Saturday, August 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalists, Lacking Charismatic Leader, Self-Destruct or Become Regime Puppets, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 10 – The Russian media present a highly distorted image of Russian nationalism because it focuses on a few Moscow figures whose “influence in the nationalist movement is not great” and thus misses both the divisions within that grouping and the ongoing generational change among its leaders, according to a Russian analyst.

            In an essay posted on the portal yesterday, Maksim Sobesky argues that it is necessary to understand that at present “Russian nationalism is more marginal than real when it comes to politics, that it arose during perestroika, and that it immediately divided into two types: left and right” (

            The most prominent representative of left-wing Russian nationalism, he writes, was the National Bolshevik Party, whose actions made them for a time “real political players.”  Right-wing nationalism, in contrast, was less interested in gaining power than in promoting certain policy positions such as restrictions on immigration. It quickly fragmented.

            According to Sebesky, “the paradox of [rightwing Russian] nationalists is that the majority of them are non-ideological and apolitical” while “almost all” organizations they have sought to form have proved to be “stillborn.” Only on the left has there been the development of what one could call “political culture.”

            At the origins of post-Soviet Russian nationalism was Konstantin Kasimovsky, the founder of the Russian National Union (RNS) and publisher of “Shturmovik.”  Challenged by the National Bolshevik Party, he was unable to keep his group together but rather gradually moved into the Orthodox camp.

            Another figure of the 1990s was Aleksandr Ivanov-Sukharevsky, founder of the Popular National Party which sought, in the manner of European rightist groups to promote not monarchism but white racism Most of its members were skinheads, and Ivanov-Sukharevsky personally served time for anti-semitism.

            After  about 2005, many of these rightwing nationalists turned to force, following Maksim Bazylyev, who established himself as a leader of the skinheads in Moscow through the organization of a National Socialist Society and by pushing the idea of “revolutionary terror” via his journal “Russkaya Volya.”  But in 2009, he was arrested and died while incarcerated.

            Another Russian nationalist who acquired influence in the ranks at that time was Sergey Kotov, a Yekaterinburg lawyer.  He headed the city sections of the NNP and the DPNI. His open chauvinism and opposition to official arbitrariness won him support. But he was sentenced to four years in prison for extremism. Since his release, he has played only a marginal role.

                A fourth influential member of the founding generation of post-Soviet Russian nationalism was Vladimir Istarkhov, author of the book “Udar Russkikh Bogov.” In 2012, he succeeded in forming the Russian Right Party, a group that has attracted attention largely because its adherents regularly appear with pagan flags.

            A fifth member of this generation was Dmitry Bobrov who formed to radical groupings before being sent to the camps for six years for beating immigrants. Freed in 2009, he created the National Socialist Initiative and wrote “Notes of a POW.” He seeks to present himself as an “authoritative” leader of all Russian nationalists.

            And a sixth representative of this first generation was Andrey Savelyev, a monarchist and founder of the Velikaya Rossiya Party.  He has been close to Dmitry Rogozin, a supporter of Vladimir Putin, and an “aggressive” Duma deputy from the Rodina group.  He has also written 14 books on the nationalities question.

            This older generation is now being supplanted by a younger one, few of whose members have yet become widely known beyond the ranks of their followers, Sobesky says. One of these is Oksana Vyolva-Borisova, a 19-year-old activist from Mineralnye Vody who writes widely on ethnic crime, corruption, and inter-ethnic conflicts.

            A second is Kirill Banshetsev, who had been a DPNI activist in St. Petersburg and now heads the Volnitsa organization, which promotes “revolutionary nationalism,” “populism”, and opposes monarchism and the Nazis.  A third is Maksim Kaliinichenko, also from the Northern Capital, who organized the Russkiye probezhki group.

            A fourth is Natalya Kholmogorova, who in 2006 began her political career in the Russian Social Movement together with Konstantin Krylov. Like Aleksey Navalny, whom Sobesky describes as “another moderate nationalist” and lists fifth, Kholmogorova as Ukrainian roots. She urges her followers not to engage in online debates but to support victims of the regime.

            And a sixth member of the new generation is Rostislav Antonov, a Novosibirsk journalist who wrote “Primorsky partizany” and who opposes anti-semitism. His backers support him for the position of human rights ombudsman, and it is at least possible that at some point he will be legitimized in that way.

            Sobesky summarizes his description of these twelve by saying that none of them represents the “charismatic” leader who could unite Russian nationalists across the country and across the political spectrum.  And he says that there is no immediate prospect for the formation of a European-style rightist party.

            Instead, he suggests, Russian nationalism is likely to remain divided among a variety of groupings and thus be fated either “to self-destruct” or “to become transformed into puppets of the powers that be.”  That does not mean they do not reflect dangerous ideas; it does mean that they are unlikely to be the ones to impose those ideas on Russian society.

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