Reading the Russian papers these days brings back what honesty prevents me from calling happy childhood memories. Recurrent childhood nightmares would be more like it.
The same shrill propaganda to put Dr Goebbels to shame, the same visceral hatred of the West, the same absence of divergent views, the same schizophrenic touting of a ‘national identity’, the same howling panegyrics for the top dog, the same paranoia about being encircled by enemies, the same drums and bugles thundering from every word.
Some words have changed. In essence everything is the same. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
In the old days any foreigners who didn’t much care for their countries being overrun or at least dominated by the Soviets were routinely called fascists.
That designation had a certain binary simplicity to it. The world was broadly divided into us (the Soviets) and them (fascists). The two principal groups had some sub-divisions, but not many.
‘Us’ drew a broad support from ‘all progressive mankind’. ‘Them’ relied on ‘capitalists’, ‘imperialists’ and ‘so-called democracies’. (Democracies were always ‘so-called’).
It’s refreshing to see the old watershed still in place. Thus those Ukrainians who’d rather not be ruled by Putin and his stooges are consistently and roundly described as ‘fascists’, ‘Banderites’ (followers of the nationalist leader Stepan Bandera murdered by the KGB in 1959) or, in a nice portmanteau neologism, Banderofascists.
Quite a few of them are Jews, which somewhat belies the fascist nomenclature. Hence yet another portmanteau neologism: Judaeo-Banderites. This is rather incongruous, considering that Bandera’s people didn’t manifest any particular fondness for Jews during the German occupation. But never mind: anti-Putin means fascist, and Jews are no exception.
The implied syllogism is beautiful in its streamlined simplicity. Everyone who opposes Putin is a villain, that is a fascist. Putin’s Russia is an encapsulation of virtue. Ergo, Russia is anti-fascist.
This is a good story, but unfortunately facts have a tendency to interfere. One such fact is a dramatic rise in the number and virulence of fascist groups within Russia herself – on a scale not even approached in the Ukraine.
Some of these groups have risen to the status of major parliamentary parties. Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s quaintly named Liberal Democratic Party is one such group, with millions voting for it in every election.
Zhirinovsky’s cherished, and regularly declared, aim is to see Russian soldiers wash their boots in the Indian Ocean. This worthy desideratum still being out of sight, though approaching fast, he entertains the public by staging fisticuffs in the Duma and delivering drunken diatribes about Western politicians.
Those who are female are invited to visit Spetznaz barracks, where virile Russian soldiers will rape sense into them. Those who are female and black are called ‘black slags’. In the manner of a thief screaming ‘Stop thief!’ louder than his pursuers, male Western politicians are collectively described as fascists.
Numerous other fascist groups don’t yet enjoy parliamentary representation. They are, however, well-organised and highly motivated. Their flags tend to feature graphic variations on the swastika theme, under which institutional symbol they bring together Russian Orthodoxy, anti-Semitism, fascism, jingoism and bellicosity.
This video is a compilation of marches by one such group, the Orthodox Fascist Party:
The Russophones among you can appreciate the clip in all its beauty, but even those whose Russian is rusty can revel in the visual images.
Crowds of people clad in military and paramilitary uniforms carry swastika flags and icons, screaming the kind of slogans that would get them long prison terms in any Western country.
Their führer extends his right arm in the Nazi salute and screams, “Christ is risen!” The marchers replicate the salute but instead of the customary ‘Heil Hitler!’ shout, “Indeed he is risen!”
A young man equipped with a megaphone recites his own poem (Pushkin or Pasternak he ain’t): “Being a Russian means being a saint, a racist, an extremist and a Jew killer…” The poetry-loving marchers roar their approval of this concept of sainthood. The policemen by the roadside yawn their indifference.
A young man wearing the uniform of Spetznaz (a would-be rapist of Condoleezza Rice) explains that the movement is driven by “love of people”, except naturally the Jews. “We need a strong leader who makes decisions without all that parliamentary pussyfooting. We need to have the Orthodox Church at the helm! We’ll see all our enemies in Red Square with bullets in the back of their necks!”
These chaps would be easy to dismiss as a bunch of nutters on the way to the lunatic asylum, but such a conclusion would be too hasty. For the fact is that Putin is exactly the type of leader they yearn for.
Putin’s message urbi et orbi (but mainly urbi) is exactly identical to the marchers’, if couched in slightly more moderate terms. No parliamentary pussyfooting for him – even his close associates acknowledge that Putin makes decisions single-handedly.
Nor does the good colonel shy away from claiming that God, as represented by the KGB hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, is on his side. His message of blood-and-soil chauvinism is exactly the same as that punctuated by the marchers’ outstretched arms.
And it’s working: Putin enjoys the support of almost 90 percent of his countrymen, which is a ringing mandate if I’ve ever seen one.
Actually, what concerns me isn’t so much Putin’s countrymen as my own, along with other Westerners, particularly those of the conservative persuasion. Taking their cue from Peter Hitchens, they praise Putin for hating Muslims, homosexuals and internationalism – and for loving God and country.
Replace Muslims with Jews, and all the same things can be said about Hitler or, if you’d rather, Osama bin Laden. Yet my conservative friends don’t profess any affection for such political figures.
What exactly makes Putin different? That he’s still alive? That, my friends, isn’t a point in his favour.
A Russian-speaking French UMP supporter told me the other day that she wanted “Putin to take over everything”. “Including France?” I asked. “Mais non!” she stated categorically.
So what’s the Ukraine’s meat would be France’s poison. Let’s hear it for the double standard.