In Russia, Seeing Traitors At Every Turn

In St. Petersburg, a supporter of the "Other Russia" party
In St. Petersburg, a supporter of the "Other Russia" party
Viktor Loshak


MOSCOW — Patriotic hysterics between Ukraine and Russia have given birth to a host of scathing labels — terms such a "fifth column" and "friends of the junta" — that state-owned television channels and some newspapers are employing with increasing zeal to identify Russia's many "internal enemies."

The number of people targeted with these terms is only growing. We may not have reached the point of actually putting marks on people's doors, but the current climate isn't that far from it. People can go from being acceptable to blacklisted in the blink of an eye, and it's not always possible to explain why.

The experience of Russian singer Diana Arbenina is a case in point. "On July 3, I played a concert in Kiev for my 40th birthday," she says. "The people at the concert looked normal. They weren't fascists. They're totally innocent. But then this blacklist appeared, and I'm something like number 45 or 46. And now it seems my concerts in Russia are starting to be canceled."

Other musicians have been singled out for the same reason — for daring to perform in Ukraine. But is that really such an act of subversion? Is a rock fan attending one of Arbenina's concerts in Kiev really an enemy of Russia? Maybe those fans are actually friends of Russia. After all, they went to a Russian concert despite the anti-Russian hysteria in Ukraine.

Usually cultural events either elude sanctions or are the last to be restricted. Why are we targeting them now? The hunt against these musicians is the surest sign that there is something wrong in Russia.

"Full of the fifth column"

"Traitors" are always useful for unifying a society during difficult times. The supposed threat they pose helps push real problems to the back burner. Those "internal enemies," we are told, are what prevent everyone else from building a beautiful tomorrow. And so dealing with them needs to be a top priority.

It is little surprise, then, that the number of "friends of the junta" is growing, because you can never have just a few enemies. The writer Dmitri Byikov said it well: "I think that in six months time we'll be watching films about the "365 friends of the junta," because if the propaganda doesn't keep increasing, people stop paying attention."

The propaganda machine is clearly getting more aggressive. We know how this process works from historical examples. They're not happy stories.

Another writer, Aleksandr Prokhanov, has always been a reliable Stalinist. His first hour of fame was during the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan, and now he's all over television talking about how Russia is "full of the fifth column, who are prepared to stab Putin in the back, to destroy the country and its president for the benefit of some small, dissatisfied people." It seems the now-elderly Prokhanov is in his element when boys in military uniforms die overseas, fighting for unclear reasons.

Except that anonymous enemies aren't very interesting for propaganda. That's why the machine needs more and more people to accuse. Those targets also need to be increasingly popular and well known. Ever-stronger language helps too. Words such as "war" and "traitor" have become so commonplace that some people on television have taken to talking about "those who dream of dismembering, suffocating and devouring Russia."

Fearing what the future holds

Sociologists say there is a common pattern to these situations. "You can either blame problems on the past or on enemies, " the famous sociologist and publicist Boris Dubin wrote not long ago. "Either way, you are freed of the responsibility to act or make changes. If you blame the enemy, there is a feeling of danger, and that is fundamental to Russian public opinion."

I don't think the sociologist's diagnosis would change much if he were to study Ukrainian as opposed to Russian society. There, generals who lose battles are labeled "enemies." So are refugees, specifically those from Donbas, where the war in Ukraine began. The press in Kiev has reported cases of people shooting at refugees from that area. "There is a strong temptation to hate refugees from Donbas," Focus, a Kiev-based magazine, explained. "But if, out of principle, you won't give refugees housing, won't hire them and consider them scum, then be consistent. For example, take that "One Country" sticker off your car."

The search for internal enemies only divides society further and raises the general level of anxiety. On the surface, there are cries of "Crimea is ours!" But dig deeper, and what is evident is a fear about the future of the country and of our children. Regardless of what people say, our society will never be as unified as it was under the Soviet system, although some aspects of that world are returning surprisingly quickly. People, for example, are again able to look at themselves and their situation with irony, to look at the fact that people who thought they were free and who don't always sing in unison with the government have once again become "enemies."

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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