Category Archives: libertarianism

Russia: strange bedfellows, stranger degrees of separation

Remember Alexander Dugin, the Kremlin’s crazy (like a fox) ultranationalist guru? The one who sees Russia as the bulwark of “Eurasian” civilization, locked in eternal conflict with “Atlanticist” powers, and the country destined to lead global resistance to “Western liberal hegemony” which seeks to force its values of “the free market, free trade, liberalism, parliamentarian democracy, human rights, and absolute individualism” on other cultures? Alexander “Fascism has never been properly tried” Dugin? The favorite Russian of American white supremacists? (I wrote about him here, here, and here.)

Alexander Dugin speaks at a rally in Moscow yesterday urging a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The banner over his head says “FOR RUSSIA-IN-DONETSK!” and “RUSSIANS FOR RUSSIANS!” Photo by @EvgenyFeldman.

Well.

It turns out that I kinda, sorta know Mr. Dugin’s ex-wife and the mother of one of his children.

But wait.

It gets better.

Dugin’s ex, Evgeniya (Genya) Debryanskaya, is a pioneering Russian LGBT activist who also has a long history of activism in the pro-democracy movement. She co-founded Russia’s first gay rights advocacy group, the Association of Sexual Minorities, in 1990; she was also a co-founder of the Russian Libertarian Party and was involved in the Democratic Union, the small party led by Valeria Novodvorskaya (the remarkable Russian pro-freedom activist who died last month, and about whose life and work I wrote here). I met Genya in 1990 on a trip to Moscow, while doing interviews for an article on women in Russian politics. I think we met twice. The second time, she gave me a letter to her American girlfriend to mail in the US, not wanting to entrust it to the Soviet postal service. (She also asked to borrow $50, promising to repay it on her upcoming trip to America. “She’ll never pay it back,” said a Russian friend who knew her. “Consider it your donation to the Russian gay rights movement.” The friend was right.)

I’m not sure exactly when Debryanskaya and Dugin were married, but they have a son born in 1985, named Arthur at birth and christened as Dmitry in the Russian Orthodox Church. (Amusingly, Dugin’s bio on his website gives the date of his son’s birth but makes no mention of the mother’s identity; the only marriage mentioned in the bio is his second marriage, in 1987, to philosophy professor Natalia Melentieva, with whom he has a daughter.)

Debryanskaya later drifted away from politics, though she was arrested at a gay rights protest in Moscow in May 2006. (According to an article in the Russian edition of Newsweek, she and her fellow protesters shared a police van with several counterprotesters from Dugin’s Eurasian Youth Union, who were also arrested; when one of the “Eurasian” boys began to grumble about having to “ride together with these stinking fags,” Genya rendered him speechless him by mentioning that Dugin was her former husband.)

But here’s the latest twist. When I tried to find out what Debryanskaya has been up to lately, I was stunned to learn that she has caught the ultanationalist bug, big-time.

In March, she wrote on her Facebook page, “If Vladimir Putin returns Crimea to Russia, he will write his name into HISTORY, thus justifying his third presidential term. If not, he will be remembered as the head of a gang of corrupt scumbags and a destroyer of freedom.” While it appears that she later deleted this post, her page is filled with exhortations to fight “fascism” in Ukraine (on April 16, she shared a post asserting that “Russia today has turned out to be the sole  guarantor of resistance to fascism”; a May 3 post laments, “Putin would need a couple of days to drive all this fascist scum to the other side of the Dnieper, so what are we waiting for?”). She has even reposted a TV interview with Dugin.

Gays for homophobic nationalists?

To quote from the Slavophiles’ favorite 19th Century poem by Fyodor Tyutchev: “You can’t grasp Russia with the mind.”

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Filed under libertarianism, Russia

Christmas meditations

A New York Times essay offering a different take on the perennial classic It’s a Wonderful Life sparks a lively discussion in the comments.

The essay argues that the small-town life Capra’s hero embraces at the end is, in fact, terrifyingly and asphyxiatingly oppressive, and that the movie is all about resigning oneself to the loss of dreams, to being trapped in a life of compromise, small-mindedness and conformity. He even asserts that the “Pottersville” of the alternate reality in which Jimmy Stewart’s George was never born — filled with booze and vice — is a lot more fun than boring New Bedford, where The Bells of St. Mary’s is all that passes for entertainment.

Some commenters agree, and also point to the movie’s disturbing gender ideology: without George in her life, his wife Mary (Donna Reed) has become — the horror! — a single, childless librarian. One poster mentions (approvingly) that Ayn Rand hated this movie because of its emphasis on self-sacrifice and the compromises of adult life. Others defend close-knit communities as well as the idea that adulthood is about accepting compromises and limits, and that life’s true satisfaction comes not from chasing adolescent dreams but from family, friends, and community.

This is where I’m always reminded of a famous Niels Bohr quote:

“The opposite of a small truth is a falsehood; the opposite of a great truth is another truth.”

There is a great truth in the Randian/libertarian celebration of the free individual, of the stubborn pursuit of one’s dreams and visions, of the struggle against limits. There is also a great truth in the conservative/communitarian vision that emphasizes relationships and acceptance of reasonable compromises and limits. Both of these starkly different approaches to life have value — are, in fact, necessary to a healthy culture, which needs both roots and wings. (I believe the origin of this metaphor is this quote by American motivational speaker Dennis Waitley.) So do the vast majority of individuals, even if some can be perfectly happy pursuing their individualist dreams with no human ties and some can be perfectly happy living completely for others.

Of course, each vision also has a seamy side. A lot of “autonomous individuals” who pride themselves on never compromising and never “settling” are not Randian Howard Roarks but obnoxious, egotistical jerks with a very exaggerated notion of their own talent. A lot of lives that revolve around family, community and self-sacrifice are poisoned by undercurrents of bitterness, resentments, and suppressed conflicts. And so on.

But in the spirit of the holiday, let’s focus on the positives. Here’s to roots and wings. And to the fact that American culture is big enough to accommodate Frank Capra and Ayn Rand.

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Filed under Ayn Rand, Christmas, conservatism, libertarianism