In contemporary Russia, nationalism and far-right activism both at the state level and in society are increasingly growing. However, the concept of current Russian nationalism which is supported by the government itself is different. Previous nature Russian nationalism was much more imperialistic that mainly paid attention to impact abroad, but current nationalism is targeted to formulate the single concept of “Russian identity” that leads to xenophobia, racism, and other far-right movements.
The essential objective of this paper is to examine extreme nationalism in contemporary Russia and its role in political processes. Regarding the current actual case of far-right populism in Russia, the following important actual issues will be examined: Far-right ideologies formulating activism, Russian nationalism, and ethnic minorities, government, and far-right groups.
The outcome will be complicated, especially regarding there is not the sole concept of Russian nationalism, because the previous imperialistic nature of Russian nationalism and the current one is different. Another complicated issue of Russian nationalism is the government’s attitude towards the far-right movement which is not the same in comparison with other states` cases. Despite I will take advantage of a single case study, simultaneously there will be some examples for giving a more deep understanding.
Keywords: Russia, nationalism, identity, ideology, government, far-right
The history of Russian nationalism dates back to the 19th century referring to pan-slavianism (Anna A. Grigorieva. 2010). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, radical-right populism in Russia was primarily was driven more anti-democratic than European countries. In practice, it was monopolized by the government and mainly routed towards nationalistic rhetoric that speculated on national or state identity. According to the Russian elite, it was a new way of formulating a nation-state. In order to reach this purpose after Putin came to power, Kremlin persuaded people behind the government, by limiting the freedom of the political movements, including far-right campaigns. Then, V.Putin and some pro-governmental politicians turned populist rhetoric addressing people “Rebuild a Great Russia”(Marlenne Laruelle. 2009)
However, there are a fair amount of populist parties, as well as extremists in Russia that do not follow the government`s dominance on them. Therefore, in this article, I will explore the main populist ideologies formulating movements, especially from the point of view of the far-right nationalism, their ties with the government, and the government’s policy on ethnic groups that will answer how the Kremlin conducts the policy of “homogeneous Russian people”.
When it comes to studies in this field, unfortunately, most of the researches have concentrated on Kremlin`s ties with European far-right parties, and the domestic policy on populist parties is not satisfactorily investigated. However, in order to understand the far-right strategy of the Kremlin that crucial to start from the domestic field, especially regarding the above-mentioned facts.
Far-right ideologies formulating activism in contemporary Russia
Most of the far-right movements in Russian are concerned to promote an ideology focused on extreme patriotism that views individuals and government as a single homogeneous entity and outsiders as a danger to this society (Anton Shekhovtsov. 2017). However, some movements consider as a thread non-Russians within Russia and organize campaigns against them. For instance, Far-right Militancy as a form of public movement attacked ethnic non-Russians and this tendency is growing. In 2004 proponents of this movement attacked to non-Russians and as a result of this incident 49 people were killed, more than 215 people injured. In 2006, due to the same reason, 54 people were killed and 485 injured (Mihai Varga. 2008). Simultaneously, by using ethnic animosity as an electoral opportunity, Russian politics emerged a permissive atmosphere for right-wing militants. For example, in late 2005, the political party Rodina broadcasted a campaign video with the slogan “let us clean Moscow of garbage” implying migrants of non-Russian nationality. Regarding right-wing terrorism and violence in Russia, more than 495 cases occurred in the period of 2000-2017(Johannes Due Enstad.2018)
There is also the traumatic pattern of xenophobic and racist practices within Russia. As seen previously, forcible expulsion of people by the Soviet Union officials, Russia has a unique tradition of removing people (especially their leaders) from its society. On the basis of their ethnic or national origin, they found enemies on such as Chechens, Kurds, and so on . In 2006 the UN rapporteur reported an alarming case of xenophobia and racism, especially in this sense of the growing reputation of neo-nazi groups. There are neo-Nazi radical parties within Russia that promote anti-Semitism, such as the unauthorized Russian National Unity, as well as Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democrat Party. In the meantime, after the number of assaults on Jewish monuments and synagogues in 2013, the situation changed increasingly for the first time, according to the World Jewish Congress (Harriet Neely. 2015)
Identifying the dominant factors of raising far-right ideologies, including xenophobia in Russia is a complex issue. As a subjective term, xenophobia is closely related to economic transition, nationalism, of course, if the term of the nation is still unreviled, and history. Of course, in this regard, Russia is no exception, in terms of increasing migration flows and economic challenges this worldwide problem. However, Russia marginalized racist crimes as “extremist crimes” which is considered as one of the main threads for Russian security. In order to express social concern, when Russia submitted its annual report to the UN, xenophobia was expressed with the term “extremist crimes”. In 44 regions of Russia, SOVA reported racist and neo-Nazi proponents` attacks. And this case was reported just not taking into account well-organized the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, approximate participants of such kind of movements are 20 000, especially consisting of youth generation (Anna Sevortian. 2009)
One of the most dominant movements in Russia is racism, especially after the invasion of Crimea, which happens in Russia almost on a daily basis. In contemporary Russia, the growth of ethnic animosity has considerably contributed to the rise of racism. Racially based politics lead to the formation and establishment of a prominent hierarchy of ethnically minor nationalities that are inferior to Russian nationals (Alice Bennett.2014). As the rise of racist movements in the US and UK coincided with economic cuts, Russia experienced the same scenario after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unemployment, limited job opportunities, and a shortage of fun activities remained an issue for many young Russians, despite the economic revival in the 2000s. As Russian society tried to maintain new social legitimacy without the cultural glue of communism, but social ties have fractured and in this condition controlled racism played a role “Alternative to Communism” (Richard Arnold.2015)
In Russia, religion is almost as critical as racial attitudes towards ethnic minorities. The Islamaphobic ideology in Russia is accounted for the systematic abuse of federal civil rights, property rights, and in certain circumstances the right to live in common. There Islam mostly illustrated non-white, violent, and intolerant religion which is lacking from humanity (Alice Bennett.2014)
Extreme Nationalism and ethnic minorities in Russia
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Russian nationalism has been a dominant element of Russian politics and culture. B. Yelstin has particularly concentrated on the “anti-national” aspect by facilitating a reconciliation between radical communists and Russian nationalists (Michael Hughes. 2007). However, after Putin came to power he made a strategy challenge by calling himself a “patriot” avoiding the negative effects of nationalism (Astrid Tuminez. 2000).
Regarding the current case of Russian extreme nationalism that leads to xenophobia, racism and far-right movements is much more related to ethnic minorities, which mainly focused on building a strong nation-state. In this way, after the annexation of Crimea Putin openly said after the collapse of the Soviet Union Russians have been one of the most divided nations. He referred to nations living in Russia as “Russians”. But Putin challenged with some implications for maintaining the homogeneity of “Russia people” (Helge Blakkisrud, Pål Kolstø. 2016). First of all, Russia is multicultural, and more than 20% of Russia is not ethnically consisting of Russians, most of them despite do not feel as Russians. In this sense, that is crucial to mention, especially 2 minority groups: Caucasians and Muslims that are racially victimized in Russia. Such kind of attitudes towards the Caucasian nations historically emerged conflicts. These nations have been racially considered at the bottom of the hierarchy and in current Russia, consequently the term-“black” means Caucasian nations. Caucasus`s ethnic growth laid the ground for the development of racism and contributed to victimization. That was explained by the exponential rise in crime, followed by the Soviet Union underlining negative perceptions and discrimination against Caucasian nations. That kind of attitude resulted in many of the Caucasian nations rejected their right on applying for jobs, owning property due to the xenophobic attitudes underlying Caucasian nations are “profoundly different to the central”. Racist prejudices toward the Caucasus are reinforced and strengthened by xenophobic messages explicitly targeting and religious minorities in the media and political structures (Alice Bennett.2014)
One of the interesting dominant cases of Russian nationalism is the Russian Orthodox Church`s involvement in this process. After Patriarch ll Aleksei made a speech in New York the reputation of radical nationalism in the Russian Orthodox Church played a leading role. The Patriarch recognized Christianity and Judaism`s shared history, saying that the union of Jews and Christians has a spiritual basis. But that speech was condemned by some Russian conservatives. Regardless of the aspect of political views, nationalists pursue the restoration of Orthodoxy spiritually in the life of their country and see Orthodoxy as a special faith with a broadly accepted role. The Orthodox Church is clearly identifiable in the rhetoric of extreme nationalists. Generally, identifying the place of Russian Orthodoxy in the nationalistic explanations of Russia`s pathway is necessary in order to recognize the public and political debate on the post-Soviet trajectory of the country (Zoe Knox. 2005)
Regarding the post-Soviet case of Russia some there have been some far-right parties that actively affected to formulate the attitudes towards ethnic minorities, migrants from the perspective of extreme nationalism. Despite the government`s pressure most of these parties keep their existence, explicitly or implicitly:
This Party promoted the concept of extreme Russian nationalism and Orthodox monarchism with imperial flags and symbols. They consider themselves as “İdeal socialists” and previously called People`s Will. This Party participated in elections in 2003 and got 8 mandates in Duma, however in 2007 they lost their seat and finished their existence as a political party and was authorized as a political movement called Russian All-People’s Union.
People`s Nationalist Party (PNP)
In 1994 explicit neo-Nazi and racist party PNP was established which was ideologically based on Black Hundreds Movement (ultra-nationalist movement in Russia). Despite this movement being separated into 2 groups, it had a great influence in Russian society withholding 47 division groups. The early ideological base of the movement was to seek a linkage of Russian Monarchism with Nazism. Distinct from other far-right parties in Russia, PNP was eager to collaborate with other groups who share the same ideologies
Russian National Unity (RNU)
RNU was one of the most crucial extreme nationalist parties in Russia which actively promoted its ideologies by publishing material. Russian Government considered RNU as one of the main extreme thread and therefore for today the influence of RNU considerably reduced, however, the movement keeps its existence (Henrik Kjölstad. 2009). This party did not only include Russia but also most of the Russian speaking countries and in the meantime, RNU shifted the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in the influenced countries, such as Ukraine
Government and far-right populism in Russia
Russian President V. Putin ended his first presidential period in the early 2000s when two colored revolutions kicked nearby-Georgia and Ukraine. It seemed too real to have the probability of a colored revolution erupting in Russia. In response, Kremlin took a new strategy called “controlled nationalism”. The International Eurasian Movement, led by A.Dugin, a right-wing ideologist, established a youth branch-Eurasian Youth Union, in reaction to the colored revolutions at the beginning of 2005 in order to prevent nationalist sentiment and mobilize the young generation against anti-government behaviors. Despite the Kremlin has been criticized for promoting Europe`s nationalist and far-right political parties, the same tendency is highly violent against groups that promote similar ideas in Russia. Particularly, the Ukrainian conflict triggered the Russian government to take drastic action or criminal accusations against far-right groups and naming it “anti-extremism”. Therefore, many of the leaders of the extreme-nationalist movements who organized the protests are in jail or exile. They are considered by their followers to be politically oppressed and worry about growing persecution by the state. In the meantime, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDRP), especially current leader V. Zhirnovski with his extreme right-wing views, plays one of the key role in Kremlin`s “controlled nationalism” or “managed democracy” strategy.
Authoritarian regimes, especially in terms of Russia practically benefit from the strategy deliberately enhancing extreme nationalism or populism generally. For such kinds of regimes that is a tool and a way of stabilization, rather than putting in danger called “populism in power”. The financial downturn, electoral policy, and the newly emerged reforms of Medvedev have established a possible populist uprising by grassroots engaged in revolutionary change against the regime. The return of Putin to power instead of reforms maintained how this possible populist reaction will be tackled, by neutralizing of rising populism. The concentration on conservative-traditional principals and the benefits of these ideals to describe state-society attitudes were given greater consistency after the election, and this strategy provided a new framework for the concept of legitimate political agenda. Despite Putin did not come to power by means of populistic rhetoric, after the return in 2012 Russia welcomed “Official Populism”. In brief, the reaction of the regime was to establish a proto-populist framework within the notion of Russia as a “normal” state. Putin`s formal populist claims are the defense of conservative values regarding domestic and external challenges, which are primarily social requests the state has to meet. In this way, as a rhetorical tool, Putin utilized conservative-traditional values, targeted to the domestic audience. The most popular principal was Russian “People” might unite in response to foreign and domestic supporters of values such as cosmopolitanism. In the meantime, Putin`s speech in 2015 emerged a new kind of populist strategy-“state-civilization”:
“…when we were divided, we faced tragedy, disintegration, disasters, and the suffering of millions of our citizens, and we found ourselves at the mercy of false values, criminal ambitions, and national catastrophe. This is why, despite our great diversity, it is essential that we have a sense of ourselves as a united nation” (Neil Robinson, Sarah Milne. 2017)
The definition of “State-Civilization” is based on traditional common values integrity, unity, indivisibility, and the long-standing history of Russia. Regarding records and statements from the first two periods of Putin, there are confusion problems of nationality and ethnic relations. As an alternative to the failure of Western multiculturalism, Putin`s program of state-civilization was targeted to build “smaller nations and powerful states”. However, once we discussed contemporary Russian nationalism and ethnic minorities, that is crucial to mention that attitudes in the framework of this program differed for some nations, especially those living in North Caucasus. Different from Tatars or the Yakuts, the nations of the Republic of Chechnya and Dagestan were not included in Putin`s warm sentiments (Matthew Blackburn.2020)
The emergence of the official form of populism to give back regime hybridity eliminated the stability of Putin`s regime had in the initial phase. However, distinct from the “State-Civilization” concept “sovereign democracy” in between 2004-2008 was conducted alongside other ideologies regardless of their motive, even competed with other populist movements. The sole advantage of “Official Populism” is the protection of Russian culture and historical values (Neil Robinson, Sarah Milne. 2017)
The primary purpose of my paper was to identify the nature of contemporary Russian extreme far-right parties and their role in political processes. In this way, I mainly speculated on the post-Soviet period of Russia from the perspective of authorized or non-authorized movement. In the meantime, in order to give a more deep understanding, I exemplified in different parts of the paper far-right attitudes towards ethnic minorities. Before moving towards far-right activism in Russia I differentiated current and previous features: populism targetted foreign audiences that mainly based on the idea of Russian imperialism and in the second stage populism to build a strong nation-state. In the first part of the page, I investigated far-right ideologies formulating extreme nationalism. In this regard racism, xenophobia, neo-Nazism, and far-right militancy were investigated. In the second part, after the brief history of Russian far-right movements and involvement of the Russian Orthodox Church, I tried to put understanding of relations between non-Russians and the far-right movement, and in this was 3 extreme movements that profoundly affected the aftermath scenario. In the third part, I drew attention to populism from the perspective of the regime. Especially, regarding Kremlin`s support to Europe`s far-right parties, that was crucial to investigate how Kremlin puts strategy towards the domestic equivalents of those parties.
Several conclusions can be reached based on some practical proofs in this paper. The most crucial character of Russian far-right movements they are more extremist than Europe`s far-right parties, particularly taking into account far-right militancy that caused profound death during the campaigns. Secondly, far-right movements in Russia have experienced more state pressure than others. Thirdly, regarding obvious facts in this paper Kremlin recently effectively benefits from far-right movements putting new strategy “Controlled Nationalism”. And lastly, populism in contemporary Russia is not just a social phenomenon, that is also an effective way for Kremlin led by Putin to build a “strong nation-state”.
The main limitation of the paper is the lack of deep comparative analysis of given states, despite I exemplified some historical experiences for giving an understanding. Secondly, due to the lack of literature, I was supposed to use some unreliable or non-academic sources, like Wikipedia.
The perspective analysis on this topic should also focus on anti-migrant movements in Russia, especially from the perspective of equivalents of them in Europe by taking advantage of the comparative analysis.
- European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2014/545703/EPRS_ATA(2014)545703_REV1_EN.pdf
- Amnesty International: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3edb47de16.html
- Anna A. Grigorieva. 2010. Pan-Slavism in central and southeastern Europe: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/38633132.pdf
- Helge Blakkisrud and Pål Kolstø. 2016. The New Russian Nationalism: Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism, 2000-15: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301232300_The_New_Russian_Nationalism_Imperialism_Ethnicity_and_Authoritarianism_2000-15
- Marlene Laruelle. 2009. Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia: https://books.google.ee/books?hl=en&lr=&id=gcoPodT6pzkC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=russian+nationalism+after+soviet&ots=kPgobocfpD&sig=wU29h0MT9p_ZcEK0gpZSklW628w&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=russian%20nationalism%20after%20soviet&f=false
- Anton Shekhovtsov. 2017. Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324940457_Russia_and_the_Western_Far_Right_Tango_Noir
- Mihai Varga. 2008. How Political Opportunities Strengthen the Far Right: Understanding the Rise in Far-Right Militancy in Russia: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20451525?seq=1
- Johannes Due Enstad. 2018. Right-Wing Terrorism and Violence in Putin’s Russia: https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/customsites/perspectives-on-terrorism/2018/issue-6/a6-due-enstad.pdf
- Harriet Neely. 2015. Neo-Nazism and Racist Violence in Russia: https://cers.leeds.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/97/2016/04/NeoNazism-and-Racist-Violence-in-Russia-Harriet-Neely.pdf
- Anna Sevortian. 2009. Xenophobia in Post-Soviet Russia: https://www.corteidh.or.cr/tablas/r23682.pdf
- Richard Arnold. 2015. Systematic racist violence in Russia between ‘hate crime’ and ‘ethnic conflict’: https://www.tandis.odihr.pl/bitstream/20.500.12389/22107/1/08345.pdf
- Alice Bennett. 2014. Racism in Russia: https://cers.leeds.ac.uk/wp content/uploads/sites/97/2015/01/Racism_in_Russia-Alice-Bennett-2014.pdf
- Michael Hughes. 2007. The never‐ending story: Russian nationalism, national communism and opposition to reform in the USSR and Russia: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13523279308415207?journalCode=fjcs19
- Astrid Tuminez. 2000. Russian Nationalism and Vladimir Putin’s Russia Russian Nationalism and Vladimir Putin’s Russia: http://www.ponarseurasia.org/sites/default/files/policy-memos pdf/pm_0151.pdf
- Zoe Knox. 2005. ‘Russian Orthodoxy, Russian Nationalism and Patriarch Aleksii II’: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/189567072.pdf
- Henrik Kjölstad. 2009. White Russia-Xenophobia, Extreme Nationalism and Race Radicalism as Threats to Society: file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/FOIR2592.pdf
- Neil Robinson and Sarah Milne. 2017. Populism and political development in hybrid regimes: Russia and the development of official populism: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0192512117697705
- Matthew Blackburn. 2020. Mainstream Russian Nationalism and the “State-Civilization” Identity: Perspectives from Below: https://www.diva portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1431454/FULLTEXT01.pdf
 https://www.refworld.org/docid/3edb47de16.html  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_groups_in_Russia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Union_(Russia) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_National_Party_(Russia)#cite_note-5  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_National_Unity  https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2017/12/16/the-death-of-the-russian-far-right  https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2014/545703/EPRS_ATA(2014)545703_REV1_EN.pdf