Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Death and Resurrection of a Blogger

Normally, we are happy when things go right and sad when things go wrong. Collapse seems to change that relationship. Within a collapse scenario, things going wrong is a given, the idea that something might go right is relegated to the realm of wishful thinking, and instead the focus shifts to things going wrong in a particularly profound, amusing or spellbinding fashion. Collapse causes the limits of constructive action to constrict to a tiny circle surrounded by a vast expanse of unintended consequences. Victory and defeat become redefined: we feel victorious when those most responsible for the collapse do something spectacular to thwart their own purpose while we do nothing; we feel defeated when the collapse process slows down and settles into a pattern of interminable, durable failure.

The modern-day Ukrainian state (or what’s left of it) provides us with numerous insights into the collapse process. It is a virtual laboratory of collapse. Every tier of the collapse stack is represented there, offering fertile ground for a collapse analysis of its own. Working from the bottom up:

• Cultural collapse has resulted from a pseudo-nationalist effort deny the Ukraine’s Russian heritage and to replace it with a cult of adulation of all things Western and a made-up national language and culture synthesized out of some village dialects and a deep-seated sense of historical grievance.

• Social collapse came from the marginalization and ostracism of a large part of the population that associated itself more closely with Russia than with nativist Ukrainian pseudo-nationalism. A lot of these people moved there after the Revolution, to exert a civilizing influence on a backward, agrarian region. Many of their descendants have now moved back to Russia.

• Political collapse started with foreign-directed violent overthrow of the constitutional government and its replacement with some compliant stooges hand-picked by the US State Department. In its second phase, bad politics provoked a civil war that is going on to this day, and a dismembering of the country, with Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea going their separate ways. Somewhere along the way the Ukrainian parliament was restocked with oligarchs and criminals of every stripe, making the country’s politics so corrupt as to make it ungovernable even for its mighty CIA handlers.

• Commercial collapse was readily produced by severing many of the economic ties between the Ukraine and Russia. In particular, this largely destroyed the entire advanced industrial sector of the Ukrainian economy (which was once the pride of the USSR) and caused many of the technical specialists to exfiltrate to other, more productive locales—such as North Korea, which was in need of some rocket scientists and atomic weapons experts. All of the major high tech sectors—rocket engines, large ship engines, helicopter engines, etc.—have relocated to Russia. Russia remains the Ukraine’s largest trading partner, but this only shows that its attempted reorientation toward the West has been a failure. The Ukraine does still manage to export to the West such items as logs (it is clearcutting what’s left of its forests) and dirt (stripping off its topsoil using bulldozers and bucket loaders and shipping it out).

• Financial collapse has gone through several iterations: the fall in the value of the national currency which has impoverished much of the population; the curtailment of social services and the closure of schools during wintertime due to lack of heat; the inability of the population to feed itself without resorting to doing menial labor in neighboring countries. At a higher level, the Ukraine has been maneuvered into a position of permanent debt servitude: it has saddled itself with foreign debt to such an extent that it can never be repaid without steady economic growth; in turn, given that all the other phases of collapse are proceeding apace, there is no reason to expect any growth.

Perhaps in a few years it will be time to write a full-length case study of the Ukrainian collapse, delving into each of the five stages. For now, allow me to regale you with just one funny vignette that affords a glimpse of the strange, haunted realm that currently passes for Ukrainian reality.

The main protagonist of this story is one Arkady Babchenko, a Muscovite and the son of an aerospace engineer and a schoolteacher. For a while he worked as a military correspondent, in Chechnya, and then again in Georgia during the ultra-short South Ossetia campaign of 08/08/08. His wartime reporting has earned him a reputation as a legitimate journalist.

More recently Babchenko became a blogger and built himself a different reputation, and a large following, by saying anti-Russian things. For instance, he stated publicly that he wants to see Russia broken up into a set of tiny, warring fiefdoms. When a plane-full of musicians on the way to Syria crashed on takeoff, he stated that he “doesn’t care.” People behave this way for all sorts of reasons. Some cultivate a bad-boy attitude in order to attract young idiots as followers on social media. Some try to vacuum up any loose change left behind by the various foreign NGOs that had been tasked with destabilizing Russian politics. Some probably act out this way because they are bored or depressed or sexually unfulfilled.

If they don’t cross any of the red lines (agitating for the violent overthrow of the government; inciting racial and religious hatred; etc.) they can lead comfortable lives in Russia. Nobody will persecute them. Quite the opposite: they offer an opportunity for everyone else to take pride in their unfettered exercise of their free speech rights. This is why some of them—Babchenko in particular—become desperate enough for attention (their stance being rather unpopular back home) to feign being victims of political prosecution and to move to Kiev—the only place in the world where they can actually make a living by their relentless floccinaucinihilipilification of Russia… while continuing to speak and write in Russian. No retraining necessary! It’s a Russian floccinaucinihilipilificationist’s dream come true.

But then poor Babchenko gets shot, three times in the back, just like poor Boris Nemtsov. He was feeling ill, and so he went to the corner to buy some bread (I know, but that’s the official story) and he got shot in the back either on the way there or on the way back (versions vary) right in front of his apartment (where his wife was at home). Below is a picture of him dead. As numerous astute observers of wounded and corpses quickly pointed out, he is conscious (judging from pose and muscle tone), his respiratory and circulatory systems are in good shape (his bald pate is nice and pink) and there is far too much bleeding from the entry wounds. As a crisis actor, Babchenko is unconvincing. Never mind that, he died, either right there and then, or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, or in the hospital (versions vary).

Upon news of poor Babchenko’s untimely demise, the entire Russian floccinaucinihilipilificationist community flew into high dudgeon over what was clearly (no investigation or evidence needed) a political assassination ordered by the highest echelons of the criminal Russian regime, perhaps by Putin personally. Red carnations piled up in front of Babchenko’s apartment building. People in Moscow started booking flights to Kiev to attend the fallen hero’s funeral. At the UN in New York, the Russian-born Ukrainian representative Pavel (self-styled “Pavlo”) Klimkin said this:

“Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist and well-known opponent of the Russian regime, was killed near his apartment in [Kiev]. Before he arrived in [the] Ukraine, he was forced to leave Russia after attacks and threats against him and his family… [He] continued to fight for a democratic Russia from [the] Ukraine, so, of course, Moscow has always viewed him as an enemy… It’s too early to say who is behind it, but the analysis of similar cases gives us reasonable grounds to believe that Russia is using other types of tactics to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. In particular, there are terrorist attacks, subversive activities and political murders.”

Several other Ukrainian worthies weighed in as well. This, please note, is now standard procedure: something happens, and before an investigation even starts and any facts are ascertained a snap decision is made to Blame Russia. This has by now happened so many times as to make it routine: the shoot-down of the Malaysian Boeing over Eastern Ukraine, the killing of Boris Nemtsov, the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, etc. Some people started saying that it’s now high time to expel some more Russian diplomats and introduce some more anti-Russian sanctions.

Everything was going perfectly well. But then Babchenko turns up very much alive at a press conference. There is an audible gasp. Babchenko, flanked by Ukrainian officials, looks rather shamefaced, and so do they. It is then announced that his murder was staged, but that there really was a contract taken out on him, and that this was all done in order to apprehend the culprits, who had already paid the advance, when they pay the rest of the contract. And the culprits are, of course, Russian officials.

All the Russian floccinaucinihilipilificationists, everywhere in the world, instantaneously felt very much cheated by this spectacle of their favorite blogger rising from the dead, and were outraged. The piles of carnations cost money, as did the airline tickets from Moscow to Kiev to attend his funeral. The fact that lots of people were rolling around on the floor laughing didn’t make them feel any better. And most people were laughing, or at least smiling. You see, most people in the world are what you might call “normies”: they don’t like constructed realities, and they aren’t capable of distinguishing a skillfully arranged political hoax from just some damned lies. While everyone was laughing their heads off, the Russian floccinaucinihilipilificationist community, along with much of the Western media, was loudly condemning this breach of good manners, journalistic ethics, competent governance and whatever else they could think of condemning. It was beautiful!

An obvious question arose in numerous heads at once: who knew of the hoax, and when did they know it. The Ukrainian perma-drunk president Proshenko definitely knew all along, and the silly dunce Klimkin obviously didn’t. But did Babchenko’s own wife know? She was present at the scene while Babchenko laid on the floor and waited for the makeup artist to arrange the pig’s blood and paint the bullet holes on his back. And then she spent a day grieving publicly and accepting condolences. By now it is very difficult to establish who knew when, although it is sometimes quite obvious who lied about it.

But what of the reason for this hoax? A certain person was immediately arrested: a middle-aged pudgy balding gentleman who is the top manager of a German-Ukrainian company that is the only private company that supplies weapons to the Ukrainian military. He was interrogated, and divulged several nonsensical details. The chief assassin was to be a certain Ukrainian warrior priest who fought “Russian separatists” in the east and hates Russia. And his contact within Russia was some individual whose existence is yet to be established. A likely story for a Kremlin assassination plot, no?

A more reasonable explanation is that this was part of an effort to get the balding middle-aged manager to give up his share of the arms company—a corporate raid, in essence. Blaming Russia is always job one, of course, but why not kill two birds with one stone? That’s how they do things in the Ukraine. The facts that Kremlin’s paid assassin was to be some warrior monk of Shaolin who happens to hate Russia, and that the Russian contact doesn’t quite exist—those are just some pesky details to sweep under the rug while everyone is looking away.

A lot of Ukrainian officials are now scratching their heads; what did they do wrong? They faithfully followed the same playbook as the British did with the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter. They were killed using a nerve agent designed to kill thousands within seconds, but survived. Russia was accused based on no evidence, and the accusation stuck to the extent that lots of countries expelled some Russian diplomats. And now that the entire official version of the Skripal affair is starting to look like a simple politically motivated kidnapping, the media is suddenly mum about it. The Brits don’t seem particularly embarrassed by all this, and there aren’t millions of people laughing at this folly. Well, Theresa May does seem permanently embarrassed, and she is an indeed an embarrassment, but the Skripal mission was something like a success. At least it didn’t rise to the level of ridicule of the Babchenko affair.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what collapse looks like up close and personal. A journalist who dies and is resurrected as a non-journalist. A country’s political establishment becomes the laughingstock of the planet. Who will believe them now? And an entire juggernaut of anti-Russian provocations based on evidence-free accusations is in danger of being derailed by the “Babchenko Effect.” Arkady, you Russian patriot, let me buy you a beer!

Although it is generally a good idea not to ascribe sinister intent to actions for which mere stupidity suffices, in this case there may be a hidden motive. The official story is that the pudgy manager and his warrior priest were targeting up to 30 individuals. Couple this with the fact that Poroshenko is doing dismally in the ratings, and is likely to do equally badly at the polls during the upcoming election. Perhaps the real targets of the Babchenko effect are other journalists working in the Ukraine. At any time now, should the displease Poroshenko, they may find themselves lying prone in a pool of blood with three bullet holes in the back, and this time it won't be just a warning and their death may turn out to be quite real. This prospect brings us face to face with the real task of surviving collapse: not dying.


Peter VE said...

Arkady Babchenko should count himself lucky that he was able to get to the press conference the next day. Most "victims" in his situation are a potential embarrassment to the perpetrators, and so end up becoming a victim after all. The perpetrators in this case are so incompetent that they didn't realize their own stupidity in bringing him out in public.
Putin doesn't need secret agents when the West puts in its stooges: they have decisively demonstrated how to ruin a country by following the siren call of Westernization.

Veronica said...

Thanks Dmitry. There's a book called "The Battle for the Mind", about brainwashing, and one of its most memorable points was that the retention of a sense of humour is the best protection from being sucked into mental and emotional management by others. It was primarily about the experience of prisoners of war, but the principle holds true. This is a lovely piece :-) - I shall enjoy sharing it - thanks again!

Slo Mo said...

While I agree that this particular stunt miserably failed, in general demonization of Russia has been successful so far. You can say an outright lie about Russia and if it portrays her as a villain nobody will question it, because the character has been established. We would have to see more evidence that the tide is changing, in my opinion.

Rob Rhodes said...

Thanks Dmitry, I have been hoping you would comment on this farce since I first read about it.

I am rather troubled though by the language you use in the preamble after "• Social collapse came..." It is strikingly similar to language used by all imperialists to justify exploitation of indigenous people. "exert a civilizing influence on a backward, agrarian region." Was their sin that they were not deep enough into the Technoshere?

The First Nations people of Canada were in horrible condition after generations of being 'civilized' (and beaten for speaking their own language and raped) in residential schools. They were spoken of with similar contempt by many Canadians. Now they are re-emerging as entrepreneurs, artists and professionals, on their own terms, despite continued cheating by Canadian governments at all levels. Their most offensive and threatening lack of civilization? That they hold land in common rather than privately, a serious threat by example to any landowning ruling class. Right wing politicians still want to "bring them into the 21st century" by giving them individual title to their land, thus finally extinguishing their culture. So your rather chauvinistic language leaves me wondering what was/is really threatening about Ukrainians.

Avery said...

I agree with Rob's post. The strongest argument the Ukrainian nationalists have is that a less technological, more agrarian country will have more solidarity. This is not a new argument, it's one that was also made often before WW2, and is sometimes made by supporters of Korean unification.

That being said, it is hard not to laugh at Ukraine's massive brain drain. They are claiming that they had a patriotic dolphin army.

Grant Piper said...

'demonization of Russia has worked'.... maybe with the groupthink establishment, but most 'normies' see it for what it is, but also realise it is pointless trying to express this publicly at present, so just shut up and get on with life.

Isabella said...

Very much agree with the point you made Veronica, and the information from the book you cite - it looks interesting. There's two things about retaining your sense of humour. One is that it does tend to keep us grounded and thus able to see life and it's issues from a more balanced perspective and the other is that you can't fear what you can laugh at. Laughter is a great leveller - and a bringer of courage. It's why dictators eliminate political cartoonists asap.
The first autobiography I ever read as a very young teenager, was of the British in Nazi PoW camps - called "The Wooden Horse". What came through to me even then was the enduring sense of humour those PoW's had, and how much it seemed to sustain them through all privations.
I will never forget, never mind now how many years ago this, one of the cartoons a PoW had sketched and pinned to his room door; of the early days pre-Red Cross parcels and improvements, when the men had to cook such as they could find over smokey camp fires. It showed two officers, smoke smudged and filthy roasting a rat, one saying to the other "Not the Berkeley old boy, wouldn't be seen dead in the place".
So - thank you Dmitry - you do an excellent and necessary job, making us laugh at that which would otherwise bring tears.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Rob Rhodes -

The analogy to colonialism isn't applicable. The Ukraine is the heartland of historical Russia; it only became "okraina" or borderland when the power center shifted north, to Novgorod, then to Moscow, then to St. Petersburg. The thrust during the Soviet times was not colonization but economic and social development. Perversely, it was Russians, during the Soviet era, that did much to develop Ukrainian language and culture and give it prominence. There was also a concerted effort to "ukrainianize" the Russians living there.

Avery -

Never argue with a Ukrainian nationalist. You will only end up looking like a fool, by association.

Isabella -

I am convinced that people who lack a sense of humor, especially about themselves (we all know people who take themselves much too seriously) are an actual menace to society. I use humor as a sort of litmus test, to determine whether someone is worth talking to. People who react aggressively when someone pokes a bit of fun at them are either unusually dim or they are sociopaths.

Veronica said...

Isabella - Battle for the Mind is an old book, written in the 50's. In looking it up to see if it was still around, I discover that it is considered by some to be extremely controversial, as espousing mind control. I recall simply finding it interesting as a description of the ways that brainwashing works, and, as I said, how a sense of humour resists it. If you are interested to see it for yourself, archive.org has a pdf of it for download at https://archive.org/details/BattleForTheMind-Sargant. Perhaps if I read it again I'll see what the fuss is about - at the time it was just interesting! And I recall Sargant making the same point you did about humour providing balance and emotional distance.
So... thank you for the acidic humour, Dmitry!