The Orgy at the End of the World

Date:

Slavoj Žižek

LJUBLJANA – With Ukrainian forces reclaiming territory and sending Russia’s demoralised occupiers scurrying in retreat, Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated his threat to use nuclear weapons. Politicians have issued stern warnings to the Kremlin, and commentators have compared the current moment to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and other episodes of high tension that could have ended in nuclear Armageddon. But some 15,000 Ukrainians have met the prospect of annihilation in a less abstract way: They have reportedly signed up for a massive sex party.

Participants in “Orgy on Shchekavystsa: Official” outside Kyiv are expected to “decorate their hands with stripes denoting their sexual preference. People interested in anal sex have been asked to draw three stripes; those interested in oral sex have been asked to display four stripes.” Similar groups have popped up elsewhere, including one announcing an orgy on Derybasivska Street in Odessa.

Why, after eight months of Russian bombardment and brutal fighting, would anyone be interested in such an event? According to one eager participant: “It’s the opposite of despair. Even in the worst-case scenario, people will look for something good. That’s the mega-optimism of Ukrainians.”

One should accept this testimony on its face. In a time of extreme anguish, an orgy can be a life-affirming project. There is no need for a “deeper” pseudo-Freudian explanation in which collective trauma precipitates the disintegration of individual inhibitions and conventional social norms. The truly uncivilized sex acts are those being committed by Russian soldiers and their leaders. According to Pramila Patten, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence, Russian commanders are dispensing Viagra to their troops. Sexual assault of Ukrainian women is a “deliberate tactic to dehumanize the victims,” she told Agence France-Presse.

Sadly, other outside observers have effectively toed the Russian line. Much to my own country’s shame, Matjaž Gams, a member of the Slovenian state council, reacted to the orgy story by suggesting that when a civilization enters its period of decay, “strange, morbid ideas” appear. But, again, which is stranger and more morbid: a sex party (where all activity is voluntary and consensual), or Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civil infrastructure and civilians (including the use of systemic rape as a military tactic)?

Putin’s latest nuclear threats were accompanied by his illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories that he does not fully control, but which the Kremlin insists “are inalienable parts of the Russian Federation … Their security is provided for at the same level as the rest of Russia’s territory.” The implication, of course, is that Ukraine is already deserving of a nuclear strike, because it is making gains in territories that supposedly fall under Russia’s nuclear umbrella. No wonder online betting sites are offering odds on Russia carrying out a nuclear attack this year, with thousands putting money on “yes.”

Lending additional credibility to the threat, Russian officials have ordered an evacuation of Kherson, which is now almost encircled by Ukrainian forces. The intended message seems clear: If Ukrainians retake the city, they will be a perfect target for a nuclear bomb. In the struggle against “Satanism,” as Putin recently put it, everything is permitted.

But equally morbid is the Western peacenik argument that Europe should send a big delegation to Russia to start negotiating the terms of peace. Obviously, we should do everything possible to prevent a new world war; but to achieve that, we must begin with a realistic appreciation of what Russia has become. That means abandoning the idea of Eurasian unity and rejecting the argument that Europe should form a power bloc with Russia to avoid becoming a junior partner to the US in its conflict with China. At this point, it is Russia, not China, that poses the greater threat to Europe.

Moreover, for Europe to pursue negotiations with Russia, it also would have to pressure Ukraine to accept a compromise. That is precisely what the Kremlin wants; it would reinforce Putin’s own argument that Ukraine is merely a Western proxy, rather than a real country with its own agency.

What is to be done? Since Russia obviously cannot be ignored, the best option is to reach out to those in Russia and in its satellites who oppose the war. As Sławomir Sierakowski recently pointed out, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration has a natural ally in the Belarusian opposition, which has been quietly doing what it can to frustrate the Russian war effort. And yet, no alliance has emerged. Instead, Ukrainian officials have publicly shown contempt for Belarusians, depicting them as “wimps and conformists.” As Sierakowski points out, this is not only immoral, but also “politically stupid.”

Russian opponents of the war find themselves in the same predicament, criticised by Putin’s establishment as traitors and by Ukraine as Russians. In this way, the meaning of the Ukrainian war is obfuscated. It is not a struggle between “European truth” and “Russian truth,” as both Putin’s ideologist Aleksandr Dugin and some Ukrainians are claiming. Ukraine is a front in the global struggle against the new nationalist fundamentalism that is gaining strength everywhere, including in the United States, India, and China.

If there is anywhere that Ukrainians have ceded a sliver of the moral high ground, it is here, in the failure to universalise their fight, not in any Dionysian dissipation outside Kyiv.

________________
Slavoj Žižek, Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School, is International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London and the author, most recently, of Heaven in Disorder (OR Books, 2021).

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022.

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