Putin turns to the formulas of fascism

Putin turns to the formulas of fascism. By Ian Garner.

According to a new book of close reporting by historian Ian Garner, Russia is using every device of the modern media to create a fascist society, developed and deepened by young men and women, teenagers, and even children, who are having a whale of a time. …

The “Z” in the title refers to a symbol that has become something like an equivalent of the Nazi swastika since the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Today, it represents a sign of support for the Russian army, displayed everywhere and employed prominently in Russian war propaganda.

Garner once had many Russian friends and contacts, but they no longer speak to him, or only do so to repeat the dire tropes of the TV talk shows and the vast “web of fake news networks, paid influencers and bloggers” in Russia and abroad. These former friends and contacts … are a terrible bunch, spending much of their time online feeding ever more bloodthirsty narratives of what ought to be done to the Ukrainians.

Nevertheless, Garner knows better than to hang them on hooks to be scolded by a Western readership because he understands where they came from. Many of the young people he features grew up in the post-Soviet ’90s, amid the ruins of a failed communist order. Those years are seared on their psyches, especially if they were clever and observant and lived outside of Moscow’s “golden streets.”

Example 1:

Ivan Kondakov is an extreme case: he grew up in the port city of Arkhangelsk, 600 miles north of Moscow on the White Sea, where the decline of the submarine fleet meant the decay of national pride and the decline of engineering. This left what Kondakov calls “a kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare,” in which the streets were “full of people committing theft everywhere, mafia turning up and stealing whole factories, criminals all over the place, the courtyards full of all sorts of hooligans.”

Kondakov got out by working hard at school, and came to study in Moscow in the early 2000s. He took a PhD in engineering and obtained a good job in the aerospace industry, with which he was able to afford a nice apartment where he raised his three children. He is, Garner notes, “educated, eloquent and multilingual … far from the typical image of a brutish, monosyllabic Putin supporter.”

Kondakov dismisses Mikhail Gorbachev, whose efforts to democratise communism effectively destroyed the system, as “a populist traitor” and “dim,” while Yeltsin is judged to have been “a total disgrace.” Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is someone who has used his time in office to build a better country, and who took advantage of the boom of the 2000s decade to become “a creator.”

Kondakov’s generation are now in their 30s and 40s. They did not see the relative wealth of the 2000s as an invitation to adopt liberal values, which many in the West assumed would attend a bourgeois lifestyle. Grateful to Putin, they came to view the world as he did: “Nato and the West versus Russia, 1990s versus 2000s, destruction and regeneration, Putin as hero and his critics as enemies.”

Example 2:

Alina, a young woman Garner had known as a student, grew up in Nizhny Tagil, a city on the doorstep of Siberia famed for its tank factories and for metalworking of all kinds. It too had boomed in the 2000s, but by the mid-2010s, orders were reduced, and workers — who had once promised to come to Moscow to deal with the city types protesting against Putin — found themselves attending protest demonstrations instead. But Alina chose her side in adolescence. Born into a comfortable middle-class family, she studied for a degree in graphic design and longed for Moscow. Addicted to her phone, she developed an increasingly violent antipathy to the West and to Ukraine.

In her social-media posts, she now refers to Ukrainians as “Ukrofascists.” She had, Garner observed, “learned to speak a language of violence — a language of Russian Fascism.” Once open and friendly, she will have nothing to do with Garner now. Her last message to him was a photograph of a nuclear explosion with the caption: “Your children were born to be killed by Russians. And nothing more.”

Alina, like Ivan Kondakov, is confident in her educated intelligence and they both look forward to a generation purged of Western materialism. “Kondakov,” Garner writes, “speaks fluently in the language of a fascism that subjugates the individual will to the national spirit.”

Gone fascist:

Those who fared badly in new Russia are strongly represented in the hundreds of thousands of Russians who chose exile. They include gay, bisexual, or transsexual Russians who saw the recognition of their rights cruelly reversed and replaced with state-backed bigotry. Regime propagandists are particularly virulent when talking of those they call “perverts,” and they take their cue from the state. Bans on positive representations of LGBT people were introduced in the early 2010s.

Dmitry Kiselev, one of the most vitriolic of the talk-show propagandists, demanded that gays have their hearts either burned or buried deep underground after they died so that they could not infect others. Putin has played a full part in the emergence of this kind of rhetoric. In 2013, at the annual Valdai conference, he gave a speech which enumerated a list of evils, all of which came from abroad, including paedophilia, homosexuality, and feminism. Christian values foundational to Western civilisation were being undermined, he announced, and the young had to be re-made so they conformed to Russian cultural and religious ideals. …

Garner draws our attention to the numerous parallels with Nazi Germany. There too, the young were taught to love the Führer and hate his enemies. There too, gays were targeted (and suffered more grievously than Russian gays have yet). The Ukrainians may have been close to the Russians in every way, but they have nevertheless taken the place of the Jews in Russian demonology as an object of virulent hatred on social media and ranting talk shows.

Yet an end will come, foreign-policy analysts tell us, usually adding that it will come with a negotiation and an agreement. There is no sign of that yet: the indoctrination of the young in the cauldrons of the Internet and social media has convinced a very large part of the Russian population that the war must be one of annihilation. Many Russians have no qualms about reducing most of Ukraine to rubble and condemning its people to death in pursuit of a Russian rebirth.

Here too Garner identifies a parallel with the Nazis, who decided that the Slavs to their east were untermenschen best suited for use as slaves, or simply slain if sufficient numbers of Aryans wished to move onto their lucrative farmlands. For Hitler and his circle, ethnic cleansing was simply the only means of effecting a healthy rebirth of the land they had conquered, stolen from the semi-humans and placed in the care of the men and women of the master race. Ukrainian slaughter is likewise enthusiastically approved and breathlessly awaited by the growing Z generations of the new Russia. …

How deep does their hatred really go? Some of them were relatively liberal in their views until quite recently, so is it possible that they will discard their hatred as easily as they took it up once the war ends?