Sunday, December 26, 2010

What Next for Russia as Thousands of Right Wing Nationalists Come out in Strength?

I am not sure what to make of this but only with a few notable exceptions, the mainstream US media continues to ignore some disturbing signs that Russia is hurtling rightward.  Maybe it was all about not upsetting support for the new START treaty which the US Senate was about to ratify with Russia before they headed out for their Xmas vacation. Who knows.   I could find some reporting on the issue in the Washington Post and but for more in depth coverage I had to turn to the excellent reporting from the UK's  Financial Times(FT)  In brief, if you have not been following the story, --Russia has seen this fall the largest ethnic riots since the fall of the Soviet Union and they seemed to have reached a crescendo this last two weeks. According to the FT, " On December 11, about 6,000 protesters showed they were capable of "bringing their
fight to the government’s doorstep – rioting on Manezh Square, underneath the Kremlin’s spires, and openly defying the Russian leadership" The reason for the discontent? The perception that Russia is being overrun by a tide of illegal immigration. While the Russian leadership has sought to play down the rioting by attempting to link it to European wide discontent regarding immigration policies at a time of high unemployment, there are some differences between what is happening in Russia and the rest of the world that bear investigation. In particular the FT points out that "Russian a phenomenon created not without the Kremlin’s help..Mr Putin’s Kremlin has used nationalism as a force for political consolidation during his decade in power. His speeches and state news broadcasts have sewn distrust of foreigners and a belligerent form of patriotism, and he has cloaked himself in some of the symbols of imperial Russia. But Mr Putin’s 2000-08 presidency also saw the creation of pro-Kremlin youth movements such as Nashi, which have, in turn, recruited football hooligans to their ranks as part of what is known as “managed nationalism” in political circles."
       The violence seems vaguely reminiscent of the Russian pograms from which members of my family sought to escape two generations ago. This time instead of Jews being killed and maimed it is people of darker skin. As the Washington Post reports, "hundreds and sometimes thousands of furious young men have been gathering around Moscow and other cities, shouting nationalist slogans, making fascist salutes and beating up darker-skinned people who appear to be from the Caucasus or Central Asia. A man from Central Asia was stabbed to death in the southern part of Moscow by a group of about 15 young people Sunday night or Monday morning, police reported. "  Now having nurtured the tide of right wing thuggery the Putin government is faced with having to deal with the monster they created, leading one Russian expert to suggest that Russia is heading in the same direction politically as many of the Arab states where right wing protest like Islamic extremism is the only vent for frustration within a regime that tamps down every other kind of political expression. Who knows where this is leading but probably not some place good. Are we in for a repetition of the tragic turn European history took in the 20th century. We cannot rule out Russia taking some unexpected turns as economic uncertainty, fear and and irresponsible political leaders without a progressive vision for governing have few scruples about scapegoating ethnic minorities for political gain.  Meanwhile we also hear from Washington Post's  David Ignatius that Putin seeks to escape some of the pressures of events by building himself a billion dollar play house on the Black Sea. Ignatius tells us that while still under construction it has the amenities of a small city and built from "a combination of corruption, bribery and theft." Plutarch and Shakespeare would have a field day making clear how brutality and decadence can live together inside  one deeply flawed leader and allow the audience to understand how this can lead to tragic results. We all need to start paying more attention to all of this--because we have all seen this movie before and we cannot allow it to happen again.

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