(An essay by Vladimir Tismaneanu and Marius Stan)
Vladimir Putin has become the world champion of the Communist-Fascist Baroque. Last week, at the “Holiday Inn” hotel in St. Petersburg, under the patronage of the pro-Putin “Rodina” party, did take place what is antiphrastically called the “Conservative Forum. The attendees included representatives of extremist, neo-Nazi groups, those nostalgic for the “European Order” proclaimed by Hitler, as well as white supremacy maniacs, anti-Semites of every stripe, hysterical xenophobes, and other individuals we normally call crackpots. Those who tried to protest this fringe conclave were apprehended by the police.
Thus, as the seventieth anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany approaches, the former KGB lieutenant colonel, who pledges urbi et orbi to worship the Soviet sacrifices from that terrible global carnage, more brutal and bloody than anything previously known to mankind, becomes the accomplice of a vengeful assembly inspired by the most abject fascist nostalgias. This gathering took place in the city on the Neva, the same Leningrad of the 900-day survival in the atrocious conditions of the Wehrmacht siege. However, it is also the city of Putka and the mafia which brought him to power.
What ties Putin to these gangsters masquerading as politicians? Simply put, his abhorrence of diversity and pluralism. Writers such as Konstantin Simonov, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, Ilya Ehrenburg, Anna Akhmatova, Vasily Grossman, Mikhail Sholokhov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – we are deliberately mentioning authors otherwise very different, but certainly all anti-Nazis – are turning in their grave.
Putin is playing with fire. A love affair with extremism (be it rightwing or left) can only lead to disaster. When some lucid columnists and politicians proposed an analogy between the Crimean invasion a year ago and that of Czechoslovakia by Hitler, there were voices of protest. Even now, there remain quite a few – be they genuine believers or financially motivated propagandists – who speak of Putin and his clique’s “self-defense.” All this while the pot is calling the kettle black, condemning the Maidan in Kiev and other eruptions of civic freedom as fascist.
It is high time this wishful thinking were abandoned. Putin is an amoral dictator, tone-deaf to the principles of international law. He despises the rule of law and believes in nothing but sheer force. He is anti-Western and anti-liberal to the core. As French historian Alain Besançon has recently argued, Putin is the successor to Sovietism; like Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, he abhors freedom and everything that guarantees a person’s autonom. He feels at home in the cult of soldierly discipline, in imperialist hymns and marches, in the racist doctrines that inspire, in some respects, the Eurasian project. He has nothing to offer the Russian people but guns, aggression, and extravaganzas along the lines of the Sochi Olympics (a feat which would have made Potemkin himself proud). We are dealing with an utterly and irrevocably corrupt regime, with a metastasis of abjection and turpitude.
Putin is placing all his bets on the desperate state of mind overshadowing present-day Russia. In this sense, he embodies a fascist temptation that resembles what historian Fritz Stern wrote about when he dealt with the rise of Nazism. The alliance of the Western extreme right that glorifies Putin (and which he is most probably subsidizing) calls itself “Peace and Freedom.” In fact, it is all about slavery and war. Whoever ignores this fails to comprehend the nature of Putin’s system and its true objectives. Ignorance, in this case, is the opposite of bliss and will unquestionably lead to catastrophe. If we sound Cassandra-like in this text, we do so with utmost responsibility, fully convinced that only steadfast resistance to this liberticidal project can save humanity from an Armageddon – or from that “apocalypse in a single country,” as a bitter joke circulating after the collapse of the USSR goes, recycling the Stalinist thesis. In this sense, the Kremlin has become the symbol of contemporary pandemonium.
The original Romanian text above came out on the opinion site Contributors and was reprinted in the influential daily newspaper România Liberă. It provoked an angry reaction from Russia’s ambassador to Romania who issued a whole statement blaming the site and daily for publishing our opinion piece. It seems that Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Bucharest has not learned yet that Romania has long since ceased to be a „people’s democracy”, that she belongs to NATO and the European Union, and that it is a constitutional democracy that observes freedom of the press and freedom of expression. It is important for President Putin’s emissary to realize that Romania is not a Russian protectorate in which he can dictate what is printable and what is not.
Embassy of the Russian Federation: Contributors and România Liberă are dead to us!
We were surprised and disappointed to receive news of the article “Comrade Putin’s Fascist Temptation,” first posted on Contributors.ro and then published in the newspaper România Liberă (Free Romania) on March 26.
I have always been and still am a believer in the fact that the media can and must provide different outlooks on current issues, including those relating to foreign policy. It is completely normal for the media to express opinions and assessments that do not coincide with one’s own point of view. At the same time, the present-day world of information sources is a place that reveals a society’s moral principles and the values characteristic of the people in one country or another.
Having been serving as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Romania for a little over three years now, I have come across many very nice, educated, and skilled people, who know their job thoroughly; when failing to see eye to eye, we often engaged in debates, discussing rather complicated issues related to European and world politics. I do not believe I would be wrong to say that during this time I have been able to grasp the very soul of the Romanian people, which preserves and carefully guards Orthodox values and the devotion towards humanist and European ideals.
Of course, every society consists of different people. But it is not at all necessary that central publications give any churl (in Romanian, „bădăran”) the right to express themselves. May the reprinting of this text weigh on the editorial board’s conscience. It is most regrettable that such a text sparked their interest. To me, the information portal Contributors.ro and the newspaper România Liberă have ceased to exist as respectable media sources.
I can only imagine the response that my somewhat emotional reaction may elicit in them. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the Romanian society’s reason and morality will finally prevail.
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Romania
Bucharest, March 27, 2015″
Vladimir Tismaneanu is a professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and author of numerous books, including most recently “The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century.” Marius Stan is a Romanian political scientist, author of books in Romanian and Polish, and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bucharest. This essay was translated from Romanian into English by Monica Got.