American Exceptionalism – Leftie Edition

I grew up behind the Iron Curtain, in a Warsaw Pact country. We were taught that this is the great alliance of socialist countries banding together to counterbalance the evil imperialist NATO. Lead by the great and both technically and socially advanced USS. And in my childhood naivety, I really believed that the USSR is The Land Where Tomorrow Already Means Yesterday (“Země kde zítra již znamená včera”, a bonmot that was bandied about very often). I believed in USSR exceptionalism.

We were taught a lot of things about how evil NATO is and how good the Warsaw Pact is, but we were not told that the Warsaw Pact is possibly the only ostensibly defensive alliance in history that has never defended anyone from anything but attacked its own members instead – the occupation of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. I do not remember ever learning about that at school, but admittedly the regime fell apart at about the same time when we were reaching recent history in our curriculum.

Later on, when I learned about it, it was a revelation. Not an exceptionally sudden one, it did not come to me as an epiphany one sunny morning, but one that evolved and matured over the years as I absorbed new and new information about what NATO did and what Warsaw Pact did, but a revelation nevertheless. And not a nice one – the world superpowers are not divided into good guys and bad guys, they are divided only into bad guys whose badness depends on your vantage point.

One can justifiably show to various parts of the world, mostly in the Global South and in the Middle East, where the USA and NATO have done a lot of harm. There were coups instigated, democratically elected governments overthrown, countries unjustly invaded, and war crimes committed. The end result was invariably political chaos and instability from which none of the afflicted countries has fully recovered.

However, in central and eastern Europe NATO was not the bad guy. Here the bad guy was the USSR. People in Eastern Europe in general and in Ukraine specifically do not, on average, need much encouragement to not like Russia and like NATO. And they do exactly that, in fact. Using their own thinking, deciding in their own interest. NATO never harmed them. The USSR (Russia) did. Czechia, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – none of them needed to have their arms twisted to want to join NATO as security against Russia who never really ceased to be a threat and whose occupation forces have left just one generation ago – with scars from that occupation still being visible to those willing to look.

With the war in Ukraine, a lot of people in the comments at FtB are spending a lot of time bemoaning the evils of NATO and how it was NATO’s evil machinations that have caused the Ukrainian people to turn on their pro-russian president in 2014 and kick him out. But the EU, Russia, and the USA all have a political and financial stake in Ukraine, yet apparently only the USA and the EU have managed to persuade Ukrainians to want to ally with them. And why is that? It is not some unique evil capability that only CIA has that has persuaded the Ukrainian people to decide to want to join the EU and NATO. It is because Russia has harmed them. And now continues to harm them and tells, quite loudly, that it intends to continue to do so.

The right-wingers think the USA is exceptional, the Shining City on a Hill, unique, perfect in every way. That is daft. But to believe that every decision everywhere that aligns with the USA interests is always and only the result of some nefarious USA machinations is equally daft. It is American exceptionalism too, only turned inside out. If you consider yourself a leftist, really try to treat all people equally. Allow both pro- and against-USA-aligned actors to have their own agency.

Голодомо́р

Simon Whistler has made an excellent video essay about the Holodomor in Ukraine.

Content warning: graphic depictions of human suffering.

The Czech language has a similarily sounding word “hladomor” which means simply famine. I always understood it to be a combination of the words for hunger (“hlad”) and plague (“mor”). That might be a case of folk etymology though, the expert opinion one for the Czech word I could not find online. The Ukrainian term came according to Wikipedia from “морити голодом” i.e. torture by hunger. Whether the two words are false friends stemming from different roots or if they share common ancestry is however secondary to one fact that I have learned only recently – the Ukrainian language does sound a bit like in between Russian and Slovak/Czech, which should not be surprising, so I am in fact able to understand spoken Ukrainian a bit better than Russian (still not very well without subtitles though). One such similarity to Czech is that Г in Ukrainian is pronounced as “H” in Czech (in English like the H in  “have”) and not as Czech “G” like in Russian (in English like the g in “grave”).

A linguistic interlude aside, whilst I knew from school about a number of famines throughout history, The Holodomor was completely unknown to me until well after the fall of the Iron Curtain. During my education, the collectivization in the USSR in the 1930s and in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s was always taught as a quick and glowing success of the regime. The demonization of the Kulaks, as mentioned in the video, continued well right until the end of the regime. We were taught that some farmers refused to join колхо́з and were punished as the dastardly criminals they were, but the sheer scale was never mentioned, nor was the fact that this was done along national borders. And that there ever was a famine in the USSR was not denied just because it was never mentioned at all. Maybe it would be mentioned later on with some west-blaming if the regime did not fall, but I doubt it. I have checked the most comprehensive world history book from that era that I own, an official textbook for high-school curriculum and it portrays the era s as I have just described – blaming only the kulaks and mentioning it all as just some isolated setbacks by some rebels who received some non-specified punishment. No mention of famine at all. Only a very brief mention of Stalin’s cult of personality and his “heavy-handed” dealing with problems (an understatement if I ever saw one).

And thus a genocidal act of a paranoid power-hungry maniac fell from history books for three generations. Not the first one, not the last one either.

 

Київ

In case you are wondering why Putin is so hell-bent on capturing Kyiv, here is a very, very short summary for you.

Kyiv is not only the capital of the current Ukraine. That in itself would still make it a very important military target, but still not worth the fervor with which it is being attacked.

I grew up as a child with Slavic fairytales and Slavic mythology. And many of those fairytales and myths are centered around Kievan Rus’. A lot of literature that young Slavic people, especially East Slavic, read during their formational years are thus centered around this city. It is, in a very real sense, the cradle of East Slavic culture.

None of that of course excuses current atrocities being perpetrated by Путiн хуйло, but it does explain why he is throwing so many other people’s lives away in order to capture the city asap. If he succeeds – and I fear that is only a matter of time, alas – his propaganda could – and would – play it up way beyond and above its strategic importance.

Brown vs. White Refugees and Poland

This article might be misunderstood as an apologia for racism or a misdirection, so I must start it with a statement:

Please do not mistake an explanation for an excuse.

There is a lot of racism towards non-white people in all of Europe. It is strong in the Slavic nations and it is indeed very strong in Poland, which is currently ruled by a racist covert clerical-fascist party (which luckily does not have overwhelming majority support yet I might add). This does no doubt play a significant role in Poland’s willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees readily, whilst it was refusing Syrians staunchly for the last few years. A policy that I find abhorrent and which should never be in place. Czechia is guilty of the same thing and I oppose that too. I criticize my own government for this and I shall continue to do so.

However, that is most definitively not the sole reason and it might not even be the main reason in this particular case. In my opinion, the main reason here is not that Ukrainian refugees are white, but that the aggressor they are fleeing is Russia and the refugees are Slavs.

There is a lot of panslavic sentiment still floating around (I have written about it before). Slavic people do have a shared identity and they do feel some connection with each other. One of the reasons for that apart from some intelligibility of our languages is that most Slavic nations were oppressed minorities pretty much everywhere for several hundred years, many gaining independence from an oppressive regime only very recently.

But wait, you might say, aren’t Russians Slavs? Yes, they are.

And they are probably the single exception to the rule since they were mostly the oppressors, certainly for the last few hundred years. Poles do not like Russians specifically that much. Russia played for example no insignificant role in destabilizing and partitioning the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in a way that eerily resembles current events in Ukraine. And they did not rule their part of Poland exactly kindly afterward either.

Poles and Ukrainians thus share not only a generic common Slavic identity but also a relatively recent common history. They were both compatriots and allies as well as enemies and rivals in that history, but not very recently and those differences pale with one thing they have common very recently indeed –  a ruthless oppressor, Russia. Ukrainians did not forget the Holodomor, Poles did not forget the Katyn massacre and both definitively remember the forty-something years of being dictated what to even think from Moscow afterward.

It is all of course much more complicated than I can ever hope to describe in a short blog post even if I knew everything there is to know about it. And motivations on an individual level always vary wildly. It definitively is not as simple as “Poles think brown people bad, white people good”, although a lot of (not only) Poles are no doubt like that.

Russian Empire

I got very confused and indeed even angry with a comment written on Pharyngula. Not with the commenter, who I do not think has any malicious intent, but with the contents of the comment which make no sense to me and sound downright typically American ignorant.

For what I gather from Nina Khruscheva’s explanation, Biden’s idea that Putin wants to resurrect the USSR is incorrect. He also doesn’t want to resurrect the the Russian Empire. Putin doesn’t like revolutions apparently.

What he wants, it seems, is similar to the united Arab state Baathists like Hussein and Assad want in the Middle East. In Putin’s case, he wants a pan-Slavic state that he rules with an iron fist.

I know that most readers and commenters on FtB are Americans and thus are writing mostly from an American perspective and reading sources that were either written from an American perspective or were filtered through it on the way. I try occasionally to insert some different perspective, with questionable results.

But even when I try to read this comment through my American glasses, it does not make any sense whatsoever. Maybe my American glasses are not strong enough or maybe I interpret it wrongly but…

I mean, what the fuck is the difference between Russian Empire, USSR, and a pan-Slavic state that Putin rules with an iron fist?

The Russian Empire was a multi-national country in which Russians with Tzar at the throne wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some West and Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by Austrians and Ottomans.

The USSR was a multi-national country in which Russians with the Communist Party wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East and West-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by a separate Communist totalitarian regime of their own.

So saying that Putin does not want to revive USSR or the Russian Empire is true in about the same sense as saying that Nazis don’t exist no more, ya know, since the term refers to members of a political party that only existed in Germany in the 1930-40s. Technically the comment is accurate, practically it is meaningless. And such quibbling over distinctions without a difference at a time like this pisses me off.

Putin most emphatically DOES want a Russian Empire with him as the ruler. It does not matter what anyone says, his actions speak louder than anyone’s words. Minutiae of differences between the former Russian Empire, the former USSR, and Putin’s recent goals are irrelevant and pale when the similarities are considered.

The Rise of Whataboutism

Whenever I look at the comment section under an article or video about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whether in CZ or EN, there is a visible presence of people who either outright say that Russia is right to this or who say that it is not wrong to do it because… Whatabout Iraq? Whatabout Afghanistan? Whatabout Grenada? Whatabout Whatever?

This is a classic Soviet-era propaganda tool, trying to divert the attention from an injustice being done by the USSR to similar injustices being done by the USA. The old adage that two wrongs do not make a right applies. There is no moral difference between the USA invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries trying to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens US financial interests and/or egos of its leaders and Russia invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens its financial interests and/or egos of its leaders. They are both bad.

Then there is also a not insignificant number of people who engage in what I would call ifonlysm. Ifonly Ukraine did not try to join the EU. Ifonly Ukraine did not have right-wing extremists. Ifonly Ukraine did not have a “coup” against Yanukovich. Ifonly Russia got an iron-clad guarantee that NATO won’t expand no more even if a country’s people wish to do so.

As someone living in Central Europe in a country that was very often right at the center of any big conflict in Europe from  The Thirty Years’ War through Napoleonic wars, WWI, and WWII right up to The Cold War, I very much do not appreciate this rhetoric. Because if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that this is not how any of this works. Appeasing Putin would not stop this invasion, it would only change the timescale and the pretext under which it is done.

Autocrats do not try to gain power for rational reasons and the reasons they say are not the real reasons. The truth is that autocrats want power for power’s sake. Some go the way of amassing useless billions in wealth, some go the way of hijacking the state apparatus to become dictators, some do both. But just as there is no billionaire who cannot be corrupt because “he has amassed enough wealth”, there is no dictator who does not want to expand their area of influence because the “empire is big enough”. The billionaires hoard wealth until the economy collapses and goes into recession, the autocrats hoard power until the state apparatus collapses and a revolution happens. The only limits on what an autocrat can achieve are those imposed on them from the outside.

Putin has now made it clear that he wants to restore the former USSR sphere of influence. And although he did not use such words, it essentially means he wants to build a Russian Empire with him being its Tzar for life. He does not need it. His country does not need it. There is no rational reason to try to pursue such a goal except an insatiable lust for power. And the keyword here is insatiable.

Ukraine – Central European Perspective

Adam Something is maybe not as far left as to satisfy purists, but he is reasonably far left to seem to be a decent person and not be an extremist. I find most of his videos informative, and I think his last one – a length-ish take on Ukraine’s conflict with Russia, is very good.

Adam Something is a Hungarian Youtuber currently residing in CZ (these are public pieces of information that he himself has disclosed on his YouTube channel). That might explain why he, whilst being a leftist, is very critical of both current Russia and the former USSR empire. He does not have the personal experience with the failed socialist experiment of the last century that I have, but the cultural memory is still fresh. Thus he shares my deep dislike of tankies.

The cold war was not a conflict between good guys and bad guys, just between two different types of bad guys. And that has not changed, at least as far as the current proxy conflict between USA and Russia goes. For some baffling reason, there appears to be a sizable amount of people who think that because the USA was the bad guy in every conflict for the last 75 years that it makes their opponents into good guys.

Leftists Gone Bad

I am a subscriber of a number of leftist YouTube channels, but over time I have also unsubscribed from one rather quickly. Because I have realized that the author very carefully curates an untrue vision of history, and his audience is all for it.

I am not going to link to the channel in question because I do not wish to direct any traffic to it. They might have changed their tune and the way they run their channel and its comment sections since. I do not know. I do not care. I am not one of those who hold a grudge and hate-watch/hate-read (more on that later too). So I am only going to give you the gist of the situation. You are free to not believe any of it if you are inclined to distrust my word.

The channel got my attention with a video about scientific racism, which was rather good. I have watched several other videos of theirs that were recommended via the algorithm, and those were about world hunger and poverty and they were good too. So I subscribed and next time when I got a video recommended, I watched it. And I was rather taken aback. It was an entirely uncritical piece about pre-WW2 USSR, singing the praises of the regime, how it gave people education and lifted people from poverty, etc. I have briefly pointed in the comment section that whilst the regime did have positive sides for some people, it also had a rather ugly underbelly. And as examples, I have pointed out the Holodomor and the Genocide of Crimean Tatars since these two examples spring most readily to my mind.

Shortly after that comment, I have unsubscribed from the YouTuber and I have disabled any notification regarding that comment section. Because I have been immediately dogpiled by people who either outright denied that the two above-mentioned atrocities happened at all, or they were blaming them on the people who were their targets. They did not even bother with whataboutism and went straight to denial and victim-blaming! This was my first experience with “Tankies“. I had several more encounters since then, and I sometimes get these vibes even in comments here on FtB, although thankfully not as explicit and overt (and maybe I am being too sensitive about this issue, having lived behind the Iron Curtain?).

That is one example of lefties gone bad – people who refuse to learn from history and are willing, nay, eager, to repeat its mistakes. They are no better than the Holocaust deniers and neo-nazis on the right. We must not forget that many of the things that today are leftist issues – like LGBTQ rights and environmentalism – were most emphatically NOT seen as leftist in that regime. And sure, USSR was not racist towards black people the way the USA was at the time, but it is easy to proclaim you are not a racist towards a minority that is all but non-existent in your country. There were more than a few cases of systemic racism within the former Eastern bloc too.

These and many others are the main reasons why many people here in CZ are reluctant to actually call themselves leftists, or vote openly leftist parties, even though when asked about specific policies they most definitively are leftist. The existence of leftist extremism is real and it serves no useful purpose to deny it and the harm it has done and keeps doing to progress.

The second example about which I wish to say just a little bit is the case of Lindsay Ellis. I have not watched her videos regularly and I was not a subscriber. But I did watch her videos about transphobia last year and they were good. So I was surprised to learn that in December last year she has given up on YouTube – which was her job – and has claimed to be canceled by the left. I have looked into it as much as my time has allowed  – which included watching her video Mask Off in several sessions (it is very long) – and I have concluded that she was indeed canceled, and unlike J. K. Rowling, it was over a triviality that was misinterpreted and totally blown out of proportions.

There seems to be a non-trivial amount of people on the internet who obsessively hate-watch and hate-read people they dislike and hoard anything that might be interpreted unfavorably by the purist left to have ready-prepared lists of transgressions to dump on the internet in case their favorite hate target gets in the spotlight by putting a foot wrong. I know for a fact that there were such people reading Affinity for example, and Slymyepiters are a rather famous example of these people with regard to Pharyngula. I must say that I find it rather creepy when someone has a ready-to-go list of someone’s years-long deleted tweets/video clips etc. I also find it disconcerting that there seems to be a non-trivial amount of people on the left who immediately jump to the least-favorable interpretation of something taken out of context and gleefully join a dogpile with the intent to hound someone off the internet without bothering to first get the facts right and/or consider that people might 1) just make mistakes and/or 2) change over time so a “transgression” from a decade ago might not be indicative or relevant to who they are today, even if not stripped of proper context and interpretation.

I really do not know what to make of it all, but today I was re-reading Terry Pratchetts’ Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum and the following quote seemed really appropriate:

The smug mask of virtue triumphant could be almost as horrible as the face of wickedness revealed.

USA – Ain’t Just Proto-Fascist No More?

This video by Second Thought is very interesting, and I will probably watch his advertised Nebula series on the subject.

I have said as early as 1999 that the USA is a proto-fascist state, and I have said before Trump got into office that he is an outright fascist. It is important not to forget that although he lost the election, the current that brought him into the White House in the first place is still there and still strong.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 38- Vietnam War

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


This one will be very short because the regime ended shortly before the Vietnam war was covered in the school curriculum, so we were not told a lot. History lessons in that last year were a bit scattershot, as is expected during a year in which revolution happens. And what little we were told I mostly forgot, except very few things.

Those few things could be summarized thus: The USA tactics and behavior in Vietnam were shown as essentially the same as German tactics and behavior in eastern Europe (edit: in WW2). Scorched earth, civilians massacred, war crimes committed left and right. We were shown short films about how the US forces were the baddies and how their defeat was a victory of good over evil.

It got embedded in my subconscious, but I was also aware that the USA has helped to defeat the Nazis in Europe, including in my hometown. I was unable to shake off this comparison with Nazis and I felt like it should not hold water on closer scrutiny. But it did not get better when I sought information about the conflict on my own, which was still difficult in the following decade with nonexistent internet and the history books being only slowly updated.

It would be a shock if it came quickly, but it was not because the realization came slowly over the years – whether you call it education or indoctrination, what communists said was accurate. The tactics the USA used in Vietnam were those of Nazis, no matter how you try to slice it. The USA probably could not present itself in worse light if they tried and they gave communists an excellent propaganda tool – the best propaganda might not always be one that is solidly backed by facts, it must address emotions first, but it does help if the facts are on your side too.

When I was visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2000, it felt quite strange. There were people there, looking up their long-dead relatives and acquaintances. As with all war memorials, It felt quite somber and I have remained quiet and respectful as one should. But I could not shake the feeling that this is a memorial to victims of an unjust war and whilst most of the fallen soldiers being remembered were innocent draftees, there were very likely quite a few nasty war criminals with the blood of innocents on their hands among them too. To this day I did not quite figure out what to think about it.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 37- 1st of May

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


One of the central dogmas of the regime was the notion that everything is for the common workers, the laborers, and peasants. Those were deemed not only essential for the proper running of society (not wrong), sometimes to ignoring that intellectuals actually have useful functions too.

The International Worker’s Day was a state holiday, and we were taught at school a bit about the history behind it. Not much, as far as I remember, but the actual reasons behind the holiday were discussed and even in hindsight, most of them were valid then and are valid now.

However, as it is with authoritarian regimes, the good came with the sidedish of the bad and sometimes downright ugly.

1st of May was an official day off of work and school, so officially people were free to spend that day as they choose. In every town and moderately sized village, there was a procession and a speech by some party representative, but attending was not compulsory. In the sense “it is voluntary, but you have to go”.

I did not like the processions that much, because I do not like crowds and loud noises. But I did attend. I do not remember much, only two experiences come to mind at least somewhat vividly.

The first experience was an extremely strong feeling of embarrassment when our local firefighter truck was driving along the procession, shouting propaganda and encouragements for cheering from loudspeakers. I did not like it and even to my socially stunted mind, it was clear that nobody else liked it either. If the day is so glorious, if our country is so great and the party so beloved, why on earth do the people need to be egged on to cheer and shout slogans by an obnoxious a-hole with a megaphone? I did not put it in those words exactly, but those were my feelings.

The second experience was the chastising of one of my classmates who was not a member of Pionýr and whose family did not attend the parade one year. In a small town, this did not go unnoticed and our class teacher did call him out publicly during class for this. There were no other repercussions other than the public shaming, but I did not enjoy seeing that at all.

In both of these instances, I have subconsciously sensed a deep disconnect between the messaging we get and the true state of affairs. That cognitive dissonance was not particularly strong, but it was there and it was nagging. When the regime finally fell, a lot of the things that did not make sense to me as a child started to make sense later.

Later in life, I was surprised that much of what I have been taught to see as “Capitalist countries” also celebrate the holiday, oftentimes including the parades and speeches, but without the voluntary compulsory nature. I am afraid that in my mind this holiday will always be tainted, as it is in the minds of many of my generation.

What is The Situation in India – View of Indian Doctors

TLDW – It’s hell.

It looks like the Indian government made the same mistake that the Czech government has made – the first wave of the pandemics was so well handled that politicians got the feeling that it is all over now. And communicated this to the public, who were all too eager to believe it. And because India has both a lot more people than Czechia and fewer hospital beds per capita, the disaster is proportionally worse.

I have never expected to see the truth of the saying “you should not rest on your laurels” demonstrated in such a tragic way.

Medlife crisis is an excellent and entertaining science and health-oriented YouTube Channel. This video, however, is not of the entertaining and funny kind. I do recommend his other videos too.