Sunday, September 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: By Backing Those Who Make Nationalist Appeals, Russia’s Liberals are Destroying Themselves, Petersburg Student Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Russian liberals who back candidates that make nationalist appeals either out of calculation or conviction in the hopes that this will boost their poll numbers are sacrificing their own values and helping the authoritarian regime in the Kremlin, according to a St. Petersburg University student.

            In a letter to that has been reposted on a variety of sites, Daniil Grachev, student at St. Petersburg State University, raises some troubling issues about the rise of Russian xenophobia and nationalism and the relationship to that trend of the Russian state and Russians who view themselves as liberals (

            According to Grachev, “nationalism is becoming an epidemic which in various forms infects the authorities and the opposition and simply ordinary conformist members” of the population. And it is assuming dangerous forms little removed from hooliganism and threatens to harm those who only want to use it for their own ends.

            The Russian nationalists themselves assert that “they are not xenophobes but simply patriots” – although they forget that patriotism is “love for the motherland and no for a nationality” and that as “several thinkers have observed patriotism because it can be so easily distorted often is “the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

            Today, many of those call themselves “Russian patriots” are interested in only one thing, an eternal struggle with aliens,” Grachev continues, a goal that manifests “not love for the motherland but an inclination” to criminality.

            Unfortunately, the student writes, “’the activity’ of the little Nazis is getting de facto approval both ‘from above’ and ‘from below.’”

            “On the one hand,” those in power “talk about ‘the peaceful coexistence of various peoples” but “in fact carry out a policy of divide et impera and continually set ‘Russians’ and ‘non-Russians’ against one another.”  And on the other hand, those at the bottom of the social scale, feeling themselves threatened, are only too pleased to have an approved object of blame.

            The cynicism of the authorities and the aggressive stupidity of part of the masses feeds on itself: Russian “patriots” attack illegals, the illegals respond, and the police then fight “’ethnic pogroms.’” Such actions serve the immediate interests of many but the long term interests of the country not at all.

            What is still worse, Grachev says, is when those who should know better further exacerbate the situation either because they are politicians who seek to gain additional votes by playing to the crowd or liberals who approve their doing do out of a belief that that is the only way that their preferred candidate can win through.
            But the consequences of such actions, especially by liberals, are exactly the opposite of what they say they intend: by supporting such incautious appeals to the worst elements of society, the liberals simultaneously legitimize the actions of those elements and give aid and comfort to the authoritarian power vertical which is only too happy to exploit this.

            “I do not believe,” Grachev concludes, “that the majority of citizens of the Russian Federation want the little Nazis to run their country.” Nor does he believe that those who support nationalist and xenophobic campaigns simply out of a pragmatic desire to gain more votes understand the situation.

            They clearly “do not yet understand what they are being dragged into. But the [authoritarian regime] in this way is simply prepares for itself an elixir for a long life.” The authorities can come down hard on a few extremists, but that will do little to block what is really going on: the destruction of basic freedoms in the name of “’the struggle with extremism.’”


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