The Orc, like the right-wing ideology behind him, has needed time to move from the margins to the mainstream. The best of his earliest champions, such as Kirill Eskov (The Last Ringbearer) rehabilitated him with the light touch of authors more concerned with plot and aesthetics than with explicit ideology. Yarovrat and the online community that interacts with him are relatively self-contained; if Yarovrat’s ideas migrated beyond his circle of interlocutors, they most likely did so without any attribution to Yarovrat himself or to his wider project.
Given time, however, the Orc would be taken up by writers and performers with a much broader appeal, all of which would facilitate the appropriation of the “Orc” epithet after Russia’s seizure of Crimea (a topic to be addressed two posts from now). Which brings us to Mikhail Elizarov.
Of all the nationalist, right-wing authors discussed in this blog so far, it is Elizarov who has been most successful at tempering ideology with talent. Though his 2003 novel Pasternak caused a minor scandal for its reinterpretation of the (ethnically Jewish) Russian poet as a demon, much of his later work makes fewer ideological requirements on his readers. For example, his 2007 novel The Librarian (translated into English by Andrew Broomfield in 2015), in which the nearly forgotten books of a tedious, but prolific socialist realist writer turn are revealed to grant magical powers to anyone who reads them in one sitting, manages to turn the theme of Soviet nostalgia into something of a magical treasure hunt, like Harry Potter searching for horcruxes.
Structurally, it transforms the familiar post-Soviet gang war plot into a battle among “libraries” desperate to accumulate as many original copies of the book as possible. While Elizarov’s nationalist views are well-known, the novel contents enough ambiguity about the role of Soviet relics to facilitate readings that might run counter to the author’s ideology.
But Elizarov is also a musician, working in a style he calls “bard/punk/chanson.” His songs, though clever and playful, are ideologically something of a blunt instrument. His 2014 “Orc Song” (“Оркская”) is no exception.
The full Russian text is easily available on-line, as is a video of Elizarov performing the song on YouTube. I’m including my English translation below, with the caveat that Elizarov’s original is rhymes, scans, and is generally clever, while my version is blunt and prosaic:
Recall our earlier discussion of the competing geopolitical readings of The Lord of the Rings: the anachronistic equation of the Orcs with the Soviets/Russians and the more historically grounded connection between LOTR and World War II (not to mention Tolkien’s own disdain for all political interpretations of his work). Ingeniously, Elizarov is having it both ways: the Orcs are the Russians/Soviets, but the initial conflict appears to be World War II (the Elves speak German, for instance).
By the end of the poem, the humiliated post-Soviet Russia is the victim of a fascist restoration, in which the NATO powers are the heirs apparent to the Nazis. But that is not all. The real villains of the piece appear to be the Jews and Zionists (including Tolkien himself), while the European Elves are, of course, decadent and effeminate (“faggot porn”).
The song is an implicit call for the renewal of Orc pride; that is, Russia has lost its way by trying to please the “Rohanites, Jews, and Elves” who have conquered it. In The Librarian, Soviet nostalgia was a force of nature, granting power to anyone regardless of ideology. In this song, Elizarov appropriates the Orc meme to root that nostalgia in strength, violence, and savagery.
Next: Off the Reservation