Between Expulsion and Murder
The Nazi term for genocide, Ausrottung, ‘to uproot, tear out by the root’, serves to describe the progression of Nazi Jewish policy over several years from massed emigration, to ‘resettlement’, to finally mass murder. It makes no distinction between expulsion and murder. In this word, the line between removal ‘from here’ and removal ‘altogether’ does not exist.
When we are confronted with genocide, we grasp something more than the death of persons. We grasp the death of a people, the death of a community in which they had their identity as human beings. A people cannot survive the loss of the souls who comprised it, but how does a soul survive the loss of the people of which he had been a part, in which he had felt a person? This is a different kind of death, not physical but moral, a death of one’s own sense of being human.
The home of a people, a landscape which bears all the expression of their character and effort, a place where family and neighborly relations have taken root over generations, a space in which they renew themselves each day, comprises as much as all the individuals themselves, their body as a people. Expulsion from it, and separation from each other, means certainly, if not immediately, the death of that culture, that identity, that people.
It is not necessary to annihilate the individual physically, only to strip him of his claim to a shared, familiar place and society to annihilate him as a person, to dehumanize him and reduce him to a mere unit, interchangeable with anyone else, someone who simply works and survives, individual in the purely negative sense of being isolated and therefore anonymous.
When people are called insects or ‘koloradi’, what is meant is not simply an insult, a hateful comparison; it is a declaration: an assertion that contains within it the intent to reduce them to insects, to creatures lost within a mindless, migrant, toiling mass, creatures exiled from any setting in which to find their own meaning; the intent to deny them the physical circumstances—the ‘outer body’—of their own personality and humanity. Removal then, attempts to create the very conditions of ‘subhumanity’, the reduction to a rootless, infesting mass, which in turn justifies removal.
It is entirely right then, that no line can be drawn between expulsion and murder.
It would be pointless to look for the force behind the violence in Ukraine within the faction that currently rules Kiev, a band of corrupt politicians and armed gangs which in reality is only an instrument of provocation, whose only policy is a series of atrocities by which to draw Russia into conflict. They are not new, separately they have been on the scene for years; it is only now that they have been unified and brought into power that the country has descended into chaos. They are no force in themselves; it is another force that has taken them up as a weapon which seeks out the destruction going on now. It is another force that does not blink at the destruction of a people’s home, and their expulsion and reduction to rootless, helpless ‘insects’.
To put our finger on this force, we only need to notice the singular lack of embarrassment throughout the high offices of the West at the atrocities being done in Ukraine, their unwillingness to utter a single word of rebuke, their very deliberate efforts to shift the blame for murder upon the murdered, and lend the murderers enough respectability to go on killing. We only need to note the parallels with the expulsion of Serbians from Kosovo. But moreover, we can take note of the West as the center of an economic system for which it is completely ordinary to impoverish millions of people and force them to migrate across continents to find work, to exhaust and poison land and food without regard for the life, human and animal, that depend on it, or to actually congratulate itself on turning nature itself into a series of ever more restricted commodities.
In other words, we are seeing an eruption of the hidden, inhuman nature of the modern system. And we should awaken to the fact that, far from having done away with the phenomenon of genocide, post-war modernity has only ‘softened’ it enough to absorb and normalize it as an ongoing process of global ‘development’; a process of the extinguishment of the spiritual and moral—the human—in pursuit of the material.