This isn’t Fascism – but what is it?

May 25, 2016


This isn’t Fascism – but what is it?

Ilya Klishin

In 1990, American lawyer Mike Godwin formulated his now-famous eponymous law, which asserts that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving the Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Cossacks, early 20th century; Alexei Navalny, floored by Cossacks, May 17th, 2016

Back then, Russia faced rather more serious problems – empty shelves in shops, for one – but two decades or so into the era of ever-increasing Internet access and mobile phone usage, our country appears to have become the ultimate corroborator of Godwin’s Law.

In Russia, everyone compares everything to Hitler. Not only on the Internet, mind you, but offline as well: on TV, in newspapers, during rallies, and simply in everyday situations. It would appear that the Nazis have come to occupy a crucial mythological niche in the worldview of contemporary Russians: epitomising absolute evil, and representing the strongest possible term of abuse, “Fascism” is effectively the zero-point of Russia’s new moral coordinates system.

Indeed, a world without Fascism – and without “permanent victory” over the same (à la Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”) – has become well-nigh inconceivable. This Fascism, furthermore, is constantly manifesting itself in ever-new guises: for Putin, “Fascism” means Ukraine, for the opposition it means Putin, for the federal channels it means the opposition, and so on and so forth.

The chain of accusations could be extended ad infinitum, only the whole exercise is senseless, its only purpose being self-reassurance: if I’m enemies with the Fascists, it means I must’ve done good – after all, they’re evil whereas I am good, and when we defeat them everything’ll be great. This way of thinking prevents people from seeing the world as it really is, unshrouded by the fog of self-hypnosis, and unfiltered through rose-tinted propaganda glasses.

We’re better off considering the facts. A single day, May 17, witnessed two brutal attacks.

In the Black Sea resort of Anapa, Alexei Navalny’s associates suffered a severe beating at the hands of Cossacks acting with the collusion of the police; one of these associates, a well-known journalist, was left with a bloodied temple, and subsequently taken to hospital by ambulance. The Cossacks accused the oppositionists of provocation, and ultimately nobody was even arrested, which, it has to be said, didn’t surprise anyone. The federal channels remained silent about the incident; meanwhile, pro-Kremlin sites made out that Navalny’s people were the ones to land the first blow – and punched an elderly Cossack (a claim negated by numerous videos of the incident).

Fifteen hundred kilometres from the Black Sea, in Moscow, protest artist Petr Pavlensky was beaten by his police guards while in transit between jail and a court hearing. According to his lawyer and wife, police fractured several of his ribs and broke his knee. The story went almost completely unreported, with only a handful of independent media outlets and bloggers picking up on it.

Is either incident an instance of Fascism? No, not exactly. As Putin so often likes to remind us, there aren’t any concentration camps or mass executions in Russia. But there are independent media outlets, even if their number is diminishing by the day. There’s still a semblance of online freedom of speech, even if you can now be hauled off to jail for sharing an article on social media. There’s still a political opposition, however insignificant or inconsequential it may be. And even the courts sometimes deliver unexpected sentences, with the selfsame Pavlensky recently acquitted of charges in another case, from two years ago.

And yet, things are deteriorating before our very eyes: if yesterday, pro-Kremlin hooligans were content merely to pelt oppositionists with condoms, paint and eggs, today we’re seeing fisticuffs and undisguised violence. As video footage confirms, police were standing yards from the incident in Anapa, and yet, despite repeated pleas for help, they pointedly failed to take any action. And it was the police themselves who broke Petr Pavlensky’s knee. This isn’t simply an escalation of violence; this is the state system rotting from the inside out – a process that is only accelerating, and whose ultimate consequences are unclear.

In an emotional blogpost, Navalny compared the assailants with paramilitary groups active in the Latin America of the 1970s and 80s, whose members would do away with the opponents of the authorities. Perhaps this is an overly emotional metaphor; on the other hand, the political and media landscape in Russia already seems so thoroughly cleansed of undesirable elements today that, come tomorrow, we’ll scarcely be surprised if journalists and politicians just start disappearing. This, of course, isn’t Fascism – but what is it?

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