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Here’s why nationalism doesn’t sell in Russia

Russia’s sacred traditions and its experience fighting fascism have been the guide

There has recently been a worrying trend of neo-nationalism in parts of Europe. Specifically, such things have taken hold in parts of Eastern Europe and the European regions of west Ukraine.

Equally worrying is how the mainstream media seems to ignore these movements while ascribing the rhetoric of nationalism to mere anti-globalist movements such as that of Marine Le Pen in France or Donald Trump in the United States.

Russia has found an elegant solution to the broader ‘crisis of nationalism’.

Russia’s history has been the guide. 

In the 19th century, the age of violent nationalism in Europe, Russia preferred to define its statehood with the phrase, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality” (Правосла́вие, самодержа́вие, наро́дност). This essentially meant that Orthodox Christianity, loyalty to the sovereign and the nation itself formed the basis of Russian patriotism.

The Russian ‘triad’ contrasted sharply with the ethnic and ethno-linguistic nationalism which started to tear Europe apart in 1848. Ethnic nationalism also played a large part in causing violence in the final decades of the Ottoman Empire.

Russia’s confessional patriotism helped Russia to avoid the nationalist revolutions that swept much of the world in the 19th century.

However, Russia’s greatest test would come in the 20th century.

Between 1941 and 1945, the Soviet Union fought The Great Patriotic War (the Russian name for the Second World War). Here, a Soviet Union based on the stated principles of fraternal relations between man, fought a fascist German regime whose ethos was that of blood-soaked racial superiority.

The USSR’s victory in that war helped to shape the Russian conscience a great deal. This impact continues to be felt today.

The Soviet Union and moreover the Russian people were victims of the ultimate form of extreme nationalism: Hitler’s Nazism. Consequently, Russians today tend to reject all forms of nationalism and extremism at the ballot box. There are  few prominent nationalist parties in Russia, except ironically among those who look to the west for inspiration.

Alexei Navalny’s unpopular political programme combines social and economic liberalism with ultra-nationalism, Islamophobia and racism.

By contrast, mainstream Russian political parties define Russian patriotism as a loyalty to the Russian homeland in spite of ethnic or religious background. Russia’s Orthodox Church has steered Russia away from the more modern forms of post-cultural/post-religious nationalism that have plagued Europe.

Russia’s Orthodox majority lives in peace with Russia’s many Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. Non-believers also enjoy the full rights enjoyed by all others. Russia’s modern Communist Party no longer seeks to create an atheist state.

This helps one to understand why when western mainstream media figures call Russian leaders ‘nationalistic’ or even worse ‘fascistic’, it is not only inaccurate but deeply insulting to a country that sacrificed over 27 million people to defeat fascism/ultra-nationalism in the 1940s.

Russia’s experiences have helped the country whether the nationalist storm without succumbing to a disdain for traditional culture. This is a model that others ought to look at in terms of how to create peace at home without sacrificing a patriotic outlook.

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