Staunton, May 30 – Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s May 19 oped in the New York Times, “We Should Say It: Russia is Fascist” which has appeared in Russian on the Meduza portal as “We Should Say It Out Loud: Russia is a Fascist State” has sparked an emotional outcry among Russians, Grigory Golosov says.
But that response, the St. Petersburg historian says, reflects the fact that many Russians failed to recognize that Snyder’s article was less a description of reality – he never called Russia “a fascist state,” for example – than a case of policy advocacy in that he wrote it to advocate that the West use military force to defeat Putin as it did Hitler (ridl.io/fashistskaya-rossiya/).
The problem, however, is deeper than that. For Snyder, “fascism is not a characteristic of any state system but rather an ideology” which celebrates “the triumph of will over reason,” a view some attribute to Putin but that Golosov would not. Obviously, Putin has made some strategic miscalculations but they do not reflect that political philosophy.
Indeed, the St. Petersburg scholar says, “It seems to me that if any political philosophy could be ascribed to Putin, it would be the understanding of politics as a big game with rules which are constantly being revised in the interests of the most powerful and courageous players, who nevertheless act in a quite rational way.”
In his oped, Snyder points to three characteristics of the current Russian leadership to argue that it is fascist in its thinking: “’a cult around a single leader,’ ‘a cult of the dead’ built around World War II, and ‘a myth of a golden age of imperial greatness’ in the past which can be restored by the use of force.”
Those approaches were characteristic of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy but they are also true of many regimes around the world. In fact, “if a country establishes a personalist regime which uses nationalist rhetoric … then if the country has the resources to pursue an aggressive foreign policy, it is hard to avoid the appearance of these three features of fascism.”
It is thus “probably better,” Golosov argues, “to say that these countries” – and Russian among them – are autocracies which are nationalist in their ideological orientations” and have the resources to engage in an aggressive foreign policy” rathe than to tar the as fascist unless of course one’s goal is not understanding but advocacy of a harsh line against them.
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