Russian nationalism is gaining in political influence argues the Financial Times. Russia’s so-called “ultra-nationalists” (and I do wonder what the difference is between nationalism and its “ultra-” variety) have been steadily climbing in political influence, particularly among Russia’s elite. Their big political bump has come with Russia success in Georgia which proved to them that Russia was indeed back. The FT reports,
Against the backdrop of conflict in Georgia and deteriorating relations with the west, Russia’s ultra-nationalist thinkers are starting to exert unprecedented influence. The wide acceptance of a group of ideas once dismissed as laughable signals a new era in Russia’s foreign relations, as Moscow seeks to protect what President Dmitry Medvedev calls a “region of privileged interest” in parts of the former Soviet Union.
One of Russia’s chief theorists of Euraisanism, Aleksandr Dugin agrees with this political shift. He told the FT,
“The people that formed the centre under [former president, now prime minister Vladimir] Putin will now become marginal. And another pole will appear that did not exist under Putin at all. That is the army, the military and patriotic movements. That is us. Under Putin we were the extremists: respectable, yes, but radicals. Now we are moving right into the centre.”
I’m not too familiar with Eurasianism or Dugin, but the a recent LA Times interview gives a sample of his take on current events.
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- By Sean — 11 years ago
Alexander Zaitchik and Mark Ames tackle the rise of skinhead violence in Russia in the latest issue of the Nation. As they point out, what was a trademark of Islamists–i.e. the beheading video–has now been adopted by Russian skins. In addition to the video, they note other signs of an escalation in skinhead violence. Namely the attack on anti-nuclear activists in Angarsk which left one antifa activist dead.
For sure there are numerous other examples of far right violence one could mention. And it seems that the Russian state is beginning to have enough. Earlier this month, a St. Petersburg court sentenced seven teens for killing an antiracist activist. The anti-extremism law seems to be applied more and more to the far right. This is despite the fact that today Russian authorities confiscated the computers from the Tolerance Support Foundation in Nizhny Novgorod under the auspices of the extremism law. If targeting NGOs doesn’t reveal the law’s wide political application, the Wall Street Journal reports that Valery Panyushkin, a correspondent for the business daily Vedomosti, was briefly detained by police. Police didn’t allow him to board a train until he “signed a statement that he wasn’t a member of any extremist organization.” And of course there is the case, again in St. Petersburg, of Andrei Piontkovsky, a political analyst and member of Yabloko, having his recent book “Unloved Country” deemed extremist. If all that wasn’t enough, there is the strange story in the yesterday’s Moscow Times about PyotrGagarin. Gagarin, a 71 year old pensioner, has been charged with “extremism” for comments he made about Orel Governor Igor Stroyevduring a protest against rising utility costs. If convicted, Gagarin could get three years in the slammer. When thinking about the Russian extremist law, then, one should keep in mind that it works well against both the right and the left. Extremism is always deemed to exist on the margins, and therefore the law is also a means to carve out an acceptable political center.
But I digress. The flexibility, to say the least, of the Russian extremism law shouldn’t elicit any surprise.
The important question in regard to skinhead violence is asZaitchik and Ames say, “whether the rise in skinhead violence is a strictly organic phenomenon or whether it is being manipulated or even encouraged from above.” On this they write:
Russia is holding parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections next March, and with President Vladimir Putin preparing to step down, the battle among various clan elites is turning increasingly nasty. The website kavkazcenter.com isn’t alone in suggesting that the FSB (formerly the KGB) may have had a hand in the beheading video with the aim of destabilizing the political situation, which presumably would empower the siloviki, or security services, who form one of the two most powerful clan elites. Alternatively, the Kremlin could be trying to discredit extremist nationalists beyond its power, in order to draw voters closer to the Kremlin’s brand of somewhat more staid nationalism.
Such plots aren’t that farfetched. Going back to Yeltsin’s and even Gorbachev’s time, neo-Nazi organizations like Pamyat and Russian National Unity have been manipulated by (and in some cases invented by) Russian security organs to serve as convenient bogeymen who scare both the West and the local population into supporting the government in power.
It is true, the Kremlin and its supporters have willfully played the “populist race card” to raise their political capital. And also as the authors point out, while the Kremlin has dealt this card, they are also looking to control it. A dangerous game indeed and not one without a certain measure of hubris. Unleashing populist forces tends to open up a space where those below outrun and often go beyond the desired actions and rhetorics of those above.
And this is why I think that stating the rise in skinhead violence as simply manufactured from above is a misnomer. Displacing skinhead violence onto some kind of ever scheming, omnipotent Kremlin elides the fact that it is clear racism has a growing constituency in Russia. Thankfully, Ames andZaitchik seem to understand this. They qualify the above with:
And yet the skinhead problem is not a manufactured phenomenon. Nationalism and xenophobia have a deep and broad appeal, particularly to the three-fourths of the country that hasn’t yet entered the emerging middle class. Over the past few decades, Communism and Western-style liberalism have been thoroughly discredited, first by the collapse of the Soviet Union and then with the collapse of the Russian economy by the end of the 1990s. Christianity has never recovered from the Bolshevik Revolution. All of this, put into the context of social, economic, cultural and geopolitical decline, has helped foster growing ultranationalism, including neo-Nazism–which seems strange in a country that lost 27 million people to the Nazis.
Since Putin came to power in 2000, Russia has experienced an unexpectedly rapid yet uneven revival, and his government’s overt patriotism, as well as its ambivalent attitude toward Western liberalism, reflect and enable the growing appeal of ultranationalism.
Thus, contrary to as some would have it, the rise in ultranationalism seems to be connected to the political/ideological vacuum caused by communism’s collapse and the pains of neoliberal economic policies. If this is the case, then were are not seeing the end to such racial violence. We are only seeing the beginning.
- By Sean — 4 years ago
New Russia! Magazine column, “Ukraine Slipping into Paramilitary Arms Race.” Here’s the opening paragraph:
Max Weber defined a state by its power to uphold its “claim on the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.” The fledgling Ukrainian state’s ability to maintain its monopoly on violence is quickly disintegrating as militant separatists, volunteer militias, oligarch backed paramilitary groups, and criminal gangs fight to control the streets of its southern and eastern cities. Ukraine is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The expansion of these forces, on both sides of the conflict, is a disturbing trend. They undermine any political solution to the crisis and gives prominence to armed radicals ready to solve disputes through the barrel of a gun. But peel back the veneer and the emerging Ukrainian civil war looks more like a gang war between competing oligarchs.
- By Sean — 5 years ago
By William Risch
I have made three trips to Ukraine since protests began there in late November 2013. On January 18, I found myself taking Ukraine’s revolution into a new direction. In the city metro stations, I helped activists spread leaflets denouncing the dictatorship laws issued by the authoritarian regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. Our leaflets and placards called on people to attend a mass protest the next day. Some of the protest’s attendants participated in the violence that night that ultimately led to the Yanukovych regime’s collapse. However, there have been two revolutions going on. One has produced the specter of extremist right-wing nationalists seizing power from a democratically elected president, leading to justifications for Russia’s invasion of Crimea and provoking pro-Russian revolts in eastern Ukrainian cities. The other revolution, the one that I participated in, faces the danger of being ignored.
You can sum up these two revolutions in portraits I saw next to one another this week on the Maidan, the center of Ukraine’s protests: one of Viacheslav Chornovil, the other of Stepan Bandera.
Chornovil, a journalist who became a dissident in the late 1960s, came in second in Ukraine’s first presidential elections in 1991. Leader of the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh), he died in 1999 in an auto accident that the authorities allegedly arranged. Bandera was one of the leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), accused of collaboration with Nazi Germany and murdering thousands of ethnic Poles during World War II.
Assassinated by a Soviet agent in West Germany in 1959, Bandera has become the ideological godfather of two right wing organizations prominent in Ukraine’s new government, the Freedom (Svoboda) Party and the paramilitary group Right Sector. Chornovil’s followers consist of a rump leftover of his former political party, which had already split on the eve of his death.
Yet Maidan activists have followed the practices of Chornovil, even if they know little of him. Chornovil had advocated Ukraine’s peaceful separation from the Soviet Union, the defense of human rights, and the protection of Ukraine’s ethnic minorities. His life began as a dissident when, as a journalist, he became outraged by secret trials that violated the Soviet constitution. A young dissenting journalist, Mustafa Nayyem, upset with his country’s leadership, summoned Kyiv’s first Euromaidan protest. Organizations like Civic Sector, the Student Coordinating Council, and all-Ukrainian forums of Euromaidan activists have embodied the spirit of peaceful protest, negotiations with people in power, and long-term changes to the state’s institutions, laws, and practices.
Svoboda and Right Sector have also talked about fundamentally changing the state, but in practice, they have already been engaged in worrisome behavior. This week I saw Right Sector activists occupying buildings on Kyiv’s main boulevard, including a hotel, a sporting goods store, and a cell phone outlet. Men in paramilitary gear, and sometimes even 14-16 year-old children, have been guarding the premises outside. On March 18, Svoboda’s member of the Supreme Rada’s committee on freedom of speech bullied the head of Ukraine’s state-run TV agency, Aleksandr Panteleymonov, into resigning, threatening to beat him up if he refused. A Youtube video shows this man questioning the ethnic origins of entertainers connected with the agency before he barged into Panteleymonov’s office.
This is not the revolution that we activists spreading leaflets in the Kyiv metro wanted. It would not have been the revolution Chornovil would have wanted. Because of Ukraine’s extremely weak opposition parties, and because Svoboda and Right Sector advocated violent resistance after the regime harassed, assaulted, kidnapped, tortured, and killed protestors, Svoboda and Right Sector have become prominent forces in the new government.
Fortunately, the revolution embodied by Chornovil lives on. Ukrainian media widely condemned the attack on Panteleymonov. Singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk from the rock group Okean El’zy, whose music has become part of the Maidan’s soundtrack, called on Ukraine’s new leaders to choose officials on professional merit and not party affiliation, engage in a dialogue with all of Ukraine’s regions and social classes, and uphold the rule of law. The international community needs to support the revolution of Chornovil while scrutinizing the revolution of Bandera.
William Risch is an Associate Professor of History of Georgia College and author of The Ukrainian West: Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Harvard University Press, 2011)