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Crypto-Nazism and Support for Russia

05.05.2014, 14:19
Most of what I have observed is driven, I suspect, by the fact that so much of the good that happened on Maidan has been lost to the diabolical spin of Russian propagandists.

One of the most distressing factors in the Ukrainian crisis since Russia seized Crimea is the resignation, both conscious and unconscious, people in the West have exhibited toward the prospect of a nation like Ukraine being broken apart. I have been appalled by the willingness some personal friends and acquaintances have shown to accept that not only the Crimea, but most of the Ukrainian East and South, could easily be swallowed up by Russia and that there is little anyone can do about it. This is in spite of the obvious parallels to be drawn with the Anschluss and subsequent actions taken by Nazi Germany from 1938 on, and the fact that both NATO and European policy since 1945 has ostensibly been the preservation of European borders and the integrity of European nation-states. As a child of the Cold War, I can only look on the emasculated response of almost every Western country other than Canada with despair and incredulity, and the lack of perception on the part of certain personal acquaintances with disapprobation.

Most of what I have observed is driven, I suspect, by the fact that so much of the good that happened on Maidan has been lost to the diabolical spin of Russian propagandists. Accusations from armchair pundits safe in their British or American living rooms, suggesting that the removal of Yanukovych from power was an illegal coup d’état, and therefore warrants the withdrawal of Western support, amount to nothing more than a betrayal of everything good that was fought for over the course of both twentieth century world wars. As it stands, though, what has happened to cause this is easy enough to identify. In the face of their exposure as the real power behind the presidential thug, Yanukovych, Russia has held a magnifying glass up to the small number on Maidan who might have identified themselves with the far-right, and used them as the basis for describing all protesters as neo-Nazis and Banderists. Knowing how inflammatory this would be in Ukraine itself, and the degree to which Western liberals would flinch at any suggestion of association with the far-right, Putin could proceed with his designs on the Crimea with the confidence of having at least muddied the waters of decision for Western leaders, and so peremptorily softened their resolve.

Yet the so-far unspoken irony in all of this, it seems to me, is the wellspring from which Russia is deriving its strength. Putin has depended so far on duping the world through the projection of an image characterised by power, social and moral order, and military might.And this, taken together, looks very similar to the image projected by Germany through the 1930s. For all Russia has depended on smearing Ukraine’s new government with the Nazi label, Putin’s Russia is, itself, driven by something very like the Nazi machine. And the greater irony is that acceptance of this in the West – perhaps much like it was in the 1930’s – must surely be down to the fact that the West is a fertile field for such despotic machinations.

Many of those in the West who harbour secret or open admiration for Putin do so because they see in him a strong and resolute leader who is setting Russia on a new moral and economic course. That he is doing so in collusion with the Russian Orthodox Church only serves, in fact, to strengthen their conviction that what he is doing is both good, and even somehow, blessed. Often, these same admirers are adherents – whether or not they know it – of a Randian philosophy that may confirm their über-capitalist libertarianism, but does so on the basis of unmitigated selfishness and the eradication of God: again, a philosophy not without parallels in Nazi Germany.

In 1995, a referendum on separation took place in Québec that came within half a percentage point of seeing Canada broken apart. When the votes were tallied, and separatists were gathered around their leader, Jacques Parizeau, he blamed ‘money and the ethnic vote’ for their loss. In so doing, he pitted French-speakers of French ancestry against the rest of Québec, and revealed an unconscious personal view of Québec society based on ethnic lines. In no way do I want to suggest that Mr Parizeau is, or ever has been, any kind of Nazi; indeed, there is a great deal I like about the man, and even sympathise with politically. I would suggest, however, that it is possible for all of us to slip into patterns of thought and behaviour that are consistent with a Nazi-like position when the love, respect, and wellbeing of all humanity is not our first and foremost concern.

I cannot help but wonder, then, if another separatist politician’s recent remarks – that is, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s expression of admiration for ‘certain aspects’ of Vladimir Putin’s leadership – indicate something equally, if inadvertently, sinister. He has been taken to task for what he said by the likes of the British Prime Minister and members of the British press, but it is not unreasonable to surmisethat the problem with Salmond’s words, according to many of those who criticised him, had more to do with timing than content. Western nations, after all, are full of people who will happily set aside moral, philosophical, and theological scruples for a good show of strength, a clear direction, and an overt appeal to traditional institutions and values. The United Kingdom and its leaders, be they based in Edinburgh or Westminster, are no different.

When the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, said that living next door to the United States was like ‘sleeping with an elephant… One is affected by every twitch and grunt’, he could well have been describing the position of Ukraine vis-à-vis Russia, only without the history of friendship that exists between Canada and the U.S. Yet if American sentiment ever turned on Canada, and the United States decided first to annexe Southern Ontario, then Québec’s Eastern Townships, then the rest of the country, were other nations to respond then as they have to the Ukrainian crisis, it would come as no surprise. It seems, right now, as if there is a far-too-widespread admiration for a social Darwinism that accepts ‘survival of the fittest’, even when ‘the fittest’ refers to one overwhelming bully transgressing boundaries, and humiliating and murdering another nation’s people.

There is, quite simply, no excuse for Western inaction in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine, and those who admire the Russian regime for its strength and moral direction must be reminded of the congruence between contemporary Russia and 1930s Germany. The Western world is at a crossroads where the choice is between Russia’s form of power, or justice and freedom for all. It is all of our responsibility, then, to recognise the perils of lauding something like Putin’s apparent virtues just because they accord with our own philosophical assumptions,especially seeing as those assumptions may themselves be profoundly detrimental.For ultimately,it is not just the integrity of a nation at stake, but that of our very souls.

Fr. James Siemens