Lies and Innuendos: What happens when you take on the Russian far right

Researching the Russian nationalistic right is a game of high stakes. Last year, I found out the hard way, writes Andreas Umland.
Andreas Umland
17 November 2010

The small community of researchers of Russia’s extreme right has over the past two decades become used to all kinds of attacks — verbal and non-verbal — from the objects of their research. Those who could defended themselves in the courts. Others, like St. Petersburg ethnologist Nikolai Girenko, shot dead by a neo-Nazi, were not so lucky.

Last year, I too found myself at the end of a particularly cunning attack. On September 29th, 2009, the Russian news agency Beta-Press.ru published a falsehood that I had been arrested in Ukraine on charges of pedophilia. (I was in Germany at that time and no such thing happened, I reassure readers.) The report suggested I had tried to rape a 13-year old Ukrainian girl. It also claimed, referring non-existent reports by the BBC and Associated Press, that I was being investigated by German law enforcement officers for trading in child pornography. Supposedly, I have since been hiding from both the Ukrainian and German police.

Several other Russian nationalistic websites, including "Russkaia Pravda" (Russian Truth) and "Malorossiia" (Little Russia) have since taken up these false innuendos, repeating them and any number of related stories.

The attack on my reputation has been relentless. Every other month, a new report on my various "pedophile activities” and hiding places would appear on the Russian Internet. My name was even mentioned in connection with the notorious Crimea pedophile scandal — a particularly filthy part of the dirty 2009-2010 Ukranian presidential election campaign. Today, a search of "pedofil+Umland" in Cyrillic brings back dozens of hits.


Despite his fascist leanings, Alexander Dugin is no marginal figure in Russia

A little bit of research tells you a lot about the provenance of these stories. According to information available on Robtex.com in 2009, beta-press.ru then shared the same IP address as the sites Dugin.ru, Vehi.tv and Eurasia.su (a mirror of the major “neo-Eurasian” information portal Evrazia.org). These websites either belong or are closely linked to Aleksandr Dugin, leader of the International Eurasian Movement and host of "Vekhi" (Landmarks), which is a TV programme broadcast by the Russian Orthodox cable channel "Spas" (Savior).

Followers of my work will not be surprised at this. Dugin was the subject of my second, 2007 Cambridge PhD, and a number of academic and journalistic articles that followed on from it. These papers put on record Dugin’s open affinity towards fascism. They also noted his praise for certain representatives of the Nazi movement, including the SS-Obergruppenführer (General) Reinhard Tristan Heydrich, considered to be a lead architect of the Holocaust.

Dugin, his entourage and other ultra-nationalists noticed my publications, and did not like them. In their reactions, I was called a US agent, a Russophobe, an Orange provocateur, a liberal racist, a rootless cosmopolitan and various other things. In March 2008, Dugin's main website, Evrazia.org, carried a story that claimed I was dismissed from Stanford, Harvard and Oxford (where I had indeed studies or held PostDocs) “because of homosexual harassment of colleagues".

And then came the theme of pedophilia and child pornography. Dugin himself referred to “the pedophile Umland” in an April 2010 interview for the leading East Ukrainian website "Donetskii informatsionnyi resurs" (Donetsk Information Ressource). Here is an excerpt from that interview:

"Andreas Umland has done nothing but espouse hatred for Russian-Ukrainian relations. He has worked hard to drive a wedge between the Baltic states from Russia, and was engaged in the rehabilitation of Nazi criminals in Ukraine. He put forward the most unbelievable lies and libels against all Russian patriots. And then he was involved in a pedophile scandal in Artek [a famous children holiday camp on Crimea] - information which is on the record and accessible to all."

One is tempted to dismiss the above as the ramblings of a lunatic, who should not be granted too much attention. However, Dugin is no marginal figure in Russia. Indeed, he is a Professor at the Moscow State University, which is Russia's most prestigious. Although he certainly has the reputation of being a promoter of fascist ideas, he is nonetheless a frequent commentator for various influential mass media, including two of the most important TV channels, ORT and NTV. During a 2005 visit to Washington, DC, he even enjoyed private meetings with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Francis Fukuyama.

There is no doubt, either, that Dugin is a well-connected political actor, with a number of high-ranking friends and influential allies. The so-called Supreme Council of his International Eurasian Movement has, for example, at various times included the Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council Aleksandr Torshin, the former Minister of Culture  Aleksandr Sokolov and the Head of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee Mikhail Margelov. Dugin’s closest collaborators include Mikhail Leontiev, the influential journalist working for Russia's most widely watched First TV channel, Ivan Demidov, an employee of the Presidential Administration and former chief ideologue for Putin's "United Russia" party, and Talgat Tadzhuddin, the Chief Mufti of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Russian Muslims.

After much deliberation, I have decided not to fight Dugin in a Russian court. Given his multifarious links with the highest echelons of the Russian political elite, the poor state of the rule of law, and the lack of a division between the branches of power in Russia, there can be no certainty of achieving a proper verdict. Indeed, the risk is that such a move would backfire: if a manipulated court finds some pretext to reject my lawsuit, this could then be cited by Dugin’s neo-Eurasians as “proof” in support of their allegations against me. And given the wide proliferation of these allegations across the Internet, the prospects of me ever getting my name cleared by a Russian court (let alone receiving compensation for the reputational damage) aren’t too great. A well-informed Moscow colleague also warned me off direct confrontation with Russian ultra-nationalists, on the grounds that it might jeopardize my physical security.

Instead, I have come to the conclusion that the only instrument I have to stem the tide of Internet libel against my person and research is to publish articles like this one. However awkward it is to write and publish them.

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