Russian Nationalists Decry Loss of Greatness
Extremist groups advocating a mix of Russian chauvinism, Orthodox Christianity, Pan-Slavism, and statist direction of the economy are the fastest growing opposition to Boris Yeltsin
MOSCOW — YOUNG men with slight beards, dressed all in black with Cossack-style military belts across their chests, stand on the steps of Russia's White House, the parliament building, holding banners and Russian Orthodox Church icons and crosses. Black-shirted youth circulate through the crowd selling anti-Semitic literature. Four young bearded Orthodox priests, backed by a small choir of women worshipers, chant prayers to open the demonstration.
"God, Czar, and We," proclaims one slogan emblazoned on black cloth. "One Language, One People: Russia and Serbia," declares another, arguing for solidarity with their fellow Slavs in the Yugoslav war. "Zionism and Masonism - the first enemy of Orthodoxy," exclaims a huge cloth sign.
Where Russia's young democratic movement gathered last August to battle a hard-line Communist coup, a couple of hundred people stood June 30 to support the nationalist cause of Pamyat, one of the more extreme groups in what is labeled here the "national-patriotic movement."
That movement is widely viewed as the fastest growing and most serious opposition to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. And in the eyes of some officials, such as Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, the nationalists are gaining influence within the government as well. Broad spectrum
While Pamyat sits at the fringe of the Russian nationalist movement, the themes of its propaganda are shared by a wide spectrum of figures and organizations. On issues ranging from Russian foreign policy to radical market economic reforms, the "national-patriots" assail the government for being under Western control. They advocate a mix of Russian chauvinism, Orthodox Christianity, Pan-Slavism, and statist direction of the economy, all in the name of restoring Great Russia.
"Now the struggle is going on between the pro-Western forces, who seized power and are destroying Russia for the second time after 1917, and those who support reforms and salvation of the Motherland which they want to deprive us of," declared former KGB Gen. Alexander Sterligov at the founding convention on June 12-13 of the Russian National Assembly, or Sobor. "One of the conditions of Russia's revival is to set up a barrier against crazy and thoughtless transplantation on our soil of Western models of social, political, economic, and moral development."
The appearance of the Sobor prompted concern and attacks from supporters of the Yeltsin government. Deputy parliament chairman Sergei Filatov told a meeting June 27 that the group was the most dangerous of the "fascist forces" which have now emerged on the Russian scene. He worried that the stalled process of economic reforms and growing crisis would lead to a "sharp rise in social tension" by the end of the year that this group and others will try to exploit.
Russian Minister of Social Welfare Ella Pamfilova attacked General Sterligov in a recent interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda for using his previous position to buy luxurious dachas and apartments at bargain prices for himself and his friends.
In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda published on June 18, former Deputy Premier Sergei Shakrai, a leading liberal, warned of the danger of dictatorship from the national-patriotic organizations. He compared Russia today to Weimar Germany in the 1930s when the Nazi movement used the depression and the feeling of betrayal associated with the loss of World War I and German territory. The threat in Russia "comes from the injured psychology and national feelings of millions of people," Mr. Shakrai said.
"Our national identity does not yet coincide with Russia's border," says Shakrai. "We have grown used to thinking on a union scale. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, our great nation feels cheated," he says.
Like many other parts of the movement, the new Russian Sobor includes both anti-Communist nationalists and hard-line former Communists, an alliance that the democratic movement calls the "red-brown" axis. It is headed by Sterligov, who was a senior deputy to former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov in 1989-90, and writer Valentin Rasputin, famous for the Russian nationalist themes of his novels and a member of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's Presidential Council. Its ranks include a numbe r of well-known nationalist figures such as writers Vasily Belov and Alexander Prokhanov, television journalist Alexander Nevzorov, former Gen. Albert Makashov, and former secretary of the Russian Communist Party Gennady Ziuganov.
The Sobor's program decries the seizure of power by "anti-national, cosmopolitan forces," the latter an undisguised reference to Jews. It calls for overthrow of the existing government and its replacement by a "National Salvation Committee." Economic appendage
Economically, the nationalists claim the country is being turned into a "raw material appendage" of the West.
In order to achieve "Russia's revival as a superpower," the organization seeks a "third way" between communism and capitalism, a vague form of corporatism similar to fascist economic ideology of the 1930s.
All of the "emergency economic measures" they propose, however, are aimed at restoration of the command economy, including restoring state control of prices and wages, food rationing, distribution, and external trade.
The Sobor opposes privatization for now as "Germans and Jews are the most interested in buying Russian land."
The theme most common among this movement is the refusal to accept the breakup of the Soviet Union, the hankering for a restoration of the previous borders in the name of defending the Russian population in the other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Moldova.
"The issue of borders with other former USSR subjects remains open," the Sobor manifesto states. "The Russian-speaking population that lives now beyond the temporary borders of Russia should not be left at the mercy of fate."
Such rhetoric finds plentiful echoes these days, even inside the Russian government. Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, an Army officer and hero of the Afghanistan war, is a leading voice favoring military intervention to defend the Russian-speaking minority in Moldova, for example, as well as for the return of the Crimea in Ukraine to Russian jurisdiction.
Yeltsin adviser and leading intellectual Sergei Stankeivich recently authored a virulent call for military action in Ossetia where a Russian-allied minority is battling for separation from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
The Russian parliament has been a forum for constant attacks on Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev, who is seen as pro-Western. Last week it voted to oppose United Nations-sponsored sanctions against Serbia, which is described by nationalists as a traditional ally of Russia.
Kozyrev struck back in a fierce interview in the liberal daily Izvestia published June 30.
"What's happening here is like what occurred in Germany in 1933, when some of the democrats adopted nationalist positions," he said in an obvious attack on Rutskoi, Mr. Stankeivich, and others. He warned against calls to use force in Moldova and Ossetia, accusing the Army of making policy independently. But perhaps most seriously, he indirectly warned President Yeltsin against making compromises with nationalists on the foreign policy front. Incompatible goals
"Democracy inside and national-communist methods outside are incompatible," he said. "Attempts at combining them, at selling foreign policy to extreme patriots, is like Munich. It will inevitably lead to loss of control over power structures - the Army and state security - which then, sooner or later, will cast aside democratic masks."
Yeltsin is the only alternative to the growing force of the extreme nationalists in and around the government, says Kozyrev. "He stands like a rock," Kozyrev says. "He is the only real force resisting the current and we all should rally around him."