Monday, June 2, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian ‘Democracy’ Displays Its Nationalist Face in Paris

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 2 – Natalya Narochnitskaya, an unabashed and unapologetic Russian nationalist who believes there is a Western conspiracy to isolate her country, told a French journal last week that there is no reason for the West to be upset about human rights issues in Russia given its “applause” for Yeltsin’s shelling of the parliament in 1993.
That comment, published in Le Figaro last week, might not be worthy of attention were it not for two things. On the one hand, it was far from an off-hand remark but rather part and parcel of Narochnitskaya’s longstanding and outspokenly nationalistic message to France in particular and the West more generally (
And on the other, Narochnitskaya, a Russian historian who earlier served in the Russian Duma as part of the ultra-nationalist Rodina Party, is now the head of the Moscow-backed Institute of Democracy in Paris, an institution that Vladimir Putin created to take the debate about democracies back to the democracies themselves.
Increasingly angry about Western criticism of the deterioration of human rights in the Russian Federation during his tenure, Putin, first at the Lisbon summit in October 2007 and then frequently at home, argued that Russia should create its own institutions to monitor and call attention to what he described as the shortcomings of Western democracies.
Two such institutions have now been created, one in New York which is being organized by Andrannik Migranian, a Moscow Armenian who is far more Russian -- and Russian nationalist -- than the Patriarch, and the other in Paris, which Narochnitskaya now heads on a part-time basis, spending one week a month there.
Long outspoken about what she sees as Western failure to recognize Russia’s special and hard-won status – she has her own website where her articles and speeches are to be found ( – Narochnitskaya is now speaking out in the French capital. Her interview with Le Figaro demonstrates that she sees no need to pull her punches in any way.
Described by that publication’s Laure Mandeville as “the ambassador of Russian ‘democracy’” and “the impassioned champion of the new Russian nationalism,” Narochnitskaya insisted that she was “not an emissary of the either the Kremlin or of Putin and that no miraculous ‘golden rain’ had come down on [her].”
Instead, she said in fluent French, her Institute of Democracy was supported by “a foundation of 15 Russian NGOs,” and has so little money that she financed her first trips to Paris out of her own pocket. The institute so far has few employees, including one she described as a British friend” who had been “in Belgrade when NATO bombed Serbia” and thus understood.
Insisting that she had not come to “give lessons in democracy to France, “an old democratic country which has seen a revolution, Robespierre and the Terror,” the Moscow nationalist historian said that she does hope to “begin a debate” about “different conceptions of democracy,” including Putin’s own hyphenated version, “sovereign democracy.”
So as to attract maximum attention to her mission, Narochnitskaya timed her arrival in France to the publication of her new book about World War II, For What and With Whom We Fought? in which she insists that the West is trying to minimize the Soviet contribution to the victory over Hitler.
Like Putin and many Russian nationalists, Narochnitskaya sees the Soviet effort in that war as a moral solvent in which any discussion of Soviet crimes before, during or after that conflict must dissolve. And she and her Moscow backers clearly believe that France, where the war remains a central reference point, will provide her with a receptive audience.
But Narochnitskaya sees the Western “conspiracy” against Russia as far older and broader than just “revisionism” about World War II. She told “Le Figaro” that what is happening now has its roots in the Vatican’s effort to form a cordon sanitaire against the Byzantine East and the European drive to isolate “semi-Asiatic” Russia in the 19th century.
And, she added, “if you look as I have in the archives at the maps of Greater Germany, which the Pan-Germanists drew up at one time, then you will see that they completely correspond to the plans for extending NATO to the east,” a comment that the Le Figaro journalist suggested underscored the Putin elites view that Russia today is a “besieged fortress.”
Pressed about her political views, Narochnitskaya “does not conceal that she is Orthodox and supports nationalistic and Slavophile views.” Further, she insisted that she considers herself to be “outside the paradigm of the West” which she argued as a result of the influence of the Marxists and liberals cannot understand the meaning of “nation.”
Asked about her personal enemies list, Narochnitskaya said that she considers it to include “those liberal politicians and historians of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin periods” who denounced everything about the communist past and dishonored “the graves of their own fathers” and all that they had achieved.
Narochnitskaya added that she was “surprised that the West is so upset by the state of human rights under Putin when [its leaders] applauded the shooting of the Russian parliament” by Boris Yeltsin in October 1993, an action that American and other leaders characterized as a triumph of democracy rather than as the tragedy it was.
And she concluded her interview with the following remark: “I want to attract your attention to all these pseudo-NGOs who assume the role of arbiters on political questions and compose reports about democracy in Russia on the basis of surveys of marginal figures,” reports that she suggested the West should ignore as completely as she and others in Moscow now do.
That Narochnitskaya and those who back her believe that it is not only appropriate but useful to say such things in such an unqualified and unapologetic way now reflects some disturbing changes not only in the country that dispatched her to Paris but also in the country and countries to which she has been sent.

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