Thursday, January 17, 2008

Surviving Russia’s Drift to Fascism

Back in 1993-1994, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s sudden rise to prominence and the resonance that his openly chauvinistic and revanchist views found among elements of the Russian public gave rise to talk of a “Weimar Russia.” Zhirinovsky quickly self-destructed, and the Weimar Russia image soon faded. Unfortunately, it may be time to speak of a far more worrisome phenomenon — a post-Weimar, or even fascist Russia.

Contemporary Russia is remarkably similar to post-World War I Germany. Both countries emerged from imperial collapse and regime change and experienced massive economic hardship and political chaos. Their populations felt humiliated and their imperial identities were battered, and they responded by blaming their enemies, former colonies, disloyal minorities — and democracy. Both countries turned to nationalist, chauvinist, revanchist and neo-imperialist rhetoric, and embraced charismatic leaders promising to reestablish national glory, rebuild state power, and command international respect. Both rulers promptly abandoned democracy — to the applause of the majority of their populations.

These similarities suggest that it may be time to abandon such terms as managed or sovereign or hybrid democracy for today’s Russia. Even the term “authoritarian” may not be fully adequate. There are good reasons to think that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is acquiring all the characteristics of a fascist state.

I have made the analogy myself, truthfully, even back in the 1990s (post Zhirinovsky, pre Putin) that the 1990s felt like a techno version of the 1920s and that Russia looked like Weimar Germany. I believe that I have even made comments to that effect more recently. However, I think I was wrong. I don't think that Russia is turning fascist exactly. I have been becoming more and more infatuated with the idea that Putin is creating the Russian equivalent of the PRI and its authoritarian system that allowed it to hold onto power for multiple decades.

Russia as Mexico? That has interesting potential for thought.

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