In his article «We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist», American historian Timothy Snyder urged that «[…] today’s Russia meets most of the criteria that scholars tend to apply. It has a cult around a single leader, Vladimir Putin. It has a cult of thedead, organized around World War II. It has a myth of a past golden age of imperial greatness, to be restored by a war of healing violence — the murderous war on Ukraine». According to Mr Snyder, it is necessary to openly call the Russian regime fascist because then the world will know what he is dealing with.
I will try to look at modern Russia through the eyes of a person living in the country it invaded. Through the eyes of a person that witnessed how Russia has developed over the last 20 years. I will use the model of the Italian writer and historian Umberto Eco, who described 14 features of «eternal fascism» in his 1995 essay «Ur-Fascism», and draw tentative parallels between the current Russian regime and Umberto Eco's Ur-Fascism to answer the question of whether modern Russia is a fascist state.
1. According to Eco, «The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition»
Russian traditionalism is based on the triad «Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality» — the ideology of the Russian Empire, created under Tsar Nicholas I in the XIX century. Over time, political forces consolidated around Russia's original development doctrine, which resisted external influence.
According to the triad «Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality», Russians should be deeply religious Orthodox, and autocracy is an unalterable condition for Russia's existence. «Nationality» meant the need to adhere to Russian traditions and to reject any ideas of freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and individualism that originated in the West and were called «free thought» in Russia. Almost 200 years have passed, but the triad of «Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality» has not lost its relevance:
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) constantly supports the government’s official position, recognises the state's supremacy over the church and is entirely controlled by it. In particular, the head of the ROC, Patriarch Kirill, promotes the neo-imperial idea of the «Russkiy mir» («Russian world»), which is based on three pillars — Orthodoxy, Russian culture, and common historical memory. To expand the Russkiy mir, Kirill supported the invasion of Ukraine.
Autocracy in Russia is also beyond doubt. Putin has been president for 22 years. Russians amended the Constitution to allow him to be president for more than two consecutive terms.
The values of Western civilisation, freedom, and democracy are dangerous for the majority of modern Russians, as they can destroy the current «spiritual staples» and the modern Russian idea of «Nationality». In the 1990s and 2000s, due to the antagonism against Western values of freedom of thought and speech, the words «liberast» and «tolerast», formed from the words «liberal»/«tolerant» and «paederast» (f**got), appeared in the Russian language. In the political debate in Russia in 2010, the term «Gayrope» became popular, meaning the concept of a «degenerating» Europe.
The modern interpretation of the triad «Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality» is the Russkiy mir concept, which I mentioned earlier. Russkiy mir is a Russian doctrine based on a mixture of Orthodoxy, imperialism, chauvinism and Russian messianism. In post-Soviet Russia, the idea became relevant in the second half of the 2000s, when Russian revanchism developed rapidly. The Economist gives a pointed definition: «Russkiy mir — «the Russian world», a previously obscure historical term for a Slavic civilisation based on shared ethnicity, religion and heritage. The Putin regime has revived, promulgated and debased this idea into an obscurantist anti-Western mixture of Orthodox dogma, nationalism, conspiracy theory and security-state Stalinism».
2. «Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism»
After the beginning of the reign of Tsar Nicholas I (starting from 1825), the debate about Russia's place in relation to the West intensified. At that time, the creation of the narrative of «Russia’s unique spiritual path», «Russia’s historical destiny in the world», and its comparison with the West was especially active. This discussion divided the Russian intellectual elite into «Westerners» who believed that only through Westernization could Russia compete militarily, politically, economically, and culturally with Western countries, and «Slavophiles» who advocated Russia's unique identity and were adherents of the triad of «Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality».
The «unique path of Russia» is one of the leitmotifs of the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin (1883–1954), who is called one of Putin's favourite philosophers, whom he often quotes in his speeches. Putin’s regime is largely based on the philosophy of Ivan Ilyin, who was a supporter of the national dictatorship, Russia's anti-Western and anti-democratic «unique path». The philosopher Ilyin sympathised with fascist ideology even after WWII and regretted that this concept became negative: «for future social and political movements of this kind, another name must be chosen. [...] Let's hope that Russian patriots will think through the mistakes of fascism and National Socialism to the end and not repeat them».
Here it is worth mentioning another prominent Russian philosopher, Vladimir Solovyov, who sets the tone in the Russian intellectual debate of the second half of the XIX century. It was from Solovyov that the active opposition of Russian religious philosophy to Western modernisation and secularisation began. Moreover, contemporary Ukrainian philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko believes that Vladimir Solovyov became a «philosopher of suspicion» about the values of humanism, equality, freedom, and goodness, perceiving them as imitation, falsehood, and forgery. Solovyov's ideas, according to Yermolenko, «laid the groundwork for the ideology of modern Russia, for which the socio-political construction of the Western world is the creation of the mythical «Antichrist», which must be destroyed at all costs, using demonic means».
Russia’s «unique path» is reminiscent of an enhanced version of the Deutscher Sonderweg (German Special Way) of the Weimar Republic. The concept of Deutscher Sonderweg arose from the belief that the development of Germany should take place in a unique way, different from the «Western» way and that the German historical mission has not yet been fulfilled.
The prejudice against Western liberal values, the suspiciousness towards the ideas of Western modernism and the opposition of technological development to Russia's «unique spiritual path» was ideologically established more than a century and a half ago but has survived and modernised today.
3. «Cult of action for action's sake»
In his book «On Tyranny», Timothy Snyder argues that fascism chose will over reason and prefers not an objective truth but a vivid myth that the leaders constantly uttered. Like in any autocracy, Russian propaganda serves the interests of the state, so the narratives this propaganda broadcasts are of interest. Such narratives in Russia always interpret the government's official position. All you have to do is go to Russian YouTube or Telegram channels of the most famous Russian propagandists to witness dozens of direct and indirect calls to «liberate Ukraine», «defeat Nazism», and «when, if not now».
Here is how Vladislav Surkov, a former adviser to Putin who has been called «the main puppet master of the political process», once explained the myth of Russkiy mir: «There was a task: to talk about the empire, about our desire to expand, but not to offend the hearing of the world community». That is how the imperial myth became a kind of ram, a tool for breaking through other countries’ borders.
Most recently, in a speech on the 350th anniversary of Peter I, President Putin set an example of such an «expansion». He stated for the first time that Russia's goal in Ukraine is not to fight fictional Nazism or mythical Pentagon-run biolabs, but to «return» territories. Putin compared himself to Peter I because «nothing has changed since then» and «it also fell to us to return [what is Russia's] and strengthen [the country]».
In early April 2022, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti published an article entitled «What Russia Should Do With Ukraine», which defined the concept of «Nazi» and «denazification», called for the complete liquidation of Ukraine and its population, and outlined a «final solution of the Ukrainian question». Timothy Snyder called the article a «genocide handbook». According to it, the Nazification of Ukraine took place at the time of Ukraine’s establishment. A «Nazi» is any Ukrainian who does not agree to be a Russian. Everything, according to Eco — any reflection and comprehension are harmful.
As a result, Russians who have been feeding on toxic myths about Ukraine for more than 20 years have lost the ability to think critically and evaluate reality objectively. In dozens of videos in which Russians on the streets are asked about their attitude to the so-called «special military operation» in Ukraine, almost all support the invasion and call for «bringing order to Ukraine».
4. «For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason»
Russia's autocratic regime is terrified of destabilisation, which can be borne by internal criticism. Freedom of peaceful assembly has been abolished in Russia since 2012. Absurdity was carried to its ultimate during the full-scale war against Ukraine when the police began arresting and throwing in jail protesters carrying banners «for peace», «no to fascism», «no to war», «*** *****» (staring «нет войне» — «no to war») and even a blank sheet of paper.
In 2012, Russia introduced legislation on «foreign agents», which has only become stricter in the last ten years. Under this law, any organisation or person is recognised as a foreign agent if it receives funding from abroad. Opposition media outlets and journalists who criticised the government were the primary victims, immediately being added to the «foreign agents» list.
In 2015, Russian legislation was supplemented by the notion of «undesirable organisation». The first undesirable organisation was the National Endowment for Democracy, which supported the human rights movement and the Moscow Helsinki Group. In 2021, the Memorial organisation, which was established in several post-Soviet countries to preserve the memory of repression in the USSR in the twentieth century, was closed in Russia. In 2019, Russia passed legislation on «fakes» and disrespect for authority, establishing liability for publishing «inaccurate information» and disrespecting the state and government agencies. In this way, the Russian government is fighting against any manifestation of dissent.
On March 16, 2022, Putin delivered a keynote speech on «national traitors», which was called the beginning of the Great Terror. He said that the West with the help of the 5th column and the «national traitors», «is trying to split our society, speculating on military losses or on the socio-economic consequences of sanctions, to provoke a civil confrontation in Russia. [...] And they have only one goal, I have already said about this — the destruction of Russia. But the Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths. [...] I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, unity and readiness to respond to any challenges».
By a «midge», Putin means those Russians who disagree with the Kremlin and those «who have a villa in Miami or on the French Riviera, who cannot do without foie gras, oysters or so-called gender freedoms. [...] The true problem is that many of these people, by their very nature, are mentally located precisely there, and not here, not with our people, not with Russia».
Interestingly, most Russian intellectuals, writers, and actors who were not previously afraid to speak openly or even brutally are now afraid to voice their views on the war in Ukraine. For example, in a conversation with writer Tatiana Tolstaia, a former punk-rock musician and now a man in the service of Russian propaganda, Sergei Shnurov, says that when he is required to take a stand and speak out about the war, he replies: «eff off».
5. «Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference»
Much can be said here about the tradition of combating diversity in Russia, the forced assimilation of national minorities in the empire, and Russian xenophobia. But I will dwell on Russia's policy towards Ukraine and the West.
An integral component of Russia's «unique path» during its imperial, Soviet and post-Soviet periods is the constant attempts to destroy the Ukrainian «difference»: its statehood, sovereignty, culture and language. Alexander Dugin, a Russian philosopher and ideologue of Russian fascism, openly declared that an independent Ukraine posed a great danger to the whole of Eurasia. In his book Foundations of Geopolitics, he argued that «Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning. It has no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographical uniqueness, no ethnic exclusivity». He stressed that Russia must solve the «Ukrainian problem». Putin also perceives Ukraine as a critical existential condition for the restoration of Russia's «former greatness», an element of the East-West civilisational confrontation.
The history of Ukraine as part of the Russian Empire is the history of many bloody suppressions of Ukrainian liberation movements, mass executions, deportations and repressions. These facts do not prevent Putin from declaring that the spiritual, human, and civilisational ties between Ukraine and Russia «were formed over the centuries, reach the same sources, hardened by common trials, achievements and victories».
Here I would like to draw your attention to the WSJ's remarkable long read about Putin's 20-year path to invading Ukraine. According to the authors, «At a conversation at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane, Australia, during a G-20 summit in late 2014, Ms Merkel realised that Mr Putin had entered a state of mind that would never allow for reconciliation with the West, according to a former aide. The conversation was about Ukraine, but Mr Putin launched into a tirade against the decadence of democracies, whose decay of values, he said, was exemplified by the spread of «gay culture». The Russian warned Ms Merkel earnestly that gay culture was corrupting Germany’s youth. Russia’s values were superior and diametrically opposed to Western decadence, he said».
The central role in the nurturing of hatred of Russian society against Ukraine and the West is played by state television. Every evening, the Russian audience is bombarded with all sorts of fakes (sometimes completely insane) that show «Nazism» and the antihumanism of Ukraine, the West, and even Israel. The Russian government has made Ukrainophobia part of the state's information policy to devalue the achievements of Ukraine's democratic revolutions and pro-European choices while demonstrating that Russian stability is a much better choice.
6. «Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration»
The American historian Alexander Motyl claims that Russia lost its empire just like German Reich; «Almost inevitably, the post-collapse economies, societies and cultures of the metropolis experienced enormous disarray — as in Germany in the 1920s and Russia in the 1990s. The blame for this sad state fell on the democratic elites who came to power after the authoritarian empire ended. Once democracy was discredited, strong men appeared — Hitler and Putin — promising to return their countries to their rightful place in the sun and establishing cults of personality». We can observe the same trend in Italy after the First World War, due to which Mussolini came to power.
Some Western political scientists are inclined to think that Russia has developed the «Weimar Syndrome», caused by the loss of status and isolation of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The development of Germany and Russia after similar upheavals was alike due to the ability of both leaders to skillfully manipulate strong feelings of nostalgia and resentment amid social frustration.
With Putin coming to power, we can see a gradual increase in imperialistic discourse and chauvinism. Since the late 1990s, the dictatorship has strengthened, and propaganda has intensified to meet the demands of the Russians. This degree has been steadily rising and is probably at its peak in recent months.
7. «To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country»
Umberto Eco rightly argues that «at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one». This is very evident in modern Russia.
The Russian government has managed to achieve its goal — Russians accuse the West of slow economic growth, poverty, unemployment, low living conditions and other problems. The government thus absolves itself of responsibility for all internal problems. It turns the population against external enemies — Europe and the United States, which impose sanctions for «Russia's reunification with Crimea» and a full-scale war against Ukraine, i.e., «for nothing», according to Russians.
On April 22, 2022, the Deputy Commander of the Central Military District of Russia, Rustam Minnekayev, eloquently stated: «Apparently, we are now at war with the whole world, as it was in the Great Patriotic War, when the whole of Europe, the whole world was against us. And now it’s the same, they never loved Russia». And that is what the representative of the successor state of the USSR says. The representative of a country that, due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, was initially an ally of Hitler and helped supply Germany until the summer of 1941.
In early March 2022, Russia announced that biological laboratories had been found in Ukraine, where the Pentagon was allegedly producing biological weapons that were to be spread to Russia by birds and bats and selectively target a variety of ethnic groups, including Slavs.
The Levada-Center, one of Russia's most significant polling and sociological research organisations, annually ranks Russia's «enemies» by conducting relevant polls among Russians. Over the last 20 years, the number of people who see some Western countries and the EU as enemies has grown steadily. When the Baltic countries set out to join the EU and NATO in 2002–2004, they became Russia's number one enemy. That is not surprising, given the imperialist worldview of Russian society, which does not allow former Soviet members to have the right to self-determination.
Despite declining living standards for Russians, Putin's rating is rising. The average Russian who lives in poverty and can do nothing about it wants revenge on those he thinks are to blame. The Russian wants to be feared by others, so Putin's aggressive policies are always supported. That’s why after the annexation of Crimea, Putin's rating rose from 72 to 83%, and the number of people dissatisfied with his work fell from 34 to 13%. We see a similar trend after the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
8. «The followers [of Ur-Fascism] must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies»
This feature can be vividly illustrated by the testimonies of Ukrainian civilians who told how the Russian military marvelled at their well-being and said, «You live too richly». After the liberation of the Russian-occupied territories by the Ukrainian army, the locals talk about the unprovoked aggression of Russian soldiers, deliberate destruction of property, shooting of civilian houses from tanks, mass looting, robbery, etc. From the telephone conversations of Russians intercepted by the Ukrainian special services, it is clear that such behaviour is connected in particular with the feeling of resentment and is an act of hidden revenge on Ukrainians for their well-being.
Russia is always a victim of the West in Putin's rhetoric. A quite symptomatic event in the sense of «humiliation feeling» was Putin's speech before the Russian parliament in March 2014, right after the annexation of Crimea. Putin resorted to more emotional vocabulary and used vivid expressions in this speech. Putin calls the annexations of Crimea a «reunification» after Russia was «robbed» after the collapse of the Soviet Union: «And what about Russia? It was down in the dumps and put up with it, swallowed this insult». Putin manipulatively does not name the perpetrators of the «robbery» and the «offender», but it appears that Russia is a victim.
It is also worth mentioning that the Russians perceive the West as an enemy not only because of the historical «humiliation of Russia», «Russia's unjust place in world politics», and sanctions imposed on Russia «for nothing». Russians hate the West also because the living standards in the West are much higher than in Russia. Although «Gayrope» is «rotting», it has real democracy, freedom, a high level of science and medicine, high incomes, and low corruption. As a result, a Russian has a dissonance, the only way out of which is to demonise the West.
9. «For Ur-Fascism, there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle»
«Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy», says Eco. Therefore, Ur-Fascism is characterised by a cult of war. The Russian cult of war has many faces. Since 2008, Russia has been holding an annual parade of military vehicles on Red Square. Three months after the first parade, Russia invaded Georgia. In 2016, «Yunarmiya» («young army») was established in Russia — a militaristic children's organisation that has been compared to Hitlerjugend. In 2017, a video appeared on YouTube, in which children in military uniforms sing that they are ready to die for Putin, that the samurai will never get the Kuril Islands, and that Alaska must be returned to Russia. That same year, the re-enactment of the storming of Reichstag took place near Moscow and was attended by the Minister of Defense Shoigu. Even in kindergartens, children wear military uniforms and march with dummy tanks and aircraft. Other children were forced to lie on the floor in the shape of tombstones of soldiers who died during World War II. While for Europe, the day of mourning is associated with the words «never again», the Russians say they «can repeat» and hang stickers «to Berlin» on their cars.
On talk shows on major Russian television channels, Russians often discuss the attack on the Baltic states, the invasion of Poland and Sweden, or the need to move further west after the capture of Ukraine. The guests discuss that the attack on Ukraine is a rehearsal and testing of Russian weapons for the future invasion of NATO countries.
Russians do not see Russia's attacks on other states as wars, and certainly not as wars of aggression. «Special military operations» to «enforce peace» are never officially called wars. Russians see their aggression as liberation, invasion as restoration of order, annexation as restoration of justice, and occupation as protection.
It is worth also reminding that Russian troops fought in Azerbaijan (1990), Georgia (1991 and 2008), Moldova (1992), Tajikistan (1992), Ingushetia (1992), Dagestan (1999), Chechnya (1994 and 1999), Ukraine (since 2014). Russian troops also fought in Syria, using carpet bombings against the civilian population in Aleppo, which resulted in the deaths of many people, including children. The population in Russia willingly supports any war because of its difficult present. Russians are constantly looking back at the glorious imperial past and remembering their former military might.
10. «Ur-Fascism advocates a popular elitism»
According to Eco, popular elitism, or the elitism of the masses, solves one of the main tasks of fascism — to make people believe that they belong to the world's best people. The pillar of popular elitism in Russia is the belief in its «special path» and «historical mission». Russians think that they not only have the right but are obliged to «bring order» and «liberate» someone else, even by interfering in the sovereignty of other states.
According to historian Yaroslav Hrytsak, «in the minds of many Russians, Russia is not just another country. It is a country with a great mission — namely, to save the world from the corrupting influence of the spoiled West. For this reason, all things Russian must be great: its territory, its army, and even its language has to be (as one Russian genius put it) «great and mighty».
A separate cornerstone of Russian elitism is the myth of the «mysterious Russian soul» — a unique ethical mentality of a Russian compared to a man of Western civilisation. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were the first to contribute to the formation of this myth. Then this myth was picked up by many Russian artists in the second half of the XIX century. Russian chauvinism is currently parasitising on this myth. In one of his interviews, Russian writer and journalist Viktor Shenderovich suggested that the myth of the Russian soul is a manifestation of Nazism.
11. The cult of heroism and death
In 2018, Putin, reflecting on the growing nuclear threat, said that in the event of a nuclear war «We will go to heaven as martyrs and they will just croak».
Earlier, in 2012, running for a third presidential term, Putin said on a stage of Luzhniki Stadium to nearly 100,000 people that he would not allow anyone to interfere in Russia's affairs and asked people not to «look abroad». In conclusion, he quotes an excerpt from Lermontov's poem «Borodino»:
Let's die near Moscow
How our brothers died!
And we promised to die
And we kept the oath of allegiance.
The annual march of the «Immortal Regiment», during which Russians rally with portraits of their relatives fallen during WWII, is a palmary example of the cult of victory, heroism and death. The figure of 27 million dead in WWII, almost four times the loss of Nazi Germany, is downplayed. Such a huge number of casualties emanates from the absolute insignificance of human life for Stalin and his commanders and the incompetent military command.
At the end of March, 2022, the Ukrainian military found a poem of a murdered Russian soldier that he wrote on his military ID document:
Read, Ukrainian: I'm glad to burn in battle!
Look with your throat; so far unharmed,
Which automatic rifle is mine,
Which of the aiming sights are mine.
With torn stumps, you’ll squeeze through the trenches
Among the cowardly muzzles.
I am dead — but even in death, I am ANGRY and PROUD!
Peace for everyone! Glory to Russia! Death to Ukrainians!
Russian propaganda continues to talk about the exceptional heroism of Russian soldiers, who «destroyed several tanks and infantry fighting vehicles at the cost of their own lives», «went out with a single machine gun against the whole troop», «brought down a flock of Bayraktars» and so on. Russia's cult of death requires heroic self-sacrifice from soldiers.
This cult dates back to the USSR. At that time, soldiers who blew themselves up to not surrender or direct their planes into enemy vehicles were also made heroes. Most of these stories were likely fictional, as the Soviet and Russian armies have always treated people like cannon fodder.
Obviously, each country glorifies its fallen soldiers during the war to maintain the army's fighting spirit. Still, the important nuance is that modern Russian propaganda does this during the war of aggression. For many Russians, the prospect of becoming a hero, even posthumously, looks more attractive than living at home in poverty.
12. «The cult of masculinity — machismo»
Putin's macho cult is part of a cult of personality that began to take shape in Russia in the early years of his presidency. The cult of Putin is reminiscent of the cult of personality of Lenin and Stalin in Soviet times. A portrait of Putin is hanging in the office of every official in Russia. The same is relevant for the classrooms of Russian schools. Songs about the leader are composed by Russian singers, monuments are erected to him, and Russians call him the sexiest man in Russia year after year, recalling his famous photo shoot bare-chested on horseback.
Shaun Walker from the Guardian argues that Putin has an image close to a celebrity, constantly filmed while performing macho stunts — for example, playing with Russian hockey stars. Putin's team has won, and the president himself scored eight goals. At the same time, Putin was also portrayed as a master of martial arts: sambo, karate, and judo. Consequently, he gained the image of a «strong leader».
Russian oppositionists, in contrast, were often portrayed in women's clothing or bright makeup by the Russian propaganda. That is in sharp contrast to the Russian tradition of what a real man should look like.
The results of the Levada-Center poll in 2020 showed that prostitution, homosexuality, and feminism are not socially acceptable. Eighteen percent of Russians support the liquidation of gays and lesbians, and a third support their isolation from society. This figure has risen steadily since the mid-1990s until it has reached current levels.
In early February 2022, Putin joked in response to Volodymyr Zelensky's statement that he did not like any article of the Minsk agreements. Putin replied: «Like it or dislike it, bear with it, my beauty». These words are from a brutal Russian punk-rock song:
My honey’s in the coffin. I crept up and f*сked,
Like it or dislike it, sleep my beauty.
The American historian Robert Paxton in the book «Anatomy of Fascism» argues that the important driving forces of fascism are the existence of a society in humiliation and crisis, and the demand of this society for a strong leader, necessarily a man, who can use brutal force against enemies to dominate them eventually.
Russian propaganda has shaped the image of a masculine soldier, a «liberation warrior». There is a famous Russian saying — «haven’t served — not a man», which aims to promote service in the Russian army among men. In the Russian imagination, a Russian soldier is always strong, masculine and heterosexual, that is, a real «man».
13. «Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say»
According to Umberto Eco, for Ur-Fascism, the individual has no rights, and the people are perceived as a monolith with a common will. The leader is the interpreter of this will — «thus the People is only a theatrical fiction».
The virus of fascism in various forms and manifestations has appeared throughout history in many countries. It can be assumed that in the case of weak «immunity» of society, this virus becomes activated and infects society with itself. Modern democracy with its strong institutions can be considered an effective vaccine against fascism. Russia has never been able to obtain such a vaccine fully, as it has been an absolute monarchy or totalitarian state for the past several hundred years. As discussed above, Russia never became a democracy in the 1990s, and with Putin's rise to power, the country switched to an electoral autocracy.
Even though modern Russia has nominally democratic institutions, they are imitative. Ukrainian philosopher Vakhtang Kebuladze calls Russia a «shadow of civilisation». He argues that Russia repeats, like a shadow, the contours and forms of Western transatlantic civilisation but does so in a shadowy way, saturating these forms with shady, dark, distorted content: «Everything we find constructive and positive in Western civilisation exists in Russia but in a distorted way».
In the article called «The Other Russia: Discontent Grows in the Hinterlands» (2012), the authors, Mikhail Dmitriev and Daniel Treisman, claim that there are 39 million retirees and 18 million veterans in Russia (now, the numbers are slightly different), i.e., people who are recipients of state benefits. Along with these 57 million «soviet people», Russia is also home to a large number of intelligence and security officers, members of the National Guard and other security forces (so-called «siloviki»), who primarily receive all their benefits from the state. It is they who form Putin's electoral core. Responding to his electoral core's request for a robust welfare state, Putin is pursuing a state policy that may well be called gerontocracy — the rule of the old.
According to Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the totalitarian consciousness of the Soviet man remained with the Russians, and basic institutions in the state have not changed. Putin came to power as a product of Russian society, formulated imperialistic policies that met the demands of his electorate, eliminated the possibility of any alternative opinion, and made himself an expression of the collective will of the Russians.
14. «Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak»
George Orwell invented Newspeak in 1984 as the language of the totalitarian regime, an allusion to the Stalinist USSR. Gleb Pavlovsky, who was once Putin's political adviser, stated that «The main difference between propaganda in the USSR and the new Russia is that in Soviet times the concept of truth was important. [...] Now no one even tries proving the «truth». You can just say anything. Create realities».
Russia does not call the invasion of Ukraine a «war» but instead officially calls it a «special military operation» and punishes the use of the word «war». Russian officials still deny the possibility of any war with Ukraine. «Fake» in Russia is any information (mostly true) that does not coincide with the state's official position. In early March, Russia's parliament introduced criminal liability for «fakes» about the war in Ukraine. «Foreign agents» are independent Russian journalists or activists. «Nazis» or «fascists» are those who do not support Russia's foreign policy or oppose its wars of aggression. «Denazification» is military aggression against another state. The occupation of eastern Ukraine was, in fact, its liberation from the Ukrainians. And the annexation of Crimea is the restoration of historical justice, the return of Crimea to its «native harbour», i.e., to Russia. The list goes on.
What should be done with Russian fascism?
The neologism «Ruscism», which means Russian fascism, is becoming more and more popular in the Ukrainian and international media. Ruscism emerged gradually, absorbing imperialism, chauvinism, Russian messianism, and totalitarian consciousness. Stalinism was not punished because it had won the war, and the Russians did not understand the horrors it brought. Stalin is the most prominent figure of all times for today's Russians.
After the defeat in World War II, Nazi Germany went through a difficult path of denazification. Gradually, the Germans realised the evil of Nazism. Now the world is facing a new historical challenge — to «deruscify» Russia. Otherwise, ruscism will not disappear. No matter how much Ukrainians and the West want to end the war ASAP, ruscism requires a much more comprehensive solution than arms supplies, financial aid or a post-war reconstruction plan for Ukraine. Western support will undoubtedly help Ukrainians defeat Russia on the battlefield. However, if Russia's «deruscification» is not carried out, a countdown to Russia's next war of aggression to restore former greatness and punish enemies will start.
Umberto Eco concludes his 1995 essay with a prophecy: «Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. [...] Freedom and liberation are an unending task».
It is vital for all of us to remember that.