CASTRATION HERE, CASTRATION THERE, CASTRATION EVERYWHERE
Weeks ago, the Ukrainian President Zelensky addressed Russian soldiers in Russian, promising them safety and decent treatment if they were captured or surrendered to the Ukrainian army. In stark contrast to this stance were the news from Russia Today (which were summed up by big Western media and appear to be true):
“Gennadiy Druzenko, 49, the owner of a war zone mobile hospital in Eastern Ukraine, said he instructed his medical staff to ‘castrate captured Russian soldiers’ because they are ‘cockroaches, not people,’ Russian news agency RT reports. ‘Trust me, Putin’s military hardware burns well. The corpses of ‘Putinoids’ may stink, but they become unthreatening,’ he said, according to RT. Druzenko, a constitutional lawyer-turned-volunteer frontline medic, apologized for his words after receiving death threats. In a short Facebook post, Druzenko took back his words and added a screenshot that appears to be a threat addressed to him. He said his hospital ‘does not castrate anyone and is not going to. Those were the emotions. I’m sorry. We are saving lives. Period.’”
The immediate reaction to this news should be: is this how Ukraine defends Europe? Even the apology is ambiguous: Druzenko apologized after receiving death threats, as if doing it just to protect his life, not because he sincerely changed his mind and became aware of the horror of what he said. Such ideas should be unequivocally condemned, any comparative “understanding” (in the style of “this is a minor incident comparing to a mass murder Russian army is doing”) is obscene. We should also look closely at what is going on on the Ukrainian side, because here we get hints of what Ukraine will be if – as we all hope – it will retain its independence.
For example, back in 2019, Ukraine’s State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting banned the translation of The Book of Thieves written the Swedish historian Anders Rydell. In quite a Putinesque way, the decree claimed the book’s appearance would be “inciting ethnic, racial and religious hatred.” How? The ban is due to Rydell’s critical analysis of the actions of Symon Petliura, a nationalist whose troops murdered countless Jews in pogroms. Plus, there are other dark signs, like the prohibitive measures applied on the Ukrainian Left, as if it is automatically pro-Putin.
Such critiques should in no way undermine or limit our commitment to Ukrainian freedom. It would be easy to find dozens of similar obscene statements and acts on the Russian side. Suffice it to mention how Aleksandr Dugin, Putin’s court philosopher, explained why. According to him, Putin should have intervened much earlier, at least after the Maidan events, and the fact that he missed the opportunity “is the sign of profound, profound hatred by our president of the violence … he hates the war … Putin is a liberal democrat, he is very Western in his opinion, he is very careful about global rules… that means he has no other solution in his very liberal democratic, globalist almost, vision of the world.” With “liberal democrats” like this, who needs neo-Nazis?
But the reason I mentioned the incident with the Ukrainian medic is that a friend drew my attention to an interview on the Sputnik site where the pro-Putin Serb movie director Emir Kusturica – believe it or not – denounces ME as the inspiration of the Ukrainian medic’s threat. Here are his exact words: “We saw how the other day a Slovene philosopher inspired the Ukrainian doctor and said that all prisoners should be castrated … that the imprisoned Russians should be castrated.” Let’s clarify this accusation. In my first reaction to the Russian invasion, I effectively mentioned castration and rape, but my source is Putin himself. Back in 2002, Putin replied to a Western journalist’s question with: “If you want to become a complete Islamic radical and are ready to undergo circumcision, then I invite you to Moscow. We are a multidenominational country. We have specialists in this question. I will recommend that they carry out the operation in such a way so that afterward, nothing else will grow.” It was a rather vulgar threat of castration. And rape? The source is Putin again, and here is a quote from my text:
“At a press conference on February 7 2022, Putin noted that the Ukraine government does not like the Minsk agreement and then added: ‘Like it or not, it’s your duty, my beauty.’ The saying has well-known sexual connotations: Putin appeared to be quoting from ‘Sleeping Beauty in a Coffin’ by the Soviet-era punk rock group Red Mold: ‘Sleeping beauty in a coffin, I crept up and fucked her. Like it, or dislike it, sleep my beauty.’ Although the Kremlin press representative claimed that Putin referred to an old folkloric expression, reference to Ukraine as an object of necrophilia and rape is clear.”
And I concluded my comment with: “So we should recommend that the international community carries out on Russia (and, up to a point, the US) a castrative operation – ignoring and marginalizing them as much as possible, treating them as embarrassing obscenities, like a guy whom you see defecating in public on a street, making it sure that afterwards, nothing else will grow of their global authority.”
One can debate if my metaphors are too provocative, but three things are clear from the quoted fragments. I took the topic of castration and rape from Putin. I do not propose a castration but a “castrative operation” the meaning of which I clearly specify (“ignoring and marginalizing them as much as possible…”). And I include the US in the list, blaming them to some degree for the situation in Ukraine. How we come from all this to the proposal to castrate Russian prisoners is something that is logical only to the cheapest Putin propagandist.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE MISSING ORBAN IN KYIV
The only true moment in these accusations is that I fully support Ukrainian resistance, and this partisan view makes me attentive to how, unfortunately, many on the Left try to sit on two chairs with regard to the Ukrainian war, (mostly, at least) condemning the Russian aggression and simultaneously blaming the US for it. For example, the Democratic Socialists of America reacted to the war by “calling for the dissolution of NATO‘s Western alliance and blaming the United States’ ‘imperialist expansionism’ for Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The DSA, which boasts high-profile members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, released a Saturday night statement condemning Russia’s invasion and calling for Vladimir Putin to immediately recall his troops.” The DSA is not ready to admit that, despite all the complexity of the situation and dispersed responsibility, Ukrainians are offering a fully justified and heroic resistance to the Russian attack, a resistance that should be unconditionally supported. Instead of this, one hears “Socialist” voices telling the Ukrainian workers that they should self-organize against Russian occupiers outside the corrupt government and oligarchs’ army… At the end of this road, there is a Leftist conspiracy theory: “The US had its war in Ukraine. Without it, Washington could not attempt to destroy Russia’s economy, orchestrate world condemnation, and lead an insurgency to bleed Russia, all part of an attempt to overthrow its government.”
In an almost symmetric way, the liberal Right also doubts that the Left can fully support Ukrainian resistance; although Putin is definitely not a Leftist, he is nonetheless perceived as an ally of some Leftist regimes. No wonder that, as in Lacan’s formula of communication in which I get from the other my own message in its inverted and true form, the developed West is getting its own message back from the Third World: countries from Latin America to South Africa are not ready to unanimously condemn Russia for war crimes in Ukraine, remembering much worse crimes committed by the West around the world. That’s why their reaction to “defending Europe” is: why should we defend the power which was doing to us what it now condemns in Ukraine?
And, in some sense, they are right. Europe is also sitting on two chairs. On March 15, 2022, four European leaders made a long, hazardous journey by rail from Poland to Kyiv in a show of support as the city came under further Russian attack: the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary met President Zelensky on Tuesday evening as a curfew began in Kyiv. Afterwards, Poland’s PM Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted that Ukraine was reminding Europe what courage was: it was time for “sluggish and decayed” Europe to reawaken and “break through her wall of indifference and give Ukraine hope”, he said… Those who remember the news noticed a factual mistake in my brief report. Viktor Orban of Hungary was not one of the four; the fourth place was occupied by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland’s ruling party and the de facto ruler of Poland.
We all know the famous dialogue from “Silver Blaze” between Scotland Yard detective Gregory and Sherlock Holmes about the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” “That was the curious incident.” It is easy to paraphrase these lines with Orban replacing the dog: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” “To the curious incident of Viktor Orban on the train to Kyiv.” “But Orban was not on that train.” “That was the curious incident.” This substitution (Kaczynski taking the place of the absent Orban) offers the key to the entire affair. The case was not just that of sitting on two chairs at the same time, it was much worse: one person replacing another on the same chair.
Both Orban and Kaczynski embody the basic stance of some key members of what is commonly referred as the Visegrad group at its purest: post-Communist East European countries which are members of the EU but oppose the predominant EU stance of stronger European unity and cooperation, as well as the cultural values of feminism, multiculturalism, anti-racism and religious neutrality. Poland and Hungary were until recently under a strong pressure from Brussels to abandon their anti-abortion and anti-gay politics, as well as their drift towards authoritarianism (state control of the judiciary branch, of culture and public media). The EU even threatens to retract the financial support these states are getting if they do not comply with EU rules. Against this pressure, “illiberal democrats” (like Orban) want to put a stronger emphasis on national identity and Christian tradition. Both Poland and Hungary now use the burden of the Ukrainian war (taking care of the refugees, etc.) to alleviate the EU critique of the two states due to their violation of human rights; they now demand even more financial support from the EU. At a more general level, we should never forget that the ongoing conflicts, wars included, are never just a matter of culture and geopolitics; they are moments of inner tensions in the global circulation of the capital. Some signs indicate even the glorious Maidan event, an authentic student and popular uprising, was (partially, at least) overdetermined by the struggle between two groups of Ukrainian oligarchs and their foreign masters, the pro-Russian clique and the pro-Western clique. The “clash of civilizations” is a truth, but not the whole truth, by far.
However, the crux of the matter resides elsewhere. Whichever way you turn it, united Europe does stand for some kind of social democracy, which is why in a recent interview Viktor Orban went so far as to proclaim that Western liberal hegemony “is gradually becoming Marxist”: “Sooner or later we’ll have to face up to the fact that, opposing the Christian democratic camp, we’re no longer dealing with a group espousing liberal ideology, but with a group that’s essentially Marxist with liberal remnants. This is what we have in America today. For the time being the conservative side is at a disadvantage in relation to the Marxist, liberal camp.”
So, why did Orban not participate in the trip to Ukraine? Because of Hungary’s (not only) economic links with Putin’s Russia, which compelled him to proclaim neutrality in the ongoing Ukrainian war. Poland and Hungary, thus, decided to play a double game. Two Polish anti-Russian hardliners went to Kyiv pretending to be there as special envoys of the EU – no wonder their “mission” caused embarrassment in Brussels since no EU body authorized them to do it. Still, the actual aim of their mission was not to act in Kyiv on behalf of Europe, but to signal a clear division in Europe. It was a mission directed AGAINST united Europe. Their message to Ukraine was: we are your only true allies; only we truly and fully support your struggle against the Russian invasion, not the “sluggish and decayed” liberal Western Europe.
All the militant measures advocated by some members of the mission in Kyiv (imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, etc.) barely concealed their true aim, namely to woo Ukraine into their nationalist-illiberal Europe, to strengthen it against the (still hegemonic) social-democratic Europe. Their mind is focused on the big question: where will Ukraine be when the war comes to a close (and progress in negotiations indicates that some kind of peace is on the horizon). In this sense, although Orban was not in Kyiv, his key message was delivered there. And this is why the Slovene PM Janez Janša, a partisan of radical militancy against Russia, defended Orban against Ukrainian critique. The visitors knew well that their militant proposals will have no consequences: their battle was not against Putin’s Russia but against the social-democratic (“Marxist,” for Orban) Europe.
In a recent public address, President Zelensky directly criticized Hungary for its neutrality: “You (Hungarians) must decide whom to side with.” He got a cynical answer from Orban: in his victory speech, Orban said: “We never had so many opponents: Brussels bureaucrats… the international mainstream media, and the Ukrainian president.” His mention of Zelensky was accompanied by merry laughter… Now, it is Zelensky and Ukraine who must decide whom to side with: which Europe THEY want to be part of.
IS SOLIDARITY ANTI-SEMITIC?
The Europe worth defending is the Europe of universal solidarity, not just the Europe of selective solidarity with those who “are like us.” On January 3, 2022 Emma Watson, the star best known as Hermione in the “Harry Potter” films, posted on Instagram an image of a pro-Palestinian rally overlaid with the words “Solidarity is a verb,” and a quotation from Sara Ahmed on the meaning of solidarity (which does not mention Jews or Palestinians): “Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.” Immediately her Instagram sparked accusations of anti-Semitism from Israeli politicians, so that even the big media had to admit that in this case the accusations go too far.
This incident makes palpable the lie of the official stance, according to which a critique of Israeli policy is OK but not anti-Semitism. No matter how innocent and neutral a critique of Israel may sound, the defenders of Israel and its politics always find some metaphoric or metonymic link with anti-Semitism, up to the claim that a critique of capitalism as such is today anti-Semitic, because Jews are identified with financial wealth… So, the truth of the distinction between a critique of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism is that there is none: every critique, de facto, echoes anti-Semitism. An acceptable critique of Israel is an empty set. With the case of Watson, this logic is brought to the extreme: we don’t have to look for anything behind or beneath it; the mere mention of solidarity, when applied to what the State of Israel is doing to Palestinians, becomes anti-Semitic. However, the same accusation could and should also be made against the reactions to Watson’s Instagram. They proclaim anti-Semitic a mere call for solidarity, pushing us towards the conclusion that, if solidarity is in itself anti-Semitic, then it designates something that is foreign to Jewish people…
The problem here is the asymmetry implied by the partisans of Israeli politics: they can practice the wildest hermeneutics of suspicion, discovering traces of anti-Semitism everywhere, but the sympathizers of the West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to bring out the de facto apartheid and oppression at work in “neutral” Israeli security measures. Yes, one should be horrified at Iran’s project to destroy the State of Israel, but one should be no less horrified at what Israel is doing in the West Bank with the Palestinian population.
The title of a recent dialogue on anti-Semitism and BDS in Der Spiegel was: “Wer Antisemit ist, bestimmt der Jude und nicht der potenzielle Antisemit” (“Who an anti-Semite is determines the Jew and not the potential anti-Semite”). OK, sounds logical: the victim should decide regarding its victim status, so in the same sense that this holds for a woman who claims she was raped it should hold also for Jews. But there are two problems here: (1) Should then not the same also hold for Palestinians in the West Bank who should determine who is stealing their land and depriving them of their elementary rights? (2) Who is “the Jew” who determines who is anti-Semitic? What about the numerous Jews who support BDS or who, at least, have doubts about the politics of the State of Israel in the West Bank? Is not the implication of the quoted stance that, although empirically Jews, they are in some “deeper” sense not Jews, that they betrayed their Jewish identity?
THE FIFTH RIDER
One of the implications of true global solidarity is that it should not be limited to its Western secular-liberal multicultural form. What does this mean, concretely?
In late March 2022, in the midst of the Ukrainian war, Aleksandr Dugin gave a long interview to the tabloid Moskovskij Komsomolets, Russia’s daily with the highest circulation. When asked if Putin reads his work, he said “I think we read the same letters written in gold in the sky of Russian history,” and then he went on to quote some of these golden letters:
“We are waging an eschatological military operation, a special operation between Light and Darkness in the situation of the end of times. Truth and God are on our side. We are fighting the absolute evil embodied in Western civilization, its liberal-totalitarian hegemony, in Ukrainian Nazism…”
My counter-point is not just that I, for obvious reasons, don’t trust people who read “letters written in gold in the sky”; there are other details which deserve our attention in the quoted lines, especially the jump from Western liberalism to Nazism. For instance, the term “liberal-totalitarian hegemony” is a worthy inheritor of the Nazi term “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy”… Why is the enemy Ukrainian Nazism? Because Putin replaced the October Revolution with the Soviet Union’s victory in the WWII (and the sacrifices of winning the war, 25 million dead) as the new founding myth of Russia’s greatness. That’s why Stalin’s images have been displayed in military parades over the past years: he is celebrated as the supreme commander, not as a Communist. But since today’s (and traditional) enemy of Russia is Western liberalism, Nazism has to appear as the ultimate offspring of liberalism…
What is clearly discernible in the quoted passage from Dugin’s interview are two further important features. First, the military-religious link: a limited military operation is directly characterized in the terms that belong to theology, as a fight between Truth/God and absolute Evil that is not a simple historical event but takes place in the situation of the end of times. Even the most radical Muslim fundamentalists do not talk like that. Second, Dugin here violates his own postmodern relativism, according to which “every so-called truth is a matter of believing. So, we believe in what we do, we believe in what we say. And that is the only way to define the truth. So, we have our special Russian truth that you need to accept.” In the quoted interview, he doesn’t talk about “Russian Truth” versus “European Truth,” but about Light and Darkness, God versus absolute Evil.
However, is it enough to oppose to such militarized religion the everyday peaceful life of secular liberalism tolerating different ways of life? Today, when we are de facto already living in an emergency state, mobilization IS needed, and why should we forfeit religious references to neo-Fascists? Is it not a fact that the multiple crises and apocalyptic prospects we are facing at present seem to evoke more and more ominously the four riders of the apocalypse from the Book of Revelations: plague, war, hunger, death?
— Plague: at the end of 2019, Covid exploded and changed our lives forever. It is still here and we can expect new waves as well as other viral pandemics.
— War: with the Russian attack on Ukraine, we got a true hot war in Europe – a sobering reminder that nobody can afford to observe war from a safe distance. Even if some kind of truce is enforced, war forcefully asserted itself as a general condition of our lives and positioned peace as a temporary exception. Whichever way we turn, WWIII is on the horizon, and what is needed is not just or even primarily the strength to counter the aggressors, but a radical change of the entire global system.
— Hunger: it is also on the horizon; here are some of the recent big media headlines: “The War in Ukraine Is Creating the Greatest Global Food Crisis Since WWII”, or “War in Ukraine could lead to food riots in poor countries.”
— Death is in itself (up until full biogenetic control over our lives, at least) a part of life itself. Suffice it to recall a deeply true Polish graffiti offering a definition of life as the disease transmitted by sex, which always ends with death. But we are talking here about excessive deaths caused by the other three riders.
We have to be very precise here: the four riders cannot be simply dismissed as figures of evil. Trevor Hancock pointed out that they are “remarkably close to what we might call the four horsemen of ecology that regulate population size in nature.” Referring to Charles Elton, he suggests that the “four riders” play a positive role in preventing over-population: “increases in numbers are held in check by predators, pathogens, parasites and food supply.” The problem is that, in the long term, this regulatory function didn’t seem to work for us, humans:
“The human population has more than tripled in the past 70 years, from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7.8 billion today. So, what happened to Elton’s four ecological horsemen? Why we are not controlled? Is there a fifth horseman that will cause our populations to crash at some point, as lemmings do?”
Until fairly recently, humanity has been able to hold in check the four riders through medicine, science and technology. However, now we are threatened by “massive and rapid global ecological changes we have triggered. So, although of course an asteroid strike or super-volcano eruption could wipe us out, the greatest threat to the human population, the ‘fifth horseman’ if you like, is us.” What this means is that we (humanity) are now facing a key decision: we are the “fifth horseman” who can cause our destruction or save us. Although global awareness of the threat is growing, it is not followed by adequate activity, so the four raiders are galloping faster and faster.
INVENTING A HERO OF OUR TIME
How can we be free today, in such a desperate situation? Let us conclude on a lighter note. One of the answers is provided by the Netflix 2022 miniseries Inventing Anna, created and produced by Shonda Rhimes. The series is inspired by the story of Anna Sorokin and Jessica Pressler’s article “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People” that appeared in New York magazine in 2018, telling the stranger-than-fiction story of a Russian-born twenty-something Anna Sorokin, a con artist who, through rebranding herself as Anna Delvey, a wealthy German heiress, had conned her way into an extravagant lifestyle, rubbing shoulders with the city’s elite. Almost overnight, Sorokin had captured the internet’s imagination, and, even after her prison sentence, she continues to fascinate the public media.
Most of the reviewers expressed their uneasiness at the miniseries: they find the portrayal of Anna unconvincing because it does not depict the real person beneath multiple masks… But what if this IS the truth? What if there is no self-aware manipulating subject pulling the strings? Anna does not just act following a Ponzi scheme, postponing paying debts, covering one debt with another, trying to convince people that the money she owes them is on the way, etc. In a crazy way, her subjective life itself functions as a Ponzi scheme: she does not just deceive others; she as it were borrows from herself, from her own imagined future. This is what makes her stance feminine, in clear contrast to Shimon Hayut, the con artist portrayed in Tinder Swindler (one should note that Tinder Swindler is a documentary and Inventing Anna—a fiction). Hayut travelled around Europe, presenting himself as the son of Russian-Israeli diamond mogul Lev Leviev. He used Tinder to contact women as Simon Leviev, and tricked them into lending him money that he never repaid. He would charm women with lavish gifts and take them to dinners on private jets using money he borrowed from other women he previously conned. He then asked his victims to help him financially due to the breach of ‘security’, allegedly hindering the use of his credit cards and bank accounts. The women would often take out bank loans and new credit cards in order to help. His career ended quite appropriately: in late February 2022, he launched an NFT collection and merchandise with images seen and quotes heard in the film on him…
The obvious parallels between the two stories should not distract us from the crucial difference: Hayut is a swindler who coldly manipulates others, has no project he really identifies with, just abandons a woman he deceived and passes onto another woman, while Anna stays with a permanent circle of collaborators involved in the big plan to launch the Anna Delvey Foundation. What distinguishes her is an unconditional fidelity to appearance: her friends often plead to her just to admit that she lied or cheated, but she never breaks down, nor lets the mask fall. We watch again and again how she finds a way to save her face when she is confronted with the facts that prove her lies.
Anna is immoral but definitely ethical. When her lawyer defends her in his closing speech before the jury by claiming she just lived in her dream world and never came “dangerously close” to real success (getting money for her big project), she feels betrayed and reacts furiously. She prefers to be punished much more heavily if this means that she will be perceived as somebody who almost succeeded, not as a ridiculous small dreamer.
It is this unconditional desire that makes her ethical; she literally obeys Lacan’s formula “do not compromise your desire.” This is why even some of those she swindled and are aware of the fact that she doesn’t care for herself continue to care for her. As Lacan said, “the hero can be betrayed without damage done to him,” Anna remains a hero to the end. That’s why the usual psycho-social explanations fail: even her father is surprised by what she became.
To paraphrase a well-known line from one of the early novels about Hannibal Lecter, nothing happened to her; she happened to the world. Yes, her project is a ridiculous fake, but she nonetheless acts as a sublime figure because she elevated this ridiculous project into a Thing, a Cause for which she is ready to stake her entire life. Whatever she is, she is not cynical but utterly naïve, and we need such naivety today for a precise reason: Anna is FREE in clear contrast to Hayut who just follows his egotist need to manipulate others and profit on them. Freedom does not reside in a hidden core of my Self that eludes the grasp of others, a position from which I manipulate others from a safe distance. Freedom resides in my very unconditional identification with the role I decide to play for others.
That’s why, back to Ukraine, Putin and Orban are manipulating figures like Hayut, while Zelensky, who effectively was an actor, is somebody who plays his role sincerely, fully identified with it. In this (and only in this) respect he is like Anna, although at the highest ethico-political level.
 Here is the Serb original: “Videli smo da je neki dan jedan slovenački filozof inspirisao ukrajinskog doktora i rekao da treba da se kastriraju svi zarobljeni… da se zarobljeni Rusi kastriraju.”
 Quoted from Joanna Szostek on Twitter.
 I owe this application of the “four riders of the apocalypse” to today’s condition to Mladen Dolar.