Georgia and Russia’s Post-modern Fascism

2019 / 07 / 11

By Giorgi Badridze, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation

For more than a month Georgia has been in turmoil:  the creeping occupation, Gareji,[1] 17 May and Komblioni,[2] Gavrilov night[3] and the return of the Levan Vasadze militia to the scene. What we are observing is a clash between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces in Georgia.

The pro-Russian wing is represented by the followers of the Kremlin’s court philosopher – Aleksandr Dugin. My colleague, Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili, explains Dugin’s goals and tactics in Georgia in his recent article (see Rondeli Blog, 20.06.19). In this piece, I will discuss the roots of his ideology without whose understanding it would be more difficult to comprehend Russia’s conduct in Georgia.    

Putin felt the need to create a new ideology that would help consolidate Russian society immediately as he came to power. He started building his “Power Vertical” – a political system under which all political and economic power was to be monopolized by the Kremlin.  Thereby, he simply returned to Russia’s traditional practice when the rulers of the Kremlin (temporarily of Saint Petersburg) justified totalitarianism - whether under the Samoderzhavie (Tsars’ autocracy) or the Communist regime – by the pretext of ensuring Russia’s great nation status.  

The ideology of Imperial Russia was based on the concept of the Third Rome which defined the self-legitimization of its rulers and its unprecedented expansionism. During World War I, the idea of the Third Rome almost became a reality when the allies agreed to Russia’s plans to take Constantinople and the Straits. However, history judged otherwise and instead of conquering the heart of old Byzantium and gaining much longed access to the Mediterranean, the empire collapsed, resulting in the loss of vast territories (some forever and some - temporarily).

Having grabbed power under internationalist and Communist slogans, Bolsheviks quickly replaced the Third Rome doctrine with an even more ambitious and expansionist ideology. In essence, it was based on the idea of spreading Communism universally through a world revolution. Naturally, the center of the world’s Communism was to be in Moscow. Although Stalin had to put aside the idea of a world revolution, Communism was the only ideology of the Soviet Union for decades and it turned it into a completely totalitarian state and defined its foreign policy, making the spread of Communism one of its top priorities.

The demise of the Soviet Union also came from its ideology totally prescribing not just its political structure and foreign policy but its economy, too. It resulted in the Soviet Union – the mighty superpower – bankrupting and sharing its fate with the Russian empire – its predecessor.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, which was caused not just by its bankrupted economy but also by its ideology, gave Russia a historic opportunity to try modernizing itself and build a more progressive political system. In the 1990s, some attempts were made but the experiment resulted in utter failure when the supposedly democratic president (Yeltsin) left behind not just a ruined economy, ridden with corruption and the state in disarray, but also a former KGB officer as the new ruler.  

Out of nowhere came an unknown apparatchik into the Kremlin’s ruler’s office. In reality, Putin and his team have been preparing for the entire 1990s. They took advantage of old skills and connections and created a unique syndicate of politicians, the intelligence community and organized crime bosses. What they lacked most was an ideology which would justify their monopoly on power.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church had already been rehabilitated but Putin and his team understood that it could not merely replace the Communist Party and would not master the minds of the masses that were brought up as atheists. The KGB knew the Church and its hierarchs very well and could not have had any illusions about their abilities. Besides putting the Church into its service, it was essential to create a militant totalitarian ideology which would become the source of the political legitimation of Putin’s power. 

Such an ideology was concocted by a then unknown philosopher, Aleksandr Dugin, and named it “Eurasionism” (it must be emphasized that his influence on the Kremlin’s decision-making is usually vastly exaggerated). But at the very first glance at this doctrine, historians would recognize the ideas of the early 20th century Russian authors (as well as Slavophile roots). I would single out two of them – Nikolay Trubetskoy and Ivan Ilyin. Trubetskoy defines Russia as essentially an anti-European phenomenon and categorically claims that Russia’s true roots and exceptionality stem from the heritage of the Golden Horde, not Kievan Rus, which he considers too European.  If you read his “On the Peoples of the Caucasus” published in 1925, you will inevitably recognize the resemblance of the methods Russia is using on modern day Georgia. Trubetskoy has left his descendants a detailed instruction on how to treat Georgians if they want to preserve their rule over Georgia (and, thereby, the entire Caucasus).  He deems it critical to suppress all forms of emerging Europeanness in the young Georgian nationalism and instead facilitate a specifically ethno-Georgian – “Eurasian kind of nationalism.”[4] The sudden appearance of Dugin’s Georgian followers dressed in the national costumes is a direct manifestation of Trubetskoy’s ideas. 

But the lion’s share of the ideas of Eurasianism were borrowed by Dugin and his associates from Ivan Ilyin. What is so special about the chief prophet of Eurasianism and his ideas and how do we know that he is revered by the Kremlin’s rulers? The facts are in plain sight:  in 2009, the Putin government reburied Ilyin’s remains from Switzerland (where he died in 1954) to Moscow’s Don Monastery – the resting place of many great Russians, they published 25 volumes of his work, purchased and  repatriated Ilyin’s vast archive from the United States; Putin, Medvedev, Patriarch Kirill and officials at all levels of the Russian government regularly quote him, state TV channels dedicate lengthy programs to him in which Ilyin is almost presented as a saint.

By this time the reader may ask – so what? What does all of this have to do with “fascism,” the word which so prominently features in the headline of this article? The connection, however, is quite direct. Philosopher Ivan Ilyin was expelled from Russia as an anti-Soviet element along with other intellectuals. He settled in Germany and soon discovered a new idol – Benito Mussolini, whose creation – fascism he declared as the perfect political system.

The appearance of Hitler on Germany’s political scene and the emergence of the fascist government inspired him greatly. He openly called himself a fascist. Ilyin’s enthusiasm for fascism was soon rewarded – when the Russian Institute, where he worked, was moved under the subordination of the Ministry of Propaganda, all non-Arian employees were sacked but they kept him known for his loyalty for the Nazi regime. Thus, Ilyin became an employee of non-other than Josef Goebbels.

As Germany was preparing for the new great war, Ilyin ran out of favor of his Nazi superiors; however, unlike millions of people, he did not become a victim of repressions – in 1938 he simply had to emigrate to Switzerland. As hard as it is to believe, Ilyin’s belief in fascism was not shaken even by the catastrophic defeat of Nazi Germany and in his post-war works explained its failure by Hitler’s mistakes.

This is a kind of a father that gave us the modern Russian state ideology. As ironic as it is, the regime that hails a fascist philosopher and behaves very much according to the fascist textbook loves to call its enemies and opponents “fascists.” Most often in recent years, the Kremlin and its propaganda have been dedicating this word for Ukraine and Ukrainians, even though this “fascist” and “Nazi” country is the only state outside of Israel with Jews as both President and Prime Minister. The creation of a parallel reality is normal for totalitarian regimes, especially fascism. Putin’s propagandists have all of the latest Western technological tools at their disposal – whether it is global TV networks or social networks.

So, Georgia’s club-wielding “patriots” should be aware that the Moscow-made ideology which they have adopted is designed to destroy Georgia as a nation and turn it into a conglomerate of tribes. And regardless of whether or not it is wrapped in Georgian traditional costume, called the Eurasian or the Russian World, this ideology is fascist.

[1] A border dispute with Azerbaijan.

[2] A reference to the call by the Dugin-affiliated leader of the Georgian far-right, Levan Vasadze, to use clubs (kombali) against the anti-homophobia activists. 

[3] A violent crackdown on demonstrators protesting the visit by a Russian Duma Communist/Orthodox Deputy which involved the use of rubber bullets by police and left hundreds injured, including two young people losing their eyes.

[4] Николай Трубецкой, О Народах Кавказа, 1925.

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