If you remember my posts about my reading through Hannah Arendt’s work, you remember that I spoke a lot about the structure of totalitarianism, which is fundamentally important to my Utopias project. Even though that project has moved to the back burner, it remains in my thoughts. I read some news out of Ukraine last night that made me recall some of the core ideas from Arendt’s analysis of totalitarian politics, and my own uptake of those thoughts.
|The flag of the Donetsk People's Republic, the most|
recently declared pawns in the new Russia-Europe
The Donetsk People’s Republic is the world’s newest unrecognized state. This seems to be the model for Russia’s desperate attempt at imperialist expansion – encouraging Russian nationalists in the area to form a breakaway government of some region of a country, which would be loyal to the Russian government, who would then advocate on the separatists’ behalf. Putin seems to have adopted the model of Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova, as his central means of intimidating his European cold enemies and expanding Russia’s military influence beyond its borders. As for the country where Russian influence is expanding, the proxies of that expansion essentially form guerrilla militias to start a civil war.
He did the same with separatist regions in Georgia, having invaded that former Soviet republic in 2008, ostensibly to protect the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It’s only becoming an issue for Western politicians and journalists now that it’s breaking up a large country that was integrating with the European Union. Nobody who matters in our society really cares that much about Georgia of Moldova, which is pathetic and hypocritical on the part of our leaders and media elites. But we could have seen this mess coming.
Now Russian separatists in Ukraine are getting especially disreputable and terrifying. It’s been reported across Israeli media that gangs of armed militiamen gave out flyers to Donetsk’s Jewish people as they left Passover services that they were to register the families and property with the breakaway government, or have everything they owned confiscated. The written orders were signed by the breakaway government’s president, and he’s stood by them, and backed their legitimacy.
I know using the word makes me sound hysterical, but these anti-Semitic actions on the part of Donetsk-Russian nationalist militias indicate a definitely ugly turn. It recalls the ideas that I found in Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism. Orders like those that the Donetsk Jewish community received are preludes to ethnic cleansing, actually informing the targeted community that the new government has authorized that they be ethnically cleansed. The confiscation order indicates that the cultural and ethnic purity of Donetsk as Russian is now a priority for the breakaway government. Jews in eastern Europe have historically been treated as exceptions from the social order, their presence a plurality in a culture that otherwise sees itself as uniform.*
* Of course, no culture is ever genuinely uniform, because all cultures are composed of individuals, and individuals are inherently variations from the norm. No one ever precisely conforms to any general cultural model. A conception of a culture is a phenomenon only on a macroscopic scale, and mesoscopic or microscopic scales always reveal variations and irregularities that are rarely statistically significant on the macroscopic. Even then, they’re only significant in aggregate, never as an individual, unless you’re talking about charismatic leaders of genuinely dictatorial governments, the type of Leader that Arendt capitalized.
Ethnic cleansing is a violent movement whose central premise is that a culture is linked with the land on which it lives, and must be entirely uniform to be in perfect health. It prioritizes the purity and uniformity of the group on a macroscopic level to the point of erasing all singularity on the microscopic level of individuals. It is the political destruction of singularity. In other words, totalitarianism.