How modern Russia draws on fascist ideology

On the streets of Moscow, people take pictures of Russian military equipment being moved to the city to take part in the May 9 parade, April 21, 2022
On the streets of Moscow, people take pictures of Russian military equipment being moved to the city to take part in the May 9 parade, April 21, 2022

The world is marking the International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism on Nov. 9, commemorating Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) in 1938, the first mass violent action against Jews coordinated by the Third Reich.

On this occasion, NV recalls how dictator Vladimir Putin’s Russia has built an ideology very similar to fascism and how the term “Ruscism” [Russian fascism] has already entered our vocabulary.

In May 2023, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, passed a resolution that recognizes the political regime in Russia as Ruscism and condemns its ideological foundations and social practices. The Ukrainian parliament recognized the mass and systematic violation of human rights in Russia and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine as signs of the Ruscism’s ideology, as well as the persecution of citizens for the slightest manifestations of dissent, which in modern Russia are interpreted exclusively as a betrayal of “national interests.”

NV has collected key things to know about the formation and modern interpretation of the terms “Ruscism” and “Ruscists.”

Origins of the term: from “Ruscism” as defined by Dudayev to the awareness of “fascism” of Putin’s Russia after 2014

The opinion that Russians are building their world on a special and extremely dangerous ideology was first expressed by President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Dzhokhar Dudayev back in the 90s. He used the similar term “Ruscism” and explained it as “a special form of misanthropic ideology based on great-power chauvinism, full of spiritlessness and immorality.”

Read also: Russia and Chechnya after Kadyrov

Dudayev insisted that Ruscism differs from well-known forms of fascism, racism, and nationalism in its particular cruelty, both to people and to nature.

Dudayev outlined the following features of Ruscism:

• scorched earth tactics, destroying everything as the main principle of action;

• schizophrenic form of world domination mania;

• slave psychology;

• parasitic on false history, on occupied territories and towards oppressed peoples;

• constant political, legal, and ideological terrorism.

Dudayev’s position echoed the observations of Western academics. Historians and analysts noted from year to year how the ideology of such Ruscism was getting stronger in Russia even before Putin came to power. In 1998, Anthony James Gregor, professor of political science at UC Berkeley and one of the world’s leading researchers of fascism and Marxism, published an extensive scholarly comparison between Italian fascism and “the new nationalism that has arisen in post-Soviet Russia.” Stating their similarity, the author paid special attention to the ideas of the Russian CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] and LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia], which actually established the basis for right-wing radicalism and specific interpretations of Russian history in Russia. Separately, Gregor singled out the position of CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov who insisted on Russia’s “special historical responsibility” in opposing the “immoral and materialistic West.”

Read also: Russia slows down the progress of civilized world

Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas in 2014 provoked a new wave of discussions about how close the Russian regime is to a fascist one. “A growing number of Russian analysts, in Russia and abroad, have taken to calling Vladimir Putin’s regime ‘fascist.’ And they don’t use the term casually or as a form of opprobrium. They mean that Putin’s Russia genuinely resembles [Benito] Mussolini’s Italy or [Adolf] Hitler’s Germany,” Alexander Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark, specializing on Ukraine, Russia, and the former Soviet Union, wrote in April 2015.

In his article Is Putin’s Russia Fascist? Motyl was already inclined to an affirmative answer. After listing the arguments of his colleagues, he concluded: “The evidence is compelling. Fascist regimes have charismatic dictators with hyper-masculine personality cults. These regimes generally evince a hyper-nationalist ethos, a cult of violence, mass mobilization of youth, high levels of repression, powerful propaganda machines, and imperialist projects. Fascist regimes are hugely popular – usually because the charismatic leader appeals to broad sectors of the population. Putin and his Russia fit the bill perfectly.”

In that article, Motyl criticized the Western community for the fact that a large part of it was still afraid to directly compare the Russian regime with fascism. “If Putin’s Russia is fascist, then it is comparable to Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and, thus, certifiably evil. And that means that calls for understanding Putin amount to calls for understanding evil. So it’s better to pretend that Russia isn’t fascist,” Motyl explained this train of thought.

At the same time, he expressed his belief that “Western skittishness about the F-word [fascism] will evaporate” and they would apply it to Russia just as they began to apply the definition of “totalitarian” to the Soviet regime, although they were initially reluctant to do that as well.

Motyl emphasized another important point that “calling Putin’s system fascist will mark a conceptual breakthrough in Western attitudes – and perhaps policies – toward Russia.” Such a shift would recognize that “Putin and his regime are the problem, and that the problem will go away only when he and his regime go away.”

Read also: First Stalin, now Putin — Russia destroys Odesa’s historic Transfiguration Cathedral for second time — video

“In a word, there are no quick fixes to the Putin problem. The West is in for a long, hard slog involving economic and military support for Ukraine and its neighbors, the containment of Russian imperialism, and support for anti-fascist elements within Russia,” Motyl predicted in 2015.

Eight years later, he stands vindicated in his predictions, while the excessive caution of several Western countries allowed Putin to unleash a large-scale war against Ukraine.

Formalization of the term “Ruscism” in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24

Pseudo-historical, full of distorted facts about Ukraine, Putin’s speech of Feb. 22, 2022, as well as Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, finally revealed the essence of modern Russian ideology to the world. Each new day of aggression, each new war crime of the Russian army revealed that it’s not only about the views of the Russian authorities, but also about what the entire Russian society is.

The words Ruscism and Ruscists began to be used in everyday life, in the Ukrainian media, and at the official level as a combination of the words “Rasha” (Russia in English) and fascism. The term reflects both the ideology of today’s Russia and the atrocities committed by the Russian army on Ukrainian territory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is convinced that the term “Ruscism,” “a word that no one invented, but everyone repeats it both in Ukraine and Europe,” will go down in world history.

“The word is new, but the actions are the same as they were in Europe 80 years ago. Because such barbarism hasn’t simply taken place on our continent for all these 80 years. Therefore, Ruscism is a concept that will be in history books, will be in conventional Wikipedias, will remain in classes. And little children all over the world will stand up at their desks and answer the teachers when this Ruscism began, on what land, who won the fight for freedom against this terrible concept,” Zelenskyy said during a press conference at a metro station in Kyiv on April 23, 2022.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, also stated several times about Ruscism as a formalized concept. He urged journalists to actively use the word Ruscism, “because this is a new phenomenon in world history, which Mr. Putin has done to his country.”

Ukrainian political scientist Petro Oleshchuk stated last year that if the word Ruscism was initially used more as a verbal metaphor to identify fascism with the ideology and practice of Putin’s regime, “now this concept is increasingly entering the official political discourse, and not only in Ukraine.” Oleshchuk proposes to consider the cult of power, “which permeates all racism,” as one of its key characteristics: “I’m strong means I’m right.” In his opinion, rejection of development and civilization (this is “weakness”), rejection of normal human relations, morality, and norms comes from this cult.”

“They [Ruscists] reject centuries of human progress to return to the comprehensible and familiar Paleolithic, supplemented by missiles and tanks. Ruscism is actually the Paleolithic with tanks, missiles and estates for the chiefs.”

It’s not surprising that the Russians’ motives and actions in the war against Ukraine are completely incomprehensible for Ukrainians, as well as for the whole civilized world, Artem Bidenko, head of the Institute of Information Security and former State Secretary of Ukraine’s Ministry of Information Policy, expressed a similar opinion.

“It seems to us as if the Neanderthals invented a time machine and broke into our cities, destroying everything alive and healthy on their way. They are like children in the Lord of the Flies novel who don’t know how to negotiate, don’t understand how to be adults, and don’t know how to control their emotions, but they already hate otherness,” Bidenko states.

Read also: What comes next, now that Putin is a recognized dictator

He reminded that it’s in societies with a traditionally weak political culture (they are also classified as those in the childhood or adolescent stages of development) that such ideologues as communism or Ruscism are often imposed. After all, the declared “right of the strong,” with which they try to cover themselves in the international arena, actually turns into “a classic psychiatric deviation with a bouquet of symptoms.” Among such “symptoms,” Bidenko names the denial of obvious facts, operating with mutually exclusive constructs, emotional instability, aggression, fear of “father,” neuroses, and thirst for violence in any form.

“Russia, Russian culture, Russian economy and Russians themselves are mentally ill, the transformation of deviation into the norm has led to irreversible changes in their structures,” he is convinced.

In March 2022, the VoxUkraine analytical center published an article titled Ruscism or why Russians are the new Nazis. Its authors explained in detail that Putin’s modern regime borrowed at least 10 distinguishing features from other totalitarian regimes, on which Russian society and Russia’s system of power are now based:

·       propaganda and rewriting of history: “In the same way as Hitler, Mussolini and [Soviet dictator Joseph] Stalin, Putin prefers to ‘rely on the country’s own strengths’ (autarky, self-sufficiency) and ‘a state surrounded by enemies’ (economic sanctions and voting in the UNGA only support this narrative). This is a typical Nazi revanchism. The desire to compensate for the defeat in the Cold war.”

·       personality cult: “It provides the mythologies deeply ingrained by Russian propaganda: Putin is a ‘national leader,’ Putin ‘brought together Russian lands,’ ‘A good guy,’ ‘Putin is against oligarchs,’ ‘Russia won the war in Chechnya.’”

·       symbols: “Letter Z was present on the insignia of the 4th SS-Polizei-Panzergrenadier Division which during World War II fought in France, USSR, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Germany. Division was involved in crimes against civilians. Thus, on June 10th, 1944, they burned the Distomon village in Greece killing 228 of its people (of them 53 children and 117 women). Z stems from rune symbols, it is called Wolfsangel (Wolf’s hook). In different times it was a symbol of cruel and unrestricted tyranny, hatred, Nazis and Neonazis.”

·       genocide of other nations: “In Putin’s Russia there is a cult of superiority (greatness) of Russian culture, language, history, army, economy, state tradition above all others. They also promote the narrative of lowerness, secondarity, provinciality and underdevelopment of other cultures, languages, traditions etc. (among them Ukrainian). This narrative has been dominant among the majority of Russian population since the time of the Russian empire and the USSR.”

·       ignoring international law: “Having signed a 10-year non-attack pact with the USSR (until 1949), Nazi Germany has breached it as soon as at dawn of June 22, 1941, when it attacked the USSR. Similarly, Putin’s Russia, having attacked Ukraine in 2014 and 2022, violated hundreds of international treaties.”

·       single-party system: “Since 2003, the ‘United Russia’ (Putin’s party) had a majority in the parliament, which later transformed into the constitutional majority (over 72% after 2021). There are no influential opposition parties. All other parties are either allies of ‘United Russia’ or small and negligible, existing only for the purpose of a ‘mockup democracy’ (Communist party, Liberal-Democratic party, ‘Just Russia,’ ‘Apple’ etc.).”

·       close alignment of state and the church: “In Putin’s Russia Orthodox church of Moscow patriarchy is de-facto the servant of the state, it supports the aggressive external policy.”

·       cementing the traditional gender roles: “In the fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR there was a family cult. A man had to be ‘the breadwinner’ for the family, a patriot who works for the good of the state and protects the country in the time of war. A woman had to realize herself first of all as a housewife, a mother and in some supplementary roles. […] In Putin’s Russia in summer 2020 the Constitution was amended. […] Marriage is defined as the union of a woman and man. Besides, homosexuals are pursued in Russia, and sometimes physically abused.”

·       total control over media: “Independent media are destroyed, and social media are being shut down.”

·       unlimited impact of the enforcement services (police, special services): “In the Nazi Germany protection troops (SS) of the leading party and their subordinate structure – the secret police (gestapo) – had a complete control over the social life. […] In Putin’s Russia the Ministry of Interior and the Federal Security Service also have a huge control over the society.”

Features of Ruscism: development of a new word in the West and its modern interpretation

The term “Ruscism” has long gone beyond the borders of Ukraine and is already being discussed in the international public sphere and professional circles.

The number of articles on Ruscism in Wikipedia is close to 50 variants in different languages, including English, German, French, Turkish, Portuguese, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. The English version states the term is “used to describe the political ideology and the social practices of the Russian state” and is based on the ideology of Russian military expansionism. The Russians’ “special civilizational mission” is an integral part of this ideology, while both the Russian military and supporters of Russian military aggression are called “Ruscists.”

The Ukrainian version of Wikipedia defines Ruscism as “the political ideology and social practice of the Russian regime of the late 20th and early 21st centuries,” which is based on:

• the ideas of the Russians’ “special civilizational mission”;

• “seniority of the fraternal people”;

• intolerance to cultural elements of other nations;

• ultra-nationalism;

• using Russian Orthodoxy as a moral doctrine;

• geopolitical influence tools, primarily energy carriers for European countries;

• military force against countries that are allegedly included in the “sphere of Russian influence.”

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, foreign media have issued dozens of publications that confirm the key essence of the definition of “Ruscism,” namely the similarity of the Russian regime to the fascist one.

“Vladimir Putin is himself a fascist autocrat, one who imprisons democratic opposition leaders and critics. He is the acknowledged leader of the global far right, which looks increasingly like a global fascist movement,” Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University and the author of How Fascism Works, wrote in the Guardian.

And The Telegraph stated that “Putin’s monstrous new fascism has destroyed the globalized world order.” The author of this article called the Russian dictator “a 21st-century Benito Mussolini.”

“Putin is a fascist, not a consumerist, a collectivist, not an individualist, let alone a capitalist: he has no interest in the well-being of his citizens, or their pursuit of their happiness, or progress through peaceful commerce. Like all authoritarian despots, he worships the state, and himself,” the author said.

Timothy Snyder, U.S. historian and Yale University professor, researcher of nationalism, totalitarianism, and the Holocaust, as well as specialist in the history of Eastern Europe, gave the most complete insight into the linguistic structure and semantic load of the word “Ruscism” to the West. His article on Ruscism titled The War in Ukraine Has Unleashed a New Word was published in the New York Times Magazine in 2022. In this article, Snyder explains in detail to Western readers the play on words embedded in this term, stating: “In a creative play on three different languages, Ukrainians identify an enemy: ‘ruscism.’”

The historian suggests writing it in Latin as ruscism to preserve the visual link to the words Russia and fascism for the English-speaking world.

“The new word ‘рашизм’ [Russian word for Ruscism] is a useful conceptualization of Putin’s worldview,” he says, adding that “far more than Western analysts, Ukrainians have noticed the Russian tilt toward fascism in the last decade.”

Among similar “fascist practices” in Russia, which have now become part of the Ruscism’s concept, Snyder highlights:

·       the cults of the leader and of the dead;

·       the corporatist state;

·       the mythical past, the censorship;

·       the conspiracy theories;

·       the centralized propaganda;

·       the war of destruction.

Snyder is convinced that eventually the word “Ruscism” will enter world usage as firmly as the words “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing,” which have become a legacy of other wars and historical upheavals.

“Russian fascism is certainly a phenomenon that requires a concept,” he emphasizes.

In addition to the above list, Snyder reiterates other notable features of Russian ideology and Russian behavior on the international arena:

·       the Russian Federation promotes the extreme right everywhere;

·       Putin is the idol of white supremacists around the world;

·       prominent Russian fascists are given access to mass media during wars, including this one;

·       members of the Russian elite, above all Putin himself, rely increasingly on fascist concepts;

·       Putin’s very justification of the war in Ukraine, as an act of cleansing violence that will return Russia to itself, represents a Christian form of fascism;

·       the recent publication, in an official Russian news service, of what I consider an openly genocidal handbook, providing a plan for the elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such, confirms all this.

“Moscow is the center of fascism in our world,” Snyder concludes.

“Even as we rightly debate how applicable the term is to Western figures and parties, we have tended to overlook the central example of fascism’s revival, which is the Putin regime in the Russian Federation.”

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine