Thursday, September 29, 2016

Aggressive Nationalist Groups are Part and Parcel of the State in Putin’s Russia, Pozharsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – All sorts of aggressive sects are ready to fill any “gap” in Russia’s public space left open by the inaction of the powers that be, but that does not mean that the state is dying, Mikhail Pozharsky says, because such groups “do not want to occupy a place INSTEAD of the state but rather to be TOGETHER with it.”

            In this, although the Moscow commentator does not say so, radical nationalist and xenophobic groups, many linked to Russian Orthodoxy, strongly resemble the Black Hundreds movement at the end of the tsarist period, one that also believed its actions were in support of the state but that ultimately helped destroy the state’s credibility.

            The actions of some radicals in closing a photography exhibit in Moscow last week, Pozharsky says, have led some Russian writers to argue that these groups are illegitimately taking the place of the state by violating the government’s monopoly on the use of force and thus threatening the state’s existence (

            Such arguments are inappropriate for three reasons, he suggests.  First of all, what happened last week isn’t new. Radical groups have been doing such things for some time. Indeed, they stand ready to fill “any gap in the social space” which the state, by its failure in their view to act, has not filled.

            Second, Pozharsky continues, it is absurd to talk in either/or terms about the state’s monopoly on the use of force, especially about a state like the one in Russia which is run by bandits who are in no way controlled by social institutions like elections and the rule of law. The bandits of the state and the bandits of the radical sects thus exist along a continuum.

            “To make distinctions among these bandits may be worthwhile as far as certain practical goals are concerned,” the commentator says, but there is no reason to do so “in theory.”

            And third, there is another reason to avoid seeing the bandits in the state and the bandits in the streets as at loggerheads. In fact, the latter are “semi-state organizations which receive grants and have protectors among the deputies and the bureaucrats. They thus are the state” and not its enemies, at least as the bandits in the state understand things.

            Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA analytic center, provides an additional comment about the closure of the photography exhibit by the Officers organization, noting that this represents one significant change. In the past, he says, such actions to enforce morality were taken largely by groups near the church. Now, they are taken by others as well.

            “In large measure,” he writes, “the state has taken over ideas and also methods of activists near the church. The moral theme for a long time remained in fact the monopoly of the Church. Now, people closer to the state than to the church are seeking to make use of it” (

            Verkhovsky says that he is unsure whether this “trend will continue, but if it does, then it will turn out that the Church on this issue as well will be reduced to a secondary role as an assistant. Now, the patriarch has spoken out on the issue of abortions, although no one prevented him from doing so in the past because the theme is eternal.”

            “I have the impression,” the SOVA analyst says, “that by doing so, he is trying to catch up” with the direction in which things are moving.

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