as “"democracy", "constitution", "patriotism", "motherland", "idealism", "capitalism" – have been discredited and consigned to the scrapheap of history, she points to one which she characterizes as “the magic word” (my quick tr.):
A political scientist, a journalist, three politicians, a lawyer, an NGO worker and a female presenter. Only the magic word "fascism" could make them gather together.
During one such public debate about the march of November 4, when some 5,000 youths paraded through downtown Moscow shouting “Sieg Heil!”, “Heil Hitler!”, and “Russia for the Russians!”, Gessen writes, it was suggested by at least two of the participants that after all fascism is perhaps not a wholly bad thing, that in Latin fascio simply means “a bunch of arrows”, that there is nothing wrong with Russian nationalism, and so on.

So, it's about words. Or, to be more precise, about the word "fascism". The last magic word – the main word of this autumn, which in our city turned out to be a pre-election one. In connection with the threat of fascism in Russia, the Rodina (“motherland”) party, which made the election broadcast whose heroes became the southern tradesman and the watermelon rind, with catchphrases like "they’ve come here in droves", and "let’s clean our city of garbage.”

At the same elections there is an entire party allegedly created in order to fight fascism. It’s called "Free Russia". True, the only antifascist slogan of this party is "Don’t vote for Yabloko (“the apple”) – It’s rotten.". But that is because Yabloko is taking part in the demonstrations together with Eduard Limonov’s National- Bolshevik party, the party which is the main fascist of our time.

The NBP really does have an extremely unfortunate name and symbolism. The organization itself long ago lost any flavour of nationalism, even. But in the matter of the fight against fascism the main thing is not the fascist, but the fight with him. Three entire anti-fascist movements have been created to fight the NBP: "Nashi" (“Ours”), "The Young Guard" and "Free Russia". In the last week of November, in the name of this same fight, our city introduced a ban on all mass events. Usually, such a thing is possible only with the introduction of a state of emergency, but here the stated aim was practically sacred - to avoid a repetition of the march on November 4. The ban, it is true, also affected the demonstration by the activists of fight with AIDS, who wished to thank President Putin for an increase in the financing of the treatment of HIV And it also affected the antifascist march. The organizers of the latter held an illegal picket during which about 40 people were arrested. In the process of breaking up the picket, the Moscow police tore leaflets with the words "Fascism is a mortally dangerous game" from the hands of the protesters, together with Russian flags, trampling both into the ground. When the police start dispersing antifascist pickets, which are forbidden in the name of the fight with fascism, you begin to realize that the last magic word in our language is possibly experiencing its last political season. And you think: that’s too bad, because it feels better when there’s at least one truly frightening word around.
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