05/13/2023, 11.31
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Russia's war on terrorism

by Stefano Caprio

When anything can be considered a threat, it is no longer important how real this risk or effective the containment measures, the only thing that matters is to give the impression that "everything is under control".

One of the most bombastic statements in Putin's generally sluggish and repetitive Red Square speech during the May 9 Victory celebrations, was his justification of Russia's war against "international terrorism."

This expression has indicated over the last two decades the danger coming to the whole world from the Islamic extremism of Al Qaeda or Isis, now ghosts of the past, while terror is evoked, and at the same time provoked, by Putin's own Russia.

From many quarters in the West one would like to point to the notorious Wagner Company as the "new Al Qaeda," putting Putin and Prigožin on the same level as Bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

On the Russian side they point to the Ukrainian drones on the Kremlin's towers as a replica of the planes on New York's Twin Towers, with a decidedly farcical and paradoxical effect. More importantly, the Russians call the attacks on several figures highly exposed in Putin propaganda, which have been going on for several months now, "terrorist acts."

On August 20, 2022, in Moscow province, the car of "eurasist" ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, in which his daughter Daria, also an active propaganda player, was seated, was blown up.

On April 2, 2023, the voenkor Maksim Fomin, aka Vladlen Tatarsky, voennij korrispondent ("war correspondent"), one of the leading and assaultive blogger-propagandists, disintegrated with a statuette of explosives.

On May 6, near Nizhny Novgorod, another car was blown up, that of the well-known and talented writer Zakhar Prilepin, who boasted about the number of Ukrainians killed during his participation in the conflict, along with his driver who died in the explosion. These three incidents were defined as Ukrainian and Western "terrorism" against Russia.

On the same day as the Prilepin bombing, director Ženja Berkovič was arrested in Moscow, along with screenwriter Svetlana Petrijčuk, on the very charge of "justifying terrorism." Certainly not for in any way endorsing the attacks or drones, but for the play Finist, the clear hawk, to be staged from 2021, about Russian women emigrating to Syria to become wives of Isis terrorists.

This is the favorite terrorism of Russian investigators, which can be "unmasked" from the comfort of sitting at the computer keyboard in the office, from where they observe plays and literary works, or just the various posts on social networks.

"Public support for terrorism" is referred to as "the expression either directly or in disguise of sympathy for terrorists," including in "documentary or artistic films, or in literary or publicistic works."

Such support can be contained in the words of the author, but also through the positive protagonists of the work, and without being challenged by the logic of the script. In short, the thought is enough.

Thus, terrorism is the latest definition of "Nazism" and "globalism," from which Russia is called upon to defend itself, Ukraine and the entire world. It is the broadest version of the term, covering not only bombings or air strikes, but any form of politically justified violence, depending on the point of view of those who denounce it.

After all, the many massacres caused by Russian bombs in Ukraine, such as the recent one in Umani, are now considered not only "war crimes" such as those in Buča and Mariupol, but actual acts of international terrorism.

The ambiguity of the term has been dragging on since well before the Ukrainian war, indicating in terrorism both repressive policies of states and more or less violent actions of protest against states considered illegal or repressive.

The "Putinian terror" of recent years, escalating continuously since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, evokes both the "red terror" of the civil war that followed the 1917 revolution and the "Stalinist terror" of the 1930s, which exterminated all forms of internal dissent in the USSR with the Gulag archipelago. The term comes from the Jacobin Terreur after the French Revolution in 1793-94, which was intended to inculcate this sentiment in the souls of the enemies of the revolution itself.

Terrorism then received new applications in the 1970s, to denote the subversive actions of Palestinians against Israel, but also those of European radical groups on the right and left, especially in Germany and Italy.

In the post-Soviet 1990s it was mainly used to indicate "Chechen terrorism," to suppress which Vladimir Putin was chosen as the new prime minister. He promised in his first public statement that "we will go get terrorists wherever they hide, even in the toilet," ushering in the new season of "strong Russia" with his typical street language.

As researcher Liza Stampnitsky notes on Meduza's Signal column, the new meaning of "terrorism" is an "invention of politicians and security experts." To call someone a "terrorist" is to "declare them irrational, amoral and bloodthirsty, moreover doomed to defeat in the struggle with the state." These are not definitions to try to understand events, but only to construct the image of the enemy.

The category of terrorism has become indispensable for all contemporary states, first and foremost to justify the monopoly of violence, which, according to Max Weber's classic definition, is the "original function of the state."

In the interest of "security," the state itself extracts from the legal realm certain methods of political struggle, not necessarily violent ones, such as blocking streets or banning access to power buildings, as happened in Moscow for the May 9 parade, claiming to see threats to its sovereignty.

Most authoritarian states label all their opponents as terrorists, resorting first to typically terrorist actions against them, from kidnapping to poisoning, inflicting torture and endless sentences.

Over the past decades, more than eighty states have included special anti-terrorism articles and measures in their legislation, and the Russian war is further increasing this practice, especially by revealing the limitless dimensions of "virtual terrorism" of online messages and narratives that generate extremist, thus "terrorist" tendencies.

When any content is considered a threat, it is no longer important how real this risk is, and how effective the measures to contain it are: important is to give the impression that "everything is under control, nothing escapes us" of people's evil intentions.

And to say that Russia is one of the countries with the greatest historical experience of terrorism; in the 19th century, after the "liberation of the peasants" decided by Tsar Alexander II, organizations determined to subvert the order of the state sprang up like mushrooms, all the way to the infamous Narodnaya Volja, the "Will of the People," the mother of all revolutionary associations up to Lenin's Bolsheviks, who after more than sixty attempts succeeded in assassinating the tsar in 1881.

His followers, the narodovoltsy, believed that violence was justified because the lack of freedom in Russia (that granted to the peasants was deemed insufficient) did not allow other means of political struggle. All this was admirably described by Dostoevsky in Demons, a prophecy of the Soviet revolution in 1917.

The nineteenth-century insurrections, in Russia and many other countries, then received a romantic aura, which underlies the twentieth-century revolutions. Today all that is left is the effect, whereby terrorists are all those who do not correspond to the dominant ideology, and thus are simply "Nazis," "fascists," and so on, reducing geopolitical, social, and economic differences to occasions for sectarian siding.

Russia is further imposing on the whole world an annulment of any idea of state and society, talking about "values to be defended" without any real content, but only in the interest of its own side, using every means at its disposal, instilling terror in the soul of every human being.


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