Russia's creeping fascism

Andreas Umland
15 May 2009

Over the past few years various forms of nationalism have become aspects of everyday Russian political and social life. Among others, ultra-nationalist theoretician Alexander Dugin, a marginal conspiracy theorist in the 1990s,  has since then become a respected commentator and writer on contemporary world affairs in general, and Russia's foreign policy in particular.  Founded as the Socio-Political Movement "Eurasia" in 2001, Dugin's main organisation, the International Eurasian Movement (IEM), has attracted a number of high-ranking officials. Some of the prominent figures, who were in early April 2009 included in the IEM Highest Council, are

  • Aleksandr Torshin, Vice-Speaker of the Federation Council
  • Aslambek Aslakhanov, advisor to the Russian President
  • Eduard Kokoity, President of the Republic of South Ossetia
  • Viktor Kaliuzhnii, former Deputy Foreign Minister and current Ambassador to Latvia
  • Talgat Tadzhuddin, Chief Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Russia and European Countries of the C.I.S.
  • Eduard Sagalaev, President of the National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters
  • Nikolai Efimov, editor-in-chief of the Russian army newspaper "Red Star"

Why some of these figures are close to Dugin is obvious, but the reasons for the IEM affiliation of others listed here remain a mystery. Throughout the 1990s Dugin repeatedly eulogised, covertly or overtly, inter-war European and contemporary Russian fascism.   His programmatic articles "Left Nationalism" (1992) and "Fascism - Borderless and Red" (1997) offer the most explicit apologies for fascism.  In May 2009 they were still openly accessible on the IEM leader's official websites. 

While Dugin now often poses as an "anti-fascist", he, at other times, went so far to frankly acknowledge the relevance of the Third Reich as a model for his own ideological constructs like in his seminal analyses "Conservative Revolution: The Third Way" (1991) and "The Metaphysics of National Bolshevism" (1997). Moreover, a number of these articles from the 1990s are now available in Western languages. Some of them have been repeatedly quoted in Russian and Western language scholarly and journalistic analyses of Dugin and his movement.

As late as March 2006, when he was already a full member of Moscow's political establishment, Dugin publicly admitted in a KM.ru online conference that his ideology is similar to that of the inter-war German brothers, Otto and Gregor Strasser. In that interview, the transcript of which was re-produced on IEM's website, Dugin introduced the Strasser brothers as members of the anti-Hitler branch of German left-wing nationalism. He "forgot", however, to mention that the Strassers were once themselves National Socialists and played an important role in the rise of the NSDAP in the late 1920s. Subsequently they did indeed oppose Adolf Hitler, but did so first from within the Nazi party.

Among Dugin's most important collaborators today is the prominent electronic and print media commentator Mikhail Leont'ev. Once called Vladimir Putin's "favourite journalist", Leont'ev was officially elected to the Supreme Council of the IEM only recently, although in 2001 he had taken part in the foundation congress of Dugin's movement. Since then Leont'ev has several times provided Dugin with a mass audience by letting the IEM leader present his views on the prime-time shows of Russia's First TV Channel ORT. One of Russia's most well-known propagandists of anti-Americanism, Leont'ev's frequent tirades against the West in general, and US in particular are informed by Dugin's Manichean schemes. To be sure, Dugin himself only appeals to a limited circle of political activists and young intellectuals, but television shows like Leont'ev's "Odnako" ("However") convey an encrypted from of Duginism to much of Russia's population on an almost daily basis.

Another consequential figure with unofficial, but apparently equally close, ties to Dugin is the legendary TV producer and PR specialist Ivan Demidov. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, Demidov worked on national television and became famous for his participation in a number of such popular TV projects as "Vzglyad" (The View) or "Muzoboz" (Music Cart).  In the new century Demidov became the anchorman of one of Russia's most brazenly nationalistic TV shows "Russkii vzglyad" (The Russian View). In 2005 he was one of the co-founders of the new nationalist cable channel "Spas" (Saviour), where he provided Dugin with his own show called "Vekhi" (Landmarks).  In the same year Demidov became a politician when - allegedly at the request of Vladimir Putin - he was named leader of United Russia's official youth organisation "Molodaia gvardiia" (Young Guard). He also directed the so-called "Russian Project" of United Russia, an attempt to attract ethnocentric Russian youth and intellectuals to Putin's regime.

In 2008 Demidov was promoted to Head of the Ideology Section of the Political Department of United Russia's Executive Committee. A few months earlier, in an interview for Dugin's website Evrazia.org, Demidov had admitted that Dugin's appearance was a "deciding factor, a sort of breaking point" in his life, and that he wanted to use his talents to implement Dugin's ideas.  Referring explicitly to these ideas, Demidov called himself a "convinced Eurasian". Oddly enough, this is the same phrase used fifteen years earlier by Dugin in the original version of his seminal article "The Great War of the Continents" (1991-1992) to characterise SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the chief organiser of the Holocaust (the phrase was deleted in later editions of that article). In March 2009 Demidov was promoted to head up the Department for Humanitarian Policies and Public Relations of the Domestic Politics Directorate in the RF Presidential Administration. In this post Demidov will have special responsibility for the President's relations with religious organisations, i.e. primarily the Russian Orthodox Church.

Dugin himself recently managed to make further inroads into Russian public life. In 2008, he was made Professor at the Sociology Faculty of Moscow's renowned Lomonosov University (MGU), where he is now directing the Center for Conservative Studies. This promotion is an important step in Dugin's further penetration of the mainstream, as it provides him with a respected title and prestigious site for conferences and other meetings.  His active use of the term "conservatism" also continues his earlier strategy of camouflaging his doctrine with terminology that fits Russian and international political correctness.

When he was on the fringe of Russia's political life in the early-mid 1990s, Dugin frankly described his own ideology as a programme for a "Conservative Revolution", a construct he explicitly used to define fascism. Alternatively he described it as "National Bolshevism", a Russian version of National Socialism as is suggested by the colours of the flag of the National Bolshevik Party, which Dugin co-founded in 1994. When he started drawing closer to the establishment, however, Dugin put more emphasis on labels like "Eurasian" or "Traditionalist", although his "neo-Eurasianist" ideology sharply diverges in important ways from both classical Eurasianism and Integral Traditionalism. Today Dugin poses front-stage as a proponent of "conservatism", while his back-stage agenda is still unabashedly revolutionary.

In view of the extent and diversity of Dugin's connections in Russia's highest political and cultural echelons, it is difficult to imagine how his current influence could be limited or his future advance contained. At the same time Dugin's recent political utterances and actions indicate that, compared to his openly fascist phase in the early and mid-1990s, it is only his terminology and public behaviour that are fundamentally different today; the ideology and aims remain the same. Should Dugin and his followers succeed in further extending their reach into Russian high politics and society at large, a new Cold War will be the least that the West should expect from Russia, during the coming years.

A shorter version of this article appeared in "Russia Profile."

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