Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blood-Colored Snowflakes

It was 1996. In a small, maloizvestnoe selo [unheard of village] named Foca, in the then-Yugoslavia, a squad of 8 soldiers, led by Commander Dragoljub Kunarac, raped at least twenty-five women (25 was the number of charges levied against the group). In an international tribune, in February of 2001, the squad was found guilty of rape – more precisely, of rape in wartime, which was made a crime against humanity with this case as a precedent. You can learn more about the case on the UN and Human Rights Watch websites. (Remember, this is from the same page in the Winter text that made me mad at America, too.)

I promised that this post would be about Russia, though. But the strands will all come back together, don’t worry.

It’s important, first, to date the actors involved. I’m twenty-two. Just how old are those men whom I see in Leninka, the Russian State Library, their backs arched over countless “reveal-all” tomes on Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina [The Great Fatherland War] – the Eastern front of the European arena in World war II? I think we must start with them to answer why (as I posed earlier, talking about an art exhibit and a contest winner) this culture can’t get past the war.

Are they so old that they fought? Perhaps a few, but not all. Were they just a couple years too young, and have survivor’s guilt? Perhaps, again, a few, but I don’t think it’s the majority. After all, my St. Petersburg host father was 14 when he was evacuated from the city, and he is an Ancient One among the Philosophical Hierophants of this aeon.

I think we’re already in the era where these elders are at an age where they remember a WWII they experienced from the safety of their mother’s arms, like a cat startled by a thunderclap; and they remember a father-cousin-older brother who fought and died– but it’s all in a haze, and the cult of the dead still reigns.

The entr’acte: sometimes I start wondering if I’m not too hard on Russians. Besides, what right do I have to critique the way their society deals with the war? No one could ask Jewish individuals to forget the Holocaust, and the Slavs were thought of as a servant race in the Fascist world view – if not subject to final solutions, then to subjugation. But I can’t begin to argue that one group or another suffered more or less. War is war is war, to bastardize the Gertrude Stein cliché.

Nor can I stop the way I feel. A sick feeling always arises in the back of my throat when I encounter the ways the war keeps coming up. Picture that aunt who sees you only once every three or four years, who always mentions some horribly embarrassing aspect from your past. Except it’s the exact opposite: if they stop talking about how well the Soviet Union acted in the war, then they’d have to come to terms with other atrocities, perhaps with atrocities they themselves committed; if they stop comparing their current leadership to the most brutal men of the short twentieth century, admissions might have to start pouring out that some still in power are quite really-not-nice men. It’s all a matter of perspective.

But I hate politics and I can’t believe I’m on day three of talking about it. I don’t want to think of that as the reason that there’s still a cult of the dead. I think another explanation is located in the old men in the library themselves. Think about it – a senior citizen’s interest in the past is really not a rarity; we have our own old men who sit in consignment shops and back porches and even places that aren’t stereotypical blue-collar backwaters who are fascinated with past military action. But in America there’s a great amount of resentment to the old. Here’s a different situation.
1. There are no hospices to throw octogenarians into. Grandparents are cared for by the family, or they’re on the streets.
2. There is not such a crush on welfare as we have from the Baby Boomers because so many have died.
3. This is a strongly patriarchal society.
4. So [+age] and [+male] are trump cards.
5. Those people who are [+age, +male] are, therefore, the Philosophical Hierophants of the age, and they are the ones obsessed with WWII.
So even though there are so few of them (or perhaps because; it’s, after all, harder for so few to organize into different sects), the whole culture can’t escape the cult of the dead. Whose dream is in control – who is choosing the “Master Dream,” to put it in the words of an Albanian novelist? The old men. While they have the spotlight, we must kowtow to them.

And who are the people they, themselves, bow to, but those same men who marched on Berlin and raped and pillaged as they went? But what is their response to such a line of inquiry – “How dare you accuse my [insert male family member] of raping and pillaging the Germans on the road to Berlin? It was the Teutonic Nazi who was at fault, I tell you; Eisenstein has told me so, as have all of these nationalist books specifically approved by their CEOs, the board of Putin & Co…”

I can’t differentiate who suffered more. I can’t understand how there can be a differentiation between rape-in-wartime and rape in a time of peace. Rape is rape is rape…

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