Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A crime and a shame

On the question of Nazis in the news... Today's lecture of Russia In Transition covered domestic politics of the Yeltsin-Putin era. One of Prof. Clayton's main points in discussing the utterly-dysfunctional Russian electoral system (it's half-proportional representation, but even more corrupt than such systems usually tend to be, and PR-appointed seats in the Duma are eagerly sought by businessmen for the immunity to criminal prosecution they grant) was to highlight the rise of 'personal parties;' nearly every one is built around a single dominant personality. Rather than being joiners in an existing, stable party system, aspiring Russian politicians apparently prefer to start their own. (And with creepy-as-hell names, too; a good deal of the major parties running in the last few elections sound right out of the Newspeak dictionary, when translated. Russian Unity and Concord, Union of Right Forces, Our Home is Russia, Motherland Peoples' Patriotic Union, Power to the People, Citizens' Dignity; the list goes on. Lots more fascinating information on the subject here.) One of these personality cult leaders, the bohemian author Eduard Limonov, heads the National Bolsheviks - AKA the Nazbols - who are entirely as repulsive as their halfway-between-Nazgûl-and-Nazi nickname suggests. These are authentic fascists in the Neo-Nazi mould, (Warning: site is icky, terrifying, possibly NSFW) who simply prefer the hammer and sickle to the swastika. Their flag, their armbands, their specifically megalomaniacal threats and current polices of "direct actions," all are nearly mirror images of the NSDAP. They're Nazis in all but name, albeit with the very mildly exculpatory fact that they're far less racist than generically violent and expansionist. (Their photo gallery of "combat girlfriends" even do pretty fair impressions of Leni Riefenstahl or Marlene Dietrich, for that matter.) The professor's opinion on them? They're charming, theatrical, and more or less harmless. They can't be taken seriously, because their entire schtick is "obviously" just that, and not indicative of any real intentions. They're just disenfranchised-feeling young men in an entirely corrupt, immobile political system, acting naughty for the shock value. I mean, Good Lord. The perception that an angry party of otherwise ennui-ridden young men with a ridiculous-sounding platform of aggressively imperialist nationalism is just acting out for attention, and can’t be taken seriously is all too familiar in precisely the Nazi context; just look to the last few years of the Weimar Republic's collapse. Hitler was similarly dismissed as an easily-manipulated but basically non-threatening demagogue by Hindenburg and Von Papen until it was too late. If the National Bolsheviks really are just treating politics as theatre, they would seem to be doing it entirely too subtly; there's no giveaways, no disclaimers on their site. If it’s a joke, they should know better. That participating in “actions” (and that’s too euphemistic a word for the threat they’re imposing to civil institutions with thuggish pseudo-protests, things like breaking, entering and occupying the Russian Ministry of Justice) is occupying the time of xenophobic young hoods who might otherwise (as Prof. Clayton suggested) be beating immigrants in alleyways, would seem to be less positive sublimation than temporary distraction. If they’re inclined to violence, and encouraging each other towards it with rhetoric publicly legitimized as mere bombasticism, I doubt it can be suppressed forever. So what does it say when a reasonably-leftist university professor is dismissing genuine fascists as harmless pranksters, and only cautious policy hawks are being tarred with the epithet of "Nazi?" Nothing good. And that's a problem.


Blogger The Tiger said...

Yeah, there are some neo-fascists in Russia. More and more join each year. I was attacked by one on the St. Petersburg subway, actually, in the summer of 2000.

Apparently it's getting worse and worse. I'll probably take some self-defence classes before I head back overseas, myself. And steer clear of bad neighbourhoods.

3/24/2005 06:07:00 PM  

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