Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Xenophobic Attitudes Growing Across Russian Political Spectrum, Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – Xenophobic attitudes are now to be found among communist, nationalist, liberal and pro-Kremlin parties and groups, according to Moscow’s leading specialist on inter-ethnic relations, a development that reflects the efforts of these organizations to tap into popular attitudes and win votes.

            Such outreach programs are not likely to be successful, other Russian commentators say, although it is clearly the case that the diversity of such efforts has already achieved one thing: it has kept the Russian nationalist part of the spectrum split and prevented it from coming together and forming a party that might challenge the incumbent regime.

            In an article in today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” Nadezhda Krasilova describes what she calls “the fashion for xenophobia” among Russia’s political parties ranging from the pro-government United Russia to the Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (newizv.ru/politics/2013-02-26/178323-moda-na-ksenofobiju.html).

            All of these groups have adopted increasingly nationalist rhetoric and even in many cases formed special “wings” devoted to nationalist causes, she points out, but according to Krasilova, “in the opinion of experts, despite the intensification of xenophobia in society, nationalist rhetoric will not bring these parties more votes in the elections.

            Emil Pain, the director of the Moscow Center for Ethno-Political and Regional Research, told her that he and his colleagues have identified four ideological “trends” in the Russian blogosphere: the communist, the nationalistic, the liberal, and the pro-government “For all these groups,” he said, “the growth of xenophobia is characteristic, and it is even hard to say where it is manifested the most.”

            “Practically all political forces one way or another and in this or that form have played with Russian nationalism,” Pain said. That has led to splits within these parties “between those who support nationalism and those who do not accept it,” especially among parties on the left for whom nationalism traditionally has been anathema.

            Among these groups, one can see an ever greater “split between the new Euro-left groupings” which support the rights of minorities and more old-fashioned communists like Gennady Zyuganov who are increasingly inclined to modify their leftist rhetoric with nationalistic slogans.

            But something similar, Pain continues, “is taking place in other groups as well.” But it may not help any of them because the nationalism of such parties often is “rejected” by ordinary people who either see it as hypocritical or not thorough-going enough.  Thus, “the situation is very complicated. Here it is possible to acquire something but sometimes to lose more.”

            Any party that employs nationalist rhetoric may pick up some support in predominantly ethnic Russian areas, but that in and of itself will only intensify opposition to it “in certain regions of Russia, for example, the Middle Volga, where a significant part of the [country’s] Muslims live.”

             That danger appears to be one of the reasons these “nationalist” wings or groups associated with Russia’s major political parties go out of their way to stress that they are not nationalists but only interested in defending the rights of the largest ethnic group in the country and doing more than the Kremlin is about issues like immigration from Central Asia.

            But there is another and perhaps even more compelling reason why these groups, however nationalistic their statements may be, insist that they are not nationalistic.  Vladimir Nikitin, who heads the KPRF-related Russian Harmony group, notes that in Russia, the word “’nationalistic’ has a negative connotation.”

            Anyone using it “immediately” causes people to think about “Nazism in Germany,” he said. Therefore, his group “is not nationalistic but internationalist with a Russian national trend. In its documents, it is directly stated that this movement pulls together [ethnic] Russians who by their spirit and worldview are people independent of nationality.”

            Moreover, Nikitin, who is also a Duma deputy, continued, it is hardly possible for Russia “to develop normally as a country if the state-forming people is denigrated.” That way leads “to chaos and destruction, while Russian Harmony “will direct this energy of the people in constructive ways.”

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