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Fascists in Russian Anti-Putin Coalition: Whither the Oil Rich and Largely Muslim Caucasus?

COMMENT: The coali­tion assem­bling to attempt the oust­ing of Vladimir Putin embraces lib­er­als, left­ists and “nationalists”–that’s New York Times code for fas­cists, a word that Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists sel­dom use.

That coalition–strained at the moment–is rem­i­nis­cent in some ways of the one that oust­ed the author­i­tar­i­an Hos­ni Mubarak. That event, as we have seen, has led to the rise of the Islam­o­fas­cist Mus­lim Broth­er­hood [1] in Egypt.

In the event that the Russ­ian coali­tion suc­ceeds in its goal of oust­ing Putin (some­thing the U.S. and the fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies would love to see), will we see the fas­cists ele­ments seiz­ing con­trol?

Russ­ian and Egypt­ian soci­eties dif­fer great­ly, but fas­cists have his­tor­i­cal­ly been quite suc­cess­ful at seiz­ing pow­er through demo­c­ra­t­ic means and then deny­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic process to their oppo­nents and for­mer coali­tion part­ners.

Should the fascists–excuse me “nationalists”–either gain pow­er or sus­tain a suf­fi­cient­ly high pro­file to affect both pol­i­cy and per­cep­tion, among the pos­si­ble effects of that might be to dri­ve the oil-rich Cau­ca­sus [2] to secede from Rus­sia.  This would no doubt be much to the lik­ing of West­ern oil com­pa­nies, who’ve cov­et­ed that region for decades.

One of the fas­cists’ rhetor­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal points con­cerns hos­til­i­ty toward peo­ple from that region. The res­i­dents of the Cau­ca­sus will not be doing the Var­si­ty Rag if the enmi­ty toward them is insti­tu­tion­al­ized by the rul­ing polit­i­cal inter­ests.

In this con­text, we should not lose sight of the UNPO, which cham­pi­ons the rights of “native people“s and just hap­pens to have a pen­chant for advo­cat­ing the inde­pen­dence of small eth­nic groups. The seces­sion of those groups from larg­er, more pow­er­ful soci­eties facil­i­tates their pos­si­ble manip­u­la­tion and sub­ju­ga­tion by pow­er cor­po­rate inter­ests seek­ing to devel­op their resources. (The UNPO was found­ed by Karl von Hab­s­burg, heir to the throne of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an Empire. Among the unrep­re­sent­ed peo­ples it cham­pi­ons are the Afrikan­ers from the for­mer apartheid gov­ern­ment of South Africa. UNPO counts the fas­cist and crime-rid­den Koso­vo as one of its suc­cess­es.)

(Recall that we have seen this pat­tern with regard to the Uighurs in Chi­na and the Lako­ta in the Unit­ed States. The Mus­lim Uighurs in Chi­na have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in Xin­jiang province, a petro­le­um and resource-rich area. The Lako­ta reside over the Bakken for­ma­tion in the U.S., an area pos­sess­ing tremen­dous of oil shale.)

It remains to be seen how this devel­ops. One won­ders of Hillary Clin­ton’s deci­sion to resign as Sec­re­tary of State results from her dis­sat­is­fac­tion at hav­ing to play along with the GOP/transnational cor­po­rate ele­ment in CIA and State Department–both appar­ent advo­cates of Mus­lim Broth­er­hood pre­dom­i­nance.

The Broth­er­hood may well become a play­er in a Cau­casian seces­sion­ist move­ment as well.

The pos­si­bil­i­ty of a fas­cist ascen­sion in Rus­sia [3] is one we have con­tem­plat­ed for some time. As not­ed by “Pter­rafractyl,” anoth­er of the lead­ers of the Russ­ian oppo­si­tion, a “fas­cional­ist” named Alex­ei Naval­ny, is seen as capa­ble of unit­ing the Doc Martens-wear­ing cadre of the far right and the dis­en­chant­ed and eco­nom­i­cal­ly embat­tled mid­dle class.

A polit­i­cal union of that type might well sweep into pow­er, reca­pit­u­lat­ing the com­bi­na­tion of racism/xenophobia and eco­nom­ic suf­fer­ing so effec­tive­ly used by fas­cists through the decades.

One of the Russ­ian fascists–Maksim  Martsinkevich–has the nick­name “The Hatch­et.” One won­ders if he knows Makis Voridis, the Greek fas­cist [4] min­is­ter of trans­porta­tion and intrastruc­ture who has the nick­name “the Ham­mer.”

“Russ­ian Lib­er­als Grow­ing Uneasy with Alliances” by Michael Swirtz; The New York Times; 1/29/2012. [5]

EXCERPT: Before he could make his case, Mr. Bik­bov was drowned out by a mix­ture of applause and boos, prompt­ing the mod­er­a­tor to remove his ques­tion from the dis­cus­sion. One audi­ence mem­ber called him a “lib­er­al fas­cist.”

As the nascent oppo­si­tion move­ment pre­pares for its next major day of protest, set for Feb. 4, the ten­ta­tive embrace of an alliance with nation­al­ists has emerged as a defin­ing step — but the con­se­quences of such a move are far from cer­tain.

For more than two decades, Russ­ian lib­er­als have been warn­ing of the dan­gers posed by nation­al­ism, often por­tray­ing it as a greater threat to free­dom and sta­bil­i­ty in this mul­ti­eth­nic coun­try than the soft author­i­tar­i­an­ism of Mr. Putin, Russia’s once and prob­a­bly future pres­i­dent. In recent years, the nation­al­ist move­ment has become large and increas­ing­ly malig­nant, respon­si­ble for a pat­tern of racist vio­lence against non-Slavs that includes kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and mur­der. Nation­al­ists have tak­en respon­si­bil­i­ty for sev­er­al behead­ings.

But in the effort to dri­ve out Mr. Putin, the oppo­si­tion, dri­ven by lib­er­al and mid­dle-class Rus­sians, has nonethe­less reached out to nation­al­ists, see­ing them as a vital bul­wark at a crit­i­cal moment.

Before he could make his case, Mr. Bik­bov was drowned out by a mix­ture of applause and boos, prompt­ing the mod­er­a­tor to remove his ques­tion from the dis­cus­sion. One audi­ence mem­ber called him a “lib­er­al fas­cist.”

As the nascent oppo­si­tion move­ment pre­pares for its next major day of protest, set for Feb. 4, the ten­ta­tive embrace of an alliance with nation­al­ists has emerged as a defin­ing step — but the con­se­quences of such a move are far from cer­tain.

For more than two decades, Russ­ian lib­er­als have been warn­ing of the dan­gers posed by nation­al­ism, often por­tray­ing it as a greater threat to free­dom and sta­bil­i­ty in this mul­ti­eth­nic coun­try than the soft author­i­tar­i­an­ism of Mr. Putin, Russia’s once and prob­a­bly future pres­i­dent. In recent years, the nation­al­ist move­ment has become large and increas­ing­ly malig­nant, respon­si­ble for a pat­tern of racist vio­lence against non-Slavs that includes kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and mur­der. Nation­al­ists have tak­en respon­si­bil­i­ty for sev­er­al behead­ings.

But in the effort to dri­ve out Mr. Putin, the oppo­si­tion, dri­ven by lib­er­al and mid­dle-class Rus­sians, has nonethe­less reached out to nation­al­ists, see­ing them as a vital bul­wark at a crit­i­cal moment. . . .

. . . “I am deeply con­vinced that attempts to prop­a­gate the idea of build­ing a Russ­ian ‘nation­al’ mono-eth­nic state con­tra­dict all of our thou­sand-year his­to­ry,” Mr. Putin wrote in the essay, which was pub­lished on his Web site.

With the nation­al­ist pres­ence, an anx­ious­ness has emerged with­in the protest move­ment that has become more evi­dent with the fad­ing eupho­ria of the first demon­stra­tions. Many lib­er­als said they had no choice but to work with the nation­al­ists if only to uphold the demo­c­ra­t­ic nature of the move­ment.

“We do not have a mech­a­nism for exclud­ing peo­ple who are legal­ly allowed to be around us in the protest move­ment,” said Lev A. Pono­mary­ov, a vet­er­an human rights activist. “Though it is unpleas­ant for me and my col­leagues that they are there, this is a fact.”

Mr. Pono­mary­ov said he ini­tial­ly resist­ed the inclu­sion of nation­al­ist lead­ers, but relent­ed when mem­bers agreed to sign a pact denounc­ing xeno­pho­bia and racism. A del­e­ga­tion of 10 nation­al­ists will join an equal num­ber of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from left-wing and lib­er­al groups and a del­e­ga­tion of the polit­i­cal­ly unaf­fil­i­at­ed in the lead­er­ship com­mit­tee of the so-called Cit­i­zens Move­ment, which will coor­di­nate future actions. There are lim­its to the lib­er­als’ tol­er­ance, how­ev­er. When an avowed white suprema­cist, Mak­sim Martsinke­vich, nick­named the Hatch­et, made the top three in an online vote for speak­ers at the sec­ond protest, orga­niz­ers stepped in, deny­ing him the micro­phone . . .

COMMENT: More about Alex­ei Naval­ny and his appeal to both doc­tri­naire fas­cists and the mid­dle class:

“Russ­ian Oppo­si­tion Leader Alex­ei Naval­ny: Unit­ing Nation­al­ists and the Urban, Edu­cat­ed Mid­dle Class”; Aid Nether­lands; 12/31/2011. [6]

EXCERPT: . . . . Why Naval­ny? One rea­son is that dec­la­ra­tions like “I will slit the throats of these cat­tle,” though metaphor­i­cal, are no mere puffery. Unlike many in the Russ­ian oppo­si­tion, Naval­ny puts his words into action, and in a cli­mate where more than a few gov­ern­ment crit­ics have met their demise, this action puts his life on the line. Yet, he remains fear­less. “It’s bet­ter to die stand­ing up that live on your knees,” he told the New Yorker’s Julia Ioffe last spring. With that kind of gump­tion, it’s safe to say that Naval­ny has become a nag­ging pain in the ass of Russia’s cor­rupt elite. He’s done so not by stag­ing ral­lies, lead­ing a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, or seek­ing polit­i­cal office. Naval­ny is an activist of the 21st cen­tu­ry: his weapons are a blog, Twit­ter, and a crowd­sourc­ing web­site. His army is mot­ley of “net­work ham­sters” ready to root out big mon­eyed cor­rup­tion by comb­ing through dry con­tracts post­ed on his site Rospil. The results are impres­sive. Since Rospil’s cre­ation in Decem­ber 2010, Naval­ny and his army are respon­si­ble for the can­celling of $1.2 bil­lion worth of state con­tracts. Giv­en all this, it’s amaz­ing that some­one has yet to slit his throat.

But Naval­ny is more than an anti-cor­rup­tion cru­sad­er and renowned blog­ger. The thir­ty-five year old Mus­covite lawyer is also emblem­at­ic of two forces that were once sup­port­ers of Putin, but are now increas­ing­ly turn­ing against him: the urban, edu­cat­ed mid­dle class, or ROG (russkie obra­zo­van­nye gorozhane) as pun­dit Stanislav Belkovskii has dubbed them, and Rus­sians with nation­al­ist sym­pa­thies. On the sur­face these two groups appear anti­thet­i­cal to each oth­er. The for­mer are often described as “hip­ster-gad­get-lovers” (khip­stery-gazhetomany) more inter­est­ed in Moscow’s cafes, clubs, and sushi bars, and, until two weeks ago, showed no inter­est in pol­i­tics besides rant­i­ng on their Live Jour­nal blogs and Twit­ter accounts. The nation­al­ists are por­trayed as racist work­ing class street thugs whose sense of Russ­ian vic­tim­hood speaks through fists and boots to the heads of migrants from Cen­tral Asia and the North Cau­ca­sus. Nev­er­the­less, both groups share com­mon ground: they’re by and large sus­pi­cious of the West and the Russ­ian lib­er­als who extol its val­ues, patri­ot­ic, despise cor­rup­tion, view immi­grants as destroy­ing the integri­ty of the Russ­ian nation and increas­ing­ly loathe Putin and his cronies. With a foot in each world, Naval­ny is emerg­ing as the log­i­cal per­son who could unite them around a new mass polit­i­cal move­ment based on what Alex­ei Pimen­ov recent­ly called “an anti-cor­rup­tion pathos plus the nation­al idea.” . . . .

“Alex­ei Naval­ny, Key Engine Behind Russ­ian Protests” by Lynn Berry and Vladimir Sachenkov [AP]; Salon.com; 12/27/2011. [7]

EXCERPT: . . . . Naval­ny took part in last month’s Russ­ian March in which thou­sands of nation­al­ists marched through Moscow to call on eth­nic Rus­sians to “take back” their coun­try, some rais­ing their hands in a Nazi salute.

Many Rus­sians resent the influx of dark-skinned Mus­lims into Moscow and oth­er cities. Many also resent the dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of bud­get mon­ey sent to Chech­nya and oth­er Cau­ca­sus republics, seen as a Krem­lin effort to buy loy­alty after two sep­a­ratist wars.

Naval­ny defends his asso­ci­a­tion with nation­al­ists by say­ing their con­cerns are wide­spread and need to be addressed as part of any broad move­ment push­ing for demo­c­ra­tic change, but many in the lib­eral oppo­si­tion fear that he is play­ing with fire.

Some oppo­si­tion lead­ers also seem alarmed by Navalny’s soar­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty.

“We are already see­ing signs of a Naval­ny cult,” Vladimir Milov wrote in a col­umn in the online Gazeta.ru. “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if grand­moth­ers from the provinces start show­ing up here ask­ing where they can find him so he can cure their ill­ness­es.” . . .