Aleksandr Podrabinek on Xenophobia: Stupidity Without Borders

5 December 2023

by Aleksandr Podrabinek

Source: Radio Svoboda

The Russian Supreme Court’s decision to deem the nonexistent “international LGBT movement” extremist is absurd in form but natural and explicable in essence. Absurd in that there is no such entity. Thus, the ban affects not an organization but a lifestyle, a set of preferences. One could declare, say, Japanese cuisine or coin collecting, extremist and ban it with the same “success.” After all, sushi is competing successfully in restaurants with our native pelmeni and borshch, thereby undermining the foundations of Russia’s national cuisine and gastronomic traditions. While numismatists collect foreign coins and thereby cultivate in society an unhealthy interest to a way of life and foreign values alien to Russia. Representatives of all branches of the Russian state might as well form a public organization—“Stupidity Without Borders.”

Meanwhile, the current stupidity has a simple and, unfortunately, traditional explanation. The state that puts hatred, secret insults, and national arrogance at the base of its policy needs constant enemies, objects of hatred. These enemies are expendable material for the machine of repressions that was once launched and now can’t stop. It needs more and more new victims. It’s already running out of foreign agents and undesirable organizations, and even they aren’t very understandable to Russian society. They need understandable ones.

They need the kind for which Russian society has a prejudice and mistrust and which remote conservative places view with suspicion, disapproval, or frank hostility. The LGBT community suits for this very well. A significant share of Russian society is hostile toward “nontraditional sexual orientations,” and the criminalization of this fairly large group of people gives this hostility new stimulus and grounds.

In exactly the same way, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose pertinacious missionary activity has aggravated many people, were declared enemies of society. The state exploited this as a reason to crack down on the independent and uncompromising church.

At one time, the objects of attack in our country were kulaks, cosmopolitans, hipsters, and geneticists. Society, stifled by the fear of repressions, said nothing and meekly awaited its own fate.

I can’t help but recall here the widely known words of the German pastor Niemöller about how the Nazis went first after the Communists, then the Social Democrats, then the trade unionists, and then the Jews, and each time he said nothing, and when they came for him there was no one to protest anymore. I am far from an admirer of Martin Niemöller, who was a Nazi and began his career in the public sphere with Hitler’s approval and ended it with the approval of the Soviet Union’s Communists and the International Lenin Prize “For strengthening piece among nations.” But what he said reflects the sad state of a society stifled by fear, a society that has lost its will to resist.

The same thing is happening right now in Russia. Everyone thinks they won’t be coming for them. After all, we aren’t Jehovas, or homosexuals, or foreign agents. Why would they come for us? Meanwhile, this concerns everyone, even those who loyally serve tyranny. This has been proven by historical experience. The stupidity of the system consists specifically in the fact that ultimately even the creators of the repressive machine themselves will inevitably fall under the hammer of repressions. In principle, the system is merciless toward everyone—outsiders and their own. There’s just a time for everything.

Traditionally, the Jews—a very convenient object for inciting public hatred—might fit the bill as the next group for a drubbing. Nor will the intelligentsia be safe; thinking people are dangerous for an authoritarian regime. Gradually, hatred for ethnic minorities could expand. Exploitation of xenophobia is a traditional instrument of state governance. The list could be extended by anyone with enough imagination. For now they’ve started with the simplest thing of all.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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