On May 9, Moscow and the whole of Russia will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the victory in what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. Some foreign guests are expected to join these solemn festivities.
Yet, nearly all heads of European states, including those liberated by the Soviet Army in 1944-1945, will probably not be among them.
On May 8, Russia’s former allies in the anti-Hitler coalition and many other countries around the world celebrate the victory in World War II, or more exactly “V-E Day, that is, Victory in Europe Day.”
The historic content and the symbolic sense of these back-to-back anniversaries have too many basic differences and eloquent nuances to let these differences remain unnoticed.
First of all, World War II started in September 1939 when Adolf Hitler’s “Third Reich,” and two weeks later also Stalin’s Soviet Union, invaded and divided among themselves still young and militarily helpless Poland.
In contrast, Soviet Russia’s Great Patriotic War began at dawn of June 22, 1941, when Hitler’s army undertook a “surprise and treacherous attack” on its eastern ally, thus breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.
Historians may name many other differences between these two wars, which actually happened to be one prolonged combat of truly global dimensions. Some events have been evaluated differently, especially since the Iron Curtain was pulled down dividing the former allies.
Before 2014, the May 9 festivities in Moscow used to draw a lot of participants and visitors from European countries and from North America. Not this time, however.
Why? Because Moscow leadership has visibly spoiled its image with the Anschluss-like operation of the “reunion of the Crimea with Russia” and by igniting and nourishing separatist/terrorist movement in the Eastern provinces of Ukraine. As simple as that.
For Russia’s modern political elite the motto of the day sounds like this: “We are strong. We demand respect. We can destroy everyone who denies us what we are entitled to.” Or another nice cliche: “Russophobia is the one and only major manifestation of racism in the contemporary world.”
Such are the propaganda messages one can hear day and night on almost every TV channel airing political talk shows in Russia nowadays. It is a sad fact that recently in Russia a new — exaggerated and xenophobic — variety of patriotism has been emerging and spreading its perilous influence on the populace.
Let us cast a brief look at history. After the Versailles Treaty, when the Germans humiliated by it and robbed by the unbearable reparations and the worldwide economic crisis were feeling very depressed, Hitler offered them a radical program built on the ideas of tough nationalism, anti-Semitism and territorial expansion.
Since the early 1990s, Russia’s newborn post-Soviet establishment was feeling equally humiliated by the disintegration of the empire as a result of the Belavezha Accords and of the centrifugal forces in the former Soviet Republics. The market reforms ruined the savings of the wide masses of people. The unfair privatization breaded a narrow layer of superrich oligarchs and further polarized society. The Cold War with the United States has been unequivocally lost.
It was in this pitiful situation that the fledgling President Vladimir Putin opened his own campaign of “raising Russia from her knees.” A stiff authoritarian system with its “vertical power” has been built under the name of “sovereign democracy.”
Since the early 2000s, the stake has been made on tough nationalism, on imperial symbols, on the re-established Russian Orthodox Church with its strict moral demands and mystic “historic clamps,” on intensive imperial propaganda and on frenzied anti-Americanism.
In spring 2014, sudden new opportunities have been created by the turmoil of the “Maidan Revolution” in Ukraine against its corrupted and little respected President Victor Yanukovych. Determined and tough Putin has recklessly used this unstable situation and thus put Russia on the slippery path of dubious territorial gains. In turn, this has provoked the United States and some other democratic countries to impose economic and political sanctions on Moscow.
As a result, anti-American sentiment has been transformed into a fundamental confrontation with what once was called the “Free World,” including “decrepit Europe.” The hostilities in Ukraine are accompanied by an almost uninterrupted series of military maneuvers in various regions of the Russian Federation.
In its most radical forms, bordering on frenzied jingoism, contemporary Russian “patriotism,” for which the term “Russism” has been coined, has much in common with such historic phenomena as Italian Fascism, German Nazism and Soviet Bolshevism reigning supreme in the 1920 to 1940s.
Also, some features of Japan’s state militarism of the same period spring to mind. In this historic context, what Russia represents now looks like an early stage of totalitarian state order displaying some features of each of its predecessors, yet, fortunately, in a much milder variant.
As for “Russism” it is unerringly there. This radical ideology has been purposefully spread for years and now enjoys the backing of a majority of Russia’s populace.
Those dissenting with it are proclaimed “fifth columnists” and ostracized throughout the country. The motto of “gathering Russia’s lands” is gaining momentum, raising the probability of new geopolitical crises in the future.
Russian propaganda gurus are accusing official Kiev of Nazism and of intending to review the history of World War II. Sure, there are marginal groups in Ukraine, especially in its western regions, that would like to make heroes out of Ukrainian wartime resistance leaders who had fought not only against Hitler but on some occasions turned their weapons against the Soviet Army or, to be more precise, against Bolshevism.
In some ways, a similar situation can be observed in the newly established Baltic states, with Estonia perhaps showing slightly more “Russo-phobic” public activities than Lithuania or Latvia.
Yet, to discover anything actually resembling Nazi spirit in Eastern Europe today, one had better turn toward Russia. Only there has a specific variety of Fascism/Nazism in the guise of militant patriotism not only established itself as an important element of state ideology but has been penetrating the popular mind.
Today, “to combat Nazism” means to withstand its “hybrid” variety — “Russism.” That is exactly what the “Free World” is ardently attempting right now. Criticism of Russia’s leadership and its political ways is not “Russo-phobia” but a desperate display of yearning to bring Russia back into the civilized law-abiding fold.
Andrey Borodaevskiy, an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka from 1994 to 2007.