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Eye on Eurasia: Russia's rising extremists

By PAUL GOBLE   |   Nov. 27, 2005 at 8:37 PM   |   Comments

TALLINN, Estonia, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The Russian Supreme Court's ban on Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party will do little to limit the activities of that group or counter the rise of other Russian extremists who, according to one Moscow analyst, pose a far greater threat to the Russian Federation than do Muslim extremists.

Instead, Sergei Markedonov argues in an essay posted online earlier this month, the decision may make the Russian ethno-nationalist threat even more dangerous by driving the NBP underground and causing many of its current followers to turn to even more radical groups.

The court's decision, the Moscow analyst says, suggests that Russian officials "do not understand or do not want to understand" how dangerous the Russian nationalist threat is to their state and society or how they should combat it without making the situation in the country still worse.

Markedonov, who follows ethnic issues at the Moscow Institute of Political and Military Analysis, has long argued that Russian ethno-nationalism is "perhaps an even more dangerous threat" to the Russian state than non-Russian separatism and Muslim extremism.

He has pointed out that earlier drives by Russian nationalists to assert themselves in combination with the failure of the government to understand this threat led to the collapse of two Russian state formations, the Russian Empire in 1917 and the Soviet Union in 1991.

"The Russification policies of the last two Russian emperors made [many formerly loyal non-Russian] into enemies. [And] the creation of the Communist Party of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Repubiic, Russia's declaration of sovereignty, and its struggle with the Union center was the last and heaviest nail in the coffin of the 'empire of evil'" in 1991, he wrote.

A similar threat and an even greater official lack of understanding of the nature of that threat, Markedonov wrote, exists now. As dangerous as Limonov and his NBP may be, they are as nothing when compared to even more radical groups like many of those who took part in the Nov. 4 "Russian March," he argued.

Among these more disturbing groups is the "Russian Republic" organization, a group that not only seeks the formation of a purely ethnic Russian republic within the Russian Federation but that already has its own "supreme ruler" and appears to have been behind the murder of human rights activist Nikolai Girenko 18 months ago.

That extreme group maintains its own website, rusrepublic.ru,, and continues to promote a mixture of openly racist and national socialist ideas, but the authorities have done anything little or nothing to rein that group in, focusing instead on the more mediagenic NBP.

In comparison to the Russian Republic organization and others of its ilk, Limonov's NBP appears almost moderate, Markedonov writes. In recent statements, for example, the NBP leader has called for the defense of democracy against what he and many others see as a rising tide of authoritarianism.

By doing so, Markedonov says, "Eduard Limnonov has been fulfilling an important function -- he has been converting potential extremists in spite of themselves into de facto defenders of human rights." But with the new ban, there will be no one to play that role.

As a result, the country's growing number of Russian nationalists will "prepare for more radical actions." And "their protest," Markedonov writes, "will not be the protest of the Paris suburbs. In Russia, this will be the protest of the ethnic majority, the interests of which the authorities cannot and do not want to structure and defend."

Instead, the Russian government is seeking to "liquidate" an organization that is far from the most extreme in the hopes that it will win credit in the West or somehow be able to draw on Russian nationalism to support itself. But the way it is going about this almost certainly means that it will achieve neither of these goals.

"For the Russian street, the fact of the legal registration of the party does not have and will not have any importance. It will support those who have drive. The NBP has that drive, something that neither the Russian government nor the liberal opposition ever will" -- at least among the extremists.

And consequently, Markedonov says, the government's decision to ban the NBP but not the other groups and its toying with Russian nationalism as a possible ally may ultimately prove to be perhaps the most counterproductive step the Kremlin and its allies could take.

Instead of uniting the various nationalities of the country into one political nation, as Markedonov pointed out in his earlier article, Moscow is alienating many who are currently willing to be its supporters and thereby creating a situation which could result in "a Russian Republic with the borders of Grand Duchy of Muscovy."

--

(Paul Goble teaches at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

© 2005 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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