Ukrainians: A Colonized People

The battle for granting the Orthodox Church in Ukraine autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew, is shrouded by centuries of the Tsarist and Soviet regimes political suppression of Ukrainians and other ethnic groups. Granting autocephaly is not only a canonical act but at a psychological level a declaration of independence. Long overdue, granting the Ukrainian people the right to ecclesial self-government is liberating.

We have grown up with the reality of being invisible. All of us experienced the frustration of being identified as Russians. Through the years, colleagues, professors, co-workers, and others would confuse Ukraine with Russia. The dominant political and sociological narrative continually subverts the existential truth: we are a distinct people who speak a different language.

The fall of the Soviet Union, the Orange Revolution, and the Revolution of Dignity are historical moments which address the ravages of colonialism.  The request for autocephaly reinforces the need for Ukrainians to shed light on and fight against enslavement by the Russian master.

The Moscow Patriarchy claims that Ukraine is its territory, i.e. Russian territory. In regards to the existence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church, Russian hierarchs have maintained a political stance that this church has no place in Ukraine and that the Vatican recognize their demand that the Ukrainian GGC surrender territory to the Russians. If the Pope wants to visit Russia, he must recognize that the UGCC is an obstacle that must be resolved before good relations can be established.

Let’s not forget that Putin has stated that Ukraine does not exist and its government was the result of political sabotage by the United States. The world knows that Putin wants to aggressively reclaim all former territory and rebuild the Soviet Union; the Russian Empire. He represses, murders, and eliminates all opponents.  Those who do not recognize this truth are blinded by propaganda and supportive of evil.

In order to understand this situation, it is important to revisit the philosophical works of Hegel. Hegel identified and wrote about the master/slave dialectic. He brilliantly pointed out the relation of power between master and slave. Freedom demands mutual recognition. My needs and desires can only be satisfied through mutual recognition in a world in which freedom exists. The master demands recognition from the slave who exists to work, to produce. Slaves are cogs in the wheels of industry.  The master does not recognize the slave as anything else. What follows is an excerpt from my dissertation that illustrates the master/slave dyad in the writings of Mykola Hohol (Nikolai Gogol).

Nikolai Gogol and the colonized soul.

There were several figures of Ukrainian origin, such as Teofan Prokopovich, Victor Kochubei, and Oleksander Bezborodko, who moved to St. Petersburg and served the imperial court for the purposes of advising the Tsar on a variety of matters including the integration of the Church and the maintenance of tight control of colonialized Ukrainian lands (Saunders, 1985). However, in terms of bridging the cultural vacuum noted above it was Nikolai Gogol’s contribution to the literary imagination which warrants separate attention.  This contribution to Russian culture offered images of Ukrainian folklore and life in the countryside which were lacking in the imagination of the aristocratic elite. At the same time, Gogol’s works can be construed as a satirical critique of imperial hegemony.

An ethnic Ukrainian, Gogol moved to St. Petersburg in the 1830s. He described his new city of residence as something akin to a European colony in North America; its population composed primarily of foreigners and not native Russians (Etkind, 2011). Gogol’s keen eye to the colonialist social realities of the empire reflected his own sense of dual culture. He wrote to a colleague that he was unsure “whether his soul was Ukrainian or Russian” (Saunders, 1985, p. 166). This sense of dual identity offered his readers a plethora of images which captured the polarities of life in the Russian empire. For example, in his story of a Tsarist official who loses his nose, this body part becomes a metaphor for being an imperial functionary whose career dreams are thwarted. Without the nose, everything that is perceived as required by the whole in the relationship of empire and colony, i.e. power, title, women, and money, becomes unattainable. Gogol captures Homi Bhabha’s (1994) description of colonial discourse as “a splitting of hybridity that is less than one and double” (p. 166). The imperial subject is forced to deny indigenous culture, religiosity, language, and discourse (feelings less than whole), and becomes a mirror double of the Master.

One of Gogol’s most jarring literary insights into the relationship of the empire, its bureaucratic functionaries, and its vast population of indentured serfs is the metaphor of “dead souls.” Situated on the Ukrainian territory of Kherson, the satirical comedy Dead Souls (1842/2008) portrays the colonized as nothing more than taxable property. The protagonist, Chichikov, sets out to con the local authorities and landowners by purchasing their dead to relieve them of a tax burden which they were still obliged to pay. His true motive is to amass many serfs, albeit dead, with the intent of using them as collateral to take out a loan and retire as a rich man.

The economic speculation in “dead souls” is one of the most horrifying images of the imperial/colonialist project.  In the context of both Russian and Ukrainian linguistic signifiers, the word “soul,’’ (dusha), is a term which predates the notion of a citizen. Any census taken during this time would have counted persons as “souls;” understood as living persons living within the territory of a village, town, or city. The oxymoron “dead souls” not only presents the readers of Gogol’s novel with his keen ability to satirize the corrupt financial practices of his day but with the image of imperial subjects lacking human representation. The indentured serf, the enslaved soul, is just another commodity of economic trade. Whether it was oil, furs, timber, or land (Etkind, 2011), the well-being and efficiency of the Russian imperial economy may have included the sale and purchase of the dead.

Frantz Fanon (1963/2004) framed the moral and ethical disregard for the colonized as “Manichean” and “totalitarian.”  “Sometimes this Manichaeanism reached its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the colonized subject. In plain talk, he is reduced to the state of an animal” (p. 7). The Russian colonialist discourse was not exempt from disregarding the humanity of the peoples it colonized, whether they were animals without souls or “dead souls.”  Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Swede, Jew (arrested and exiled during expansionist battles and wars), Kalmyk, Aleut, Chuckchi, Koryak (some of a large number of colonized indigenous tribes), all were subject to ethnic, religious, and/or racial discrimination. All of them were, and still are, regarded as “Other.” Perhaps there is a spectrum in colonial narratives of ethnic, religious, and racial “Others,” in which persons regarded as “white” and “Christian” were more readily Russified and assimilated into the Russian Orthodox faith than those considered non-white and non-Christian. But, as notable in Western European colonialist histories, the Church colluded with the State in unleashing grave harm and trauma upon the indigenous soul (Gambini, 2000).

Ukrainians are a colonized people. The Russian Orthodox Church continues this heinous politics. Autocephaly opens the door to self-reflection, the rejection of our own psychic enslavement, and the ability to support other enslaved peoples.




Moral Bankruptcy of Russian Orthodox Church at Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine

Four years ago I wrote paper utilizing alchemical imagery in an attempt to situate the HIV/AIDS crisis in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv (Kiev). It is important to note that an InfectiousnDiseases Hospital was located on the territory of the Pechrska Lavra. The Hospital was evicted, stigmatizing and marginalizing patients as sinners. I write this today to advocate on behalf of the sick and suffering and on behalf of countless souls who have lost their lives to AIDS. The clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate and its clergy should be evicted from Ukraine for collusion in the deaths of the innocent.

The AIDS Patient and the Abbot

Susan Sontag’s (1988) AIDS and Its Metaphors draws upon her own struggle with cancer and her seminal work Illness as Metaphor (1977) in which she presents illness as not only a physical reality but a metaphorical one. The very nature of human existence is grounded in what she terms a “dual citizenship,” a citizenship which grants us a place “in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick” (1977, p.3). As she explores the metaphorical aspects of illness, her discourse brings to light such notions as a disease as a battle, invasion, and punishment from God. Although AIDS is not a disease, but a syndrome, the military metaphor is particularly applicable since AIDS does not originate inside of the body, but is contracted from fluids that originate outside of it. It is not surprising that the term “plague” has also become a metaphor for this syndrome, and that religious fundamentalists’ project divine punishment upon those who can justifiably be considered to be their own shadow.

AIDS is an acquired condition. The seemingly innocent word “acquired” in reality is hardly that at all. The notion that a deadly condition can be “acquired” extends the metaphor even further, suggesting pollution and contamination. Through active imagination, this syndrome can no longer be ascribed to a segment of the society, but to all of us who live with a collective sense that all of our defenses have become weaker. Behind the collective projection of a world that is defined by a political and militaristic wall of defense, what lies in its shadow is the inability to remain immune to such realities as a global economy, climate change, political upheaval, and the interconnectedness of everyone and everything in a web that is worldwide. Perhaps AIDS is a metaphor which describes the fluid connection between consciousness and the unconscious, the visible and the invisible. Corbin (1977) notes that the alchemical operation depends upon a metaphorical mirror accessible to the Wise, and through which one can “contemplate all the things of this world, whether it be a concrete reality (‘ayn) or a mental reality (ma’na)” (p. 99). The alchemical practitioner’s gaze opens up a horizon of inner sight which permits the intimate connection between the conscious and the unconscious to come into awareness and is an appropriate psychological lens for understanding the metaphorical aspects of the AIDS syndrome more deeply.

The AIDS patient to whom we are referring is not one specific individual, but a person, who like millions of others, has lost a sense of unique history and identity. The ravages of this syndrome displace a sense of normative identity and is replaced by a new collective identity and class membership. This does not mean that persons who live with HIV/AIDS have totally lost their individuality, but rather to draw awareness to society’s labeling of this population as sinners, outcasts, lepers, and persons to avoid for fear of contamination. Hillman (2010) points out that our Christianized cultural psyche, which is stuck in the psychic split of Jesus and the devil, overemphasizes whiteness and light, and fears darkness and the nigredo; an essential component and starting point of the alchemical opus.

The photograph below, chosen from the “Photo-Shock” series, depicts an AIDS victim standing in front of dilapidated housing.  This man with AIDS is the quintessential image of mortificatio. His emaciated body and loss of muscle tone, the sad gaze of his eyes, the decaying fence and housing behind him, present a physical landscape reflective of the inability to sustain an immune defense system. If one follows Hillman’s dictum to “stick to the image,” then the viewer and the image can enter into an intersubjective field which holds and respects this man’s literal personal mortificatio and the putrefactio of his environment. According to Hillman (2010) the nigredo is not the beginning, but a phase which has been accomplished. He states:

Black is, in fact, an achievement! It is a condition of something having been worked upon, as charcoal is the result of fire acting on a naïve and natural condition of wood, as black feces are the result of digested blood, as blackened fungus is the result of decay. Because depression, fixations, obsessions, and a general blackening of mood and vision may bring a person to therapy, these indicate that the soul is already engaged in the opus. (p.87)



Hillman (2010) amplifies his discourse on the alchemical nigredo by engaging in a poetics of black as a metaphor for the destruction of paradigms such as dogma, and dependable notions of what constitutes goodness. Black dissolves the tyranny of what he terms “possitivities;’ it is fluid and moves downward opening up new arterial pathways in the psyche. What was taken for granted, as fact, truth, and virtue, are not longer comforting, but seen through with a darkened eye. It should be of no surprise that persons who suffer from HIV/AIDS are outsiders and in the company of other social non-conformists, such as revolutionaries, prostitutes, pirates, and anarchists.


The Infectious Diseases Hospital, which was established and built by the citizens of Kiev over 100 years ago,  is the only facility in this city which is capable of serving an ever-growing population of people living with HIV/AIDS.  This hospital also played a vital role in treating patients during the flu pandemic of 1918. Although it was not constructed by the monastery, the archives of this community indicate that the monks themselves founded a hospital to serve lay people as far back as the 11th century. Patients who benefit from services are not only city dwellers, but villagers who, like our unnamed man, have no access to other places to receive treatment, and who also desire confidentiality for fear of being stigmatized by neighbors

The Abbot of the monastery has publicly expressed his disdain for the “sinners” who come for medical services on the territory of holy ground. Television reporters have recorded him standing in front of the hospital making the following statement: “Would you want to live next to people who have lived a promiscuous and sinful lifestyle?” (My translation) This created quite a stir, and the medical staff, patients, and members of the All Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS are still waiting for an apology. Investigative reporting has also disclosed that the Abbot is allegedly involved in money laundering, was an elected official in city government from the Communist Party, held a lavish birthday party in an exclusive hotel when he turned 50 this year, and was gifted a Mercedes Benz worth over $100,000.00 American dollars by one of his guests. Certainly, the Abbot’s reputation has been “blackened” by his greed for “gold.”

Although abbots are elected from the ranks of male ascetics, it is not uncommon to encounter abuses of power and money. This is particularly true in the Russian Orthodox Church which colluded with communist party authorities during Soviet times, and continues to do so today. From an alchemical perspective, this Abbot’s relentless pursuit of “gold” is very telling. Commentaries on alchemical literature, such as von Franz (1980), Henderson and Sherwood (2003), and Abt (2009), point out that the transmutation of base metals into gold is a metaphor for describing the interrelationship of the unconscious world with consciousness. In other words, the goal of alchemy is not a literal transformation of lead into gold, but an opus which demands a knowledge which is well-guarded and passed down to adepts from Sages who understand the art. The pursuit of gold is appropriate for all humans, including the Abbot who has sworn to live a life of poverty, if this pursuit is not a literal pursuit of wealth.  The gold of the alchemists is not the common gold, but “non vulgi” as noted by Carl Jung (1983).

The Abbot’s seemingly obsessive pursuit of wealth is, inadvertently, the first step for positive psychological growth, if only he would embrace an inner knowledge which opens up an understanding of the symbolic dimensions of human life. When compounded by his projections of “sinner” upon the HIV/AIDS patients at the clinic, the horrible dualism which plagues the Christian world becomes even more evident.  Jung (1954) analyzes this split by noting that Augustine’s understanding of “man as a microcosm…has yet to be discovered” (p. 32). Projection and possession by the unconscious reveal that humanity is being torn apart and that it unknowingly “provides the inner disunity with an outwards vessel without changing the disiunctio into a conuinctio” (p. 33).

Recently, the Abbot has avoided confrontations with the press and has made no further statements regarding his desire that the “sinners” be evicted from the monastery grounds. As I actively imagine the Abbot’s current psychic state, the wall which he has created between himself and the public may be a metaphor for his interior life. The disiunctio which Jung (1954) noted above can lead to a nigredo state of separatio. One of the plates of the Harley text of the Splendor Solis entitled “The Golden Head” (Henderson & Sherwood, 2003) renders a pictorial representation of this state of separatio, and may provide alchemical insight into the Abbot’s behavior and his potential for future integration.

Moral Reasons for Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephaly: No more Russian Oppression of Believers

In recent years attempts have been made by the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill to take over the entire Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine. The video clip posted on this blog was a social justice project co-authored by Julian Hayda and myself during my second year of graduate studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California. The purpose of the video was to expose the secret corporate theft of property by the Russian Orthodox Church.  Although the film focuses on the Artists’ Workshop, other buildings were at risk. After a battle to save the Infectious Diseases Hospital that was built on the monastery’s territory over 100 years ago, the facility was evicted and the patients were at risk of death due to lack of treatment. Most patients were being treated for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.

Imagine Orthodox Monks colluding with Russians and Moscow’s FSB to destroy the lives of Ukraine’s citizens and the culture of its people.  The video needs to be updated (from 2012) but please take a look:

Patient Protests in the past:

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill has had many opportunities to confront his clerics with corruption, money laundering, and ostentatious living. Instead of prophetically teaching his faithful to feed the hungry (not just physically, but also spiritually), he colludes with Vladimir Putin in his politics of oppression, murder, invading other countries, and genocidal acts. Just remember the murders of journalists, political opponents, and dissidents.

Why such an accusation? The head of the Russian Orthodox Church is called to set a higher moral standard. Higher than anyone else in the country. He has never confronted Putin, and by not doing so he is silently supporting a tyrant. Certainly, he needs Putin’s and his kleptocrat’s money, and that may be the reason for his paralysis. Recently, it was announced that Patriarch Kirill plans to build a Russian “Vatican” outside of Moscow. His own personal wealth is huge and has been attributed to selling cigarettes without paying taxes on them.

Russians should read the history of their church. The murder of Metropolitan Phillip of Moscow illustrates the price paid for confronting the Czar, in this instance Ivan the Terrible. Phillip confronted the Czar by reminding him that no one can serve two masters. It is said that Ivan the Terrible tried to reform and recant his sin of massacring the masses, but eventually had Phillip arrested and murdered for not giving him a blessing to engage in another massacre. Proclaimed a martyr and saint, he remains an example of a fearless bishop who openly confronted a tyrant.


Metropolitan Phillip confronting Ivan the Terrible

Ukraine has been invaded by Russia, people are being killed, and the Moscow Patriarchy in Ukraine has remained loyal to Putin the tyrant. Most of the clergy refuse to meet the needs of their faithful. Services are not celebrated in the Ukrainian language, sermons are in Russian, and the faithful of the Kyivan Patriarchate are discriminated and ostracized.

Clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine refuse to bury soldiers killed on the front.  They abuse the Mystery of Baptism by refusing to bury a child baptized in a parish of the Kyiv Patriarchate, although they know that even a baptism by a layperson is valid.  If your son or daughter fights with the Russian army all is good. But if your child fights with Ukrainians it is a sin.

Orthodox Christians need to wake up, see the truth and speak out. It is time to understand why Ukrainians want and need the Tomos of Autocephaly. It is important to ask ourselves who do we serve, God or Mammon?

Hieronymous Bosch. Hell

Three religious developments in Eurasia with more than religious implications — Euromaidan Press

A Ukrainian bill that would make it easier for congregations to shift from the Moscow patriarchate to the Kyiv one, the Kremlin’s decision to sacrifice Patriarch Kirill’s contacts with the Vatican, and new data on the shifting balance of religious groups in Russia are all religious developments with more than religious implications. New laws in Ukraine…

via Three religious developments in Eurasia with more than religious implications — Euromaidan Press

Russian Orthodox leader supports mass repressions

Mass repressions don’t just start; the groundwork has to be laid in advance. And that task is being carried out by among others Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who until a year ago was a close aide to Patriarch Kirill but now judging from his remarks is most accurately characterized as “the Zhirinovsky from the Orthodox Church.”…

via Chaplin, ‘a Zhirinovsky from the Orthodox Church,’ says mass repressions necessary and reasonable — Euromaidan Press

Some Thoughts on Pussy Riot, Lacan’s Supreme Signifier, Kristeva’s Semiotic and Abject, and Irigaray’s Symbolic Order

Myron Panchuk (7/2012)

The 2012 presidential elections of the Russian Federation have not been easy for the power elite of this country. In contrast to three consecutive elections of the recent past, Vladimir Putin and his United Russia Party were accused of large scale election fraud which energized street protests and unleashed the detention of opposition leaders. Popular criticism was also directed at the Russian Orthodox Church, specifically at its primate Patriarch Kirill who vocally expressed support of Putin’s United Russia Party. By law, the Russian Constitution guarantees strict separation of church and state, and defines its governance as secular. In practice, however, the Russian Orthodox Church benefits financially from Putin and from state-run oil companies, such as Gazprom. Analysts have noted that there is also a long history of the church serving the interests of the government and the government manipulating clergy for its needs. Of course, this has compromised the moral authority of the church particularly during moments of authoritarianism and the suppression of oppositional ideologies.
On the eve of the general presidential election, a feminist punk group known as Pussy Riot entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and performed a punk service in front of the altar which began with the singing of intercessory prayer calling upon the Holy Mother of God Mary to chase away Putin (Huffington Post, Feburary 21, 2012). This feminist punk-rock group consists of 10 performers who dress in skimpy dresses and tights with their faces masked by colorful balaclavas. The politically loaded name of the group, Pussy Riot, sums up the revolutionary nature of the feminist discourse which they attempt to engage in, that is to loudly broadcast the oppression of women in Russia with an attitude of impudence. Their punk prayer performance at the cathedral which the Patriarch of Moscow presides over was construed by many as a direct attack upon the church’s collusion with the regime. Three of the group’s members were arrested a few days after the incident, and have been imprisoned since.
It should be of no surprise that the members of Pussy Riot have been politically and culturally influenced by the thought of Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, Kate Millet, bell hooks (Fifi, March 10, 2012), and many others. The group’s radical feminist stance is complex and informed by post-modern, post-structuralist, post-colonialist, queer and gender theories. Certainly, this grates upon the nerves of institutional leadership whose very existence is threatened by the embodiment of countercultural ideas. Patriarch Kirill stated that the church has no future if the mocking of shrines and holy places continues, and condemned Pussy Riot’s performance by saying that the “Devil has laughed at all of us” (Howard Amos, March 25, 2012). Undoubtedly his statement was intended to be understood literally, but when considered symbolically, perhaps the devil is actually laughing at the masquerade of male-dominated, phallocentric, and patriarchal signifiers which have historically constructed Russian power and the dominant cultural narrative.
The intention of this essay is to uncover the “laugh of the devil” and to expose the hidden, unconscious dimensions of phallocentrism and patriarchy by taking a critical look at Lacan’s notion of the phallus as supreme signifier, contrasting it with Kristeva’s definition of the semiotic and the abject, and relocating it with Irigaray’s thoughts on the symbolic order and the feminine divine.
Lacan’s Supreme Signifier
Lacan begins his lecture entitled “The Signification of the Phallus” (Lacan, 2004) by stating that “the unconscious castration complex functions as a knot” (p. 271). In doing so, he on one hand affirms Freud’s essential teaching on the phallic phase of psychosexual development, but also questions why “a little girl considers herself, even for a moment to be castrated, in the sense of a phallus by someone she at first identifies as her mother…and then as her father” (p. 272). A knot indeed, since according to classical Freudian theory both sexes recognize the mother as endowed with a phallus. Lacan also notes that clinical evidence suggests that the formation of psychological symptoms is the result of the discovery of the mother’s castration. Furthermore, on the debate of the phallic phase, Lacan takes Helene Deutsch, Karen Horney, and Ernest Jones to task by stating that these followers of Freud “were destined to lose their way to a greater or lesser degree” (p. 274).
Lacan bolsters his position in having the answer on the subject of the castration complex by arguing that his articulation of the signifier/signified opposition is the linguistic interpretive lens for comprehending analytic phenomenon. “The signifier plays an active role in determining the effects by which the signifiable appears to succumb to its mark, becoming, through that passion, the signified” (Lacan, 2004, p. 274). Indeed, the passion which Lacan speaks of adds a new dimension in human relations since “it is not only man who speaks, but in man and through man that it speaks” (p. 274). The structure of language becomes the very matter from which psychological ideas are conceived and analytic work can fully take place. The unconscious contains the “unstable elements that constitute language” (p.275) and generate the signified through metonymy and metaphor.
The phallus is neither mere fantasy nor simple object. It is not even the organ that it symbolizes, whether penis or clitoris. The phallus is the privileged signifier, but veiled and hidden as it was in the ancient mysteries. Lacan examines the effects of the phallus as hidden presence and signifier and concludes that this signification is a deviation of man’s needs because they are subjected to demand and come back “in an alienated form” (p. 275). Such an alienation of needs is what rightfully constitutes repression and appears as desire. In psychoanalysis this form of desire emerges as “paradoxical, deviant, erratic, eccentric, and even scandalous” (p. 276).
The phallus as hidden signifier “requires that it be in the place of the Other that the subject has access to it” (Lacan, 2004, p. 278). A dialectic tension results between being and having, which Lacan points out as contradictory in nature since reality is given to the subject in this signifier, but at the same time “render unreal the relations to be signified” (p. 279). This creates a splitting which for the woman consists of an experience of love which “deprives her of what the object gives, and a desire that finds the signifier in this object” (p. 279). In the case of men this results in a debasement in the arena of love. The splitting notable in a man’s desire is that the phallus is signified as “either virgin or prostitute” (p. 280).
Lacan’s theoretical musings on the phallus as signifier were intended on not only providing him with a framework for his linguistic approach to analysis, but also were directed at comprehending the dynamics of love relations between men and women. However, if Lacan’s assertion that the phallus is a supreme signifier is appropriated within the context of protests of the punk group Pussy Riot, the traditional discourse on this subject matter is not only amplified, but enriched. Is it possible that the very name of the group, Pussy Riot, suggests that the vagina is a new and potent signifier, also hidden and veiled? Freud and Lacan’s phallocentrism would attack this notion and maintain that the phallus is contained in the woman as the clitoris. However, from all indications, the embodied polity of Pussy Riot offers an aggressive social counterpoint to such thinking by potentiating a new signifier as riotous.
Vladimir Putin has referred to the downfall of the Soviet Union as “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” (Bigg, April 29, 2005), and as a result has successfully reintroduced a Soviet era style of governance which is popularly called “the power vertical.” The verticality of power structures in Russia, and some other post-Soviet countries, is an attempt to limit democracy and reestablish maximum control in all sectors of military and civilian life. The same strategy has been adopted by the Russian Orthodox Church under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill. One can interpret the verticality of power as an expression of the hidden phallus as signifier. In this context, the demands of the hidden, veiled, and repressed phallus are potency and presence. These demands create a dialectic tension between being and having; reality is given to the signifier, but the relationship to the signified is unreal. The consequence is a distortion between signifier and signified which plays out in the lives of Russian citizens. Lacan was wise to note that when the phallus is unveiled and phallic power unleashed, the demon of Aidos springs forth and strikes the signified “marking it as the bastard offspring of signifying concatenation” (Lacan, 2004, p. 277). Who is the bastard offspring? Is it Putin, Patriarch Kirill, Pussy Riot, or perhaps all of them?
Lacan (2004) concludes his lecture on “The Signification of the Phallus” by praising Freud’s intuition into the masculine nature of the libido. Never elucidated, Lacan affirms that there is only one libido and that the function of the phallic signifier “touches…upon its most profound relation: that by which the Ancients embodied therein the Nous and the Logos” (p. 280). Therefore, the language and the symbolic structure of institutions are masculine and phallocentric. This is particularly true of the Church, whose very image of God is masculine and its subjectivity governed by Lacan’s “Law of the Father.”

Kristeva and the Semiotic
Kristeva (2002) in her essay Revolution in Poetic Language reminds us that the history of signifying systems is replete with “fragmentary phenomenon” that have been marginalized and “kept in the background.” This is especially true in the arts and religion which point to the process of signification itself. “Magic, shamanism, esoterism, the carnival, and ‘incomprehensible’ poetry all underscore the limits of socially useful discourse and attest to what it represses: the process that exceeds the subject and his communicative structures” (p. 30). From the outset, Kristeva asserts that it is the process of signification itself which warrants consideration rather than a status quo acceptance of Freud’s masculine libido and Lacan’s phallus as supreme signifier. Pussy Riot’s “incomprehensible” performance is a fragmentary phenomenon which openly attacked normative phallocentric and patriarchal systems by the very invocation to the “Mother” and not in the “Name of the Father.”
Kristeva’s (2002) genius lies in her expansive understanding of signification (signifiance), which by definition is a generating process “unlimited and unbounded.” It is an unending “operation of the drives toward, in, and through language; toward, in and through the exchange system and its protagonists—the subject and his institutions” (p. 31). Furthermore, as a process, it not only structures, but also de-structures and pushes the limits of the boundaries of social norms. It is only in doing so, that the process of signifiance can be “jouissance and revolution” (p. 31).
Kristeva’s distinction between two modalities of language, the symbolic and the semiotic, are helpful in comprehending the significant role which feminist groups, such as Pussy Riot, play in challenging normative phallocentric and patriarchal social discourse. For the purpose of this discussion, one can claim that the Russian Church and power elite are the subjects of an already constituted symbolic order. Whether it be the dogma of the Holy Trinity or the trinity of politicians, clergy, and military, the existing social order is almost fully masculine; its libidinal energy and Logos a Lacanian incarnation of the Father imago. Kristeva, however, posits an imaginary father within the framework of the pre-Oedipal conflict which in itself challenges phallocentric discourse. This is contrasted with semiotic process—all of those libidinal energies and bodily rhythms which the child experiences during the pre-Oedipal relationship with its mother. Although the semiotic will be repressed when the child enters into the social and cultural world of the symbolic order, it remains in the unconscious and can never be cut off fully from expression. It is precisely this feminine semiotic, always available to both men and women, that generates the restructuring of society, religious expression, and gender relations (Elliott, 2002).
Pertinent to Kristeva’s feminist critique is her notion of the abject. Defined as that which is rejected, expelled, and cast out, abjection is relevant to the denigration of women and the feminine in patriarchal cultures. Rooted in the context of the semiotic and the maternal body, the abject becomes “the object of primal repression” (Kristeva, 2002, P. 239). This primal repression is necessary in a child’s separation from the mother and the development of a personal “I.” Kristeva notes that abjection is a component of all religious systems, and is expressed as pollution, defilement, or sin. Pussy Riot’s perceived defilement of the area in front of the cathedral altar, compounded by their performance of punk music, has signified them as abject. It is not surprising that the highest ranking “father” of this church, the Patriarch himself, has characterized this radical prayer service as the work of the devil. Perhaps it is the semiotic which is laughing; a devilish laughter erupting from the repressed, but available, depths.

Irigaray and the Symbolic Order
Anthony Elliott (2002) has summarized Irigaray’s fundamental critique of Lacan as one that exposes a deeper truth regarding the feminine and the symbolic order of contemporary culture. Irigaray’s point of departure lies in her firm belief that in all patriarchal societies and cultures the feminine cannot be adequately symbolized in discourse or even in theory. In her groundbreaking work Speculum of the Other Woman (1985), she posits that women undergo a process of “specularization,” i.e. a mirroring and reflecting of phallocentric ideals back to men. The feminine is not defined on its own terms, and therefore can only be an object which frames masculine desire and perpetuates illusion.
Since women and the feminine are symbolically oppressed, they remain outside cultural discourse. In such a capacity the feminine is essentially suspect, subversive, and threatening to the dominant masculine patriarchal order. Pussy Riot’s punk prayer service is an embodied subversive attack against the feminine as speculum and stands in opposition to a male dominated world which can only relate to women as the object of masculine reflection. By opening the prayer service to the feminine goddess Mary, the very language of traditional religious discourse becomes empowered with a new cultural practice. Although pious Orthodox Christians regularly pray to the Mother of God, the absence at the beginning of the prayer of “in the name of the Father” is particularly intriguing.
In An Ethics of Sexual Difference (1993), Irigaray addressed this very issue. Regarding the existence of the female divine, the importance of reaffirming the relationship with the mother is underscored thus: “innerness, self-intimacy, for a woman, can be established or re-established only through the mother-daughter, daughter-mother relationship which woman re-plays for herself…This is one of the most difficult gestures for our culture” (p. 68). Our religious tradition has been faithful only to the relationship of God as father who engendered a son by means of a virgin-mother, and has ignored scriptural evidence regarding the relationship between Mary and other women, the role of women in the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus’ own untraditional relationship with women. This cultural stance obliterates the creation of language, discourse, and symbolic process which could empower women’s embrace of the divine feminine. The need for a feminine transcendent seems “theoretically unavailable” to women; a transcendent which surrounds and envelopes women “in their jouissance” (p. 69). What is required is a “love of self,” which detaches women from their traditional place, nurtures a love for the child that each woman herself was, and opens and allows access to difference.
Perhaps the plea of the women of Pussy Riot is a plea to a transcendent feminine Mother who envelopes them in her own divine jouissance. Although the plea is politically motivated, the prayerful invocation comes from a non-traditional place, detached from the masculine, the phallocentric, and the patriarchal. This form of prayer engages a new subjectivity, the subjectivity of a feminine which loves itself and which seeks to open space for the derelict, despised, and the different. In a similar vein, Irigaray (1993) cites Husserl’s statement on philosophy’s role in restoring the power to signify and give birth to new meaning, even if wild. Questions will remain, especially in regard to the hypotheses foundational in the creation of language and discourse. But, hypotheses can be challenged and questioned if meaning has not yet been heard and has not yet come into existence. So it should be with Pussy Riot’s opening discourse on the Mother of God and the expulsion of Putin; a new discourse, a wild hypothesis grounded in emergent meaning.

During the course of time in which this essay was written, the three detained members of Pussy Riot continue to sit in jail in anticipation of court proceedings which lack legal definition. The charge of “hooliganism” is very slippery and legal analysts have determined that the lack of clarity in Russian jurisprudence has taken this case to the level of the absurd—a theatre of the absurd. What lies at stake is simply the inability for Patriarch Kirill to “soften” his stance, since this is perceived to be a sign of weakness and spiritual capitulation. So, the symbolic “father” of a patriarchal and phallocentric institution is incapable of letting go of old categories of language and signification. Predictably, his fear of the devil’s laugh makes sense in a world which denies a rightful place for the feminine and for abject women. Women remain outside the parameters of social discourse in many places on the globe, and the imprisonment of the Pussy Riot members is but another glimpse of a perennial struggle.
On July 26, 2012 Patriarch Kirill arrived in Kyiv for a pastoral visitation and was greeted at the airport by a member of the Ukrainian radical feminist group known as Femen. These feminist activists are known for their topless protests in order to heighten political awareness of the fate of sex trafficking and sex workers. This member of Femen greeted the Patriarch by exposing her breasts and showing the backside of her tee-shirt to the press. The words “Kill Kirill” were written on it in an act of solidarity with the Pussy Riot detainees (Kyiv Post, July 26, 2012). The activist was arrested and charged with hooliganism.
Undeniably, the post-Soviet world continues to change and a post-modern political subjectivity is on the rise. The wisdom of Lacan’s (2004) thoughts on the phallus as supreme signifier holds political currency even today. The masculine libido defines Logos and signifies our common language on a daily basis with faint recognition of Kristeva’s concept of the semiotic. The cries of feminist activists, such as Pussy Riot, could be construed as desperate cries for recognition. Unfortunately, the social justice dimension of their work is marginalized and the women themselves are treated as abject, as Other, and as the devil who laughs at a world which is signified by the hidden, veiled, and supreme phallus.

Amos, H. (2012, March 25). Russian punk band were doing devil’s work, says leader of Orthodox church. The Guardian. Retrieved from
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Elliott, A. (2002). Psychoanalytic theory: An introduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Fifi. (2012, March 26). Veli Italainen. Retrieved from http://en/
Huffington Post (2012, February 21). Russy Riot, Russian all-girl punk band, surpirses Moscow catherdral with performance. Retrieved from hhtp://
Irigaray, L. (1985). Speculum of the other woman. (G. Gill, Trans.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Irigaray, L. (1993). An ethics of sexual difference. (C. Burke & G. Gill, Trans.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Kristeva, J. (2002). The portable Kristeva: Updated edition. (K. Oliver, Ed.). New York, NY: Columbia.
Kyiv Post (2012, July 26). Topless protester pursues Russian church leader. Retrieved from
Lacan, J. (2004). The signification of the phallus. In Ecrits: A selection (B. Fink, Trans). New York, NY: Norton.

Patriarch Kiril’s Statement on the need for more cemetery space for Russia’s Orphans

Patriarch Kiril's Statement on the need for more cemetary space for Russia's Orphans

The Russian text beneath the screen shot of Patriarch Kiril translates as follows: Patriarch Kirill stated after the signing of the anti-orphan law: “I received a request by the administration of our capitol to reserve a special section at one of Moscow’s cemeteries for Christian burials of children who are orphans.”