Skip to main content

The Hybrid War and the Poetics of Resistance

In Russia it is not merely the war that has a hybrid nature—similar contradictory and elusive characteristics may also describe the state of justice, freedom, and censorship within the country. In his essay on creativity, resistance, and artistic courage, the poet Lev Rubinstein claims that in order to understand the development in Russia it is necessary to begin by investigating the language.

Credits Text: Lev Rubinstein Translation from Russian: Håkan Lövgren September 17 2016
For some time the strange phrase “hybrid war” has gained wide recognition, both in my country and abroad. A product of the postmodernist era, the term concurrently signifies the non-existence of war even though people are shooting and killing one another, the non-existence of war even though someone downed a passenger plane, while the authorities and government propaganda are functioning in the way that authorities and propaganda do in times of war. This term could provide an explanation for at least some things, if not all, since the key word in this peculiar concept is not “war” but “hybrid.”
Today not only war is a hybrid. Justice is hybridized as well. Civil liberties are hybridized. The government rhetoric and practices are hybridized on all levels. The behavior of the government approved press and television in particular is hybridized.
The only things in the social and political sphere that are not hybridized − although they are absolutely monolithic and monochrome − actually are ubiquitous lies and diligently cultivated, assiduously promoted hatred.
Hatred is always central in relation to its object. Over the last few years it has been possible to observe how the objects of expressed hatred have shifted, engaging quite extensive segments of the TV-dependent population. Sometimes these objects were the inhabitants of the Caucasus, “Liberals stealing from the people,” or Ukrainian “Banderites,” or last but not least “the West dreaming of capturing and dividing up our great nation.”
In order to understand some of this, it is important to not begin with economics, politics or the particulars of local history, but with language. When contemporary international key terms and categories, whose frail stability depends upon the fact of a certain mutual connection between words and their meanings among other things, are imported to Russian soil, they consistently mutate into something wholly different which invariably acquires more or less obvious features of hybridism and thus always requires translation and interpretation.
The official propaganda is opposed to the civilized world both politically and linguistically (and the linguistic mutations emanating from it are spreading with the speed of an infestation of harmful insects, not just locally but internationally as well).
The civilized world, which has been accustomed to words having some real meaning, ends up completely bewildered, and confusion creates a natural fear, just as fear gives rise to all that is incomprehensible.
This is precisely why it sometimes can be difficult to answer certain questions directly and unequivocally.
For instance, do we or do we not have censorship in our country?
One cannot say that we have censorship. At least no one has officially admitted to abolishing the statute in the Russian constitution where it explicitly states that censorship is illegal.
But why get rid of it, if one can easily categorize it in different terms − for example, by calling it “measures to combat extremism.”
There is censorship, but it does not exist. It does not exist, but it is there. It is a hybrid – just like “the war.”
Censorship is not institutionalized, but it exists in practice. It is there in some cases but not in others.
Similarly, under conditions of hybrid war, not to speak of a hybrid world, this also applies to such indispensible attributes of hybrid wartime as nationalism.
Nationalism does not exist, but it is there, although not under the name of “nationalism” but rather as “patriotism.” Patriots are called “fascists” in other countries, but in our country they go by the name of “patriots.”
“Nationalism” in the generally accepted sense hardly exists either. Nevertheless, we have “our national interests” of unknown origin, and recently a notion such as “traitor-to-the-nation” has also appeared, a concept literally copied from the official rhetoric of the Third Reich.
One cannot say that nationalism is thriving. Neither can one say that it does not exist. Some individual representatives of the authorities or government associated journalists occasionally allow themselves to make blatantly nationalistic pronouncements. But they also state that they are sharply and vigorously against nationalism. From time to time representatives of radical nationalist groups become subject to prosecution. Their rhetoric, albeit in a somewhat softer form, is then easily appropriated by the authorities.
There is no nationalism, but the minister of culture quite openly declares that the government he represents is prepared to support only those films, theater performances and visual art which have “a national orientation.”
It is equally difficult to answer the question as to whether or not there is an aggressive clericalism associated with the official doctrine. No, there is not. The church is separate from the government, again in accordance with the Constitution. Nevertheless, a law dealing with the “offence against true believers’ feelings” has been adopted. This gives the so-called “true believer” the right to not only discriminate against the non-believer (or persons of a different confession), but also the right to openly influence cultural politics and social ideas, and in effect to exercise censorship − a hybrid version, of course.
Not so long ago a weekly magazine approached me with a request to choose the words in contemporary Russian which seemed most important to me and why.
I chose two words.
The first word was “freedom.”
This is a wonderful, but at the same time dangerous, word, not just in its capacity to intoxicate, quite exceedingly so at times, but also in its complete eradication of limits to its interpretative space. This word is nevertheless extraordinarily important and essential to me, particularly because of the number of people around who, if anything, are united in their hatred of freedom or their suspicion of it.
My second choice was the word “resistance.”
This word in particular strikes me as the most significant of all the key words. This word is the most important one to all those living in the present period, and to those who have not yet lost their basic instinct for freedom and personal integrity. Not “fighting,” – no, just “resistance.”
Resistance is a process that is absolutely indispensable to the normal, living and pulsating existence of many vital phenomena – such as culture, for instance.
Any creatively motivated human being is faced with the necessity of resisting anywhere and at any time. But only in our country, with our government – no matter how many times it might change its measures and their names – with a government whose fundamental tradition is the tradition of total suppression, total coercion and total assaults on personal liberty, such a human being is constantly faced with this necessity.
And this situation – no matter how paradoxical or even cynical that it may sound – is in fact ideal for the creative individual.
One can resist as best one can − in accordance with one’s temperament, spiritual inclinations, moral and intellectual imperatives. I repeat, I am not speaking about fighting, but about proper resistance. Resistance may also assume the shape of a more or less active struggle. But I do not like fights, I don’t believe in them. The goal of a fight is to win. However, the winner rarely manages to preserve the same set of feelings and virtues with which he entered the struggle. To my mind resistance is more hopeful and significant. What is most important is to not allow anyone to convince you, under any circumstances, that the difference between the normal and the pathological is absolutely insignificant. For our spiritual and moral health, just like our physical health, are dependent upon the ability of the organism to resist, because the ability to resist is the ability to remain vitally active, because a developed sense of wholesomeness is one of the most important and beneficial characteristics of civilized human beings.
There is an ineradicable energy in resistance that cannot and must not ever be allowed to disappear.
It can and must only seek and find ever newer forms and strategies which have been determined by the concrete historical reality.
The power of resistance – resistance to evil, the total lie, death – is also where real creative energy is to be found.
The main battles occur in the linguistic sphere. And these battles are by no means hybrid. They are the battles of “hybridism” itself.
And this is why poetry, literature and the arts once again become so important, both for diagnosing society and for social therapy.
Artists know exactly what such resistance involves. In understanding the creative process as overcoming the resistance of the material (the stronger the resistance, the more important and interesting the process will become, as well as the results), they equally understand that both they themselves and what they create are materials which will, in turn, resist their own further efforts or the efforts of those who come after them.
Art offers courage. Not everyday heroism, but precisely creative courage. It must be courageous, or it is a deficient art.
One must not be fearless under any and all circumstances. But the artist’s task is to find those zones, those territories, those conditions and circumstances where he does not fear anything or anybody. The artist who keeps glancing askance (which in effect amounts to self-censorship), will not be able to accomplish anything.

Like what you read?

Take action for freedom of expression and donate to PEN/Opp. Our work depends upon funding and donors. Every contribution, big or small, is valuable for us.

Donate on Patreon
More ways to get involved