Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Extreme Russian Nationalism Today Said Largely a Childhood Disease

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 – Most extremist Russian nationalists are in their late teens and cease to be part of the movement by their early 20s, a pattern that limits the rise of the most xenophobic elements but also opens the way to a radical change in nationalist behavior and its impact if a new younger generation enters the movement and behaves differently.

            Those are some of the conclusions that are suggested by Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA Analytic Center, about extremist Russian nationalists and by interviews by Nika Komarova with five young nationalists about their lives which are presented in yesterday’s issue of (

                Verkhovsky, who has tracked Russian nationalism for 12 years, observes that “there have always been nationalists and there always will be,” adding that in Russian today, “the majority of young nationalists do not want to follow” any of the more prominent Russian nationalist politicians or activists.

            Such young nationalists, he says, “consider that politics is useless.” And they have discovered that the use of violence is too.  They’ve regularly beaten gastarbeiters, but the number of the latter has not declined but increased. And “several years ago,” they concluded that they needed to “attack the system.”

            “But if cutting up a Tajik is no problem, doing the same to representatives of the authorities is more difficult,” Verkhovsky says.  Consequently, young Russian nationalists have been seeking a “middle” way, one that involves continuing to attack migrants but also features the use of flashmobs, which allow them to show their power with little risk to themselves.

            Those involved in this movement typically begin as teenagers but leave it by their early 20s when “the majority, having grown up cease to be interested in the ideas of ‘saving Russia and the Russian nation’ and are replaced by new younger people.”  Komarova’s interviews, anonymous or without last names, provide more details on the attitudes of this cohort.

            A 15-year-old who identified himself only as “Army Man” said that he had become interested in nationalism at the age of 10. While he used the Internet to research it, he apparently was drawn into the movement because in his school, “a large part of the guys are nationalists and racists.”  He blamed the powers that be for the presence of migrants.

            “We could,” he said, “of course beat the bureaucrats instead of the migrants.” But he and his fellows understand that the regime, which might look the other way on the beating of migrants, will take harsh measures against anyone who attacks its representatives. Consequently, the nationalists continue to beat immigrants and to engage in displays of force.

            Slava, 17, said he became a nationalist because he was first and foremost a football man, and according to him, “90 percent of fans are nationalistically inclined.” He added that he doesn’t have any non-Russian friends and tries to avoid non-Russians whenever he can.

            He argued that “the authorities fear us [the nationalists] more than they do the liberals” and to the government doesn’t cover their activities lest nationalism grows.  As for Navalny, he said he was “negatively” inclined. Navalny is “a liberal, and I don’t like liberals.” If Navalny showed up at a real nationalist meeting, he’d be putting himself at grave risk.

            Yana, 17, said that nationalism was about reviving Russian culture not so much about politics, about ensuring a healthy way of life. Those who don’t drink or smoke or keep themselves physically fit are what the youth nationalist subculture is about.

            Pavel, 18, said he used to be a skinhead but now had moved on, although he said he was not part of any particular group.  He said he continues to oppose mixed marriages and had printed up and distributed leaflets calling on Russians to choose to marry other Russians rather than joining their lives with non-Russians. 

            One consideration has limited his participation: he said his parents don’t want him to get in the kind of trouble that could limit his career options in the future.

            And Viktor, 17, said he had become a nationalist by reading materials on the Internet and making contact with others who support the preservation of the Russian nation.  He said he and his colleagues are young people between 15 and 25. Those older are still deeply affected by the Soviet idea of “friendship of the peoples.”

            But that idea, at least for the young, is discredited because, he said, “migrants don’t want to be friends with us.”  Viktor concluded that in his view, “nationalism now is equivalent to the instinct of self-preservation.” It is like an emergency kit to be used “in the case of attacks” on Russians by others.

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