Western Apathy knows no bounds!

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 takes the pacifist left to court harshly.


Can it get any worse? Without a doubt. And it will be, he is convinced of that. Slavoj Žižek answered an interview request from (Austrian) profil with the words that he was “sick and totally depressed“: “What time are we living in?” Nevertheless, he was willing to be available for a conversation – but please no longer than 30 minutes: he gets tired so quickly.

The interview could only be done by telephone, because Žižek, 73, was also suffering from an omicron infection at home in Ljubljana. He was also so desperate because the European left had the chance to stand up for Ukraine. Instead, all efforts, which culminated in an open letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the end of April, appear to be aimed at preserving our apathetic but relatively luxurious existence.

It is a nightmare, even this Covid plague, which he had so far been able to avoid so consistently, he says in the introduction, but he hopes his voice will not fail him. Laconic addition: “If I collapse, I’ll let you know.” Needless to say, Žižek will get angry over the course of the interview reproduced here and will easily have doubled the estimated 30 minutes by the end. In any case, he hasn’t lost his gallows humor: Intellectuals can’t be trusted as a matter of principle, he explains in parting, which is why he’s asking for a kind of “Stalinist censorship.” And may we hope, he adds, that the phone bill that will be due the next time we speak to each other again won’t have to be paid in rubles.

You recently wrote that the Third World War had already begun “in a certain sense”. In what sense?

The current crisis goes far beyond Russia and Ukraine. I believe that the vision of an alternative globalization 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 portrays 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.

But how is this a world war?

Look at what’s happening in Latin America or in Indonesia right now. In Syria and many African countries, Putin’s unofficial mercenary force, the far-right “Group Wagner,” operates. Friends in Africa tell me how colonial China acts and how it exploits copper mines in Zambia – and how brutally this happens. So we are witnessing not only a cultural war against Western liberalism, but also a global new economic project. Russia and China are preparing their own brand of globalization; it provides for constant military interventions to strengthen local authoritarian regimes. And they cunningly exploit Western hypocrisy as well. Why is Vladimir Putin suddenly considered a criminal when he bombs Kyiv? In 2015, he bombed Aleppo no less brutally. Why was that tolerated?

This hypocrisy is now coming to light.

It even seems to be strengthening under the pressure of events.

Why do so many left-liberals still have sympathies for Russia? Because they see American imperialism as the big bad. Public discourse in Moscow has now descended to Trump’s level or even lower. 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 characterizes the atmosphere.

How should the West respond to such blatant belligerence?

Of course we must 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 squatters. 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’m asking my pacifist friends what exactly do they mean by the term peace? Should Ukraine just cease to exist? Be content with peaceful resistance? That would be crazy! The Russians would laugh, occupy the country, change its culture and rewrite history.

Things are not going particularly well for Russia right now.

It’s crazy: by intervening, the Russians are provoking exactly what they claim to be fighting. Many countries suddenly want under the protective umbrella of NATO. And it was only now that the Russians established a genuine Ukrainian identity; before that, Ukraine was a mixed, relaxed society. It’s not just the war that worries me, but its combination with other global crises. There is drought, food shortages and a pandemic all over the world. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are already arriving. We have the plague Covid and other epidemics, we have war, hunger and global warming. To provoke my friends, I demand a new communism. By that I mean, of course, a war communism, not terror and dictatorship: a global social coordination of the production of security. We need a globally coordinated pandemic control and food distribution. If we don’t achieve this, there will be unimaginable consequences. But this is the madness of mankind: at a moment when such global coordination is more necessary than ever, this war is happening.

How will he develop?

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. With regard to this war, too, we subconsciously prepared ourselves for the fact that Ukraine would quickly lose. 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 thought out plan. Despite the war, Russian gas flows west through Ukraine, receiving much more money from Russia than Europe spends in support of Ukraine. That’s the Russian model: we have local wars, but capitalist supply runs alongside without any problems. Russia is betting on this new, terrifying normal, which I call “Hot Peace.”

Isn’t a hot peace better than a protracted war?

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’re over. What is happening now could drag on and on. This is the Russian logic: if Europe resists too much, it warns of increasingly serious consequences. This makes the situation worse and worse, but always presented as good will, after all to have avoided the total catastrophe. Any compromises we try to avoid this catastrophe will result in the situation spiraling out of control.

So how should Europe face the risk of escalation?

Europe needs to re-coordinate itself and find ways to evade Russian pressure. No one seems happy about a small, weak country resisting a much stronger opponent! That’s a triumph! I agree with Francis Fukuyama who says that there is a miracle: Western apathy knows no bounds; we know that we have to fight seriously against global warming and the pandemic, but we don’t do it, we just make big speeches at important conferences. In Ukraine, people are showing that they can fight unconditionally for liberal values, that’s unique, we should be happy about that. But we subconsciously fear the Ukrainian resistance. We prefer a false peace as long as it is made quickly. It’s like the story of Oedipus. There is a prophecy in it: The son will kill the father and marry the mother – and this prophecy only becomes true through knowledge of it and through the intention to thwart it. Something similar could happen in Ukraine. The harder we try to avoid the worst, the closer we get to it.

Do you seriously think that a new “war communism” could improve the situation?

I don’t mean the return to the Central Committee. But how should agriculture, which is already battered by climate chaos, continue if Western Europe gets 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 with long-term crises since 1945. This new war will not just go away. He’s just the beginning. Tens of millions of people around the world will have to flee their homes.

Can’t there be a glimmer of hope in the destabilization of a world order that has long been desolate?

Putin is working flat out to destroy a united Europe; he campaigned for Brexit, was happy about the Catalonia conflict and the AfD. Anything that weakened Europe was fine with 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 face it: the emerging new world order looks even worse. A real cyber war, for example, has not even started yet. The superpowers could inflict severe damage on each other through system sabotage. Putin has prepared himself systematically, including materially, for this war. And NATO is already participating de facto in this, albeit not yet openly. But Russia 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.

The controversial open letter from German intellectuals to Chancellor Scholz demands that Germany should stop supplying war machines and weapons to Ukraine; it implicitly calls on Ukraine to capitulate.

Why not say that 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. The left must be convinced 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.

As if the right to resist was not self-evident.

Exactly. We hear all the time how America is supposedly pushing Ukraine into the 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. He made an offer to Russia: If you only take Donbass, not all of Ukraine, you could think about a deal, as was the case with Crimea. That was an extremely pragmatic offer.

But was it wise?

No. Any good negotiator knows that concessions should not be announced in advance. But no one can accuse Biden of excessive saber-rattling. He also rejected all calls for a no-fly zone, which 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.

Are the sanctions working?

No. Russia has enough food and resources, at least for now. But it also looks like a crisis there. It is now crucial not to provoke a clash of civilizations, but to maintain contact with the anti-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 fighting for Russian freedom. You have to emphasize that!

And the left is getting bogged down for the time being?

The left thought globalization was a catastrophe, now they’re getting a much worse one. She weighs things up, wants to remain impartial. The radical right is on Putin’s side. The left is merely opportunistic. Take Sahra Wagenknecht: nothing more than pacifist blah-blah came from her. The future of Europe is being decided there, and all that people worry about in Germany are gas deliveries?

Peter Sloterdijk says that one must “assist Putin when he fails,” accompany him so carefully in defeat, “so that we don’t go down with it,” and “that one doesn’t reinforce his tendencies to go mad.”

I have a problem with the “assist”. Because Putin counts on our vigilance. By the way, I don’t believe in Putin’s madness. Acting like a maniac is part of his strategy. He and Lavrov are playing a double game, constantly warning of escalation and at the same time fueling it.

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Putin takes cold-blooded revenge behind the facade of madness.

Absolutely! But in politics there is no madness, only evil tactics.

Is pacifism over?

The pacifist left in the West will be the big loser. She will lose her credibility. Because the West is caught in its own melancholy: We know what we should actually do, but we see that we can’t do it. If we don’t reorganize, we’re lost.


Translated with Google Translate and taken from https://www.profil.at/ausland/zizek-die-westliche-apathie-ist-grenzenlos/402001881

The Slovenian-born philosopher is one of the most unconventional intellectual workers of our time. His political thinking is shaped by Marxism and psychoanalysis, Lacan and Hegel are his figureheads. Žižek is considered a pop star of philosophy, and the international demand for his texts and lectures is correspondingly high. In addition to countless book publications (most recently: “Heaven in Disorder”, 2021) and the many symposia he takes part in, he has teaching positions in Ljubljana, London, Seoul and New York. A Covid infection is currently tying him to his bed, but he hopes to be able to travel again at the end of May.

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