Enable Javascript in your browser for an improved experience of regjeringen.no

4 Locating nationalism...

4 Locating nationalism in the political spectrum

For the purposes of this report I will define ‘nationalism’ as a doctrine emphasizing the importance of belonging to an ethnic group and promoting the interests of this group – which is perceived by the ‘nationalist’ to form a ‘nation’. Above all, such promotion may imply efforts to make the borders of a state coincide with those of an ethnic group, but it may also take other forms. The character of the nationalism may vary depending, inter alia, on its perception of other ethnic groups and its territorial aspirations. When I refer to a ‘nation’, I will do so in the understanding of the individual perception with which I am dealing at the moment, while not necessarily endorsing this assessment. 81This interpretation is not meant as the last word on the primordialist/constructivist debate over the degree of ‘constructedness’ of nations, or in this case, the ‘Russian nation’.

In official Soviet terminology, nationalism was described as ‘a bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology and policy’. 82The definitions are from Bolshaya Sovetskaya entsiklopedia, 3rd edn, Moscow, 1970–81, quoted in Pål Kolstø: ‘The Concept of ‘Patriotic Internationalism’: A Contribution to the Understanding of Soviet Ideology’, Nordic Journal for Soviet and East European Studies, 4/84, pp. 2–6. All nationalist ideologies, with their insistence on nation being a more important distinction of people than class, were seen as containing reactionary elements. Contrary to this, ‘patriotism’ was defined as ‘love and devotion to the motherland and readiness to serve its interests’. In Russia, liberal theorists as well as nationalists of different shadings, to a large extent still follow this distinction; ‘patriotism’ remains a highly rated term, whereas only a few extremists admit to being nationalists.

When the USSR broke up, the Russian Federation was the only one of the 15 successor states that did not declare itself the homeland of one ethnic group. Still, the Russian state that emerged after 1991 was in ethnic terms more ‘Russian’ than the Soviet Union – some 82% of the population were ethnic Russian (the 1989 census acknowledged the existence of some 100 different ethnic groups), while in the USSR, the figure had been some 50%. Thereby, one dimension of the RSFSR’s becoming an independent state was a greater ethnic homogeneity of the population, which made for a pressure towards considering the Russian Federation explicitly as a nation-state of ethnic Russians.

The Yeltsin regime, however, maintained a policy of emphasizing the multi-cultural character of the state. The introduction of the 1993 constitution explicitly speaks of ‘the multi-ethnic ( mnogonatsionalnyy] people of Russia’. Similarly, the Yeltsin administration took up the term rossiyanin (pl. rossiyane) to describe all citizens of Russia, regardless of ethnicity. Rarely used in Soviet years, it substituted ‘Soviet citizen’ as the non-exclusive term to describe the citizenry of Russia. This is not to say that the Yeltsin regime did not struggle with its own conceptions of ethnicity and citizenship. In particular, both Russian nationalists and the Russian political leadership soon turned to defend their 25 million ‘compatriots’ ( russkie by passport nationality) in the FSU. Indeed, the diaspora was a central dimension of the foreign policy consensus that developed as the Yeltsin regime shifted to a more assertive foreign policy from 1993 onwards. 83For an analysis of phases in the regime’s policy on the diaspora issue, see Neil J. Melvin: ‘The Russians: Diaspora and the End of Empire’. In Charles King and Neil J. Melvin (ed.s): Nations Abroad. Diaspora Politics and International Relations in the Former Soviet Union. Westview Press, Boulder Colorado, 1998.

4.1 Four categories of Russian nationalism

In general terms, we may speak of four rough categories of nationalist sentiments in post-Soviet Russia, distinguished along two different dimensions: territorial orientation (‘core’ or ‘empire’) and character of nationalism (primarily ethnic or primarily statist). In the table that appears when we join these two dimensions, we get the following four categories of nationalism: 84This model was developed and elaborated upon by this author in a different article. See ‘Raising the Russian Question. Ethnicity and statehood; russkie and Rossiya. Nationalism & Ethnic Politics, vol. 2, no.1, 1996.

Ethnic core nationalism (core oriented; primarily ethnic): Nationalism of this category is focused on promoting the interests of ethnic Russians within a core area densely populated by ethnic Russians. The territorial ambitions of this nationalism may coincide with the borders of the Russian Federation, but may in principle be both narrower and wider. In practice, somewhat wider ambitions are not uncommon, relating in particular to such areas as eastern Estonia, northern Kazakhstan, and southern and eastern Ukraine. (As many Russian nationalists see little or no difference between Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, this category also touches onto the promotion of East Slav union.)

Russian Federation nationalism (core oriented, primarily statist): This category is focused on the Russian Federation, accepting the borders it had when it was still the RSFSR. Being less oriented towards ethnicity than the category above, holds that this new state should define its own national interest, and that these might not always coincide with those of its neighbors. Actors In this category I have termed gosudarstvenniki; cf the discussion earlier.

Russian supremacist nationalism (empire oriented, primarily ethnic): This category signifies a nationalism that both has territorial ambitions outside Russia's current borders, also into areas that are not necessarily inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians. The ethnic element expresses itself as an acceptance of a degree oppression of other peoples in order to realize such ambitions.

Empire restorers (empire oriented, primarily statist): This final category may be seen as shaped by Soviet official ideology both by its emphasis on the multi-ethnic character of the USSR, and by its parallel emphasis on the greatness of that state. It was in the form of the Soviet Union that Rossiya had become a superpower, projecting its might – ideologically as well as militarily – around the globe.

Four categories of Russian nationalism

Character of nationalism

Territorial orientation

Primarily ethnic

Primarily statist ( gosudarstvenniki)

‘Core’ oriented

Ethnic core nationalists

E.g. Russian Federation nationalists

‘Empire’ oriented

Supremacist nationalists

Empire restorers; soyuzniki

What is most often spoken of as ‘Russian nationalism’ in the West is a very imprecise conception. For instance, when President Bill Clinton's National Security Adviser, Samuel Berger, in January 2000 expressed his concern that Vladimir Putin might turn out to be a ‘Russian nationalist’ 85Cited in Max Jakobson: ’Is the New Strongman in Moscow a Nationalist or an Imperialist?’ International Herald Tribune , 21 January 2000., he most probably did not have in mind an ethnocentric sort of nationalism, but rather one positioned along the ‘primarily statist’ axis, implying a stronger Russian assertiveness towards the outside world. The purpose of this model is to direct our thinking around Russian nationalism and make it as precise as possible, for the purpose of our analysis.

If we look at nationalist ideology isolated from other political orientations (for instance, democracy vs. authoritarianism), we should consider two of the four ideal types in my model as more radical than the remaining two. The degree of radicalism I consider by their immanent potential to cause conflict. Along the ‘core’-’empire’ axis, I consider that an empire-oriented nationalism to be more radical, since this is an ideology that has aspirations outside the borders of the state from which it springs. Along the ‘nation-centered – state-centered’ axis, I consider the ‘nation-centered’ ideology to be the more radical one, since, in a multinational state like Russia, it necessarily has an exclusionary character, and may instigate conflict between ethnic groups. Accordingly, we may consider the ethno-accentuated imperialism to be the most explosive kind of the four.

It should be pointed out that a regime espousing one of the two remaining categories of nationalism is not necessarily more ‘liberal’ or ‘democratic’. It could be described as more forward-looking and less conservative, by virtue of accepting to a greater degree the new realities and seeking to define Russian interests according to them. Above all, the ‘realities’ in question here relate to the dissolution of the USSR; the fact that 15 former Soviet republics have become independent states and aspire to remain so in the future.

A final point would be that I will not speak of ‘patriotism’ here other than when referring to others’ use of this term. My model is a model of nationalist ideology, and as such excludes a purely ‘patriotic’ sentiment; understood as dedication to one’s country with no element of ethnic accentuation whatsoever. While there is no definite reason why such a sentiment could not be found in reality, my opinion is that a model that opens for ‘primarily statist’ sentiments is sufficient for all practical purposes of this study.

In the following, I will relate the above four categories to other variables that are used to systematize political sentiments in Russia, in order to establish in which circles the radical brands of nationalism are most frequently found. This section is divided in two; ‘territorial orientation’, and ‘ethnocentrism’.

4.2 Territorial orientation: The FSU and the Russian Federation

In this section, we find ourselves, image-wise, moving between two of the ideal types identified in the model presented above: the ‘core’ oriented and the ‘empire’ oriented brands of Russian nationalism. The prime question defining a political actor’s position here may be posed like this: ‘To what extent does he recognize the current borders of the Russian Federation?’ In relation to the wider ambition of this report, furthermore, we should compare the different actors’ positions on this question with how they place themselves and are placed by others in a general political spectrum.

As will become evident, there is no clear-cut correspondence between political ‘moderation’ (or centrism) and absence of territorial claims on behalf of Russia. Or, rather: actors out on the wings of the perceived spectrum (with the exception of the ‘democrats’ that are placed on the far Right) tend to show little respect for other former Soviet republics’ independence altogether, but challenges to their territorial integrity are heard from just about every political circle.

In the first year or two after independence, the emphasis on the interests of the Russian Federation as opposed to an imperial nostalgia was represented above all by the MID under Andrey Kozyrev, and by President Yeltsin personally. To the ‘radical reformers’, maintaining the old empire was not an inherent value; rather, Russia would be better off on its own, gaining in strength and recognition by achieving economic growth. To a majority of Russians and certainly of Russian politicians, however, the liberals’ preparedness to abandon territorial claims was quite alien. Among Russia's political institutions, the most uninhibited exponent for border revisions (or Soviet restorationism) was the parliament – the Congress of People’s Deputies, as well as first and second post-Soviet State Dumas. Being dominated by nationalist forces of different political leanings, these assemblies passed a series of resolutions whose potential to escalate tensions with neighboring states was moderated only by the MID and the president personally.

The fact that the liberal deputies and parties did not seriously oppose the nationalist policies of the assemblies may partly be explained both by the political leaning of the deputies, and partly by their concern not to be seen as completely insensitive to issues of national pride.

The same explanation goes a long way also in explaining the shift in the Yeltsin regime’s policies towards other FSU states from 1993 onwards. By late 1993, President Yeltsin had initiated a shift in declaratory policy, bringing it more in line with the nationalist opposition. Observers would make the point that Kozyrev now spoke precisely as he had done at the CSCE meeting in Stockholm in December 1992; only he no longer returned to the rostrum to explain that his bellicose speeches had been make-believe.

The political challengers that Kozyrev was trying to match were radical indeed. With Vladimir Zhirinovskiy’s (and the KPRF’s) showing in the 1993 Duma elections, it had become clear that anti-democratic and expansionist forces could come to power in Russia by constitutional means. And Zhirinovskiy maintained the expansionist and supremacist policies which made him famous: ‘Russia within the borders of the USSR. That's minimum. And maximum — that's Russia within the borders of the Russian Empire. [Including Poland and Finland] And Alaska in America.’ 86‘Milliard dollarov — I ya u vlasti’, Rossiya, no. 27, 1-7 June 1992.

That is not to say that the liberal politicians have merely attempted to steal the thunder of the nationalists. For instance, Vladimir Lukin, the foreign policy spokesman and co-founder of the Yabloko, typically seen as a center-right liberal party, seemed to differ from the liberals in the government for instance in the dispute with Ukraine over the ownership of Crimea. Lukin was a driving force in trying to prevent the Kremlin from signing a treaty with Ukraine, and thereby accepting the territorial status quo: ‘A treaty does not create a status [ sostoyanie], it fixates it. And we do not understand whether we are friends, or grumpy neighbors. We need here a policy of active waiting. Without any sort of a priori concessions and gifts.’ 87‘Lekarstvo ot geopoliticheskogo psikhoza’. Obozrevatel, no. 6, 1995.

There were politicians also in President Yeltsin's entourage who would favor a significantly more assertive policy towards other former Soviet republics. Some of these, of course, would later join the opposition; the most prominent one among them being Aleksandr Rutskoy – who, as we have seen, at that time spoke of himself as a ‘centrist’. When he returned to politics in 1994, as leader of Derzhava, his platform was that of a staunch empire builder (with a highly populist program). He would call for the ‘rebirth of the Great Power Russia, a single (unitary) [ edinoe, (unitarnoe)] state of genuine, non-explosive brotherhood of all peoples, living on the common, holy land.’ 88‘Kontrrevoliutsiya voshla pod maskoy’, Pravda, 4 February 1995. Russia, he said, should return to ‘the original historical truth, to what Russia had’. That implied abolishing territorial subjects within the state, and bringing back into the fold independent states including the Baltics: ‘When we look at a map of 1915, we find no sovereign and independent states in it. What we see is the great power Russia’, he said. 89BNS, 13 September 1994.

There were also several other actors in Boris Yeltsin’ entourage expressing opinions that diverged substantially from that of the president and the MID. Perhaps the most vocal one was presidential adviser Sergey Stankevich. In December 1992, he published an article justifying Russia's hardening diaspora policies. ‘Russia has made a fundamentally anti-imperial choice; it hasn't the slightest urge to expand’, he wrote. At the same time, he did agree that Russia now desired to treat the diaspora as an issue of ‘vital national interest’. That was not something unique, however: ‘What is probably unique is the gravity of the problem’. And, he added, it was also natural for Russia to maintain ‘certain existing capabilities to influence the course of events in regions of vital importance to us and to create new ones.’ 90Sergei Stankevich: ‘Russia has already made an anti-imperial choice’. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 6 November 1992. Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, December 9, 1992. Vol. XLIV, no. 45; p. 11.

In the opposition, the rhetoric has been yet tougher. Sergey Baburin, a left-leaning, persistent foreign policy hard-liner in the Russian parliaments, has openly disputed other states’ ownership to several regions where ethnic Russians have been exponents of irredentism. Expressing a particularly russo-centric expansionism, he has said that former republics should be re-united either through the annexation of the Dniester region and Abkhasia, and, after holding a referendum – of Crimea and any other territories, for example Northern Kazakhstan – or through the creation of a Russian Union through unification of the present-day Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine and other republics. Baburin’s vision is that of a ‘Russian union’ ( Rossiyskiy soyuz), which encompasses the entire expanse of the FSU. 91‘Sergey Baburin: ‘Volya, pobeda’ ‘, Zavtra, no. 27, July 1995.

To expansionists like Baburin, General Aleksandr Lebed was a favorite in his first few months as commander of the 14th Army in the Dniester region. After employing his forces to end the fighting between the separatists and the Chisinau regime, Lebed would describe the latter as being ‘firmly national-totalitarian’ and representing ‘the return of fascism’. 92‘Aleksandr Lebed: Armiya – eto vsegda zashchita naroda’, Literaturnaya Rossiya, 31 July 1992. Later, however, Lebed fell out with the Dniestrian leadership, and he began to nourish a more moderate image. With his strong showing in the 1996 presidential election, and subsequent negotiation of a peace deal in Chechnya, he was well on his way to having achieved that. Still, Lebed, who in recent years has seemed more willing to adopt to the post-Soviet realities than many other politicians, and who has spoken against restorationalism, nevertheless could not accept Ukrainian ownership of the Crimea, and in particular of the city of Sevastopol. Among the reasons why he was dismissed from the Kremlin in the fall of 1996, was his writing an open letter to the sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, arguing that Russia ‘must keep the glorious city of Sevastopol Russian, which is our legal right.’ 93General Aleksandr Lebed: My Life and My Country. Regnery Publishing, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 359.

While some analysts might still place Aleksandr Lebed in a category of imperial nostalgics, similar territorial demands have been put forward by seemingly more moderate politicians. One prominent exponent of an aggressive Russian line on this issue is Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, the prominent ‘centrist’ and 1999 partner of Yevgeniy Primakov. Among his extravagant initiatives are building housing quarters for Russian BSF personnel in Sevastopol 94Also in the 1999 election campaign, Luzhkov promoted OVR in Moscow with posters saying ‘We are building houses for Russian military servicemen’., and January 1995 declaration of that city being Moscow’s 11th district. In December 1996, the Federation Council voted overwhelmingly in support for a bill penned by Luzhkov declaring Sevastopol to be a Russian city. 95RFE/RL Daily Brief, 6 December 1996.

Somewhat different from the assertive policies discussed above, is the expansionism of the more purely Soviet restorationalist brand, promoted above all by communists. It was the KPRF, for instance, that initiated the Duma vote in March 1996 which led to the denouncement of the 1991 Belovezh accords, which had implied the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The KPRF still has on top of its agenda the re-establishment of the Soviet Union. By 2000, its program – reflecting the tension between old and new; internationalism and Russian nationalism – states that it is necessary to ‘protect the state integrity [ tselostnost] of Russia, recreate a renewed Union of Soviet peoples, secure the national unity of the Russian [ russkogo] people’. 96‘Programma Kommunisticheskoy partii Rossiyskoy Federatsii’. In Informatsionniy byulleten, no. 9 (50), 15 maya 1997 goda, p. 12. This program may also be found on the web, at www.kprf.ru.

While Soviet restorationalism remains on the agenda on the Russian Left, Russian nationalism has in recent years become more focused on the Russian Federation. This should probably be seen above all as a consequence of the post-1991 status quo. Ideas take shape around structures, and the structure of the USSR is gone. Russian policies have been formulated within the boundaries of the Russian Federation, and that is also how far Russian authority reaches. Not only homogenizing state policies such as conscription, schooling etc. within a territory, which have been held up by theorists as powerful nation-building tools, serve to build nations. The very existence of borders, maps, foreign policies formed within and directed outside those borders, influence perceptions profoundly. Whereas the restoration of the USSR is still part of the program of some parties, notably the KPRF, and is also the wish of a considerable part of the Russian population, the overall trend has been towards more focus on the Russian Federation.

Reflecting a tension between restorationalism and identification with the Russian Federation, State Duma Chairman Gennadiy Seleznev – typically seen in Russia as a KPRF moderate – in the fall of 1998 caused uproar among Ukrainian nationalists by criticizing Ukraine for its ties with NATO, referring to Russians and Ukrainians as ‘a single people’, and calling for the expansion of the Russia-Belarus Union into a Russia-Ukraine-Belarus Union. 97Jamestown Foundation Monitor, 30 September 1998. On a similar note, KPRF deputy leader Valentin Kuptsov one year earlier told this writer that he considered that year’s Russian-Belarusian treaty as a first step in the formation of a new unitary state on the territory of the former Soviet Union: 'A new union is unavoidable .... We lived together for three hundred years in a unitary state, fully developing systems of government, mechanisms for communications, culture, ethnos, narodnost.’ However, when asked explicitly about Crimea, Kuptsov shifted outlook briefly: Crimea is ‘sacred Russian [as opposed to Ukrainian] land’, covered with the blood of the ancestors of today’s Russians, he said. 98Simonsen, Sven Gunnar: ‘Still Favoring the Power of the Workers’. Transitions, vol. 4, no. 7, December 1997, p. 53.

It is tempting to see this brief outburst as encompassing the entire process that took place within the nationalist circles in Russia after 1991: If we relate to the four-square model, there were two major trends taking place in Russian national identity in the period we are considering. First, in territorial terms, the identification of Russianness with the entire former Soviet Union grew weaker, while the former RSFSR, now in the form of the Russian Federation, gained in relevance. And second, in ethnic terms, ideas of basically being one with other East Slavs gave way to a stronger accentuation of Russian ethnicity as distinct from others. However, these were trends; they did not reshape people’s consciousness entirely. As for the territorial dimension, then, the 1991 borders were still being contested, to different degrees, by political actors in most camps, and not only among ‘radicals.

4.3 Ethnocentrism: russkie and rossiyane

In the Russian political discourse, ‘nationalism’ tends to be associated with such terms as ‘extremism’ , ‘fascism’ and also ‘separatism’. In terms of actors, the term is usually linked only with the most radical. 99Not surprisingly, furthermore, only the most radical political forces would agree to be described as nationalists. Aleksandr Barkashov entitled the book he wrote for the members of Russian National Unity Azbuka russkogo natsionalista – ‘ABC of the The Russian Nationalist’. While these actors are identified by several traits, they are normally exponents of unmitigated ethnocentrism and supremacism. In the late 1980s, media coverage of ‘Russian nationalism’ would often include an interview with Dmitriy Vasiliev, leader of the extreme (but, as gradually became evident, very small) group Pamyat (Memory). 100For an analysis of Pamyat’s ideology, see Sven Gunnar Simonsen: Dilemma of Dominance. Nation and Empire in Russian Nationalist Ideology. Cand. Polit. thesis, University of Oslo, 1993. Later, a similarly narrow understanding of the term was maintained as attention shifted to Vladimir Zhirinovskiy – first as he came a surprising third in the RSFSR presidential elections in 1991, and then even more so as the LDPR won the 1993 Duma elections. As the LDPR has become a mainstream party of sorts, Russian discussions of ‘nationalism’ have shifted to new fringe actors. A survey of the major newspapers prior to the 1999 elections give the impression that discussions of ‘nationalism’ dealt above all with the participation of Aleksandr Barkashov and Spas.

However, we should not conclude from the character of the Russian discourse that ethnocentrism does strike so narrowly. If explicit supremacism may be a fringe phenomenon, identifying with the Russian Federation (or indeed the Soviet Union) with its ethnic Russian majority is more widespread. In other words, it would be too simple to conclude that Russian politicians generally belong in the ‘primarily statist’ category in our four-square model, when it comes to identification.

Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov – the self-declared ‘patriot’ and ‘internationalist’ – frequently runs into trouble making his mind up about whether to speak of russkie or rossiyane. ‘The ethnic Russian man [ russkiy chelovek] cannot live normally without a strong state, without a sense of belonging to a collective, be it the peasants' commune, a Cossack circle or a Russian state, the Soviet Union’, he said, explaining why communism is Russia's future. 101‘Lyubaya diktatura besperspektivna: Boyarskaya, proletarskaya, prezidentskaya’ Oppozitsiya, no. 11 (1994) In a party whose leadership may be seen as divided into different ‘personalities’, Zyuganov is one who has a particularly high profile on ‘patriotic’ issues. 102Most clearly, the different camps within the ‘multiple personality’ of the KPRF have been identified by Joan Barth Urban and Valeriy Solovei. They distinguish between three main directions within the party – the nationalists close to Zyuganov; the ‘Marxist reformers’; and the ‘Marxist-Leninist modernizers’. Barth Urban, Joan, and Valerii D. Solovei: Russia's Communists at the Crossroads. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997, chapters 2-4.

Similarly, Aleksandr Lebed, who on the whole does not appear to be burdened with a strong sense of supremacist nationalism, nevertheless is marked by his experiences in Transdniester. In early 1995, as mentioned, he left the army and entered politics using KRO – the Congress of [ethnic] Russian Communities – as his vehicle. Shortly before the 1995 elections, Lebed with characteristic bluntness said that Russia's sphere of interest should include as a minimum the states of the former Soviet Union. ‘25 million Russians live there. Our men are treated like slaves and our women are offended like whores.’ All Russia needed to do to defend its people abroad was, luckily, to turn off the gas. This, Lebed said, would bring the offending republics to their knees. ‘We will talk with human beings in a civilized way and to pigs like pigs.’ 103‘Betrayal of Serbs is a deadly sin’, Stern (Hamburg), 21 September 1995. FBIS-SOV-95-183.

Precisely the Russian communities – referring to the 25 million ethnic Russians who found themselves outside the Russian state when the USSR broke up – has been the single greatest focus of ethnocentric Russian nationalism of different shades. This issue could also serve as an indicator of the hardening of Russian policies after 1992. At his most accommodating, Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev would warn that creating enclaves to satisfy Russian minorities in the FSU inspired parallels to Nazi Germany. 104Russian Militarism Risks New Hitler. Chicago Sun-Times, 8 July 1992. Similarly, Boris Yeltsin as early as in May 1991 had defused the issue of the diaspora when he stated that it indeed was the responsibility of the Russian state to protects their interests, but also warned that ‘it is impossible to defend people with tanks’, and that the situation would only get more complicated with threats to use force. 105Evans, Alfred B., Jr.: ‘Yel’tsin and Russian Nationalism’. The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, 21, no. 1, 1994, p. 38. Later statements from Yeltsin, and even more so from Kozyrev, contradict strongly this impression of benevolence. The Russians in the other FSU states became increasingly defined as an integral part of the Russian nation. 106See Tolz, Vera: ‘What is Russia: Post-Communist Debates on Nation-Building’. Paper presented at the 1997 AAASS convention, Seattle, WA; and Tolz, Vera: ‘Conflicting ‘Homelands Myths’ and Nation-State Building in Postcommunist Russia’. Slavic Review 57, no. 2 (summer 1998). And the diaspora was a central dimension of the foreign policy consensus that developed as the Yeltsin regime shifted to a more assertive foreign policy. 107For a convincing analysis of phases in the regime’s foreign policy, see Malcolm, Neil, and Pravda, Alex: ‘Introduction’, in Malcolm, Neil, Alex Pravda, Roy Allison and Margot Light: Internal Factors in Russian Foreign Policy. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996. For a parallel analysis of policy phases related to the diaspora issue, see Melvin, Neil J.: ‘The Russians: Diaspora and the End of Empire’. In King, Charles, and Neil J. Melvin (ed.s): Nations Abroad. Diaspora Politics and International Relations in the Former Soviet Union. Westview Press, Boulder Colorado, 1998. Indicatively, Boris Yeltsin in his 1994 New Year Address to the nation addressed the diaspora specifically: ‘Dear compatriots! You are inseparable from us and we are inseparable from you. We were and we will be together.’ 108Quoted in Tolz, Vera: ‘What is Russia: Post-Communist Debates on Nation-Building’. Paper presented at the 1997 AAASS convention, Seattle, WA.

Whereas nationalism of the ethnocentric kind does exert significant influence, it is still reasonable to say that it is the less ethno-centric brand that is the most prevalent category in Russian political discourse. That does not mean, however, that ‘all is well’ in inter-ethnic relations in Russia. Just like Soviet declarations of friendship of peoples could only partly conceal the intolerance that was inherent in that political system, emphasis on the multinational character of Russia's population easily evaporates. One example is the rhetoric surrounding the beginning of the ongoing Chechen war. When President Boris Yeltsin responded to the bomb attacks on housing blocs in Moscow and other cities, that served as a pretext for the war, he made certain not to associate the perpetrators with any particular ethnic group: ‘This enemy does not have a conscience, shows no sorrow and is without honor. It has no face, nationality or belief. Let me stress – no nationality, no belief.’ 109Televised address by Yeltsin on the bombings. Transcript from Reuters, 13 September 1999. In other words, the guilty were obviously Chechens, but that would not be held against the Chechen people as a whole. Leaving aside speculations that the Kremlin may in fact have planned the attacks itself, such a distinction appears honorable and in line with a multinational orientation. What disrupts such an interpretation, however, is the extent to which the Kremlin later did in fact demonize the entire Chechen people, as part of the propaganda war. All nuances were lost as ‘Chechens’ became synonymous with ‘terrorists’ and ‘bandits’. While the war in Chechnya in 1994-96 was presented by the Kremlin as aimed at restoring control and securing Russia's territorial integrity, the current war is a ‘fight against terrorism’. The Kremlin’s practice is more radical, and there is a stronger ethnic element to it. Certainly, this campaign has fed the sentiments that made as many as 34% of respondents in a January 2000 VTsIOM poll agree with Aleksandr Rutskoy, who had stated that ‘Chechnya should be turned into a Gobi Desert'. 110Vremya MN, January 28, 2000, as reported by RIA Novosti. Serving to justify such sentiments, then Acting President Vladimir Putin, in a pre-election open letter to the Russian voters, stated that crime in Russia had ‘gone so far that a whole republic, namely Chechnya, succumbed to the criminal world.’ 111ITAR-TASS, 25 February 2000. FBIS-SOV-2000-0225.

Another example indicating that not only fringe actors represent or provide for racist policies, is the political practices of Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov. The administration of this ‘centrist’, who has received much media coverage for his apparent efforts to ban Aleksandr Barkashov’s neo-Nazi organization RNE, is itself consistently violating federal laws by its harsh treatment of ‘blacks’ – people from the Caucasus. Luzhkov openly endorses practices including illegal registration and deportations, and disregards reports of widespread police violence. 112For one early report on Moscow’s policies against Caucasians, see ‘Moscow: Open Season, Closed City’. Human Rights Watch, Vol. 9, No. 10 (D), September 1997.

In the Soviet political vernacular, not only ‘nationalism’ but also ‘cosmopolitanism’ was an unhealthy counterforce to (Soviet) patriotism. Cosmopolitanism was seen as a sort of counter-ideology of those peoples who could not love their own country and thus could not appreciate others’ patriotism. A prime target then, was ‘the wandering Jew’. Anti-Semitism in Russia has a long history, and it did not in any way disappear with Soviet rule. Stalin’s anti-Semitism is widely covered. When (unofficial) Russian nationalism surfaced in samizdat (unofficial publications) in the 1960s and -70s, anti-Semitism was often part of it. Through most of the 1900s, moreover, anti-Semites have made the unconvincing assertion that their antipathy was not aimed at Jews per se, but rather at Zionists. In post-Soviet Russia, anti-Semitism remains strong in the population as a whole. To cite just one source, as many as 17.8% of respondents in a 1992 survey in Moscow (which is known to have a relatively liberal electorate) agreed or were inclined to believe that ‘there is a global plot against Russia organized by Zionists’. 113Brym, Robert J., and Andrei Degtyarev: ‘Anti-Semitism in Moscow: Results of an October 1992 Survey’. Slavic Review, 52, no.1 (Spring 1993), p. 5. (N=940).

In the Russian politics, anti-Semitism is widespread, and tolerance for it even more so. This is not in any way a phenomenon only on the Right, or in the category typically spoken of as the ‘national-patriots’. In particular, prominent representatives of the KPRF have often expressed anti-Semitic views, and the party leadership has shown great tolerance for that. The anti-Semitism of the KPRF received particular attention in late 1998, as Communist Duma deputy General (ret) Albert Makashov, and later also the leader of the Duma Security Committee Viktor Ilyukhin, were reported making extreme statements. Makashov on several occasions blamed ‘Yids’ ( zhidy) for Russia's troubles, and on one occasion, he called on his audience: ‘To the grave with all the Yids!’ 114Russian left descends into dark well of anti-Semitism The Guardian November 5, 1998. In a speech reprinted in the radical newspaper Zavtra, Makashov said: ‘Usury, deceit, corruption, and thievery are flourishing in the country. That is why I call the reformers yids. Who are these Jews? … Yid is not a nationality, yid is a profession.’ 115General Albert Makashov: ‘Usurers of Russia’. Zavtra, No. 4220 October 1998. One opinion poll at the time found that 15% of Muscovites approved of Makashov’s remarks, while 51% condemned them. 116Interfax, 11 November 1998.

Gennadiy Zyuganov has never seemed to have any problem with working closely with extreme anti-Semites. He himself has, however, not to any great extent been found making overt anti-Semitic statements. But as the storm around Albert Makashov and Viktor Ilyukhin raged in late 1998, Zyuganov showed lack of concern as he and his party prevented the Duma from reprimanding those for their statements. And shortly afterwards, Zyuganov appeared as the author of an article with a strong anti-Semitic content. He described the ‘campaign’ against Makashov as being ‘provocatively Russophobic’ in nature. He made sure to distinguish between Jews and Zionists, and described Zionism as a strain of ‘the most aggressive imperialist circles striving for world domination’ acting in secret, not least at second hand’. For good measure, he pointed out that no Russian citizen had ‘the right… to view Russia as an alien ‘host country’, or to be a ‘tool in the hands of Zionism’. 117G. Zyuganov: ‘On the National Pride of Patriots. Statement by Communist Party of the Russian Federation Central Committee Chairman’. Sovetskaya Rossiya, 24 December 1998.

4.4 The proximity of extremes

The so-called ‘red-browns’ ( krasno-korichnevye), or ‘communist-nationalist alliance’ is not a specifically Russian phenomenon. This seemingly illogical proximity of forces that appear to be as far away from each other politically as they can get, can be identified also in Western countries. Likewise, attempts have been made to explain this phenomenon elsewhere. One classic scholarly work here is Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, which attempted to demonstrate that Nazism and communism had the same ideological foundation and dynamics. Similarly, Eric Voegelin ( New Science of Politics) and Karl Löwith ( Meaning in History) have both linked different expressions of modern totalitarianism, seeing them as secularized expressions of the religious hope for the end of times. 118I am indebted to Henrik Syse for bringing these works to my attention.

What is special for today’s Russia, is that the ‘red-browns’ constitute a highly influential force, and the fact that these actors are seen as overall more legitimate than they are in most other countries. A quick look at the list of blocs that were registered by the Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) before the December 1999 Duma election is all that is necessary for us to see that the span of legitimate political ideologies represented in Russian electoral politics is wider than what is the case in most Western countries. Among the blocs registered were Spas (Savior), led by Nazi leader Aleksandr Barkashov, 119Based on a district court decision, Spas was later removed from the election register. For a background on Barkashov and the RNE, see Simonsen, Sven Gunnar: ‘Blackshirt Friends of the Nation’. Nationalities Papers , vol. 24, no. 4, 1996. and the Stalinist Bloc – for the Soviet Union, which included Stalin’s grandson as one of its top three candidates.

Tolerance for radical political rhetoric is high in Russia. Yet, a special category is often distinguished for the most radical politicians and organizations, and also tends to be used by these themselves. This is the category of national-patriots. Into this category falls, above all, the most ethnocentric and supremacist actors. By some notions, it also includes the Soviet restorationalists; however, this group also overlaps into categories mostly described simply as Left-wing ( levye). The restorationalists that fall into the category of national-patriots are therefore mostly those who see the USSR (or the Russian Empire) more as the realm of ethnic Russians than was common in Soviet rhetoric. To a great many Russians, ‘national-patriot’ does not really have negative connotations. Precisely which organizations are placed in this category varies somewhat depending on the eyes of the beholder. Among notable parties that would be placed here, are the LDPR, Aleksandr Rutskoy’s Derzhava, Nikolay Lysenko’s National-Republican Party of Russia (NRPR), and Sergey Baburin’s ROS. In the terminology of Vladimir Pribylovskiy, these are the ‘national and imperial patriots’. 120Pribylovskiy, Vladimir: 43 linii spektra. Kratkoe opisanie vsekh predvybornykh blokov. Informatsionno-Ekspertnaya gruppa ’Panorama’. Moskva, December 1995, p. 22-23.

Two aspects of these parties make them stand out in relation to our model of nationalism. First, they are, as suggested above, particularly oriented towards ethnic supremacism and territorial expansion. Second, they are forces that put heavy emphasis on these issues: their rhetoric is much less concerned with the nitty-gritty of economic policy, agriculture, media issues etc than with relations to the outside world. While they differ between themselves, they are all quite predictable in that they all are highly populist in their rhetoric.

From the character of their rhetoric, other parties, too, may be placed in the category of ‘red-browns’. Most significantly, some would place the KPRF here, together with other parties and groups such as the Agrarian Party, Aleksey Podberezkin’s Spiritual Heritage ( Dukhovnoe nasledie), KRO, and Stanislav Govorukhin’s bloc. These are all parties from which we can hear expressions of Soviet nostalgia and ethnocentrism.

The ‘red-brown alliance’ was visible in Russia even before the USSR broke up. In the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR Congress of People's Deputies, the group Soyuz (Union) had been set up by Sergey Baburin, with a majority of the deputies as members. A number of initiatives at uniting against the Yeltsin regime followed; the most significant one without doubt being the establishment of the National Salvation Front ( Front natsionalnogo spaseniya – FNS) in October 1992. The new organization turned a veritable who's who of Russian radical opposition; the leadership included Ilya Konstantinov, Viktor Alksnis, Gennadiy Zyuganov, Albert Makashov, Aleksandr Prokhanov, Sergey Baburin, Igor Shafarevich, and others. 121Nasha Rossiya — Vestnik FNS, no. 21 (45), 1992. By December 1992, it was estimated that the FNS’ membership covered a third of the seats in the Congress. 122Estimate made by AP, quoted in Dagens Næringsliv, 3 December 1992. In its manifesto, the FNS spoke with contempt of the ‘sovereign republics’: ‘Not one of these states are genuinely sovereign, not one of them is able on its own to feed and protect its people.’ While stating that Russia should conduct its foreign policy with its own national interest in mind, the manifesto left little doubt that the new status quo was not really accepted. 123Manifest Fronta Natsionalnogo Spaseniya (undated – 1992).

Even at that time, however, it was evident that political differences between the FNS leaders made close cooperation difficult. The FNS leaders agreed, according to public statements, on criticism of the Yeltsin regime for the dissolution of the USSR and the poor state of the economy. On the other hand, as observers have noted, an issue as crucial as the form of property ownership was left to be decided by ‘the will of the people’. 124Wendy Slater: ‘Russia's National Salvation Front 'on the offensive'‘, RFE/RL Research Report, vol. 2, no. 38, 24 September 1993. It goes without saying, however, that in the FNS Zyuganov had joined company with a number of very radical politicians, including some who espoused fascist-like and racist ideas. As we will see, this tendency to support broad alliances, without being too careful about who may belong to them, has been a trait of Zyuganov's up to the present.

While the post-Soviet Russian red-browns differ between themselves on many policy issues, it is possible to point to a number of positions which they share. These include, very sketchily, imperial nostalgia, populism, authoritarianism, prejudice (expressing itself above all as anti-Semitism), militarism, collectivism and anti-liberalism. Of course, most of these are traits that hardly match with the ‘classic’ traits of the Left as outlined earlier. On the contrary, they match much better with what we could describe as a classic Left-wing perspective of the radical Right.

Conceptually, one way to illustrate the proximity between extreme Left and extreme Right is a circular model, created simply by bending the linear spectrum into an almost-complete circle. That image has stimulated H.J. Eysenck to create a two-dimensional model along a radical-conservative and an authoritarian-democratic axis. 125H.J. Eysenck: Sense and Nonsense in Psychology. London, Pelican, 1964, chapter 7, quoted in Roger Eatwell and Noël O'Sullivan (ed.s): The Nature of the Right. European and American Political Thought since 1789. Pinter Publishers, London, 1989, p. 43. Not only is that a convincing model; it also is immediately fruitful in the Russian case, where the authoritarian tradition is very strong. Eysenck has been one exponent for the view that authoritarianism can be found both on the Left and on the Right wing of a political spectrum. Others have contested that view, and consider authoritarianism a particular form of Right-wing ideology. 126For a study that supports the latter position, and gives an overall introduction to the discussion, see Middendorp, Cees P.: ‘Authoritarianism: Personality and ideology. Their political relevance and relationship to left-right ideology in the Netherlands (1970-1985)’. European Journal of Political Research, vol. 24, 1993.

In the case of Russia, it makes very good sense to opt for a circular model of the political spectrum. However, we should not overlook the question of precisely which traits of the extremes that we base this choice on. Basically: If we return to the discussion of what variables define the spectrum, can the almost-completed circle be justified? Again, the solution is partly pragmatic: We are dealing not with a one-factor linear spectrum, but with clusters of positions. And, as listed above, these do coincide to a significant degree for the extreme Left and extreme Right. The impulse to group these together comes from actual, observed cooperation between them. At the same time, we may explore the ideological common ground between them:

As mentioned earlier, scholarly works on the Left-Right distinction and political extremism often place nationalism in a limited segment of the political spectrum. In particular, ethnocentric, imperialist nationalism, militarism and such phenomena as an inclination towards conspiracy thinking, scapegoating etc are often placed to the far Right of what one considers a single continuum encompassing all political differences. In Russia, as we have seen, these traits are also very much present on the Left. Still, one will not often hear accusations of fascism used against politicians on the Left. This is partly the case because the term itself in ‘stringent’ use in Russia still seems to be used quite narrowly. To illustrate, Yegor Gaidar lost a court suit by Vladimir Zhirinovskiy in 1994, for having called Zhirinovskiy a ‘fascist’. The court agreed with Zhirinovskiy’s lawyer that fascism should be used to describe only the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini during WW II, and thus could not apply to Zhirinovskiy. The defendant’s argument that something that looks, walks and talks like fascism in fact is fascism was not supported. 127For an in-depth examination of this issue, see Umland, Andreas: Vladimir Zhirinovskii in Russian Politics. Three Approaches to the Emergence of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia 1990-1993. Promotionsausschuss. FB Geschichtswissenshaft. Freie Universitat Berlin. November 1997, pp 331-361. Another reason why this term is not used to describe the Left, is its relationship to the Soviet past. Basically, for historical reasons, it would be difficult to sustain a description of Soviet nostalgics as fascists, as long as communism has been the fascists’ main scourge. Anti-communism remains an important trait of the Russian Right, distinguishing it from the Left. Branding radical Left-wingers as fascists might make some feel good, but important precision would get lost on the way. This has not prevented Yegor Gaidar from pointing out the similarities between the ‘reds’ and ‘browns’. If one simply changes ‘Germanic’ for Slavic in Zyuganov’s work, ‘everything will be clear’, he stated prior to the 1996 elections. 128David Remnick: ‘Hammer, Sickle, and Book’. New York Review of Books, 23 May 1996. Quoted from Novoe Vremya.

While the Left has not to any great extent been described explicitly as fascist, it appears that forces including the KPRF are sensing a risk of being linked with this phenomenon themselves. This has sparked some peculiar initiatives: on the one hand, it has been convenient for more ‘moderate’ forces to have the discourse over ‘fascism’ and ‘extremism’ only regard Barkashov’s RNE and similar organizations. On the other hand, they have at the same time made an effort to prevent an expression such as ‘Russian fascism’ ( russkiy fazhizm) from becoming part of the discourse. Thus, a statement from the State Duma, reprinted in a KPRF publication, expressed concern about political extremism in Russia, and at the same time basically described such extremism as a provocation by the Yeltsin regime itself: ‘There is reason to believe that these [extremist] organizations are using support from forces that are interested in creating an impression that there is such a thing as a ‘Russian fascism’.’ 129‘Ob istokakh politicheskogo ekstremizma v Rossiyskoy Federatsii’. Zayavlenie Gosudarstvennoy Dumy, 19 March 1999. Reprinted in Bindyukov, Nikolay, and Petr Lopata: Osobaya tretya sila – novyy politicheskiy fenomen. Moskva, ITRK, 1999, p. 318. It appears that being at risk of being accused of extremism themselves, the KPRF-led majority of the Duma considered as the most important task not to battle neo-Nazis, but rather to protect themselves, and ideally to deliver a blow to the Yeltsin regime at the same time.

Go to the top