NewsAsiaDanger brittle ice

Danger brittle ice

It is undeniable that reflecting on your own text is, in a certain sense, like playing at home, but one year after the publication of girls and institutions in Russian I am aware that it may be necessary, especially once it has been translated. It has been the year of the large-scale military invasion of Ukraine, a year of Ukrainian genocide and the escalation of the military dictatorship in Russia. And now, in addition, the book is that of a Russian emigrant, a foreign agent who belongs to the Russian feminist resistance against the war. The catastrophe, obviously, did not happen overnight or come out of nowhere: signs of the advance of fascism and the turn to the extreme right were not lacking. Before, when some of us—opposition activists or feminists—said that the Putinist regime was fascist, it was not strange that they laughed at us and branded us as alarmists. It is terrible to have ended up in a reality that proves the alarmists right.

girls and institutions it deals with the work of women in the cultural institutions of the Russian state. I wrote it in the year that preceded the invasion. Going through it today, I realize it’s riddled with doomsday forebodings camouflaged by my nervous humor and poetic mumbling. The culture that the Putinist state apparatus intends to establish by force among the population is a mirror of the political regime, but of a type in which the reflection has become out of sync with the object; a reflex that, defying the laws of physics, arises slightly in advance to warn us: “Danger, brittle ice.”

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The Ministry of Emergency Situations circulated this warning among the different agencies so that we could display it on the counters, and thus it became a cult expression in our small collective of workers: it became a euphemism for censorship and the escalation of administrative madness. Back then, of course, we didn’t even imagine how far this escalation would go: in the museums where we used to mount exhibitions on the history of the Soviet avant-garde, there are now military recruitment offices, while many women have been fired for signing petitions against the war and participating in protests, or for refusing to distribute “Z” propaganda —the letter Z was painted on the armored vehicles that staged the invasion of Ukraine and has become a political symbol— in their institutions.

The second fragment, which deals with the obligation of all institutions to organize a “patriotic-military” code celebration for May 9 —the anniversary of the victory in World War II—, anticipates the future triumph of militarism. “There is an event on war and victory on our annual schedule, but we cannot continue to hold events on war and victory. We are tired of fighting and winning, seeing and keeping silent. We’ve been wanting to play dead for a long time. Let us die.” Putin has put a lot of effort into turning the myth of World War II and the Great Victory over fascism into a national idea. In this ideological construction he threads new wars and their justification: “You must go to Ukraine to defeat fascism in the same way that your great-grandfathers defeated Hitler.” For years we have observed how that Great Victory was instilled, and how militaristic frenzy took over the Day of Remembrance and Mourning (June 22, the anniversary of the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union) with children parading with the slogan We can repeat it, directed as a threat to the West. The Department of Culture entrusted us with more and more patriotic-military acts, and we did our best to resist. The Putinist regime focuses on the past; a past that, to top it off, never existed. Russian parliamentarians have set out to fight for “traditional values” without being in the slightest trouble that these “traditions” were invented not so long ago by Putin’s political advisers.

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When rereading my text a year later, I remember what it was like to absorb what happens, internalize it, impregnate yourself with it through oxygen and water. “It’s getting more and more difficult for me to hate my state,” says my protagonist after a few months of working in the bowels of the state. This passage is not about the submission of the will or how a subject mutates into an object: what is being talked about here is the partial metamorphosis that we experience as entities that make the functioning of a given system possible. Now, the transformations may not be as expected: the clash with the state machinery has turned my friends and I into feminist and anti-militarist activists, dissidents, foreign agents, political reprisals. Something that continues to happen every day: the girls are outgrowing their institutions.

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