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Semiotics, Swastikas, & Shadowplay

justsayno902 words

Every day when I’m out and about, I see dozens of swastikas. That doesn’t mean I am surrounded by Nazis. I’m not. I just live in Tokyo, and the swastika is a common symbol on maps and signs denoting Buddhist temples. 

We live in a semiotic world (I bet a few of you misread that last phrase), by which I mean one where symbols, simulacra, icons, and signs occupy the level of perceptual consciousness, which once existed, in simpler times, to perceive reality directly. In the struggle to deal with an ever-increasing influx of data, our minds have been colonized, distorted, and in many cases short-circuited by our reliance on such signage and totemry with all their pre-programmed connotative meanings.

This disjunction between reality and perception naturally favors those who can manipulate it best – on a macro level those with media power, and on a micro level the leaders of actual gangs.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the rise of ISIS, where Islamic imagery is favored both by the gang masters themselves (positively) and the media power of those opposing them (negatively) for their separate reasons. The reality of the situation, however, is that ISIS is a case of displaced nationalism and a struggle against the oppression that Sunni Arabs in Syria and Iraq have faced.

Something similar can be seen in the Ukraine, where we are repeatedly told that we must not support the Ukrainians because (a) they are Jewed-up to the eyeballs, and (b) they are a bunch of Nazis – an obvious contradiction. Of course, it is not difficult to track down pictures of Ukrainian nationalists, like the stalwarts of the famous Azov Battalion, posing with Nazi regalia and symbols, or performing the stiff-armed salute of early twentieth century Fascists.

In our simulacra-swallowing world, this prima facie evidence is taken as incontestable fact, precluding the need to look any deeper. Our friends at Russia Today, whether cynically or sincerely, are especially quick to jump on any Nazi-esque manifestations found among the Ukrainian opponents of the Neo-Soviet Empire, immediately equating them with actual Nazism and then fast-tracking their “discoveries” to their shills in the West.

An excellent example of this tendency can be seen in this item from Russia Today’s website, which amplifies the naive reporting of an American journalist and supplies additional “damning” evidence. This is sheer semiotic pornography and completely misrepresents what is actually going on.

This reminds me of the thesis put forward in the book Gaming the World Soccer, Nationalism, and the Campaign for Anti-Racism by Andrei S. Markovits and Lars Rensmann, which I reviewed in 2010 for Alternative Right. These two American academics saw nothing but “racism” and “fascism” on the terraces of European football, simply because the fans, in their loutish desire to wind-up their opponents, often resorted to extremist jargon and poses.

Perhaps the best example is the famous hissing noise that the various opponents of Tottenham Hotspur, a North London club traditionally supported by Jews, make in imitation of the gas chambers that were supposedly used to gas Jews. Assuming on this basis that each and every member of these crowds was an actual Nazi is of course an absurdity, otherwise a real Nazi, like Colin Jordan, would have been elected Prime Minister of Britain sometime in the 1970s, when such hooligan jests were at their peak.

Among elements of the Ukrainian military, especially among volunteers like the Azov Battalion, there is a similar element of offensive posturing, but it is also backed up by the totemic needs of the Männerbund – the basic unit of the army in the same way that the family is the basic unit of society. Among primitives, totems are always taken from powerful or agile animals with which the tribesmen wish to associate themselves in an attempt to acquire some of their power and virility.

For Ukrainians, oppressed by the Tsarist empire and then crushed under the heel of Soviet Communism, which we all know was not real Communism but rather a form of Russian Fascism, the image of the German storm trooper or Panzer commander has been a powerful and totemic image that counteracts that.

For Ukrainians, Nazi symbolism does not in any way represent a positive assertion of Nazi beliefs and ideals. How could it? Ukrainians are after all Slavs, a despised race according to the ideology of Hitlerian National Socialism. But Nazism was of course more than a mere ideology. In its historical manifestation it also existed as a potent force uniting diverse elements of European civilization and even non-European civilization in a grand struggle against Stalinist Imperialism.

While Nazism and its symbols have meant many things to many people – occasionally even including actual Nazism – for the Ukrainian nationalists Nazi imagery is almost always simply code for being extremely anti-Russian, the “extreme” part a reflection of the asymmetry of power that Ukrainians have long felt towards their giant neighbor and former master, an asymmetry that echoes that between the Sunni Arabs of Syria and Iraq and their many opponents.

Rather than being fooled by the scary imagery of either ISIS or the swastika-touting Azov Battalion, we should look beyond the shrill manipulation of symbols, both by the gang masters and the media, to the realities that underlie them – namely the desperate nationalistic struggles that both Ukrainians and the Sunni Arabs are involved in.


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  1. Posted March 13, 2015 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I’ve found that encountering swastikas in an Eastern-religious context still has a semi-shocking effect on me. Part of me stubbornly refuses to let go of the contemporary American use of this and other symbols, so that perversely, shifting my perspective forces me to see myself in a nefarious light.

    If words have a similar function in such a semiotic world, then I wonder if the effects of both demonized symbols and words could be subverted when an emotional image or story is used to show the other side (i.e. the Ukrainians, ISIS, and so on). I’ve found that I can discuss indentitarian topics honestly with people of deeply liberal/leftist beliefs when I talk about European identity in a way that only invokes its ‘positive’ elements, and not who and must it must exclude.

  2. Sonic
    Posted March 15, 2015 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Azov isn’t a battalion, it’s a regiment, in ukrainian “polk”. As a voulenteer, I found your article interesting. One thing to consider is that socialnationalism by Bandera is in many ways the ukrainian nationalsocialism, it is old enough to leave a valid historic claim, and it fits like a glove to combat the problems of the Ukraine today. It’s strange that most journalists report on the supernazi Wolfsangel, which it isn’t, but seem to fail to look at the black sun-symbol. Stupid journalists, eh?

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