Gayropa, Gayropa

At the end of The Notebook (Le grand cahier, 1986), the first novel in an award-winning trilogy by the Francophone Hungarian writer Agota Kristof, the nameless, identical twin boys who are both the protagonist(s) and collective narrator(s) of the story, come to a quite literal crossroads:  the boundary line between their unnamed, but obviously Soviet-occupied country, and its liberal democratic neighbor.  One of the twins crosses the border literally over their father’s dead body, while the other stays behind.  

Stripped of all explicit historical and geographical referent, The Notebook reads as both fairy tale and allegory: the twins divided by this fortified border almost be go be read the embodiment of postwar Europe.  Either they are Romulus and Remus, somehow unfairly separated, or they are one person imagining that they are actually two (one Europe allowing itself to be divided when it never should have been).  Half of Europe pines for the other half, at the same time fearing that one twin has forgotten the other. 

If so, it is an allegory very much of its time: while Eastern Europe yearns to rejoin its long-lost identical twin in the West, the boys (now men) are no longer identical,  thanks to a crippling injury suffered by one of them. Granted, this allegory is delightfully subverted by the time the trilogy ends. I would submit, however, that it is still a valid reading, albeit a superseded one. [1]

I bring up Kristof's trilogy mindful of its limited applicability to the Russian context because of what it suggests for our current conversation. [2] The whole idea of “Gayropa" disseminated throughout the Russian media is a deliberate twist on what was once a nostalgic longing for the missing piece of a larger, European self.  The Notebook’s sequels suggest that this lost wholeness can never be restored; the pieces have grown in their own, separate ways, and no longer fit.  To the extent that this allegorical readings works at all,  it is also a tragedy.  The Gayropa narrative is a fairy tale of a different kind: a tragedy for Europe that is a cautionary tale for Russia.  Gayropa instructs the audience to be glad about its distance from (Western) Europe.  Russia is not a part of Europe, and we should all thank God for that.  This is not an opportunity lost, but a bullet dodged.

Gayropa is an even better straw man than politically correct America.  Whatever else it was going to be, Russia was never going to be America.  But Europe was aspirational.  If we superimpose Gayropa on Kristof’s tale of divided brothers, we end up with the gold standard of genetic studies: an examination of identical twins raised separately, in strikingly distinctive environments.  The myth of Gayropa demonstrates what could happen if Russia should choose they incorrect path, showing why Europe, rather than being enticing, is dying and repellent. Structurally, Gayropa is the reincarnation of the Soviet cliche about the “decadent” or “rotting” West (“загнивающий Запад”).  But where the Soviets based their anti-Western caricature as a critique of capitalism (the decadent was was synonymous with “decadent capitalism” (“загнивающий капитализм”),  Gayropa is about culture, or even worse, civilization. [3]  

Civilization is a key concept here.  As I’ve already mentioned, Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” has taken on a life of its own under Putin.  (Western) Europe is now an alternative civilization, and one that Russians should not envy.  I am currently reading a tediously thorough book by Bardan Bagdasarian entitled “Антироссийские исторические мифы” (“Anti-Russian Historical Myths”) (Spb: “Piter,” 2016).  Myth Number 2 (out of 70) concerns the “‘incorrect’ religious choice made by Prince Vladimir.”  I hope I’m not spoiling anyone surprise by revealing Bagdasarian’s argument that the choice of Eastern Christianity was not only “correct,” but vital to Russia’s success as a civilization. 

Of course, the problem with this argument is is not whether or not Russia made the “right” choice, but the idea that any reputable historian could frame this argument in such black-and-white terms.  But Bagdasarian’s book points to the religious foundations of the “Gayropa” myth: Russia, thanks to the “state-forming” role of the Russian Orthodox Church, has the capacity to avoid Gayropa’s path to sin.  

Indeed, calling Europe “Gayropa” is only a short step from calling it “Sodom”:  the homophobic documentary I mentioned in the previous post was called “Sodom,” and the program’s host insists on referring to gays as “sodomites” (“содомиты”).  Just as Sodom’s downfall is framed as punishment for male homosexuality [4], Europe can expect little better.   In Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician beauty ravished by Zeus; Gayropa is the homophobe’s nightmare: the monstrous drag queen whose deceptive beauty works best when viewed from afar. [5] She is the gorgon who must not be viewed.  She is Freud's "phallic mother," striking just as much terror with the phallus's presence as she does with its absence. 

I started this post with a reference to a novel about children, and I will end it by invoking a more recent work of young adult fiction: Children versus Wizards (“Дети против волшебников”).  Last year’s release of the trailer for its animated adaptation has revived interest in this series of nationalist Russian novels that began in 2004. Like Kristof’s trilogy, it purports to be a feat of linguistic border crossing: the alleged author, Nikos Zervas, is a Greek with a vast love of everything Russian (even if all evidence points to the novel’s foreign authorship as its most fantastic fiction). [6] Here the world’s children are seduced by none other than Pottermania: the widespread popularity of Harry Potter and other children’s fantasy stories are actually part of a (primarily Jewish) international conspiracy to hand the world over to the forces of Satan. Only Russia has been spared so far, thanks to a mysterious, metaphysical “Russian shield” preserving the nation’s morality.  That shield turns out to be none other than Russian Orthodoxy itself. 

Gayropa is an even less inventive childish fantasy, but it relies on the same source of salvation:   Orthodoxy is the shield that saves Russia from liberal Europe's horrible multicultural fate. The specifics of that fate are once again less about adult homosexuality than they are about children. There are two basic issues at hand here: the evils of the child welfare system and sex education, and the dangers of migration. 

Next: The Rape of Gayropa

 

Notes 

[1] I have an unpublished paper on the multiple readings and readings of Kristof’s trilogy, but no place to put it.  I’m happy to share it with anyone who is interested. 

[2] For what it’s worth, the trilogy was quite popular in its Russian translation in the 1990s.

[3] Nikolai Riabov and Tatiana Riabova have made a similar, but much more detailed argument, in their article “The Decline of Gayropa? How Russia Intends to Save the World.” (http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2014-02-05-riabova-en.html)

[4] This is a very narrow and politically expedient reading of Genesis, of course. 

[5] The homophobic framing here is intentional, as the Gayropa narrative would assume that a truly beautiful drag queen is impossible. 

[6] See Anna Kachurskaia. Rodnaia grech'. Kommersant 22 May 2006. (http://kommersant.ru/doc/675136)