Žižek: "Western apathy is limitless!"
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek sees the Ukraine crisis as the beginning of a world war, he calls for a fundamentally new European security coordination - and he is taking the pacifist left to court.
Can it get worse? Undoubtedly. And it will, he is convinced. With the words that he was "sick and totally depressed", the philosopher Slavoj Žižek answered an interview request from profil four weeks ago: "In what time do we live?" Nevertheless, he was willing to be available for a conversation - just please no longer than 30 minutes: he gets tired so quickly.
The interview took place on Tuesday last week, but it is only possible by telephone, because Žižek, 73, now suffers from an Omikron infection at home in Ljubljana. He was also so desperate because the European left had the chance to stand up for Ukraine. Instead, all the efforts that culminated in an open letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last week seem to be aimed only at preserving our apathetic but relatively luxurious existence. It is a nightmare, even this Covid plague, which he had been able to avoid so consistently so far, he says in the introduction, but he hopes that his voice will not deny him the service. Laconic addition: "If I collapse, I'll let you know." Needless to say, Žižek will talk himself into a rage in the course of the conversation reproduced here and will have easily doubled the estimated 30 minutes in the end. In any case, he has not lost his gallows humor: intellectuals cannot be trusted in principle, he explains at the farewell, which is why he asks for a quasi-"Stalinist censorship". And we may hope, he says, that the phone bill that will be due the next time we hear each other again will not already be payable in rubles.
Profil: You recently wrote that the Third World War had already begun "in a certain sense". In what sense?
Žižek: The current crisis goes far beyond Russia and Ukraine. I believe that the vision of alternative globalisation is being worked on in the background. Western capitalism with its fixation on dollars and euros is to be brought down, Russia and China are turning to the so-called Third World. Globalization is aligned with Western values, it is to be replaced by a new, different globalization aimed at decolonization. Russian media portray the Ukrainian resistance as a protest against decolonization, as if Ukraine had been a Western colony and Russia is now "liberating" it against its will.
Profil: But to what extent is this already a world war?
Žižek: Look at what is happening in Latin America or Indonesia. Putin's unofficial mercenary force, the far-right "Wagner Group", operates in Syria and many African countries. Friends in Africa tell me how colonial China acts and exploits copper mines in Zambia - and how brutally this happens. So we are not only witnessing a cultural war against Western liberalism, but also a global new economic project. Russia and China are preparing their own variant of globalization; it provides for permanent military interventions to strengthen local authoritarian regimes. And they also exploit Western hypocrisy in a clever way. Why is Vladimir Putin suddenly considered a criminal when he bombs Kiev? In 2015, he bombed Aleppo no less brutally. Why was this tolerated?
This hypocrisy is now coming to light.
Profil: It seems to be even intensifying under the pressure of events.
Žižek: Why do so many left-wing liberals still have sympathy for Russia? Because they see American imperialism as the great evil. The public discourse in Moscow has now lowered to the level of Trump or even deeper. The war veterans in the country are calling for much more drastic measures, explicitly calling for a "real war" instead of the "masturbation" that is taking place. This vulgarity currently shapes the atmosphere.
Profil: How should the West respond to such blatant belligerence?
Žižek: Of course we have to prevent an impending world war. But the worst thing now would be to fall into an abstract pacifism. Pacifism has always been a major concern of all occupiers. Of course, Israel wants peace in the West Bank, only then can they build their settlements unhindered. Did Germany want peace in France in 1940? Of course! So I ask my pacifist friends, what exactly do they mean by the term peace? Should Ukraine simply cease to exist? To be modest with peaceful resistance? That would be crazy! The Russians would laugh, occupy the country, change its culture and rewrite history.
Profil: Things are not going particularly well for Russia at the moment.
Žižek: It's crazy: by intervening, the Russians are provoking exactly what they claim to be fighting. Many countries suddenly want to come under the umbrella of NATO. And a real Ukrainian identity has now only been fixed by the Russians, previously a mixed, relaxed society lived in Ukraine. I am not only concerned about war, but its combination with other global crises. Worldwide, there is drought, food shortages, pandemics. The four apocalyptic horsemen are already arriving at our place. We have the plague Covid and other epidemics, we have war, hunger and global warming. To provoke my friends, I call for a new communism. By this, of course, I mean war communism, not terror and dictatorship: a global social coordination of the production of security. We need globally coordinated pandemic control and food distribution. If we do not achieve this, there will be unimaginable consequences. But this is the madness of humanity: at a moment when such global coordination would be more necessary than ever, this war is happening.
Profil: How will it develop?
Žižek: Something strange has happened in the last two or three weeks that reminds me of the beginning of the pandemic. At that time, there was talk of a maximum of two to four weeks, then everything would be over. But nothing ended. Also with regard to this war, we have unconsciously adjusted to the fact that Ukraine will lose quickly. But she resisted, which put us in a completely new situation. Now we are familiarizing ourselves with the idea that this conflict will continue, that the war must be normalized. And Russia has a well-devised plan. Despite the war, Russian gas flows through Ukraine to the West, and Russia receives much more money than Europe spends on support for Ukraine. This is the Russian model: we have local wars, but capitalist supply runs smoothly on the side. Russia is counting on this new, frightening normality, which I call "Hot Peace".
Profil: Isn't a hot peace better than a prolonged war?
Žižek: No. There is a kind of peace that would be worse than a war that has at least some logic: things explode, and then they are over. What happens now could drag on and on. This is the Russian logic: if Europe resists too much, it warns of ever more serious consequences. The situation is getting worse and worse, but always presented as the good will to have avoided total disaster. Any compromises we make to avoid this disaster will cause the situation to spiral out of control.
Profil: So how should Europe counter the danger of escalation?
Žižek: Europe must re-coordinate itself and find ways to avoid Russian pressure. No one seems happy that a small, weak country is resisting a much stronger adversary! But that is a triumph! I agree with Francis Fukuyama, who thinks that a miracle has happened: Western apathy is limitless; we know that we would have to fight seriously against global warming and pandemic, but we don't, just give big speeches at important conferences. In Ukraine, people are showing that they can fight unconditionally for liberal values, which is unique, we should be happy about that. But we are unconsciously afraid of the Ukrainian resistance. We prefer a false peace as long as it is established quickly. This is like the story of Oedipus. There is a prophecy in it: the son will kill the father and marry the mother - and this prophecy becomes true only through the knowledge of it and through the intention to thwart it. Something similar could happen in Ukraine. The more vehemently we try to prevent the worst, the closer we get to it.
Profil: You seriously think that a new war communism could improve the situation?
Žižek: I don't mean a return to the Central Committee. But what will happen to agriculture, which is already battered by climate chaos, when Western Europe obtains more than half of its fertilizers from Russia? We are obviously approaching an exceptional situation. In contrast to the "Third World", we in Europe have had no experience of long-term crises since 1945. This new war will not simply disappear. It is only the beginning. Tens of millions of people worldwide will have to flee.
Profil: Can't there be a spark of hope in the destabilization of a world order that has long been desolate?
Žižek: Putin is working hard to destroy a united Europe; he campaigned for Brexit, was happy about the Catalonia conflict and the AfD. Everything that weakened Europe was right for Putin - in this he resembles Trump and Bannon. It is time for Europe to truly unite on a new basis. Yes, the old world order is crumbling, but let's be honest: the emerging new world order looks even worse. A real cyber war, for example, has not yet begun. The superpowers could inflict serious damage on each other through system sabotage. Putin has prepared himself systematically, including materially, for this war. And NATO is already de facto participating in this, although not yet openly. Russia, however, already sees this indirect participation as the beginning of a world war. This can still be stopped or at least limited - but only if we also admit what is already happening.
Profil: The controversial open letter from German intellectuals to Chancellor Scholz calls for Germany to stop supplying war machines and weapons to Ukraine; it implicitly calls on Ukraine to surrender.
Žižek: Why don't you say that quite openly? That's what I find so hypocritical. If peace is our core value, it simply means that Ukraine must give up. But we know from other wars of aggression that surrender will lead to total cultural degradation. One must convince the left that supporting the Ukrainian resistance does not automatically mean defending Western imperialism. Do we really want to leave the defense of an authentic struggle for independence to the right? This is a tragedy, a catastrophe for the left.
Profil: As if the right to resistance was not self-evident.
Žižek: Exactly. We hear all the time how much America is supposedly pushing Ukraine into war. But when Russia announced its invasion, Joe Biden said something very ambivalent: one would first have to consider whether it was a limited or a large-scale intervention. In doing so, he made an offer to Russia: if you only take the Donbass, not the whole of Ukraine, you could think about a deal, as in the case of Crimea. That was an extremely pragmatic offer.
Profil: But was it also wise?
Žižek: No. Every good negotiator knows that you should not announce your concessions in advance. But no one can accuse Biden of excessive sabre-rattling. He also rejected all calls for a no-fly zone, because that would have meant open war between Russia and NATO. I don't see the enormous militarization of the US; they give Ukraine just enough to keep the resistance going.
Profil: Do the sanctions work?
Žižek: No. Russia has enough food and resources, at least for the time being. But it looks like a crisis there as well. It is now crucial not to provoke a clash of civilizations, but to maintain contact with the opponents of the war and dissidents in Russia. Do not write off the Russian resistance! A few weeks ago, I launched an appeal to those Russians who oppose the war. I told them: You are the real heroes, the real Russian patriots. I think that Ukraine is ultimately also fighting for Russian freedom. It must be emphasized!
Profil: And the left is getting bogged down for the time being?
Žižek: The left considered globalization a catastrophe, now it is getting a much worse one. She weighs up, wants to remain impartial. The radical right is at Putin's side. The left is merely opportunistic. Take Sahra Wagenknecht: nothing more than pacifist blah blah came from her. That's where the future of Europe is being decided, and all that People in Germany care about are gas supplies?
Profil: Peter Sloterdijk says that Putin must be "assisted in failure", accompanied so carefully into defeat" "that we do not go down with it" and "that one does not reinforce his tendencies to go crazy".
Žižek: I have a problem with "assisting". Because Putin counts on our mindfulness. By the way, I don't believe in Putin's madness. Acting like a madman is part of his strategy. He and Lavrov are playing a double game, constantly warning of escalation and fueling it at the same time.
Profil: Putin, like Shakespeare's Hamlet, takes revenge in cold blood behind the façade of madness.
Žižek: Absolutely! But in politics there is no madness, only evil tactics.
Profil: Is pacifism at an end?
Žižek: The pacifist left in the West will be the big loser. It will lose its credibility. Because the West is trapped in its own melancholy: we know what we should actually do, but see that we can't do it. If we don't reorganize, we're lost.