Saturday, February 23, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Prosecutors Pursue Rights Activist who Compared Putin to Hitler

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 22 – Prosecutors in Perm are pursuing a 47-year-old historian and human rights activist for an article he wrote comparing Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler and suggesting that Russians should seek to find a way to change their country’s direction before it is too late.
According to a report in the regional edition of Kommersant this week, officials are less focused on the comparison Igor’ Averkiyev made between the two leaders than on his calls for Russians to do something about before it is too late, calls they said can be seen as “a public appeal for changing the foundations of the constitutional order” (§ion=7272).
So far, prosecutors have not brought any formal charges in this case, but they have called Averkiyev in for discussions about his December 2007 article and submitted it to “experts” for evaluation. And consequently, the newspaper implied, officials are likely to charge Averkiyev soon.
This case began at the end of last year when Averkiyev, who heads the Perm Social Chamber, published a 3400-word article entitled “Putin – Our Good Hitler” in “Za cheloveka,” a special issue of the Regional Human Rights Center’s publication “Lichnoye delo” which he edits.
Averkiyev’s article, available at, is certainly provocative. He explains the title of his article in the following way. “Ours,” he said, because Putin like Hitler is “blood from blood and flesh from flesh of his own people.”
“Good,” the human rights activist continues, because “real popular leaders (up to now the majority of the people consider themselves as such) are not poor for their own people. The majority of Germans until the last days of the Third Reich considered Hitler to be a good man.”
And “Hitler” because “the type and style of rule of President Putin is very similar to the type and style of rule of Reichskanzler Hitler at the early stage of his government career, because the situation in post-Soviet Russia is very similar to the situation in post-war Germany, and because the Russian people [now] are very similar to that of the German people [80 years ago].”
Most Russians will reject this comparison, he continues, because they “know practically nothing about the early, pre-war Hitler to which the contemporary Putin is so similar. But the personal path of Hitler to hell, naturally enough was paved with good intentions.”
Averkiyev then draws a series of explicit comparisons to make his case, noting in particular that Putin like Hitler enjoys immense support because he plays to nationalism and some of the worst aspects of the population and gives remarkable freedom of action to elites in exchange for declarations of loyalty.
This comparison is important, he continues, for two reasons. On the one hand, it is critical that Russians recognize that “Putin is not Stalin.” Not only does the current Russian leader have no leftist agenda, but he is “not a slave to the idea of equality of wealth.”
And on the other, Putin is like the early Hitler at least so far. That means Russians still have a chance to seize control of the situation before it is too late, before their “own” Hitler evolves as the German leader did to a kind of brutal nationalist dictatorship prepared to set up camps and all the rest.
Thus, Averkiyev insists, his comparison is not intended to slander the Russian president but rather to call Putin himself to reflect on the ways in which his actions are setting in train developments that will lead to a tragedy and to urge Russians to act in the face of this danger to their nation and the world.
According to the Perm historian, “national leaders are various: some are ‘bright’ and some ‘dark.’” The former, including people like “Alexander the Great, Chingiz Khan, Martin Luther, Napoleon, Peter the Great, Lenin, Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandi, and Martin Luther King” and lead their people upward to some greater purpose.
But the latter, including people like “Ivan the Terrible, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung,” do the reverse, playing on the worst features of people and leading their populations in a march to the bottom.
“Unfortunately,” Averkiyev says, Putin is following in the footsteps of the latter, the ‘dark’ ones,” in ways that are all too reminiscent of those Hitler used with such disturbing success first in his rise to power and then during the first years of his chancellorship.
Putin, “like Hitler is a fascist,” the Perm writer says, “at a minimum in the worldview sense of this word: a populist striving to absolute power making use of popular xenophobia (in this case in the form of a public ‘cult of the enemy’: the enemy of the country, the nation, the people, etc.) and inclined to use force” to solve problems.
“More precisely, President Putin is a fascist in potentio, since his regime has only begun” to employ force – “physical, moral and social” to repress the population and guarantee itself and him the power to do whatever the leader wants against those he sees as his enemies.
Putin is “only at the beginning of this ‘dark path,’” Averkiyev says. He is “taking the first steps but these steps do not leave anything to the imagination as far as their ultimate direction.” And consequently, those who know what that direction is still have time to do something about it.”
Indeed, it is possible that Putin himself could turn away from this direction but “only at the price of his own career, at the price of his departure into political oblivion.” But it is also possible that the Russian people can act to prevent a recapitulation of the Third Reich in their country.
First of all, Averkiyev argues, “contemporary Russia is similar in many ways to interwar Germany, but in some things it is very different. Despite all the successes of the verticalization of power,” the state itself is “very weak” and thus can be resisted in various ways by the population.
Second, the trauma Russians have experienced in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union was not nearly as destructive as that the Germans did after their defeat in World War I. Thus, there is some hope that Russians will be able to recover via a different path.
And third, there are as yet “20 to 30 percent” of the population who oppose totalitarianism on principle. That may not be enough, Averkiyev says, but it is “a great deal” and should become the basis for some hope that “our good Hitler” of today will not grow into the evil one of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

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