Russia declares war on neo-fascism

28/ 04/ 2006

MOSCOW. (Alexei Makarkin for RIA Novosti)

Interethnic strife has come into the foreground in present-day Russia as one
of its worst social problems. Murdered or battered foreign students and
Central Asian guest workers no longer make front-page news - they are part
of our daily routine. The Sova human rights center, for one, has registered
over a hundred violent attacks on ethnic grounds since the beginning of the
year.

There is another, related aspect of the Russian routine: fascist
organizations are reviving to unblushingly disseminate ideas condemned long
ago by the Nuremberg trial. They are trying to adapt those man-hating ideas
to the Russian ways. Skinheads are the most spectacular of neo-fascist
leagues. These youth mobs victimize people outside the titular ethnos, to
whom they refer as "non-Russians" - a term that has an extremely derisive
coloring in their vocabulary.

Characteristically, Russia borrowed the skinhead movement from other
countries. The very idea of rabid nationalist youth groups with fascist
ideology appeared preposterous in Russia for a very long time. The sacred
memory of victory over nazism left no chance to organizations of that kind
for several postwar decades till the 1970s. That was a time when official
propaganda degenerated into profaning the memory of martial glory and of the
millions of victims. That propaganda made some yawn and prompted others to
seek alternatives to it. Some people started celebrating Hitler's birthday.
To sport the black SS uniform someday was their cherished dream. But those
youngsters were extremely few, and chose to sit quiet and keep their
convictions to themselves lest Mom and Dad flog them or authorities expel
them from the Young Communist League (YCL) to nip their career in the bud.

The Iron Curtain vanished. Solzhenitsyn's and Nabokov's books were no longer
taboo. Together with them came deplorable phenomena of contemporary
civilization. The skinhead movement, notorious by then in the West, was one.
It found a plenty of imitators in Russia. Whipping up the dangerous trends
were crying social contrasts, the dark side of free-market reforms. The
older generation found it hard to adapt to the new ways and so lost moral
influence on its children. YCL activists took up private enterprise. New
Russia had nothing to offer its young - no ideas and pastimes that could
have a grip on them. True, there were attempts to give Scouts a new lease of
life, but the movement was a mere drop in the ocean. The fascist revival
caught official and public Russia unawares. It had no moral and
organizational power to meet the enemy in arms.

Russian fascism is a twofold thing. On the one hand, it comes as our
national phenomenon. On the other hand, it is a contagious disease that even
the world's leading democracies find it hard to fight. There, too, young
social outsiders flock in aggressive mobs. In fact, the problems of St.
Petersburg little differ from those confronting municipal authorities of New
York City or Paris. Things are somewhat better in Russia. Other countries'
youth gangs are far more insolent. Some of them keep entire neighborhoods in
control and foreigners are given insistent advice to avoid such places.
Obsessing other countries are not only skinheads but also ethnic gangs, for
instance, Arab, which made a sinister sensation last year, when certain
French cities were curfewed to protect law-abiding citizens' life and
property from rioters.

Now, Russia has grown to realize the danger of mounting fascist trends.
Quite recently, skinheads attracted no one's attention but that of a few
far-sighted human rights activists of liberal political siding. Today, the
burning problem has become close concern of government bodies and
influential public forces. Thus, a group of Russian political and cultural
activists, and of top-notch athletes has announced the appearance of the
League for Civil Resistance to Fascist Outbreaks. The recently established
Public Chamber is hotly debating the dangers of violent nationalism.

More than that, we Russians are growing to realize that xenophobia clashes
with political correctness. In that, Russia is coming closer to the West.
Rodina (Fatherland), a nationalistic political party, circulated a shocking
propaganda clip on the television in a recent municipal election campaign in
Moscow. A clip of that kind would never have appeared in, let say, France.
Now, things like that will never appear in Russia, either, after Rodina,
though a parliamentary party, was disgracefully eliminated from the city
council race. The outrageous clip helped remove a huge danger looming over
Russia, the worst danger fascism can offer - a merger of the mob with
demagogic politicians who appeal to its atavistic instincts. It was a
similar merger that brought Hitler to the German top in 1933.

Russia has a long road to travel before it can reduce the fascist danger, I
don't say eliminate it, as even West Europeans cannot do that, despite
tolerance dominant in their lands.

What matters most has taken start. Russia has made its first steps to
demonstrate political goodwill without which we cannot resist the fascist
plague.

Alexei Makarkin is deputy director general of the Center for Political
Technologies.