Monday, May 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: National Socialism Emerging as Alternative to Putin Regime, Pain Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – National socialism is emerging as an alternative to the current regime in Russia, Moscow’s leading specialist on inter-ethnic attitudes says, because its combination of two ideas – xenophobia and a demand for social justice – are to be found across the Russian political spectrum.

            In an interview published in “Ogonyek” today, Emil Pain, a professor of political science at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, describes the results of his just-completed study of Russian ideological attitudes as reflected in the country’s increasingly important social media (

            Pain told “Ogonyek” journalist Olga Filina that there is no longer a clear divide between “Internet” Russia and “television” Russia. More than 51 percent of Russian adults now use the Internet on a regular basis, and his survey of opinion online corresponds to what broader sociological polls have found.

            The investigation he led found, Pain continues, that “the division of society into ideological groups can be considered a fait accompli.” In some respects, this is a “positive” step forward from the “amorphous mass of Soviet people” because it means that “total mobilization” in peacetime is impossible and “the manipulation of people” less likely.

            But on the other hand, he suggests, this ideological division entails some serious dangers because Russian society is far more divided than most others, its various parts have little overlap, and they have not yet shown an ability “to talk with one another and reach agreement.”  As a result, “this is a dangerous tendency.”

            Pain identifies four distinct groups – the pro-regime, the left, the democratic liberals, and the nationalists – but suggests that they share three commonalities: consolidation based on negative rather than positive factors, growing dissatisfaction with the existing situation, and great skepticism about the possibility of any positive change.

            They vary in terms of their current power – the pro-regime group is now on top – and on their ability to organize.  “The greatest ability and readiness to organize are shown by the left and the nationalists,” while the liberals are the least likely to be interested in that and the pro-regime groups only somewhat more so.

                More than the other groups, Pain says, the liberals like to talk about private life and justify themselves by pointing out that that is what their counterparts in the West do.  But that ignores the fact that in the West, liberal values have largely triumphed while in Russia, they are not yet dominant and may never be.

                Given Russian conditions, he continues, “it would seem that liberals ought to form up under the batter of the defense of human rights, but alas even in this camp there are discussions about the utility of observing these rights” and a willingness to accept openly xenophobic positions on the Caucasus and on immigration.

            Moreover, “the idea of a civic nation, which was put forward by Renan 150 years ago, is not even mentioned in the liberal community.” As a result, there is now a debate between “liberal cosmopolitans” and “ethnic nationalists,” a discussion that can only lead to a dead end, Pain argues.

            But in the Moscow scholar’s view, “the main sin of contemporary Russian liberalism is the inclination of its supporters to the idea of historical predestination,” either pessimistic with the notion that given Russia’s past, not much positive is possible, or optimistic with the obverse notion that everything will work out to their benefit without their having to do very much.

            Given that pattern, “it is not excluded that completely new forces will become competitors for the first place – ideological mutants arising from a combination of xenophobic m and left social populism.” His research found that “the single idea common for the mass audience of each of the four groups is xenophobia” and that demands for social justice are growing.

                Filina challenged him: “You want to say that the alternative to the party of power is national socialist?” To which Pain responds that Russia is entering a period of “bad weather,” one whose exact outlines are not clear but many of whose component parts are already very much in view.

            Because of the stability or even stagnation of the current situation, Pain continues, “the majority of ideological groups remain passive and can permit themselves to reflect abstractly” about what they would like to do. The regime itself has thus set in chain a series of events like those of a century ago in which the ultimate outcome is far from clear.

            The regime is no longer willing to have a dialogue with the opposition. It simply wants to suppress it. But that desire conflicts with its need to attract more foreign investment, something that won’t happen if Moscow is too obviously repressive. As a result, the entire system of “checks and balances” that created stability has become “deformed.”

            By way of conclusion, Pain says that he sees two broad scenarios: In the first, the various opposition groups would unite and work out “a road map” for a democratic transition much as the opponents of Franco’s regime did in Spain.  In the second, Russia would follow the trajectory of Germany’s Weimar Republic, “from authoritarianism to dictatorship.”

            “In the second case, as we remember, unification did not take place by means of dialogue and the consideration of the opinions of opponents but by removing or pushing out all those who did not agree to the common program.”  The first scenario is possible in Russia, Pain says, but “the danger of the second is very much present” because it is “much simpler” to carry out.

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