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  The Rise of Russian Nationalism

Viktor Denisenko
2011 04 04

Aggressive nationalism has become a real headache for the Russian authorities. Renaissance of the recent nationalism began in Russia almost a decade ago, when new president Vladimir Putin started using the nationalist rhetoric while building own “vertical of power”. As a result the attitude toward minor local manifestations of nationalism became friendly and forgiving; but this led to relative impunity and created a medium for radicalisation of nationalist groups.

Today Russian people are quite worried about the statistics of the nationalist attacks. Tolerated by the authorities nationalist groups are becoming insolent, and their crimes acquire a demonstrative character. According to Aleksandr Brod, director of Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, the number of these crimes is increasing by 10-15 percent annually.

The Sova Centre for Information and Analysis has been involved in the monitoring of various xenophobic campaigns since 2004, especially the ones related to ethnic and religious discrimination. According to Sova Centre, during the first month of this year 45 persons became victims of nationalist attacks, four of them were killed. The attacks mostly took place in Moscow, St.Petersburg, Voronezh and Samara.

Aleksandr Brod highlighted that xenophobia is prevalent in about 55 percent of Russians; 5 percent are determined to take violent action against immigrants (first of all against the so called gastarbaiters).

The clashes on 11 December 2010 in the Manezh Square in Moscow also demonstrated the increasing danger of nationalism in Russia. The Square was filled with several thousand ultranationalist youth, they shouted out extremely nationalist and anti-Caucasus slogans (following the shooting of football fan by a migrant from the North Caucasus). Events in the Manezh Square proved once again that nationalism has become a serious problem of the Russian society.

Russian nationalism has a long history related to historical and political mythology of the country. For ages Russian society was affected by several mythological beliefs. One of them is that Russian nation is oppressed by immigrants and that all problems in the country are related to them. Following this, the 1917 revolution was organised by “the Jewish together with the Red Latvian Riflemen”. This concept is still alive: according to Sova expert Aleksandr Verchovski, “in 2006, the opinion that the Russian in Russia are discriminated and abused was fully or partially supported by 33 percent of citizens, in 2007 – by 30 percent, and in 2009 – by 43 percent of Russian citizens”.

Another myth is related to “the unique road and mission of Russia and Russian nation”.  This myth originated in 19th century and was supported by the so called "slavophiles”. It is worth while mentioning Joseph Stalin’s toast proposed in the Kremlin on 24 June 1945 in honour of the Victory Day parade. The first words of the toast sounded as follows: “I’d like to propose that we drink to the health of the Soviet people, and primarily of the Russian people. I drink primarily to the health of the Russian people because it is the most outstanding of all the nations that constitute the Soviet Union”.

Today the concept of “a unique road” is supported by the so called Eurasians, but they could hardly be related to the nationalist groups. Aleksandr Dugin, the main ideologist of the Eurasian movement dreams of the Eurasian empire with Russia in the centre of it.

According to Verchovski, the current Russia’s nationalists differ from those who emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union and noted two types of the revived Russian nationalism. The first connected the ethnical Russian myth with the Stalin’s myth and “evaluated actual Russian communism as an “emanation of “the Russian spirit” but not as an imported Western ideology”.

The roots of the second type of Russian nationalism go back to the traditions of the Russian “Black Hundreds”. According to Verchovski, this type of nationalism was not as effective as the first one.

A new wave of Russian nationalism reached its peak in the period of 1993-1995, when certain political powers started using the nationalist rhetoric (e.g. Vladimir Zhirinovski’s Liberal-Democratic Party). It witnessed the emergence of the radical nationalist organisation Russian National Unity with its leader Barshakov, but later popularity of nationalists decreased.

A new wave of nationalism in Russia is related to Vladimir’s Putin presidency. He partially borrowed the rhetoric of nationalists and used it in authorising the Second Chechen war.

We must not forget also that during Putin-Medvedev’s term nationalism has changed. According to Verchovski, since 2000, the Western model of nationalist skinhead movements saw a rise in Russia. Economic boom in Russia attracted migrants from former soviet central Asian, and skinheads took the opportunity to fight against them. The current Russian nationalism is not based on any ideology. By its character it is racist and grounded on the belief that other nationals occupied our workplaces, took our money, etc.

Today Russia tries to take more active steps in combating the radical nationalism. In 2007 the Kremlin realized that it should address the impertinence of nationalists, but the best moment for suppression of the nationalism wave was probably missed.

The Russian authorities played games with nationalists for several years, but the play with the moods of nationalists is a play with the fire. The increasing number of the attacked and killed immigrants in Russia is one of its most terrible consequences, thus we could only expect that nationalists will not win this game.

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