The Russian attack on Ukraine opened up questions about the psychological mechanisms at work in post-socialist regimes, which have allowed for the passivity of people in Russia. The authoritarian regime there relies on apathy which is not dissimilar to the one in the old Soviet times. In a country where it is no longer a secret that lying and cheating lead to success, for many people, apathy takes the form of disinterest in the political struggle, cynicism and resignation in the face of authoritarian power. Apathy also contributes to feelings of passivity regarding the war and to the strategies of denial that some people in Russia embrace about the atrocities that the Russian regime caused in Ukraine.
Apathy, however, is not only a response to authoritarianism; it is very much linked to the modus vivendi of neoliberal ideology. Thus, it is not surprising that we hear so much about the increase in burnout and compassion fatigue in the developed world. The lecture will question the logic of apathy today. It will also address the idea of the “right to apathy,” which was fashionable in the mid 20th century among some American political theorists. In conclusion, the lecture will question the problem of apathy toward war and compassion fatigue that often happens in times of horrific aggression.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which put its people under mass physical and political extermination, has forced the European continent to question the very foundations of the institutional order it had been based on since the end of World War II. In the situation, when not just the future but the very present of Europe at large has appeared under direct existential threat from the Russian fascism, all the basic categories that the post-Nazi world relied on, such as democracy and authoritarianism, historicism and neocolonialism, pacifism and demonstration of protest, require a profound revision and change. The system of ideological coordinates as well as the outlines of the political spectrum we have been used to operate in are to be rearranged to tackle a new catastrophic reality.
The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way. What changes does it bring to the idea of the nation-state and the principles of internationalism? How will the notions and practices of citizenship, rule of law and human rights and freedoms be altered? In what way does it affect an economic apparatus and constitute the modus vivendi of our societies anew? How could a new political paradigm be safeguarded against imperialist and fascist misuse to prevent political and military violence by the strong against the weak?
Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program Armed Democracy, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. The program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.
Renata Salecl is a philosopher, sociologist and legal theorist. She is Professor at the School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London and senior researcher at the Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Her book Tyranny of Choice has been published in 15 languages. Her last book is A Passion for Ignorance: What We Choose Not to Know and Why (Princeton UP, 2020).
Vasyl Cherepanyn (Ukraine, 1980) is Head of the Visual Culture Research Center(VCRC), an institution founded in Kyiv in 2008 as a platform for collaboration among academic, artistic, and activist communities. He holds a PhD in philosophy (aesthetics) and has lectured at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), University of Helsinki, Free University of Berlin, Merz Akademie in Stuttgart, University of Vienna, Institute for Advanced Studies of the Political Critique in Warsaw, and University of Greifswald. He was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna in 2016. He coedited Guidebook of the Kyiv International (Medusa Books, 2018) and ’68 NOW (Archive Books, 2019), and curated The European International (Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, 2018) and Hybrid Peace (Stroom, The Hague, 2019) among others. VCRC is the organizer of the Kyiv Biennial (The School of Kyiv, 2015; The Kyiv International, 2017; The Kyiv International—’68 NOW, 2018; Black Cloud, 2019; Allied, 2021) and a founding member of the East Europe Biennial Alliance. VCRC received the European Cultural Foundation Princess Margriet Award for Culture in 2015 and the Igor Zabel Award Grant for Culture and Theory in 2018.