First posted February 21, 2019
When a nation is filled with strife, then do patriots flourish: Lao-Tzu, Chinese Philosopher (601-531 BC)
This is the last article written by Russian activist lawyer Stanislav Markelov before he was shot dead in central Moscow a decade ago. On 19 January 2009, as Markelov and Baburova walked through central Moscow, they were gunned down by Nikita Tikhonov, a Russian neo-Nazi. This murder sent shocks through human rights, media and activist communities in Russia, and later exposed the neo-Nazi terror cell run by Tikhonov and several others. As was revealed at trial, the group’s organiser Ilya Goryachev was using his connections to people inside Russia’s Presidential Administration and law enforcement to lobby for a new umbrella party that would preside over Russia neo-Nazis and extreme nationalists. Alexander Litoy writes about this trial (and how he wound up on one of Goryachev’s lists) in detail here.
Born in 1974, Markelov led an active life. He was involved in the Russian Social Democratic Party during the early 1990s, joined the Maximillian Voloshin brigade, a left-wing medics’ group, during the events of October 1993 in Moscow, travelled to Ingushetia with Memorial as a human rights observer, and helped lead the radical left Russian Student Union in 1994-1995. In the late 1990s, he was involved in the Defenders of the Rainbow anarchist ecological movement, as well as writing extensively about the authoritarian surge in Belarus.
In the early 2000s, Markelov represented the interests of striking workers at a Vyborg paper mill, people illegally evicted from Moscow dormitories and activists from an independent railway union. In 2002, he defended the interests of Elza Kungayeva, who was murdered by corporal Yuri Budanov. In 2006, Markelov founded and headed the Institute of the Rule of Law, where he focused on defending activists, journalists and others in high-profile legal proceedings, such as Anna Politkov-skaya and Mikhail Beketov, who led the campaign for the defence of Khimki forest outside of Moscow.
This country has got hooked on patriotism like a drug. Any politician, before lying, will swear by his patriotism. Any toady, before wheedling money from the authorities, will boast of his love for the state. Any thief licking his lips at the sight of his stolen goods will describe how he loves his country and how much more he would steal for the sake of this love. Today in Russia it is impossible to occupy a senior position unless, bowing and scraping, you declare your patriotism. It’s impossible to become a politician (whether pro-government or pro-opposition) until you have licked the backside of the two-headed eagle and sworn your love to other imperial symbols.
Patriotism has become the state’s criteria of eligibility towards its citizens. If you aren’t a patriot, then you’re a pariah and the state’s repressive apparatus will soon do everything to choke the life out of you. Nowadays, people make nothing of it, but making your feelings public is thought of as bad taste, as is declaring your love for the whole country — almost like parading your underwear in the street, the traces of your last solitary passion still fresh. No-one gives it a second thought that, to all intents and purposes, patriotism is foolish! Personal emotions are fine as long as they remain private. If we love our country’s native soil, our ancestors and our traditions that’s admirable, but what kind of idiot would force people to flaunt their private emotions? Indeed, this love can only be sincere precisely insofar as it remains personal and doesn’t lapse into the category of public-patriotic masturbation. Imagine declaring love for one’s parents as a national idea. People would take you for a complete idiot. Why should we see this attempt to thrust patriotism down our throats in any other way? There’s no need to crawl into our minds to check how much we love our motherland. People can work out who and how they should love all by themselves.
On the contrary, public adoration is never sincere. Unctuous love towards household gods will soon arouse adverse feelings of revulsion and give birth to a generation who hate this love of the fatherland that’s been rammed down their throats. Just the same as Soviet power gave birth to a hatred of everything Soviet, constantly stuffing us full of their cretinous slogans. But nowadays we are not even promised communism, we are simply told that we must blindly love the Motherland oblivious to everything else and then everything will be fine. Fine for the authorities, for the oligarchs and the mafias. Because patriotism is cowardice!
Rather than establishing who lined their pockets during the poverty and lawlessness, who grabbed all public property in the mafia-style 1990s, who should answer for the privatisation of our future, for the overnight plunder of all the goods built up by the hellish labour of many generations, they propose instead that we should love the state unrequitedly. Civic patriotism is not love of one’s Motherland, rather it is love of the state. It is advantageous for the ruling circles that we, mouths open wide in amazement and agog with joy, gaze upon our latest state flag, even if the Vlasov traitors fought against their own people or the Black Hundreds organised pogroms under it.
According to the patriots, we should express joy at the successes of the regime and lay down our future for the oligarchs or other fat cats munching on that which was stripped from us and our parents. You call this love of the motherland? Any motherland would soon perish from such love, and the more we sink into the abyss of patriotism, the more inequality we see in our society, the more arrogant the power of the rich starts to look. If you doesn’t see this, you’ve consciously chosen to go blind. If you see this, but continues to shout about your patriotism, you’re a coward sheltering under a cliché imposed by the state. Everyday, the media rams it down our throats that we must become patriots. Thus there’s nothing left for the state to do but demand patriotism from us, otherwise we would insist that it account for all its actions. Because the people and the authorities were never together, the latter always grew fat through the powerlessness and the poverty of the former… read more: