On May 1, Russian Nazis, nationalists and Stalinists marched in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many Western readers are not aware that these displays of xenophobia, antisemitism and chauvinism are now common in Russia. Nazi flags are carried in marches alongside flags representing the Tsarist empire, and, frequently, beside those representing the Soviet past.
Below: Russian Nazis and nationalists on May 1 in Moscow
Below: On May 1 in Moscow Stalinists carry slogans reading: “Stalin lived! Stalin lives! Stalin will live!” (first) and an image of Lavrentii Beriia, Stalin’s feared chief of secret police (second)
[Source of photographs: http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.ca/2014/05/nazis-and-stalinists-thrive-on-may-1-in.html]
Russian fascist groups did not appear overnight. Already in 2008 Amnesty International estimated that there were 85,000 neo-Nazis in the country. Bloggers in Russia and Ukraine have reported on their rallies. Here are images from a recent posting:
[Source: http://d-i-a-s.livejournal.com/460079.html. 13 March 2014]
These groups thrive in today’s Russia because of protection and support from the Putin administration. Eurasianism is the basic ideological platform for a number of these groups. It is also the ideology that has been embraced by people close to Putin. Founded around the beginning of this century by the Russian political thinker Aleksandr Dugin it represents a blend of fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics (1997), has been described by Timothy Snyder as following closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism, says Snyder, is “the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement.” [Source: Timothy Snyder, “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” New York Review of Books, 20 March 2014]
The ideology is openly anti-Ukrainian. Dugin supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is ready to divide Ukraine by, for example, giving Transcarpathia to Hungary.
Snyder describes Sergei Glazyev as “the point man for Eurasian and Ukrainian policy in the Kremlin.” Glazyev is not only anti-Ukrainian; he is also antisemitic and homophobic. He began his career as a member of the Communist Party in the Russian parliament, and then cofounded the far-right Rodina (Motherland) party. In 2005 some members of this party in the Russian parliament signed a petition to the Russian prosecutor general asking that all Jewish organizations be banned from the country.
Motherland was barred from taking part in further elections after it conducted a scandalous advertising campaign. In one advertisement dark-skinned people were shown eating watermelon and throwing the rinds to the ground; a message then presented calling for Russians to clean up their cities. Glazyev has written a book called Genocide: Russia and the New World Order in which he warns that a world conspiracy against Russia is bringing about economic policies that are ”genocideal” to the nation. Snyder states: “This book was published in English by Lyndon LaRouche’s magazine Executive Intelligence Review with a preface by LaRouche. Today Executive Intelligence Review echoes Kremlin propaganda, spreading the word in English that Ukrainian protesters have carried out a Nazi coup and started a civil war.”
Dmitry Kiselyov is another key figure close to Putin. He directs the Russian state’s media conglomerate and is best known for stating that gays who die in car accidents should have their hearts cut from their bodies and be incinerated. Kiselyov has laboured to turn the campaign against gay rights into a weapon with which to fight European integration. The basic tactic is to continually link gays, decadence and the European Union. For example, the poster below appeared in Kyiv when Putin pressured the now disgraced Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych to spread homophobic propaganda. It reads: “Association with the EU means same-sex marriages. Ukrainian Choice Warns You.”
[Source: J. Lester Feder, “The Russian Plot To Take Back Eastern Europe At The Expense Of Gay Rights,” Buzzfeed, http://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/russia-exports-homosexual-propaganda-law-in-effort-to-fight]
It is less well known that Putin’s administration has extensive links with far-right groups in Europe who admire the present regimes’s anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-gay, and racist policies. Anton Shekhovtsov writes that during its war against the Euromaidan the Kremlin began mobilizing its lobbying networks in the West, and, as it did so, “revealed what experts have long suspected, namely that today’s European extreme right parties and organisations are the most ardent supporters of Putin’s political agenda.”
[Source: Anton Shekhovtsov, “The Kremlin’s marriage of convenience with the European far right,” 28 April 2014
The European far right has vigorously supported Putin. During the Crimean ‘referendum’ of 16 March the ‘international observers’ were mostly recruited from Europe’s extreme-right parties and organizations: Austria’s Freiheitliche Partei (FPÖ) and Bündnis Zukunft, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and Parti Communautaire National-Européen, Bulgaria’s Ataka, France’s Front National, Hungary’s Jobbik, Italy’s Lega Nord and Fiamma Tricolore, Poland’s Samoobrona, Serbia’s “Dveri” movement, and Spain’s Plataforma per Catalunya. Their presence was part of the effort to legitimize the referendum in Western eyes. Of course, the far-right connections of these observers went unmentioned in Russia.
Leaders of the European far right parties visit Moscow regularly. Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National was there in August 2013 and April 2014. She met with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Speaker of the Russian parliament Sergey Naryshkin. Le Pen’s adviser on geopolitical matters Aymeric Chauprade participated in a meeting in the Russian parliament of the Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues. The meeting led to the endorsement of laws banning the adoption of Russian orphan children by LGBT couples. Shekhovtsov informs that several former members of the Front National run ProRussiaTV, a channel that functions as a tool of Russian propaganda, working along the same lines as Russia Today and the Voice of Russia.
Marine Le Pen and Dmitry Rogozin in Moscow in 2013
The leader of the Hungarian far-right Jobbik party, Gábor Vona, has lectured at Moscow State University at the invitation of Aleksandr Dugin. Vona supports Hungary’s leaving the EU and joining a Eurasian Union that would be dominated by Russia. Dugin himself has spoken in the United Kingdom at the invitation of the far-right Traditional Britain Group and has written in support of Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the jailed leader of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, whose political program urges Greek society to toward Russia and away from ‘American Zionists’ and ‘Western usury’.
These far right organizations in Europe admire the Kremlin’s emphasis on brute force as a way of overturning the status quo. Putin for them represents a powerful leader who challenges the West, and the US in particular. But the Kremlin’s anti-American agenda is also popular with some on the European far left, particularly in Germany, France, Greece, Portugal and the Czech Republic. These individuals lend support to the Putin regime also because they see it as a strong challenge to US hegemony. Like the bleating sheep in Orwell’s Animal Farm, they have been induced to adapt their slogans, and have moved from serving the propaganda needs of Soviet Moscow to serving those of a pro-fascist Moscow. The only consistency appears to be the fact that they continue to take cues from Moscow and only find fascists and nationalists outside Russia.
Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin and Jobbik’s leader Gábor Vona in Moscow, 2013
Shekhovtsov writes that European right-wing extremists see in Putin’s Russia a force that can “hamper the world’s democratic development.” The researcher suggests that a weaker global democracy allows them to enforce their anti-immigration agendas.
But the European extreme right also admires what it perceives to be Russia’s ‘traditional’ and ‘Christian’ values. Russia’s anti-gay laws, in particular, have been a hit among many European ultranationalists, especially in France and Italy, where the far-right Fronte Nazionale expressed its support for Putin’s ‘courageous position against the powerful gay lobby’. This party displayed posters in Rome which celebrated Putin’s anti-EU position and his support for the Assad regime in Syria.
Shekhovtsov believes that Russia’s extremist allies in the EU receive payment for their lobbying services in support of Russia’s interests in the EU.
He sees Putin’s Russia as a far right political system characterized by the same authoritarianism, nationalism and populism that are intrinsic to parties on the European extreme right. This is why co-operation between Russia and the European far right “seems like a natural process.” In fact, Putin’s government is today eager to co-operate with any European ultranationalist party that does not criticize Russia for historical or other reasons.
Ataka leader Volen Siderov and Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin. Siderov was invited to Moscow to celebrate Putin’s 60th birthday
What is the benefit to Putin of this support from Europe’s far right parties? In the first place it enables him to blunt attacks on his policies. Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party has praised Putin’s Russia for having “a robust, transparent and properly democratic system.” Right-wing extremists in Western Europe have defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its moves to prevent democratic elections in that country and to destabilize it. In Shekhovtsov’s view, these individuals primarily serve Russian interests by undermining the narratives of democratic leaders who condemn Putin’s actions. But the extreme right is also useful to Putin as a way of weakening Western political institutions, especially what Shekhovtsov calls the “consolidated democracy and good governance” that is essential for the West’s economic prosperity.
Political extremists (on both the right and left) are today Putin’s natural allies in his anti-democratic crusade against the EU. Shekhovtsov writes: “Although there is no reason to idealise EU mainstream parties, they are less prone to corruption than the extreme right,” or, bearing in mind that Germany’s former social democrat chancellor Gerhard Schröder is now a top lobbyist for the Kremlin, maybe the extreme right is simply “less expensive to corrupt.”
A recent article in Der Spiegel lends support to this analysis of Russia’s evolution. Jan Fleischhauer argues that Putin’s speeches demonstrate fascist points of reference: the idea of being encircled and deliberately weakened by external enemies, the idea that the country’s strength is being sapped by the spread of effeminacy and materialism, and so on. This way of thinking, says Fleischhauer, was present at the birth of fascism. Then there’s “Putin’s cult of the body, the lofty rhetoric of self-assertion, the denigration of his opponents as degenerates, his contempt for democracy and Western parliamentarianism, his exaggerated nationalism.” Aware of Mussolini’s success after 1919 and of Hitler’s appeal, it was precisely enemies of freedom on the European far right who immediately picked up Putin’s message. They understood that he was speaking their language. Today Putin supports and encourages these groups. In late April he told a television audience that Victor Orban’s victory in Hungary and Marine Le Pen’s successes in France indicate a welcome “rethinking of values” in European countries. Fleischhauer reminds readers of Putin’s words during this interview. ’Death is horrible, isn’t it?’ Putin asked viewers at the end of his television appearance. Then he continued: ‘But no, it appears it may be beautiful if it serves the people: Death for one’s friends, one’s people or for the homeland, to use the modern word.’ That, says Fleischhauer, is ‘as fascist as it gets.’ [Source: Jan Fleischhauer, “Opinion: Putin’s Not Post-Communist, He’s Post-Fascist” http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/speeches-by-russian-president-putin-betray-fascist-inspiration-a-967283.html] It is therefore ironic that Putin, who uses the fascist template in shaping his ideology and strategy, attacks as ‘fascist’ all those whom he perceives to be Russia’s enemies. This is perhaps revealing of his thought process: since he thinks in fascist terms he tends to see fascist-like phenomena everywhere. Today Russia is moving inexorably toward what Benito Mussolini defined as fascism: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” On 25 March the Russian parliament introduced a law forbidding any attempt to “belittle the authority” of the Russian empire or the USSR. Gradually every organization, from youth groups, to media organizations, to church institutions, is being instrumentalized; they are all being instructed that they must serve the interests of the state, must promote the state’s greatness and inculcate loyalty, obedience and patriotism. Meanwhile independent media is being shut down, and the voicing of any opposition to the Putin regime is being suppressed.
The fascist face of the new Russia takes many forms. There is now a Christian Orthodox fascism in Russia. A short film on this subject provides stunning images of processions in which Orthodox believers carry icons and give fascist salutes. (The film, so far available only in Russian, is directed by Mikhail Baranov and is called Pravoslavnyi fashizm v Rossii. However, the images are mostly self-expanatory. It can be accessed at http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.ca. 3 May 2014.) This blend of fascism, nationalism and Orthodoxy is indicative of the grip that extremist thinking has on wide layers of the Russian population, and of the way popular belief systems are being manipulated for political purposes.
Putin, of course, also has his apologists in more moderate camps. Some on the conservative right are ready to applaud his anti-gay and anti-liberal message. Some in the centre-left feel obliged to offer support to Moscow as an expression of solidarity with the anti-Western rhetoric. However, these individuals are misreading the situation. Putin represents the arrival of a new kind of Russian regime, one with fascist-like reflexes. The closest analogies to what is occurring in Russia can be found in the angry nationalisms that spread through Europe between the First and Second World Wars. The Putin regime is today unleashing fascist movements and fascist behaviour. More than that, as many commentators have indicated, it is itself becoming fascist.
DD [Diadka Dimka], “Pochemu russkie i ukraintsy ne ponimaiut drug druga,” Live Journal <http://d-i-a-s.livejournal.com/460079.html> 13 March 2014
Feder, J. Lester. “The Russian Plot To Take Back Eastern Europe At The Expense Of Gay Rights,” Buzzfeed, http://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/russia-exports-homosexual-propaganda-law-in-effort-to-fight
Fleischhauer, Jan. “Opinion: Putin’s Not Post-Communist, He’s Post-Fascist” http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/speeches-by-russian-president-putin-betray-fascist-inspiration-a-967283.html
Kislov, Daniil, “We’ve Had It with These Blacks.” Transitions Online
<http://www.tol.org/client/article/24005-racism-in-russia.html> 21 October 2013
Shekhovtsov, Anton. “The Kremlin’s marriage of convenience with the European far right,” 28 April 2014
“Nazis and Stalinists thrive on May 1 in Moscow.” Anton Shekhovtsov’s Blog <http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.ca/2014/05/nazis-and-stalinists-thrive-on-may-1-in.html> 2 May 2014
Snyder, Timothy.“Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” New York Review of Books, 20 March 2014