Last month, Orthodox parishes in many US cities hosted lectures and showed movies dedicated to the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution. All of them in their own way touched on the tragedy that these events and the ensuing civil war brought to individual families and to Russia as a whole. Such an attitude is not at all surprising if we recall that part of the Russian-speaking diaspora are descendants of the White Guard, for whom the October events of 1917 and everything that happened afterwards were not just pages of history, but a catastrophe that destroyed the lives of their families for many generations to come, and forever deprived them of their homeland. Against this background, it is especially striking that many descendants of yesterday’s exiles have the same attitude toward today’s Russian dissidents as their persecutors, the Bolsheviks, once had toward their ancestors.
I have written about the conflicts that currently exist in Russia between the Stalinists and the monarchists, which were especially evident in the controversy surrounding the film “Matilda.” However, inside Russia both of these movements are, in general, quite marginal. “Patriotism” among the bulk of today’s regime patriots can be described as “hybrid”–the same people who condemn the demolition of Lenin’s monuments in Ukraine, bring carnations to the bust of Stalin, carry a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II, covered with St. George ribbons in religious processions, visit Russian Orthodox churches on holidays and regularly take part in yearly “Immortal Regiment.”
Abroad, such omnivores are much less common. Those in the Russian diaspora yearning for the Soviet Union (mostly from the emigration wave of the early 90’s) and the descendants of the White Guards are often hostile to each other. Hypothetical “communists” denounce emigrés from the first waves of emigration as traitors and followers of Vlasov, and prefer to hold pro-Soviet exhibits and “immortal regiments” without their participation. The “monarchists” respond in kind, calling the fans of the Soviet regime ‘enemies of Russia’ and demanding an uncompromising condemnation of the communist experiment. However, the majority of both of these groups agree on some issues. In particular, both of them support Putin and Trump, fully endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea as well as Russia’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine in Donbas, and … hate today’s dissidents.
This phenomenon is especially interesting when it comes to the “White Guard” part of the diaspora. While the position of USSR supporters looks more logical in this context, it is difficult to understand how “monarchists,” whose ancestors were oppressed and persecuted in their homeland, could wish to punish those who are being persecuted today. What is the logical explanation for those who regard communism as an unconditional evil, but hate the decommunization and de-Stalinization policies of Ukraine, and at the same time side with the pro-Russian authorities of occupied Donbas, who openly glorify Stalin, publicly induct children into the Pioneer organization, and even name their repressive organs in honor of the MGB and the NKVD?
The first and most obvious answer to this question is that many descendants of the “first wave” of emigration support the idea of a Russian Empire. However, in order to reconcile this idea with existing reality, Russian propagandists had to invent several detailed and very bizarre myths, which are much more removed from reality than the banal stories about the “crucified boys.”
First is the myth of “forced Ukrainization” that was purportedly carried out during the Soviet era. While historical facts contradict these false beliefs, and point to many examples of the violent Russification of Ukraine and other Soviet republics as well as banning the development of national cultures and repression against those who dared to speak their native languages, the descendants of emigrants who have never lived either in Russia or in the USSR are being indoctrinated in the belief that it was the Communists who “put together the quasi-state of Ukraine.” New monarchist ideologues argue that repressions were allegedly carried out against people who did not want to learn Ukrainian and that those who opposed Ukrainization “could not be viewed by the government as anything other than a counter-revolutionary and an enlightened or unenlightened enemy of the Soviet power.“
Thus, turning the story upside down, “monarchists” conclude: Ukrainian national pride and the desire for independence, as well as Ukraine’s desire to pursue closer ties with the West is a direct consequence of communism. The new ideologists don’t even try to explain how it is possible for Ukraine’s pro-Western aspirations to take root in the aggressive Soviet anti-Western ideology of the Cold War. In addition, their followers are happy to accept even the most fantastical hypotheses without any explanation, because their hatred of any manifestation of national identity and free choice of either an individual or a nation is so strong that it, in itself, is a sufficient reason to support the invasion.
“Monarchists” admit: The very fact that Ukrainians dared to consider themselves an independent people is a valid justification for military invasion.
The unpleasant facts for the “monarchists” that the Russian-controlled Donbas is openly pro-Soviet thus gets an exotic explanation: it turns out that “the Americans are promoting a “red project” in Novorossia.” Thus, it turns out that it is not Moscow, but Washington that is behind Zakharchenko, Plotnitsky and numerous “Givis” and “Motorolas.” As they say, no comment.
Secondly, this propaganda skillfully plays on the hatred of modern civilization, especially Western liberal ideology, that defines all radical right-wingers and which for them is more important than the ideological friction between the various factions. But if internal frictions between the “patriots” become too strong, the hated modernity is proclaimed to be a direct continuation of communism – for some, and “Vlasov collaborationism” – for others. This propaganda method, which is as old as the world itself, attempts to tie people’s deepest hatreds and fears to the designated “enemy” and it works well with the American radical conservatives, especially the older generation. The propaganda myth that modern American Democrats and the Soviet Communists are one and the same has become one of the most successful clichés used by Russian trolls in influencing American elections and has been actively spread by the local extreme right-wing propagandists.
At the same time, it is unclear how the modern pro-Western Russian liberalism, which is inseparably connected with and drawing its continuity from the Soviet dissident movement can possibly be “the product of communism.” There is no more logic and truth in such a passage than in the arguments about “repressions for the rejection of the Ukrainization of Ukraine,” but it skillfully flatters today’s nationalist-neo-imperialists. And it is especially strange to hear contemporary Russian dissidents criticized for “cooperating with foreign enemies” by people born in the US, with American citizenship and who, for generations, have been supported by America in their struggle against Soviet power!
The official Russian authorities, represented by the embassy and consulates, adhere to the same strategy in the United States as they do inside their own country, namely, they support both these groups, while trying to minimize their contacts with one another. For example, it is almost impossible to meet open fans of the USSR at consular receptions, where it is customary to invite more “respectable” looking clergy and descendants of “Russians in exile.” However, Russian missions manage the “immortal regiments” and give them all the support they need. Thus, for all the seeming differences between them, in practice, modern Russian-speaking “Communists” and “monarchists” carry out the same Kremlin agenda in different ways.