Thursday, February 28, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Extreme Russian Nationalism ‘a Tiger Preparing to Pounce’

Paul Goble

Baku, February 28 – Despite the media attention they attract, the number of Russians who engage in violence against minorities and violence is very small, the number of Russians who publicly back such actions is not significantly larger, and in most if not all cases, the Russian authorities make an effort to bring the guilty to justice.
But that is no cause for complacency, according to Avraam Smulyevich, because “the tolerance” a large portion of the Russian population shows toward such crimes has created a situation in which, in his words, “extreme Russian nationalism [is] a tiger preparing to pounce” (
In an article posted on a Kazakhstan analytic portal,, Smulyevich makes the following complicated and certain to be disputed argument.
First, he says, the number of ethnic Russian crimes against non-Russians is far larger than is being reported: Many of the victims are illegals and do not want to attract attention.
Second, despite the horrific nature of these attacks, the condemnation of the media and the actions of the militia, one cannot say these crimes receive “the complete, unqualified and angry condemnation from the side of backers of Russian nationalism, including by completely respectable people” who would never engage in “street actions.
Instead, a significant share of Russians, agitated by national fears and uncertainties, view such crimes as excesses rather than as actions that are in every case simply wrong in every conceivable way. And that tolerance in turn has the effect of leading to a climate in which more such crimes are likely.
Third, this attitude and the actions of the skinheads against non-Russians has the effect of propagandizing the view of the extremists that “the contemporary [non-ethnic] Russian state is not [ethnically] Russian” and that it defers to outside groups – migrants, the West, the Jews – for than to what the nationalists insist is the core group.
Fourth, as the number of attacks grows and as their authors get away with such actions, such extremist violence also spreads the view, widely held by extremist groups, that the government cannot or will not protect the Russians and that the Russians must thus take the law into their own hands.
And fifth, Smulyevich continues, that in turn both feeds upon and reinforces a view, frequently in evidence in Russian history, that such extreme actions may be needed to achieve a good cause even if “everyone” agrees that such actions are themselves wrong.
“In the collective psychology of the Russian people (in contrast to the collective psychology of the Jews, for example), injustice committed toward a particular individual on the road to a ‘great goal,’ if this goal is important for all ‘society’ appears to a remarkable degree both permissible and even legitimate.”
Such an ideological evolution is further promoted both by generic Russian attitudes, openly pushed by the Kremlin, that Russia must again become a great power and that patriotism, variously defined to be sure, is among the greatest of virtue
And consequently, Shmulyevich says, there is now at least “potentially” the chance that “the ideas of extreme Russian nationalism could be accepted by a significant part of Russian society,” with all the horrors foreign and domestic that could lead to.
On the one hand, he writes, the very lack of a Russian idea now and the tension between nationalism and imperialism in most Russian thought mean that ever more Russians are considering efforts to recover ethnic Russian irredentas in Kazakhstan and Ukraine as the path to renewed greatness.
And on the other, Smulyevich concludes, because “extreme Russian nationalism” gives “precise answers” to the questions many Russians are asking today, it is entirely possible that “active Russian nationalism,” both as an ideology and a political movement, is “passing through the process of crystallization.”
If that is the case – and Smulyevich clearly believes it is -- then both minorities inside the Russian Federation and Moscow’s neighbors may very soon have to deal with “a new political reality,” one that almost certainly will be more violent and more threatening than any they have had to cope with in recent times.

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