lunedì 27 febbraio 2023

Maria Tumarkin


I’m a Ukrainian Jewish Australian, no hyphens or hyphens, I don’t care. My world (as I knew it) ended on 24 February 2022. I have no connection to any ‘interest groups’, ‘sponsorship money’, ‘Zionist lobby’, ‘pearl-clutching’ (snort!), ‘attempts to silence marginalised voices’, ‘propaganda’ propagation – what else have you got for me? I’d rather not be lectured on developing a higher tolerance for ‘confronting ideas’. All good on that front, thanks. I feel rage and no outrage. I don’t support calls for resignations, cancellations, or boycotts of Adelaide Writers’ Week.

I am not interested in being part of the discourse. Below is all I have to say. And then – mum’s the word. I won’t give interviews.

I’ve withdrawn from Adelaide Writers’ Week together with Ukrainian writers Olesya Khromeychuk and Kateryna Babkina. Both of them are astounding, by the way. So read them, will you?

In the last twelve months I’ve learned a lot and changed my mind a lot. Perhaps the most salient lesson is that anti-war can mean pro-genocide. It means pro-genocide right now in Ukraine. All the ‘peace now’ (Habermas et al) talk, all the ‘WWIII’ talk, all the ‘US proxy war’ and ‘Nato warmongering’ talk – all of it, all of them, especially when used as already-loaded-up projectiles – are forms of genocidal speech so long as Russian troops are killing, raping, torturing and kidnapping civilians across Ukraine, and so long as Russian missiles are destroying hospitals, schools and residential highrises with sleeping families inside them daily and nightly. Ukraine by now is the most mined country in the world. They mine dead mothers with still-alive babies tied to them. Oh, yes, the content note.

Statements in which Zelensky (who’s Jewish) is called a Nazi, fascist, someone responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and/or WWIII are not anti-Zelensky and/or pro-Putin. They are forms of genocide cheering (a step up from genocide apology). They do not exist in the space of discourse only and do not represent something that can be classified as merely a contentious political opinion. If only. I should mention Susan Abulhawa’s name of course but there are many people like her, maybe even very many and at least some are also accomplished writers. The respectability index doesn’t do much for me, personally. I don’t care if these people are published by Bloomsbury or by the Milkbars’ Association of Victoria. And while we’re on the subject, I see no difference between Twitter feeds and books if tweets are pro-genocidal and knowingly so. If they are about cats, I’m all for nuanced distinctions.

In her letter to Louise Adler, Olesya Khromeychuk wrote (I’m quoting her with permission):

In this war, Russia is targeting the Ukrainian people and their culture, a culture that has been ignored in the wider world for far too long, and has appeared on many cultural institutions’ radars only as it was being destroyed by the Russian bombs. Like my colleagues, I feel saddened that calls to be sensitive in relation to Ukrainians who have been attacked in this genocidal war and to not give a platform to voices that repeat Kremlin propaganda are not always heard.

In her letter to Louise Adler, Kateryna Babkina wrote (quoting with the author’s permission):

I’m afraid I can’t participate in any kind of event that gives voice to the person considering Ukrainians should give up their right to decide what to do with their destiny and their independent country and just become a ‘neutral nation’ pleasing Russian ambitions in order not to be killed.

Google Olesya and Kateryna, both, there’ll be plenty of their writing and thinking in English. There’ll be copies of Olesya’s book (I presume? I hope?) in the festival bookstore as well. Literary festivals are just, you know, festivals. They are not hallowed spaces, they are not public squares. The blood of the nation doesn’t travel through them to the nation’s brain all that often. I respect the fact that lots of people in Australia, writers and readers, get plenty out of them. Sometimes lifelong connections are formed. Also: solidarities, collaborations. I’ve seen people in tears, moved that much by a festival session. I like it that Adelaide Writers’ Week is free and outdoors. Free particularly is a big deal.

But. Literary festivals, as they operate in Australia, are not robust enough structures to hold space for writers with irreconcilable views and politics when these concern ongoing wars or genocidal violence. I.e. life and death. Irreconcilability. Tolerance, difference of opinion, dialogue, openness, civic discourse – even if we generously think of these as principles not self-serving slogans, they’re useless in the face of dehumanisation and violence which such irreconcilability creates overtly and covertly. Festivals haven’t yet developed their own version of the ‘ethics of incommensurability’ (Tuck and Yang, ‘Decolonization is not a Metaphor’, 2012), and because whatever they (festivals) have to offer on this front is sub-par but not recognised as such, they can be dangerous and harmful. This is my position on the anti-semitisms and anti-Palestinisms that certain kinds of Western arts programming throws fertiliser at in the name of what exactly? In my letter to Louise Adler I called this philosophy of programming ‘cruel, privileged innocence’ and I stand by these words. You cannot play compare-and-contrast with genocides but people do all the time (another thing I’ve learned, or re-learned) and festivals are not built to handle it.

Festivals’ insistence that it is possible and advisable to inhabit a realm of ideas when the living struggle to keep up with burying their dead make things worse. This insistence works to empty conversations (ostensibly about books) of actual politics and fills them instead with over-determined ideology. On all sides.

In my letter to Louise Adler (Louise published my first two books; we go back), I wrote:

I find the term ‘cancel culture’ meaningless. It’s caked in so much ideology and used so self-servingly by all sides that, to my mind, it is not remotely useful at all as a tool to think or make decisions with. It’s just a stick for hitting (in offence and self-defence) or for shooing away. I am not for it or against it or remotely interested in it.

I accepted Louise’s invitation to be part of Adelaide Writers’ Week because I was going to speak to Svetlana Alexievich, my hero, and because I could support Louise in bringing Ukrainian voices into the program. Olesya and Kateryna, I admire you. But, as I wrote to Louise, ‘Zelensky is my hero too’ (the last self-quote). I told Louise, I can’t do this.

I am thinking now about Iran, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan. If you have a living connection to what’s happening in any of these places now, my heart is with you.

This writers’ week ‘story’ slash ‘controversy’ should be over by now. I’m not sure it’s doing anything at all but increasing pain and harm. No such thing as bad publicity? In any case, if you still feel agitated, please donate to Ukraine, Turkey, Syria or Iran. With Ukraine, please no humanitarian causes (if you can stomach it). Weapons only.



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