Putin, fascism and Europe

There’s been no real progress on the Ukrainian crisis since my piece in Crikey on Monday, in which I looked at some of the details of language and ethnicity in the country. Russia’s deputy defence minister has told the BBC that the withdrawal of Russian troops from border regions has already commenced and will be completed within “a few days”, but that hasn’t yet been confirmed – and in any case it’s a simple matter to send them back if they’re needed.

Since then, however, I’ve read an article by Timothy Snyder in last week’s New Republic, “The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything,” which is well worth looking at. Not so much for what it says about Ukraine, as for its relevance to another current topic, the elections for the European parliament being conducted over the next few days.

Snyder, a history professor at Yale, has been a prolific commenter on Ukrainian happenings. His “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” published in the New York Review of Books two months ago, was particularly influential in giving the lie to Russian claims that the Ukrainian revolution was driven by the extreme right.

Most of what Snyder says rings true to me, although he probably errs on the side of rosiness in observing the interim Ukrainian government. But it’s his interpretation of Vladimir Putin that is perhaps the most significant. Here he is in this most recent piece:

The authoritarian right in Russia is infinitely more dangerous than the authoritarian right in Ukraine. It is in power, for one thing. It has no meaningful rivals, for another. It does not have to accommodate itself to domestic elections or international expectations, for a third. And it is now pursuing a foreign policy that is based openly upon the ethnicization of the world. It does not matter who an individual is according to law or his own preferences: The fact that he speaks Russian makes him a Volksgenosse [German for fellow-countryman, a Nazi-era term] requiring Russian protection, which is to say invasion. … On popular Russian television, Jews are blamed for the Holocaust; in the major newspaper Izvestia, Hitler is rehabilitated as a reasonable statesman responding to unfair Western pressure; on May Day, Russian neo-Nazis march.

As a description of Putin’s Russia that’s certainly one-sided, but there’s enough of the truth in it to be disturbing. More interesting still is the way he highlights Putin’s relationship with the far right in the rest of Europe, citing links with Greece’s Golden Dawn, Austria’s Freedom Party and Britain’s UKIP, among others.

And so to the European elections: “A vote for Strache in Austria or Le Pen in France or even Farage in Britain is now a vote for Putin, and a defeat for Europe is a victory for Eurasia.”

Snyder is fully aware of the contradiction here: “Russian propaganda insists to Westerners that the problem with Ukraine is that its government is too far to the right, even as Russia builds a coalition with the European far right.” The moral is that any description of Putin’s position in left/right terms is to some extent arbitrary. Like many authoritarian rulers, he is fundamentally an opportunist.

Although Snyder doesn’t acknowledge the point, it seems to me that sympathy for Putin in the west is still more associated with the far left than the far right. But in terms of organised political forces within the European Union the reverse now seems to be the case. The EU as an institution is an obstacle to Putin’s plans, and it’s the far-right parties that are hostile in principle to that institution. Most of the far-left parties, although strongly opposed to current EU policies, are not anti-EU in principle.

I don’t actually think that the fracturing of the EU would lead to the absorption of western Europe into a Russian sphere of influence. But you can see why some of the wilder ideologues around Putin might indulge such a hope.

The other point to note is that while parties of the far left have at least a theoretical commitment to internationalism, parties of the far right do not. (Recall the discussion last year about the Wilders/Le Pen alliance.) There’s nothing at all strange in the idea that fascist or neo-fascist forces in different countries can be deadly enemies. If the argument is about whether Putin counts as a fascist, his hostility towards Ukrainian fascists provides no evidence either way.

The EU has had a difficult few years, so it’s not surprising that everyone expects a strong performance by the anti-establishment parties. (I’ll preview the elections more fully over the weekend.) But before voters choose to go down the Europhobic road, they might want to reflect on whether Putin’s Russia is really the sort of place they want to emulate.

6 thoughts on “Putin, fascism and Europe

  1. Do you have any evidence to support your belief that left parties have ever supported Putin? Is that belief just an assertion of prejudice about left parties? Whatever their faults it is unhelpful to promote this kind of ignorance about European politics. What this article reveals is that you need a better grasp of European history in the 19th and 20th centuries. To my knowledge everyone of a broadly left political position in Europe have always regarded Putin as a fascist. If you are unaware of this then you can’t have understood what they were all talking about for the last thirty years.

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  2. Thanks sottile; if you reread what I wrote I think you’ll find I didn’t say that left parties, particularly in Europe, have generally supported Putin. Indeed that was sort of the point. What I was trying to say was that support for Putin, when you do find it – particularly in the US and Australia – tends to come more from people who would identify as left rather than right. I’m thinking of people like Stephen Cohen at the Nation, Jonathan Steele at the Guardian, John Pilger (everywhere), and people who comment with Kremlin-line boilerplate on stories like mine, who usually sound much more like anti-American leftists than like any sort of fascists. I didn’t intend to impugn the good name of the mainstream of European leftists; apologies if I gave that impression.

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  3. Many a mainstream journalist spends so much time demonising Putin and completely disregard what is truly happening in Ukraine.
    No researched analysis has been published by corporate/mainstream media on who exactly is now in the Ukrainian Government. Nor has there been any mainstream reporting of whom that Government installed into their “public protection police force”. The direct and living link to Neo-Nazism is rife throughout all of the above. Yet you all make bold attempts to discredit Putin, who I might add has been on the defence since this all started. Remember, NATO was created to deter/stop the USSR from spreading further West. Why then, that when the Soviet Union fell, did NATO continue, to this day, to grow?
    Putin’s advancement on his Western flank served 2 purposes. A deterrence of Ukraine becoming another futile signatory to NATO/EU and a demonstration of modern Russian military capabilities. Like it or not, Russia is back. And Putin wants you all to know it.
    You label Putin a fascist while leaving the world’s biggest, and probably most notorious fascist – Barack Obama – alone.
    It is as amusing as it is bemusing listening to you sold out corporate-owned writers drone on about one person whilst completely neglecting to identify the real reasons and issues behind that person’s actions.
    Perhaps you would like to report on the close correlations of the current Ukrainian Government and it’s close ally and public protection force – Right Sektor, to Nazism and their continued propaganda to hide such facts. Or wouldn’t your financier’s appreciate it?

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  4. Thanks Dan – you’ve just given an example of the sort of thing I was talking about in the previous comment. I realise that trying to talk to Kremlin apologists is a dialogue of the deaf, but for anyone else who’s listening:
    (a) I carefully did not describe Putin as a fascist; I drew attention to the debate on that question. Although he is certainly an authoritarian, personally I think the term fascist is misleading.
    (b) the whole idea of neo-Nazis playing a major role in the Ukrainian revolution or interim government has been repeatedly debunked; I’ve got no intention of wasting more time on it, since if its promoters really thought it was important they would hardly be so cavalier about the support Putin gets from the likes of Le Pen and Farage, not to mention the actual fascists in Jobbik.
    (c) I’ve always been a sceptic about NATO expansion, and have stressed in the past the west’s failure to take Russia’s insecurities seriously. But explanation is not justification; even if you assume Putin’s actions stem from genuine fear, that doesn’t make them acceptable.

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  5. PSEPHOLOGIST… ?? I’ll read any political website and enjoy it but the pay walls for this clumsy mess is too ridiculous to bear… this article is full of low fruit and unsubstantiated impression. I think I’ll go read the rest of the 5 articles on this website that are posted in 12 different places as filler.
    PS.. I laugh when I see the ‘got a tip’ prompt.. who would dish to you guys when no one can access. Might as well just not dish. If you want to break the big time guys you will need to start from scratch.

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  6. Sorry Tom, you seem to be in the wrong place – this is a blog, not paywalled at all. If you want to hassle Crikey about their access policy, I’m not the person to talk to.

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