Voices from Russia

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Not Just a Joke: Reflections on Free Speech, Violence, and Mislabelled Heroism

01 beep beep my ass


Many years ago, when discussing the issue of hate speech and how we should address it on college campuses, my friend Paul Gallegos at Evergreen State College smiled and said, “Ya know, just because speech is free, doesn’t mean that it has to be worthless”. It’s a concept and a phrasing that stuck with me for years. His deft appropriation of the double-meaning of “free” (both as liberty but also as a statement of non-existent value) was a stroke of genius, and one that has informed my understanding of these issues ever since. I’m thinking about it again in the wake of recent events in France.

Following the horrific killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, pundits and prolific purveyors of Tweet said much… about fanatical interpretations of Islam, about free speech, about satire’s importance, and about religious profiling and the notion of collective blame. Some of this commentary was helpful and instructive, whilst other iterations were incendiary and useless. However, through it all, and although I’m most horrified by those rightwing voices who seek to use the tragedy as a way to stoke their well-cultivated Islamophobia, I’m also troubled by what seems to be a prominent if not dominant narrative amongst many a liberal. It’s a narrative that posits the victims of this grotesque crime as high-minded truth-seekers worthy of praise and emulation, and even as heroes, perhaps, martyrs for the cause of freedom and liberty.

It strikes me that we should be able to roundly condemn the senseless and barbaric murders of journalists whilst still managing to have a rational conversation about free speech, in which empty platitudes about heroism need play no part. For instance, I believe that it’s possible to agree that free speech is an essential value, and that journalists should have the right to say what they want… even to offend others… without then proceeding to act as though every utterance (just because people have a right to it) is therefore worth defending as to its substance, and that free speech protects one from being critiqued for the things one says.

What I mean is this… I suppose that I have a right to stand in the middle of Times Square and shout racial slurs or insult peoples’ religions. For instance, I could stand on a soapbox outside the TKTS booth and say things about the Prophet Mohammed, Jesus, or Mary. I could call them all kinds of vile things, and the Constitution would protect all of it. I surely should be able to do that without fear of someone murdering me for it. In particular, this last point is so obvious as to be beyond debate, I’d hope. However, if I do this, whether in Times Square or in print, makes me an asshole, and one who deserves to have people label me as such. Not a hero… an asshole. I don’t become a hero just because some of the people I happened to insult (and was trying to insult) ended up being even bigger assholes than I was, and so dangerous and unstable that they decided to hurt me. In that case, I’m simply the unlucky victim of a bigger and more evil asshole who was unsatisfied with the pen or keyboard as a weapon and decided to use something more deadly. Nothing more… nothing less.

People seem to confuse the principle of free speech with the idea that one’s speech is protected from pushback; whilst violent pushback is always wrong… always… I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the idea that we should make heroes out of those whose job appears to have been insulting people they deemed inferior (whether because of culture or because they were just “silly superstitious” believers who deserve ridicule because Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher say so). I’m especially uncomfortable with the political canonisation we’re expected to endorse for these satirists, because historically, satire has always been about barbs aimed at those who are more powerful than oneself (the élite, royalty, the dominant social, economic, political, or religious group), and not being aimed down the ladder at those with less power. In the old days, when the King would bring in the jester or the royal fool to tell jokes and entertain the nobility, the court comic didn’t spend 20 minutes doing “can you believe how bad those peasants smell” jokes; rather, he told jokes at the expense of the nobility. The King and his royal prerogatives were the target of ridicule.

Therefore, whereas it would be legitimate satire for Muslims to satirise their own extremists in countries where Muslims hold power (and this is done, by the way, more than most of us realise), in France, satire aimed at Muslims, who’re the targets of organised attempts to restrict their rights and even their presence in the country, isn’t brave; it’s piling on. Likewise, for Jews to satirise Palestinians in Israel would be asshole behaviour, whilst satirising the nation’s Jewish religious leaders who wield such outsized influence on state politics would be the very definition of legitimate satire. In the USA, where Christians hold the bulk of political and economic power, satirising the Religious Right is quite different from satirising Muslims, who’re targets in regular hate crimes and who face communities trying to block them from having mosques in which to worship.

As an analogy, I find tedious and cringe-worthy the never-ending stream of sitcoms that revolve around a married couple where the husband is sorta stupid, child-like, and bumbling, and his wife is always rolling her eyes and making fun of him, but they love each other and it all works out in the end. Yet, however ridiculous I think this formula is… and however much as a man and husband I think it presents an absurd one-dimensional picture of those things I happen to be… it really would be different and a whole lot worse, to have those sitcoms revolve around a husband who constantly demeans or pokes fun at his ditzy wife. Ya know why? Patriarchy, that’s why. The social context within which humour takes place matters. It’s why telling jokes about rich people really is different from rhetorically ganging up on the poor with jokes about homelessness and government cheese.

In short, power dynamics really do make a difference. To satirise people who’re targets of institutionalized violence (whether for religious, racial, cultural, linguistic, sexual, or gendered reasons) isn’t brave. It’s sort of shitty, in fact. Should we protect it legally? Sure. Should we kill those who do it or punish them in any way? Of course not. However, should we hold them up as exemplars of who we want to be, all the while ignoring how the exercise of their freedom, without any sense of responsibility to the common good, actually feeds acrimony and violence on all sides? I think not. I fear that if we fail to separate the principle of free speech from those who hide behind its cloak… often, simply to justify their own dickishness… we’ll only make the chasms between all peoples greater.

8 January 2015

Tim Rice: Antiracist Essayist, Author, and Educator



Russia Might Require Kiev to Pony Up 3 Billion USD to Pay Off Debt Earlier

empty pockets no money


A Russian government source told us, “The situation emerging in the Ukrainian economy and financial outlook suggests that a number of parameters used to grant the Ukraine a Russian bond issue are now moot. In these circumstances, it’s likely that Russia would demand an early repayment of the 3 billion USD (188.7 billion Roubles. 18.64 billion Renminbi. 189.62 billion INR. 3.54 billion CAD. 3.72 billion AUD. 2.54 billion Euros. 1.98 billion UK Pounds) debt owed us from the Ukraine in the near future”. Earlier, sources familiar with negotiations on economic assistance to the Ukraine said that Russia could offer to defer the repayment of Ukrainian Eurobonds for 3 billion USD from the end of 2015 until at least the end of International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, which would last several years. Otherwise, international financial institutions might be reluctant to allow the Ukraine to make new loans. As one source familiar with the negotiations between Kiev and the IMF told us, in 2015, the Ukraine has to pay out 6.5 billion USD (408.86 billion Roubles. 40.38 billion Renminbi. 410.84 billion INR. 7.68 billion CAD. 8.04 billion AUD. 5.48 billion Euros. 4.3 billion UK Pounds), of which almost half represents debt to the Russian Federation. Only 1.5 billion USD (94.35 billion Roubles. 9.32 billion Renminbi. 94.81 billion INR. 1.77 billion CAD. 1.86 billion AUD. 1.27 billion Euros. 990 million UK Pounds) of it represents payments to the IMF. It turns out that if financial institutions in Europe and America raise funds for the Ukraine, the lion’s share of such government money from these countries would have to go to Russia to repay earlier loans.

The Ukraine has a serious political crisis that affects its economy and the public sector, in fact, the country is on the verge of default. The authorities want to improve their situation in re foreign borrowing. The IMF started a two-year credit programme for the Ukraine of 17.1 billion USD (1.076 trillion Roubles. 106.24 billion Renminbi. 1.08 trillion INR. 20.22 billion CAD. 21.16 billion AUD. 14.42 billion Euros. 11.3 billion UK Pounds). Of this amount, Kiev received 4.6 billion USD (289.36 billion Roubles. 28.58 billion Renminbi. 290.74 billion INR. 5.44 billion CAD. 5.7 billion AUD. 3.88 billion Euros. 3.04 billion UK Pounds) in 2014; the remaining funds should come in 2015. Kiev also got financial assistance from the World Bank, EBRD, the European Investment Bank, and a number of foreign sources. Overall, in 2014, the Ukraine received financial assistance amounting to about 9 billion USD (566.1 billion Roubles. 55.92 billion Renminbi. 568.86 billion INR. 10.62 billion CAD. 11.16 billion AUD. 7.62 billion Euros. 5.94 billion UK Pounds). In this case, the total national debt in 11 months amounted to 69.3 billion USD (4.36 trillion Roubles. 430.54 billion Renminbi. 4.38 trillion INR. 81.92 billion CAD. 85.74 billion AUD. 58.48 billion Euros. 45.84 billion UK Pounds).

In 2013, Russia decided to invest up to 15 billion USD (943.5 billion Roubles. 93.2 billion Renminbi. 948.1 billion INR. 17.7 billion CAD. 18.6 billion AUD. 12.7 billion Euros. 9.9 billion UK Pounds) in Eurobonds for the Ukraine. Russia sent the initial tranche of 3 billion USD, with a maturity of two years (coupon rate of 5 percent per annum coupon, with payments every six months). However, the Ukraine didn’t receive the remaining 12 billion USD (754.8 billion Roubles. 74.56 billion Renminbi. 758.46 billion INR. 14.16 billion CAD. 14.88 billion AUD. 10.16 billion Euros. 7.92 billion UK Pounds), as the Russian government judged that the change of government in the Ukraine was illegitimate.

10 January 2015

Rossiya Segodnya


Sputnik International Presents… The Pen Versus the Sword: The Aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo Terakt

00 Charlie Hebdo terakt 01. 10.01.15

Swiss baker with loaves of bread with “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) written on them to commemorate the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terakt on 9 January 2015.


00 Charlie Hebdo terakt 02. 10.01.15

A vigil for the Charlie Hebdo terakt victims in front of City Hall in downtown Montréal (Région Montréal) QC CANADA on 7 January 2015.


00 Charlie Hebdo terakt 03. 10.01.15

A man places a candle at a makeshift memorial outside the Consulate General of France in San Francisco (City and County of San Francisco) CA USA during a vigil for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terakt.


00 Charlie Hebdo terakt 04. 10.01.15

Amandine Marbach from Strasbourg (Département Bas-Rhin. Région Alsace) FRANCE took part in a vigil for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terakt, in Union Square Park in New York (Borough of Manhattan. New York County) NY USA.


00 Charlie Hebdo terakt 05. 10.01.15

A crowd at Largo do Machado square in Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro State. Southeast Region) BRAZIL hold a banner reading, “I am Charlie” in tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terakt.


00 Charlie Hebdo terakt 06. 10.01.15

International organisations and high-ranking government officials from all over the world condemned the attack.


On 7 January 2015, masked gunmen stormed the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in central Paris. The terrorists killed twelve people, including four cartoonists, two police officers, and a commentator for France Inter radio network. It was common knowledge that Charlie Hebdo lampooned Islam, as well as other religions, which might well have motivated the attack. The gunmen managed to flee from the terakt scene, prompting a manhunt by French police. Police identified three suspects:

  • Said Kouachi (born 1980)
  • his brother Cherif Kouachi (born 1982)
  • Hamyd Mourad (born 1996)

The last-named has already turned himself in, claiming that he has an alibi. According to French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve, police arrested seven people on suspicion of involvement in the terakt.

9 January 2015

Sputnik International


10 January 2015. A Picture IS Worth a Thousand Words… A Visual Metaphor for the Uniate-Misruled Ukraine

00 Maidan. Kiev. wreckage early 2014. 04.01.15


This is the Maidan in Kiev after the riots instigated by the Western-led Uniates and schismatics… this is what the USA smiles at and approves. Really nice, isn’t it? It’s a metaphor… it’s a perfect personification of the parasitical Unia. It can’t create… it can only destroy and create a mess. This image is a perfect picture of what apostasy leads to… the Galician Uniates have been this scene spiritually since 1596… that’s harsh, but it’s real. Attend to reality… or reality will attend to you.


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