Why Russia’s Ultra-Nationalists Are Against the Kremlin

You would think that if you were a white supremacist, neo-nazi, or another brand of ultra-nationalist, that Russia would be an exceptionally welcoming place to live.  The government regularly breaks up and arrests those who protest against you, if there is a murder of a rights activist there are no consequences, and even the ambassador to NATO comes from a political party which used to get in trouble for widely racist and hate inspiring TV ads.

But no, that’s not quite correct – many of these nationalist extremist groups see the Russian government as enemy #1 along with the more well known targets in the human rights community (check out SRB for some myths on Russian fascism).  This was made exceptionally clear when a group of nationalists claimed responsibility for the recent Nevsky Express train bombing, even with the competing claim by Chechen terrorists.

Writing in the Asia Times Online
, Dmitry Shlapentokh puts forward a historical pathology of the modern Russian fascist ideology. Though his account is not without some holes, some controversy, and some breezy simplification, he gets right at some very interesting questions facing Russia’s political development.

The attitude of Russian youth to the post-Soviet regime has experienced several dramatic changes in the past 20 years. At the dawn of the post-Soviet era in the early 1990s, most youths sympathized with or were a part of pro-Western groups. They saw the West as not so much a symbol of political liberty or even of an orderly market economy, but as an anarchical utopia with little restraint, not to mention abundant sex and money.

They believed that the end of the restrictive powers of the Soviet regime would make them rich overnight. As the years passed, though, they came to realize that the new regime would give to the majority, especially to provincial folk, nothing but misery, and their resentment grew. Pro-Western sympathy eroded, to be replaced by Russian nationalism. At this point, youths were not much different from the majority of Russians.

Putin used these feelings to rise to power, serving as president from 2000 to 2008. Still, the regime, while changing its ideological autocracy, did not change the social and economic arrangement – the gap between affluent Moscow and the poor provinces remained. The fascination of the youth with Putin and the official brand of nationalism declined, and radical nationalism became increasingly directed against the regime and the Russian state in general.

The representatives of this specific brand of Russian extremism proclaim that the Russian state (empire) is just a trick to perpetuate the dominance of minorities. In their view, the imperial Russian state has been historically in the hands of minorities, and the call for the strengthening of the Russian state is nothing but a way of strengthening the power of the minorities – from Jews to Chechens – over helpless Russians.