Homage to Grozny
Aesthetics of suppression
In 1999 after several years of a military standoff between Russian armed personnel and a recalcitrant separatist nationalistic political movement, then recently installed President Vladimir Putin violated international conventions of warfare.
He gave the order to reduce Grozny, the capitol of Chechnya, population, approximately 500,000 (pre-1999) to uninhabitable rubble. He ordered the Russian military to do the unthinkable: destroy civilians, their infrastructure and their habitat. Remove all life and life support. This decision came after months of deprivation to the remaining Grozny population — those who could not or would not leave. (1)
Number of member countries of the UN: 193
Number of countries with refugee populations: 133
Number of people of concern: 102.6M
Funds required to address refugee needs: $9B
Consider what could be the impact of the attack on Ukraine on the global refugee population?
Consider the impact on Russia.
Consider the consequence to refugees we can see.
Consider the consequence to refugees we can’t see.
Masha Gessen, staff writer for the New Yorker and a refugee from Putin Russia (2) wrote recently about the consequence of the attack on Ukraine on Russia’s future:
A majority of Russians get their news from broadcast television, which is fully controlled by the state. “This is largely a country of older people and poor people,” Lev Gudkov told me. Gudkov is the director of the Levada Center, which was once Russia’s leading public-opinion-research organization and which the state has now branded a “foreign agent.” There are more Russians over the age of forty-five than there are between the ages of fifteen and forty-four. Even those who get their news online are still unlikely to encounter a narrative that differs from what broadcast television offers. The state continues to ratchet up pressure on the few surviving independent media outlets, blocking access to their Web sites, requiring them to preface their content with a disclaimer that it was created by a “foreign agent,” and, ultimately, forcing them to close. (3)
Like Ukraine, Russia will lose a generation or more of refugees, ‘internally displaced refugees,’ (4) refugees we can’t see, hence with whom we cannot share the experience of suppression. Only imagine.
We can see refugees from Ukraine boarding trains for Poland and Romania. Russian youth trying to pry savings out of an ATM to escape, we can’t see. This, the generation born after Grozny, is being inducted into Kyiv.
This we can witness.
And this generation is the generation Putin allows to sit next to him, yesterday in Moscow: not the generation in military uniform, sitting a fifty foot table length away, the week before.
For President Putin the strategy of encirclement and strangulation is a militaristic exercise to be perfected. Call this the aesthetics of suppression. We saw this in Grozny, in Aleppo and now we see it in Mariupol and other Ukraine ‘population centers.’
For the world, peppered with nations and in situ nuclear arsenals, Putin’s autocratic aesthetic is comprised of three facets:
These three facets are like a cancer, eating global agency from the inside out — an unthinkable process which produces an outcome more terror-inducing reliable than a nuclear threat which hard to contain, threatens all inhabitants.
Putin’s suppression is selective, hence controllable.
Of the three, the third, nativism is the most trenchant and the most vulnerable, because it involves people and their prerogatives for self-governance and freedom to pursue agency.
Technology can be automated.
Brutalism can be orchestrated, pyramid-style, by paper hierarchies.
But nativism relies on people and blindness towards others. This explains why Putin and autocrats like him rely on ‘demonizing refugees.’ Even today we challenge more the reality of the holocaust than the attack on Pearl Harbor. We challenge more the reality of the African-American diaspora than the fields of Gettysburg.
Consider Grozny ‘today,’ population, 276,524 (2012), above photograph.
Now project Grozny today onto Kyiv tomorrow: the sanitization of nativism.
1- For background on the occupation of Chechnya and the parallels to the current Ukraine attack, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-invasion-chechen-playbook-putin/31738597.html