Staunton, April 27 – Aleksandr Belov-Potkin, a Russian nationalist who emerged from the Pamyat group 25 years ago and who has been persecuted by the Russian government on many occasions, tells the BBC that “the Russian Federation today as far as nationalism is concerned has gone further than [he] ever dared to dream.”
“Those thigs which at one time, the Pamyat Society declared are now the basis of state policy,” Belov-Potkin is quoted as saying by Igor Eidman, a Russian commentator for Deutsche Welle who says this represents a remarkable development given what Pamyat was and how Russians react to it (spektrnews.in.ua/news/pamyat-u-vlasti---igor-eydman/61635).
Those old enough to remember the Perestroika period will recall what he describes as “the bearded clowns from the Pamyat Patriotic Society.” They attracted widespread attention but almost no support and were roundly rejected by Russian voters whenever they sought to win election.
The group, notorious for its anti-Semitism and thought by many to be a KGB creation, did not reflect the views of the Russian people, Eidman says. But with Vladimir Putin’s suppression of genuine elections and his search for a national idea, ideas from Pamyat have gained prominence in the halls of power of the Russian state.
However, the Russian commentator continues, “when freedom of elections and the media will be restored, the Putinist ruling Pamyat (and its ‘patriotic’ ideology) will share the unenviable fate of its historical predecessors and be thrown into the political dustbin of history.”
Whether Eidman is right about that or not, his focusing of attention on the triumph of Russian nationalist ideas within the Putin hierarchy calls attention to something else: While the ideas of Pamyat have achieved enormous influence in the Kremlin, Russian nationalists including Pamyatniki like Belov-Potkin have been subject to official persecution.
On the one hand, that allows the Kremlin to promote some of the most noxious notions of extreme Russian nationalism as it can always point to such actions against the extremists as evidence that it is not in bed with them. And on the other, it shows that Putin in this way as in so many others is a true follower of Stalin.
Again and again during his rise to power and his imposition of totalitarianism on the Soviet population, the Soviet dictator adopted the ideas of his erstwhile opponents even as he arrested or executed them. That kept people in the USSR and abroad off guard and meant that he was the only approved articulator of whatever policy line he was taking at the moment.
Putin is doing the same thing in the area of nationalism as well as many others.