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society

The theater of war

07.02.2014 | Hryhoriy Nikonov

Masculinity is the factor that particularly ionizes the atmosphere of the current stage of confrontation in the center of Kyiv

“There are now practically no social institutes left capable of involving a person in deep emotions that may cause transformation. Army is probably the only institute that is still supporting this issue, but not very effectively. Moreover, it is a good courtesy among young men and their parents to avoid or somehow not go to the army, because it is believed that there is code red and other awful things there. As a result, we have the self-reproducing system of the manchilds, because a man needs to go through all that in order to turn from a boy into a man,” writes Russian psychotherapist Elena Lukyanova in her blog.

Power confrontation between the protesters and Berkut in Kyiv on Hrushevshkoho St. with use of weapons and human casualties and the wave of seizures of oblast state administrations that followed it in Ukraine became the events that caused deep emotions of observers and very clear transformation of the participants. On TV screens, the events on Hrushevskoho inspire horror and shock; in social networks they seem like a disaster. However, there is a totally different atmosphere on the square before Dynamo stadium on the frontier that has no strategic or tactical significance. On the faces of the people there – and that can well be seen on the cameras of reporters – there is no fear, desperation or open aggression. Conversely, you see seriousness and even certain enlightenment.  At times it seems that there is an alternative reality in that place that is subject to simple scheme: here are “our guys” and there “they”; here is the frontier and there is the rear area. Here, as many write, you feel safer than outside the conflict zone, in any sleeping community in Kyiv, because here there is a community (even brotherhood), where everybody has their own role. If anything happens, you will be protected. Here the men feel like men, like warriors – courageous and noble. Going to Hrushevskoho, they try not to take women with them, saying that the war is a man’s thing.

 

Until first blood

Before the Epiphany Day, carnival was the socio-psychological and esthetic dominant of the Kyiv protests. Then, within hours, everything changed exactly as described in Mikhail Bakhtin’s work Rabelais and His World: carnival and grotesque. The kings that reigned on the carnival were overthrown and subjected to public abuse (two were booed and one was also covered with the powder from the fire extinguisher). A new game began – not about storming the snow town, but a war game. The roles in this game are different and access rules are stricter, because a fight is much more serious than a carnival. The risk is very real. It certainly rattles the nerves. Naturally, it is not a fact that there is more responsibility in the actions of participants of the war and there is no definite answer to the question ‘what’s next’? However, the process is often more important in the game than the result. As for the situation on Hrushevskoho regardless of which metaphor you use, whether a game or theater of combat actions, the general atmosphere is also important.

If one were to abstract oneself from all political reasons of the conflicts, one can clearly see that masculinity is the factor that ionizes this atmosphere. There is a certain concentrated ‘men’s world’ with all of its evident attributes in the protest zone. Firstly, this is diversity of dangerous boys’ toys – from ‘industrial’ stun grenades and firearms to self-made Molotov cocktails and catapults, big slings for big boys. Secondly, there is naturally the passion from using these toys. No paintball or battles recreation can inspire such emotions. Thirdly, this is the possibility to give way to instincts, use “prohibited moves”, resort to brutality and violence (in particular sexual). The video, where Berkut make fun of a naked activist, take pictures with him confirms that. It would be appropriate to remember the scandal around sexual harassments of Guantanamo prisoners. “Relations inside of any men’s community, as a rule, are hierarchic. In some of them (street gangs, army, prison) hierarchy is particularly tough. Symbolic sexualization forms and fixes the relations of domination and submission in the group. Like a dog marks his territory with urine, a dominating male ‘humiliates’ a potential opponent in order to establish his unlimited power over him turning him into his property,” wrote outstanding Soviet and Russian sociologist, philosopher and sexologist Igor Kon.

 

“Women yelling “Bravo!”

Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s works on archetypes spring to mind when you try to explain what has happened in Kyiv over recent months and try to imagine what will follow. Indeed, there have been plenty possibilities for the people to let out accumulated discontent and aggression in a harmless way. The fact that several participants of the confrontation paid their lives for that and that there are dozens who sustained serious wounds and injuries should have (if one were to speak about self-preservation) pacified even the most radical protesters and discouraged the people from “tourist trips” to the places of action on Maidan and Hrushevskoho (you cannot call it differently in the view of now trendy ‘selfies’ on the background of barricades and burning tires). It seems, however, that there is some other, deeply hidden in psychology human force, which makes them go to a protest or, moreover, to a concrete geographically outlined risk zone. The desire to assert oneself as a man, to try how it is to be a man probably is that very force. This is also an excellent chance to prove themselves to the part of women who believe that men are no longer as they used to be.

In fact the appeals to the male principle always appeared in calls of Facebook users, when information about possible forced dispersal of the protesters on Maidan was published again and again. “Men, where are you? Stop getting warm at the side of your wife! Come out to defend Maidan!” women wrote almost hysterically. The men did come out. The reaction of women turned out to be ambiguous. Some suddenly saw that there are many handsome (exactly the word) men in our country (until then, women only saw handsome men abroad), and how courteous they are. Others complained they were losing their husbands because being at war was something more important for them, than getting back to their families. There are also those women who complain that they are not allowed “to go to war”, because they are women arguing that it is some primitive discrimination.

Evidently, the society is gaining a special, new and very subtle experience of satisfaction from the fact that gender roles carried out by men and women are returning to the classical breakdown and that such balance may remain for some time in the future. “Game societies have a common trend of becoming permanent even after the game is over. Naturally, not every game of dices or poker game leads to formation of a club. However, the feeling of general being in some exclusive condition, sharing something important, separating from the rest of the world and discarding usual standards is a feeling that preserves its magical influence on the players also beyond the time limits of a concrete game,” wrote Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga in his classical work Homo Ludens

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