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Andreas Umland: The Rise of Fascist Rhetoric in Russia

[Dr Andreas Umland is editor of the book series "Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society" (www.ibidem-verlag.de/spps.html) and administrator of the web site "Russian Nationalism" (groups.yahoo.com/group/russian_nationalism/).]

"I did not get this, sorry?" – exclaimed Matvei Ganopolski, moderator of the radio station "Ekho Moskvy" (Moscow's Echo) being on air at the evening of August 8, 2008. Ganopolski was responding to his interview partner, the leader of the so-called International Eurasian Movement Aleksandr Dugin, who had just told him that Georgia's actions in South Ossetia that day were "genocide." Ganopolski could not believe that somebody would use such a loaded word to label the events in Georgia. Notwithstanding Ganopolski's outrage, one day later, on August 9, 2008, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also called Tiblisi's action "genocide." On August 10, President Dmitry Medvedev, who had earlier commented on the conflict using less dramatic terminology, followed suit and also claimed that what had been happening in South Ossetia for the previous three days is to be classified as "genocide."

It is doubtful that Putin or Medvedev had been inspired directly by Alexander Dugin to use the "g-word" for describing what was happening in Georgia that August. However, the congruence of their hyperbole is indicative of where Russia has been moving during the last years. Dugin has become a prolific political commentator and, some say, influential pundit in Putin's new Russia. A well-known theorist of fascism in the 1990s, Dugin presents himself today as a "radical centrist" and ardent supporter of Russia's authoritarian domestic and anti-Western foreign policies. His impassioned articles in defence of Putin as well as his especially rabid anti-Americanism are, apparently, popular in the Kremlin and in Moscow's "White House" (the seat of the federal government). Otherwise, one cannot explain how Dugin has become such a frequent guest in popular evening shows at Russia's government-controlled TV channels, as well as a regular writer for many Moscow newspapers and websites engaged in hammering into the Russian population the latest Kremlin-line.

Dugin's constant rise, during the last years, has happened in spite of the fact that, in the 1990s, this self-style "neo-Eurasianist" had been joyously welcoming the imminent emergence, in Russia, of a "fascist fascism," and praising the organizer of the Holocaust Reinhard Heydrich for being a "convinced Eurasianist." Back then, Dugin described his ideology as being "conservative revolutionary," and admitted that the core idea of fascism is exactly the "conservative revolution." Throughout the nineties, the "neo-Eurasianist" made a whole number of similar statements including various more or less qualified apologies of the Third Reich.

In recent years, to be sure, Dugin's rhetoric has changed – if not in tone, then in style. He now, oddly, often poses as an outspoken "anti-fascist," and does not hesitate to label his opponents in- and outside Russia "fascists" or "Nazi." Paradoxically, he does so while still admitting that his ideas are close to those of the Strasser brothers of inter-war Germany. Dugin introduces these two German nationalists as "anti-Hitlerites," and forgets to mention that Otto and Gregor Strasser were indeed Hitler's opponents – yet they were opposing the Führer being themselves part and parcel of Germany's emerging fascist movement. The Strasser brothers played a rather significant role in transforming the NSDAP in the late 1920s into a mass party before Hitler expelled them from the Nazi party as two influential leaders who had become politically and ideologically inconvenient rivals.

This is not to say that Dugin's rise already means that Russia is becoming fascist. Yet with every additional year passing, the new century has seen further rapprochement between the rhetoric of Russia's extreme right and her highest power-holders, not the least of Putin himself. Putin's and Medvedev's strange repetition of Dugin's interpretation of Tiblisi's action as "genocide" is merely one of many such signs. Moreover, a whole number of more or less influential actors in Putin's "vertical of power" are, in one way or another, linked to Dugin. For instance, Viktor Cherkesov, one of Putin's closest former KGB buddies, is said to have been acquainted with, and sympathetic (as well as, perhaps, helpful) to, Dugin since the 1990s. The same goes for Mikhail Leont'ev, one of Russia's most well-known TV commentators and, according to some information, Putin's favourite journalist. In 2001, Leont'ev took part in the foundation of Dugin's "Eurasia" movement; subsequently, he was, for some time, a member of that organization's Political Council. In February this year, Ivan Demidov, a popular TV moderator, has been promoted to the office of the head of the Ideology Directorate of the Executive Committee of Putin's United Russia party. This happened in spite of the fact that Demidov, only a few months earlier, had professed to be a pupil of Dugin and announced that he would use his talents as PR manager to spread Dugin's ideas.

The Russian extreme right, including some of its crypto-fascist sections, is becoming an ever more influential part of Moscow mainstream public discourse. Its influence can be felt in Russia's mass media, academia, civil society, arts, and politics. Against this background, the growing estrangement between Russia and the West is hardly surprising. Should Dugin and Co. continue to exert their impact on the Russian elite and population, the currently emerging second Cold War between Moscow and the West will stay with us, for the years to come.
Read entire article at Open Democracy (Note: The article below was slightly revised by the author.)