Wives and Wars

It’s not for nothing that a lively military song goes, “Our wives – rifles loaded” – true wives of soldiers, like mothers and sisters, do not always bring joy to the warring countries. In the same song, to the question “who are your wombs?”, the answer is “our wombs – white tents”, which sounds akin to a symbol of women fighting for the return of mobilized husbands (sons, brothers), wearing white scarves. In these white scarves and headscarves, they go out to pickets, lay flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier, break into Putin’s public reception to leave him a “mandate” with a demand for demobilization.

Of course, it would be easier if the warring men had no such wives, sisters, and mothers, but only rifles and everything else mentioned in that old song (“our children – cannons on carriages”). Wives of the mobilized, united in chats and Telegram channels, increasingly condemn not only mobilization but also the war itself, they call on anti-war activists to support them, writing:

“You bravely advocated once for the prevention of this horror. Now we ask you to stand with us.”

Naturally, they were accused of “foreign influence”, and the chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee, Andrey Kartapolov, even declared that the women’s protests are “CIA and MI6 machinations”.

Women take a fully conscious risk, with police and also “plainclothes people” already following them, but they want to save their loved ones on the front at any cost. Many of these wives confess that they discouraged men from going to the military registration and enlistment office but could not convince them. Now they want one thing – to get their husbands and fathers back for their children. And this example of female devotion is interesting to compare with another story – the persecution of authors accused of “justifying terrorism” in a play about the wives of Syrian fighters. The play “Finist the Bright Falcon,” directed by Zhenya Berkovich based on a play by Svetlana Petriychuk, was successfully performed in Moscow and even won two theater awards “Golden Mask”, suddenly became so dangerous that both the director and the playwright were sent to pre-trial detention, where they have been held for over six months with extended detention periods. No investigative actions are conducted – except for two expert evaluations that form the basis of the accusation. Both evaluations note disapproval of men in the play, the first time experts found in the play “a struggle against the androcentric social structure of Russia”. The second evaluation – prepared by the FSB of the Sverdlovsk region – also notes that Russian men “are represented negatively by the playwright Petriychuk and director Berkovich… Throughout the play and performance, there is no positive modality in the communicative (speech) behavior of the characters towards Russian men”.

Both evaluations are comical in this regard: Russian men were not described in a positive modality by Gogol, Chekhov, or even Zoshchenko. But the authors’ point, of course, is not just dissatisfaction with the “negative representation” of Russian men. The idea here seems to be that since the heroines of the play are not just disappointed in Russian men but also find solace in dreaming about “Finist” (who turn out to be Syrian fighters – something that the characters of the play, like their real prototypes, often do not understand), this constitutes “justification of terrorism”.

The FSB expert notes the play’s glorification of the fighter, whose image “is imbued with high emotions and mindset, as well as the idealization of the holy war”.

One might ask – what do the experts want from the wives of men currently fighting in Ukraine? Idealization of this war and “high mindsets” or this sorrowful understanding that “we are betrayed and exterminated by our own”, as stated in the “Way Home” channel.

One of the striking pearls of the latest expert evaluation in the case of Berkovich and Petriychuk was the assessment of Muslim marriage: “The main feature of such ‘marriage’ is the almost guaranteed impossibility for a woman to return to the traditional family life,” states expert Mochalova. We won’t discuss the contentiousness of this strange thesis here, but it’s hard to resist asking: does the Russian leadership need this “traditional family life”, or is it better that soldiers have no real wives, children, and mothers, but only rifles, tents, and cannons?

Stefania KULAEVA,
first published on the Radio Liberty blog

Эта запись так же доступна на: Russian