BERLIN — It is something George Orwell himself never would have imagined. Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine justified Russian aggression in Ukraine by saying they had to defend themselves against Kiev’s “fascists” and anti-Semites. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov even recently condemned the European Union for what he claimed were rising racist tendencies among member states.
In reality, the Kremlin maintains excellent relations with far-right groups in these very same states. From the National Front in France to the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic Jobbik Party in Hungary, all have firmly come down on Russia’s side in the Ukraine crisis. And Putin is demonstrating how to effectively, and utterly without scruples, use nationalist politics against hated supranational powers such as the United States and the EU.
What’s more, the Russian leader is presenting himself as the protector of the “Christian West” from Western “immorality.”
Putin’s annexation policy in the name of reclaiming Russian territory closely follows the ideology of “Neo-Eurasianism” developed by the “national Bolshevik” Alexander Dugin. This theory was directly inspired by the ethnic and nationalistic ideas of the Western European “New Right” — an extremist school of thought that started in the 1970s, finding its bases in the traditions of the German Weimar Republic’s “Conservative Revolution.”
It dreamed of an alliance between German nationalism and Bolshevism — a sort of nationalistic uprising against the advances of Western liberalism and universalism.
Joining extreme forces against the West
Putin’s combination of ambition, ethnic nationalism and a Soviet cult revival shows how the old dream of the left and right joining forces against the West is becoming reality. Even fringe Western European far-right extremists are following the lead, sensing an opportunity to realize their goal of “re-nationalizing” Europe — this time with the political and ideological backing of a major power.
Germany’s right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) wants very much to hop on that bandwagon.
This could have been a source of disaster, since it forged ties last year with the radical and nationalist Swoboda Party in Ukraine. But the group is now markedly pro-EU, going over to the pro-West Ukrainian interim government after the collapse of the Yanukovych regime in February.
Paying lip service to the “national identity and sovereignty” of Ukraine, leaders of the NPD had to wriggle out of the bond, only to speak out all the more vehemently against Ukraine’s potential EU — not to mention NATO — membership. “A spiritual and national renaissance of Europe can only be built on the foundation of strong Russo-German friendship,” they insisted.
The NPD has unreservedly swung over to the Russian propaganda line. It now castigates “criminals” in the “illegal” Ukrainian regime, and condemns the “escalation strategy of the West.” It now calls itself the “Peace Party 2014,” playing on the widespread fear of war in Germany.
By announcing an “across-the-board new German opposition movement,” the NPD wants to be perceived as a “decent, but visible” force. Their agitation against “NATO war politics” is actually quite indistinguishable from the old leftist “anti-imperialist” stance. Loyalty to Moscow was never affected by the collapse of Soviet communism.
In the same boat for Putin
Putin’s “nationalist and bolshevik” double track makes it possible for both fascists and anti-fascists to identify with his propaganda. Germany’s leftist party often likes to call itself the spearhead of the fight against “extremist right and right-wing populist parties,” but when it comes to Putin, they’re all in the same boat.
Of course, the left doesn’t take any side in the Ukraine crisis — rhetorically. In the end, it is opposed to every attempt by the West to stop the Russian annexation policy. The ultimate goal remains the dissolution of Western alliances.
The EU, according to German left-wing politician Katja Kipping, should adopt “the role of a non-aligned power” and free itself “from their vassal’s loyalty to the United States.”
Kipping, on Germany's far-left flank denounces EU policy on Russia — Photo: Die Link
This new neutrality perspective is attractive in the context of the Ukraine crisis, not only to extremists but also to those in the middle of the political spectrum. Yet it is not accurate to lump moderate people who have a certain “understanding” of Putin’s strategy yet still believe in democracy together with those espousing extremist ideologies.
These people in the middle should, however, pay more attention to one fact. Putin is not only following “sober-minded” geopolitical demands — he is now serving up a new ideological brew that not only enforces conformity in Russian society, but also fuels anti-democratic forces in the West.
Russian propaganda is trying to disguise authoritarian policies as nobles motives. Putin is to use the anniversary of the end of World War II to compare his current annexation campaign with the fight against Nazi barbarism — possibly with a triumphant appearance in Crimea.
It is in this context that a Russian law now makes Holocaust denial punishable. This decision would be a welcome idea to fight anti-Semitism if the same law didn’t also forbid “wrong representations of the role the Soviet Union played in the Second World War.” This opens the door for quashing any voice criticizing the myth of Soviet anti-fascism.