Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Radical Russian Nationalism Becoming Ever More Dangerous, SOVA Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 3 – Radical Russian nationalism is becoming ever more dangerous not only because it is increasingly violent but also because it is gaining broader support from the population, mainstream politicians and the government, according to a new study prepared by leading Moscow human rights activists.
But the authors of the report say that so far at least radical Russian nationalist groups have not found a way to exploit the current economic crisis in the dramatic ways that many might expect but that some of them are increasing their influence both by assuming important positions in mainstream parties and covering themselves as broader social movements.
Yesterday, the SOVA Center released “Radical Russian Nationalism: Structures, Ideas and People” which describes large groups like as Great Russia and the Movement against Illegal Immigration, smaller ones like the Northern Brotherhood and their ideological “neighbors” like the National Bolshevik Party (xeno.sova-center.ru/45A2A1E/C93763D).
At their press conference, members of the authors’ collective which prepared this volume drew attention to their most important conclusions. Galina Kozhevnikova, the lead author and the target of threats from such, highlighted a very different trend than the one most people might have expected. (www.novayagazeta.ru/news/448512.html).
On the one hand, she said, the economic crisis by itself has not had a major impact on the actions of the radicals, although “the number of [their] attacks has increased.” But on the other, the authors of these attacks have either sought to operate as part of “the underground” and to “mimic” less offensive social movements such as those calling for clean streets.
That represents a marked departure from the behavior of the radical nationalists of the 1990s, Kozhevnikova continued. At that time, such people “willingly” talked about themselves and their organizations. Now, however, “they are not interested in spreading information about themselves. They prefer to remain people without a past.”
Aleksandr Verkhovsky, another of the volume’s authors, seconded that conclusion. Fifteen or even ten years ago, he said, radical Russian nationalists cared a great deal about getting their ideological points right and often split with one another offer apparently arcane differences (www.narodru.ru/smi20506.html).
But now that isn’t happening, he said. Instead, “today’s nationalists act according to a simplified schema, and their calls are reduced to calls for rooting out peoples who are ethnically alien to them and to demands that power be handed over to the Russian nationalists,” a chance that has allowed them to work together and thus to pose a greater threat.
And while some would see the nationalists decision to go underground as a positive result of the Russian government’s overall strengthening of the forces of order, in fact, the impact of this decision is likely to be just the reverse, allowing the radicals both to become more extreme and to find a simplified, even primitive language that will allow them to appeal to more people.
Both Kozhevnikova and Verkhovsky as well as other speakers pointed to what they suggested was a rapprochement between the radical nationalists and the Russian authorities, a trend that they suggested points to trouble ahead not only for the government which is clearly playing with fire but for the Russian people as a whole (ikd.ru/node/8908).
Many have pointed out that the number of Duma deputies who offer the most extreme views has declined, but the SOVA authors, while acknowledging that trend, said that now “the interests [of such groups] are represented not by opposition figures from Rodina but rather by completely presentable politicians of United Russia,” like Maksim Mishchenko.”
And yet another author of the collection, Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama Information-Research Center, called attention to what he said was a major shift in the relationship between radical Russian nationalists and the regime in the 1990s and this relationship now (www.narodru.ru/smi20506.html).
“In the 1990s,” he said, the extremist Russian National Unity (RNE) group was routinely used by the authorities to “frighten intellectuals, Jews and the West.” That grouping in fact was “a large criminal structure,” Pribylovsky continued, but it did not represent any “danger” to the powers that be “because it was not a political force.”
Now, however, those who espouse radical Russian nationalist views are far more numerous and thus represent a political problem, one to which the regime has, in Pribylovsky’s words, “reacted strangely,” alternatively promoting groups like Rodina designed to co-opt this trend and then suppressing them when they become a threat only to replace them with another.
And today, apparently with the support of some in the government has appeared “Great Russia,” a group whose views are so extreme that it cannot be “excluded that on this place [in the Russian political spectrum] will come to flower entirely Nazi-like blooms” – and which the authorities may hope to use and then suppress as they did earlier.
But that may prove more difficult because the appearance of each such group helps to legitimize their ugly messages in the minds of many Russians, all the more so because there are cases when these radical nationalist groups enjoy the more or less open support of members of the militia.
And that support sometimes takes on absurd forms. In Moscow, for instance, the authorities have been supporting a center for anti-extremist youth education which is in fact headed by “a well-known leader of an organization of neo-Nazis,” Pribylovsky says, concluding that whether the Russian government knows it or not, Moscow is now “playing with fire.”

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