Necrotourism in Ukraine. Zelensky attracts voyeurs
By DANIELA RANIERI
The Daily Fact JULY 28, 2022
Translated from Italian
If you haven’t booked your vacation yet, Zelensky has an offer for you. As you know, Ukraine has responded to Russian aggression with NATO weapons and an unprecedented, pervasive and efficient propaganda spread expertly via social media. The Ukrainian president inaugurated an emotional communication based on war storytelling with weapons hitherto excluded from traditional war technologies: communication and marketing agencies, spin-doctors, video makers, post-production companies. The video released for Victory Day in remembrance of May 8, 1945, the day of the surrender of the Nazis in World War II, was exemplary: Zelensky, alone, walked through the rubble of Kiev in a post-nuclear scenario, quoting Apocalypse Now, with the background of emphatic music underscoring the dramatic junctures of his speech about the “evil” of Nazism “returned under the sign of Z.”
Today, on those same streets, the Agency for Tourism sponsored by the ministries of Infrastructure, Health and Foreign Affairs launches the tour to the war martyr cities, the “brave Bucha and Irpen,” in particular. The reasons why a tourist should visit them today, with rubble still occupying the streets where the bodies of the massacres lay, are listed on the Visit Ukraine website: both “have many parks and green spaces”; they are suitable for “outdoor activities”; they are “young and modern towns” filled with “families and children”; and finally, they are “heroic cities, protagonists of the most important massacres against civilians that took place during the Russian attack of 2022.”
“Waiting for the great victory and to feel the heartbeat of the whole free world” (text verbatim), the tour proposes citizens of wealthy Western capitals to be “witnesses of the great History,” and reverberate to the world (with photos, selfies, reviews on Tripadvisor) the image of resilient Ukraine.
For 50 euros you can buy packages for 3-hour tours to “the invincible Bucha and Irpen,” “the unconquered Mykolaiv,” “the indestructible Kharkiv”; for 180 euros, including breakfast, you stay 3 days in Kiev. Noteworthy is the tour in “criminal Odessa,” with a tour of the neighborhood where “all the city’s most famous thieves and gangsters” were born. Promotional photos depict disfigured cities: burned-out cars, gutted buildings, boulevards interrupted by Frisian horses; someone is slinging a Kalashnikov (the experience is truly immersive). Lviv is still smoldering, its foundations torn apart; reasons to visit include “the gastronomy, the world’s largest mosaic of doughnuts,” and a tour of “the area where the first civilians died.”
Post-war necro-tourism (not entirely “post”-war: some cities are still targets of Russian bombs and missiles) is meant to finance reconstruction. This is served by the aestheticization of the war: the blunt worldwide propaganda “Be brave like Ukraine” has been combined in European democracies with a glorification of the Azov Battalion, which is Nazi by statute (founder Andrij Biletsky, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament from 2014–19, co-founded the Social-National Assembly, whose goals are “the protection of the white race” through an “anti-democratic and anti-Zionist national-cracy”): family members of fellow soldiers organized the “Run for Azovstal” marathon in 9 cities across the country; the bib was downloadable via Telegram.
Monetizing war, death and the sacrifice of innocents is a strategy that meets the canons of psychopolitical capitalism. The Ukrainian government stirs emotions to capitalize on its bloody recent history. As Zelensky poses with his wife Olena Zelenska in glossy-mimetic gear for a Vogue shoot,
the horror carnival sanctions what some scholars (e.g., Branko Milanovic) have long observed: in former Soviet nations, freedom has been made to coincide with unbridled market economics; revolution competing with tyranny in its darkness of values.
What’s the harm, retort the liberals, for whom the market fixes everything and redeems the existing. Ukraine needs to rebuild itself, and that’s all well and good. But what sentiments does this tourism appeal to? What is expected of the thrill-hungry wanderer? It will be said: be it even the most heinous cynicism and the most pornographic voyeurism, there is no need to be moralistic. This is because in our showing-offy free societies the difference between pretending to be moral and being moral has been zeroed out.