Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Window on Eurasia: ‘Liberal’ Weakness has Allowed ‘Aggressive Russian Nationalism’ to Grow, Social Chamber Told

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The Social Chamber yesterday held a discussion on “The Nationalist Danger in Russia: The Results of 2011. Trends, Prospects, and Countermeasures,” a session at which many views on that subject were aired and which has attracted a great deal of attention in the Moscow media.

            The main presentation was made by Valery Engel, the deputy chairman of “World Without Nazism, in which he outlined the findings and conclusions of Semyon Charny’s report on “The Social Bases and manifestations of Nationalistic Attitudes in the Russian Federation” in 2011 (

            According to Engel, the number of extreme right-wing Russian nationalists itoday is some 20 to 24 thousand, but despite their numbers, they are now seeking to have an impact on the country’s power structures and even penetrate them rather than engage in easily suppressed violent action (

            He concluded his pessimistic report by suggesting that “the growth of the aggressive activity of nationalistic leaders in Russia is taking place on the background of [and clearly because of] the weakness displayed by the liberal wing” of Russian public opinion (

            Another participant, Nikolay Svanidze, the chairman of the Chamber’s Commission on Interethnic Relations and Freedom, suggested that the radical right had already been successful in penetrating the government and that Dmitry Rogozin, former Russian ambassador to NATO, is an example of that threat.

             He added, “Moskovskie novosti” reports today, that “Russian society may be presented with a choice between Rogozin and Aleksey Navalny who is inclined to use ‘the popular resource’ of nationalism,” noting that the radicals view themselves as potential “brides” of whatever group will offer them the most (

            Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA Center, said that his views in large measure coincide with those of Engel. He said that the police have been able to reduce thenumber of criminal actions by the extreme nationalists, prompting the latter to turn to legal political action while maintaining “anti-system rhetoric.”

            He added that “at present, Russia cannot completely exclude nationalism from the life of society, but he argued that it is very important that political leaders ensure that the Russian population understands just what a nation is. Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin were taking steps in this direction a year ago but since then have cut back on this “almost to nothing.”

            Verkhovsky was followed by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the outspoken head of the social-relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate.  He argued that nationalists have the right to speak out because “liberal democracy is not a universal recipe” for solving all problems. Instead, he called for “uniting” Russians against “xenophobia and separatism.”

            The Orthodox churchman added that “it is necessary to solve the problems that ‘patriotic organizations’ are raising,” including the lack of definition of the status of the ethnic Russian people and “the difficulty of its self-organization” as a traditionally evolved ethno-social community (

            Vladiir Zorin, a former Russian minister for nationality affairs, pointedly asked why Engel and the others were not talking about migration patterns since “it is evident,” he said, “that precisely the growth of migration pressure in the big cities is also a cause of the growth of tension” in Russian society (

            Other speakers provided additional perspectives. Aleksandr Sokolov, a member of the Social Chamber, said that “in practice, all opposition forces in Russia are playing the nationalist card” and that in the current presidential campaign, there is likely to be “an outburst of nationalist rhetoric,” a development he called on Vladimir Putin to condemn.

            Georgy Fedorov, the president of the Center of Social and Poltiical Research, noted that it is extremely difficult to “separate out nationalists who are capable of negotiation.”  But he said liberals must try, rather than as is often the case “toying” with nationalists as Boris Akunin did recently in his conversation with Navalny.

And finally, political scientist Mikhail Tulsky said it is also a mistake to brand everyone in the government or out who can be accused of one or another form of xenophobia to be a member of some kind of “party of nationalists.”  Failure to distinguish between such people and the real radical right overstates the power of the latter (

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