The Corner

Turned up to Eleven

It’s hard to read this account from Radio Free Europe of a rally held in the Crimean city of Sebastopol (always a Russian redoubt) and not conclude that there is some sort of collective unraveling going on in Russia:

What’s a biker show without interpretive dance?  In what can perhaps be seen as a darker continuation of the generally well-reviewed [ahem] Sochi Olympic opening ceremony in February, Russia’s most famed biker gang provided its own take on the conflict in Ukraine. The show, broadcast live on August 9 from annexed Crimea in front of an estimated 100,000 people and on Russian state TV, used a choreographed mix of nationalist rock, pyrotechnics, Nazi and Illuminati imagery, and interpretive dance to portray Ukraine as a state overrun by fascists.

The Sevastopol show begins with children playing merrily on a playground until they flee under the sounds of sirens and the flashing of red lights. Enter Aleksandr Zaldostanov, the nationalist leader of Russia’s “Night Wolves” biker gang and a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who gives his interpretation of the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Enemies who hated us, killed the Soviet state, and took away its territory and its army,” he says before repeating — in an attempt at poetic cadence — the official Russian version of the current Ukraine conflict.

“And now, the healing has begun. It is coming from Russian Sevastopol. We are celebrating our sacred victory at a time when fascism, like putrid, poisonous dough, has overfilled its Kyiv trough and begun to spread across Ukraine. Its tanks are now flattening Kramatorsk, its Grad missiles are destroying Luhansk, its APCs are pouring fire on Slovyansk, its helicopters are attacking the suburbs of Donetsk. The new battle against fascism is inevitable. Stalin’s 11th strike is inevitable.” (This is an apparent reference to 10 Soviet military victories in 1944.)

Darkness falls and the sound of U.S. President Barack Obama’s voice echoes over the crowd: “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story.”

His voice is cut off, and then, over the next 25 minutes, this happens:

Under the towering figure of a symbol taken from the U.S. dollar bill that is commonly used by conspiracy theorists and with the voice of a Hitler speech ringing in the background, dancers in black rise from a white sheet and form a Swastika…..

And so it goes on (click through to the link to see GIFs from the show, which is also on YouTube in its entirety – not recommended, trust me on that).

Politics has always had an element of performance about it, of show and of carnival. The further it drifts from the deliberate ordinariness of genuinely democratic celebration, the more bombastic, bizarre and kitsch it generally becomes, whether in Pyongyang, Stalinist Moscow or Nuremberg’s Luitpoldarena.  The curious thing about the Sebastopol show was the way that it delivered its political message in a package that appeared to combine a celebration of the latest edition of the big lie with the aesthetics of  Spinal Tap, a mix which should have subverted itself. That it appeared not to says nothing good about the psychological climate in Russia today.

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