When Colonial and Soviet Mentalities Mesh: FEMEN in Paris
When people live under a colonial domination for centuries, they develop what is knows as “colonial mentality.” Here is what it entails:
- Success, power, intelligence, culture are associated with foreigners. Everything domestic is seen as inferior
- Everything foreign (goods, products, education, culture, etc.) is more highly valued by default
- Racist and xenophobic attitudes become interiorized
- The suffering of foreigners is experienced by the natives as more poignant and tragic than their own
Ukraine was a colony of Russia from 1665 to 1991. Since it achieved its de jure independence from the colonizer, Ukraine has been a de facto colony of Russia in terms of its economy and culture*. The colonizers engaged in a propaganda campaign that stretched across centuries and that aimed to convince Ukrainians that being Ukrainian made them inferior, low-cultured, stupid, and dirty by default.
This campaign continues today. It isn’t specifically organized by anybody, of course. It has simply become something that people do. Whenever a Ukrainian character appears on a Russian TV show or in a Russian movie, s/he is presented as a greedy, messy, coarse idiot. This is nothing new: colonizers have the habit of associating the colonized with dirt, disorder, inferior intelligence, and unbridled, almost animal-like sexuality. I hope I don’t need to explain the reasons behind each of these tropes. Tragically, Ukrainians have absorbed this vision of themselves and it will now take forever to get rid of it.
In Ukraine, we have the grave misfortune of suffering not only of the colonial mentality but also of the Soviet mentality. The Soviet mentality is a worldview developed by the Soviet people in response to the social experiment that was conducted on them. This world-view is extremely cynical and posits that the acquisition of money and material goods is the only goal a human being should pursue. This goal is worth every sacrifice because the only thing that should cause you shame is not having money.
The Ukrainian pseudo-feminist group FEMEN is the perfect example of what happens when colonial and Soviet mentalities come together.
Recently, FEMEN moved to Paris to engage in their struggle against sexism there. If you are driven by a desire to defeat sexism, moving from Ukraine to Paris to fight it makes about as much sense as leaving Congo in order to battle the rape culture in Canada. Of course, the rape culture in Canada should be combated. But a supposedly feminist organization that leaves the suffering women of its own country to battle a much less severe situation in a much richer country is a shining example of colonial mentality.
Now FEMEN is joining the struggle against anti-gay bullies in Paris. Like any colonial subject, FEMEN is very good at identifying the needs of foreigners and exploiting those needs for financial gain. They are the perfect example of what is known in post-colonial studies as “mimicry“:
Colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite. Which is to say, that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference.
FEMEN is giving the richer and more powerful foreigners exactly what they want. FEMEN pretends to care about all of the issues that a good Westerner is supposed to care about: women’s rights, gay rights, tolerance. At the same time, it mimics in a way that preserves the Ukrainian difference and makes it look non-threatening, entertaining, and slightly pathetic.
If FEMEN cared even remotely for gay rights, the horrifying and tragic homophobia of its own country would provide enough work for the organization to exist for a very long time. Instead, FEMEN’s members create a cute little spectacle that the Westerners will enjoy. In the process, the image of Ukrainians as weird, somewhat ridiculous, and always ready for sexual consumption is reinforced. This is where the Soviet mentality comes into play. Making money is the only goal a human being should have, and no sacrifice is too big to achieve it.
* If you don’t know how neo-colonialism works and what I’m on about, see this article.