Opinion Putin's Not Post-Communist, He's Post-Fascist

Some like to idealize Vladimir Putin as the ideological successor to the left-wing Soviet leaders, but that's sheer nonsense. His speeches offer clear evidence that his points of reference originate in fascism.

Russian President Vladmir Putin: "Death is horrible, isn't it?"

Russian President Vladmir Putin: "Death is horrible, isn't it?"


In order to understand Vladimir Putin, you have to listen to him. You have to read what he wants. More importantly, though, you have to see what it is that he is seeking to prevent. Often, a politician's fears and aversions can be more telling than his or her plans and promises.

So what is it that drives Putin? The central theme of all his speeches is the fear of encirclement -- the threat represented by powers that want to keep the Russian people down because they fear its inner strength. "They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it and because we call things like they are and do not engage in hypocrisy," he said in a March 18 speech before the Duma. In a television interview in April, he said: "There are enough forces in the world that are afraid of our strength, 'our hugeness,' as one of our sovereigns said. So they seek to divide us into parts."

A Threat to the Russian Soul

There remains a tendency to view the Kremlin's foreign policy primarily from a geopolitical perspective -- namely that the country is seeking to recover some of the territory it lost when the Soviet Union dissolved. But when Putin speaks of the enemy of the Russian people, he is speaking about something deeper and more basic. The forces against which he has declared war are not only seeking to expand their influence further and further into the East -- they are also going after the Russian soul. That's what he means when he says that Russia must put up a fight against the West.

But what's at the heart of this soul? Putin has provided some insights here as well. "It seems to me that the Russian person or, on a broader scale, a person of the Russian world, primarily thinks about his or her highest moral designation, some highest moral truths," he said in the interview. In contrast to this is a West that is fixated on personal success and prosperity or, as Putin states, the "inner self." In the view of its president, the battle Russia is waging is ideological in nature. It is a fight against the superficiality of materialism, against the decline in values, against the feminization and effeminacy of society -- and against the dissolution of all traditional bonds that are part of that development. In short, against everything "un-Russian."

Even today, many are having trouble recognizing the true nature of a man who is currently in the process of turning the European peace order on its head. Perhaps we don't have the courage to make the right comparisons because they remind us of an era that we thought we had put behind us. Within Germany's Left Party and parts of the center-left Social Democrats, Putin is still viewed as a man molded in the tradition of the Soviet party leader, who stood for an idealized version of Socialism. The old knee-jerk sense of solidarity is still there. It is based on a misunderstanding, though, because Putin isn't post-communist. He's post-fascist.

A search for the right historical analogy should focus on the events of Rome in 1919 rather than Sarajevo in 1914. It won't take long for those who step inside the world of echo chambers and metaphors that color Putin's thinking to identify traits that were also present at the birth of fascism. There's Putin's cult of the body, the lofty rhetoric of self-assertion, the denigration of his opponents as degenerates, his contempt for democracy and Western parliamentarianism, his exaggerated nationalism.

Enemies of freedom on the far right in Europe sensed the changing political climate early on. They immediately understood that, in Putin, someone is speaking who shares their obsessions and aversions. Putin reciprocates by acknowledging these like-minded individuals. "As for the rethinking of values in European countries, yes, I agree that we are witnessing this process," he told his television interviewer last Thursday, pointing to Victor Orban's victory in Hungary and the success of Marine Le Pen in France. It was the only positive thing he had to say in the entirety of a four-hour interview.

An Historic Mission for the Russian People

When they were first introduced one year ago, people also failed to recognize the true meaning of Russia's new anti-gay laws. But today it is clear that it marked the emergence of the new Russia. What began with an anti-gay law is now continuing at another level: The logical progression of the belief that certain groups are inferior is the belief in the superiority of one's own people.

And when Putin evokes the myth of Moscow as a "Third Rome," it is clear he is assigning the Russian people with an historic mission. Responsibility is falling to Russia not only to stop Western decadence at its borders, but also to provide a last bastion for those who had already given up hope in this struggle. But he is also saying that Russia can never yield.

"Death is horrible, isn't it?" Putin asked viewers at the end of his television appearance. "But no, it appears it may be beautiful if it serves the people: Death for one's friends, one's people or for the homeland, to use the modern word." That's as fascist as it gets.

Jan Fleischhauer is the author of SPIEGEL ONLINE's weekly conservative political column.


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tyler_t_granger 05/02/2014
1. Russia includes fascism allegations to terrorize Germans.
What could make Germans shudder with fear ? How about Russian allegations that the Ukraine is like old old Germany ?
tyler_t_granger 05/02/2014
2. Hitleresque ?
Who, but Germans, would be intimidated by language equating the Ukraine to Hitler's Germany ?
dimiter_alexiev 05/02/2014
3. Who is the real fascist...
It seems few people know that Turchinov's father fought for the Nazis in France. And does Mr. Fleischhauer know a bit more about one Stepan Bandera? So who is the real fascist? The West wants to cripple Russia, so that it can have a free hand for going on with the slavery called " globalization". And history has shown in the long run Russia always stands up after devastating crises. By abetting clinical lunatics like Saakashvili or Turchinov against the Russia they hate, the West brings poverty and death to tens of millions of people. But that is a game the West has mastered in the process of centuries. Repugnant hypocrisy!
GKP 05/02/2014
4. Hopes and Fears
I agree with the analogy of the commentator and see Russia in the same position as Britain was post-war. Losing an empire is a painful process and will taking some getting used to. However, threatening and bullying ex-Soviet states will ultimately drive them rapidly into the west's open arms even if only for protection from a country noted for it's history of obliterating small countries that are unable to fight back. The exact opposite of what he wants I think. What is going on? is the question on everyone's lips now, but I see a very carefully calculated plan of progression to see exactly how much of the former Soviet Union he can reclaim before he crosses a line that cannot be tolerated. According to his own words, interfering in a free country's internal affairs is unacceptable. Encouraging and assisting armed resistance places him squarely in the shoes of those he has roundly criticised in the recent past. How much more intrigue and double-standard politics can we tolerate before it gets serious enough to wheel out the big guns?
spon-facebook-718726343 05/02/2014
5. optional
we must stop this tyrant & USA better be united and stop this dithering which Republicans excel in- sadly their man Bush betrayed many with his association and closeness to Putin back in 2001- as sadly war helped both men make much wealth - now Obama mut clean up for Global village and Do The Right Thing
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