Free Sasha! Born and educated in Russia, with a Ukrainian surname, speaking a different set of languages, creating in different media, of a different gender and sexual orientation, several decades younger — but she’s ONE OF US. Russian artist Alexandra Skochilenko in detention awaiting trial for “spreading fake news” against the Ukraine War at a St. Petersburg grocery store. Prosecutors allege that she’s a member of a “radical feminist protest group,” of which she said she had never heard, let alone joined. Photo by Alexey Belozerov.
Successor to a workers’ paradise where feminism, lesbianism, and pacifism are deviant crimes?
by Eric Jackson
Them, us and those others
Per capita, the average Panamanian’s ghosts of the past tend to be fresher and more numerous the roughly analagous ones of the average US citizen. At least so far as domestic war casualties are counted.
Was General Noriega a monster? Let’s not deny. But let’s also acknowledge that most of the hundreds of people who died in the US assault on El Chorrillo had nothing to do with Noriega’s monstrosities. A monster slain, so at least one of the few wars since 1945 that the Americans can be said to have won? Ah, but who won or lost a war is a matter of the political outcome. Are Panama’s money laundering industry, and the chronically wretched actions of so much of today’s Panamanian political cast thus the tasty fruits of Operation Just Cause? I’m sure the American Embassy would find a way to deny it.
Collective guilt, comparative oppression, “The Big Picture” and all that offer no comfort to the old man whose wife was killed in the December 1989 invasion and whose remains were disappeared because George H. W. Bush’s ability to deny that it ever happened trumped the survivors’ right to mourn and bury their dead according to their customs and beliefs. If a gringo makes that observation, the shouting and questioning about loyalties begin.
So, because US forces did it, does it take away the gringo who protested the Panama invasion’s right to say anything when the forces of another country do more or less the same thing to the people of yet another country?
Panama has customs, policies, laws and treaties about neutrality. That Russia is bigger than us and could beat us up isn’t the big reason why we should not prohibit the passage of Russian ships through our canal. Much less should be go full MAGA and try to do that with respect to Ukrainian vessels. Neutrality is a reasonable defense, wherein we give nobody a reason to attack us, nor to destroy our principal industrial asset, the canal.
Why should we have taken sides in the US vendetta against Venezuela? Having years ago resisted US pressures against trading with Cuba, should we now bow to Washington’s demands about contracting with Chinese companies, or Chinese demands about our relations with Taiwan? We can get into all sorts of historical, economic and above all power politics arguments about those things. Especially, from a Panamanian perspective, if we get more servile than sovereign.
But what about solidarity? Shouldn’t those whose city has been bombed oppose it when someone other than the ones who bombed us bomb someone else? Shouldn’t those of us who protested and went to jail over an atrocious war our country was waging feel a special bond when citizens of another country protest and go to jail for acting out against their nation’s bullying war against someone else?
Does it matter when a deputy of the party that General Omar Torrijos founded gets up in the National Assembly and broad-brush smears Colombians as “scum?” Even when the general’s dad was a Colombian who ended up as a school administrator in Veraguas?
Do the daily suggestions of death, imprisonment and/or great bodily harm on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or political belief spew from the MAGA camp against people unlike themselves?
Should gringos take sides in the former case? Should Panamanians align themselves in the latter case?
So many panas, and so many gringos, will say something like “Huh?” about these things. But Vladimir Putin doesn’t and it becomes the world’s problem.
We can see who gets featured on the RT channel. The MAGAs call it a hoax, but we know what the bots coming out of Russia hyped not only in US elections, but in those of the UK and a bunch of European countries. Donald Trump, Zulay Rodríguez, hatred and fear of immigrants, white supremacy, Brexit, Farage, Le Pen, VOX. And we know about the money coming from Russia, often through church or oligarch donors, to the “Christian” far right — the CitizenGO network and all sorts of other feminist-bashing and gay-bashing outfits. We know the cultural content of Putin’s domestic policies in Russia.
Yeah, he said that he had to order his troops into Ukraine because of Nazi influence there, but Vladimir Putin is the sugar daddy for neofascist, bigoted hate groups around the planet. Ukraine may seem like a side show, a weird war movie in a very foreign corner of the world, but it’s push come to shove by a guy who wants a less tolerant Panama, an undemocratic United States.
There are plenty of indifferent Panamanians, who don’t mind if our government bends to the wishes of racists and xenophobes, who think that the queers should be all rounded up, to whom Russian thugs running Spaniards out of the leading roles in human trafficking and the brothel business on the isthmus is no big deal but Panamanian women getting a better lot in this society is a big threat. There are lots of Americans who don’t mind rigged elections, especially if they get rigged so that there are fewer black elected officials.
So, if you are anti-fascist and hold a US passport, maybe in addition to a Panamanian one, that makes you a hypocrite for opposing the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Uh huh.
You need not ignore the malevolent designs of the neoconservatives, you need not renounce all of your criticism of US policies that also led into today’s conflicts. You can understand the Russian Navy’s fervent desire to keep its bases in Sevastopol and Tartus, and know all about the Cap of Monomakh and Kievan Russia. None of that makes Ukraine Russian. That sort of thinking you might get from Zonian MAGAs, who dream of restoring Panama as an American protectorate with a colony cutting through its transit zone. It’s nostalgia for bad things gone downright dangerous.
Antifascist solidarity, and an across-the-board anti-imperialist attitude, do not require a person to be a simpleton. A gringo of a progressive bent need not be so subtle and complex that she or he misses the intention of a Proud Boy to deliver a punch to the face. A pana need not be so concentrated on the past as to see the players on the field in Panama today. A history major should never be so foolish as to think that it’s a dead subject. History’s an ever-developing subject, with all sorts of twists and turns. A political activist shouldn’t be afraid of making history, instead of just crying about it. Involvement with the aim of making some changes is actually what activism is all about.
Time to wake up, folks. And if there comes a need to fight, there also comes a need to know for and against whom and what to fight, and how to fight smart. Maybe those are lessons that come easier to those who were beaten up and locked up long ago.
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