Today Russian conservatives welcomed members of Europe’s far-right ultranationalist parties to participate in a forum entitled “International Russian Conservative Forum” in St. Petersburg, the city famously under Nazi siege during World War II. As the Program below shows, the organizers of the conference were Yury Lyubomirsky, Co-Chair of “Russian National Cultural Center,” Chris Roman of Belgium’s “Euro-Rus” party, and Alexander Sotnichenko, professor of International Relations at St. Petersburg University, formerly Leningrad State University.
Such a congregation of fascists in St. Petersburg is troubling in so many respects. Not only is it contradictory to the official position of Russia as THE global anti-fascist leader as disseminated daily through copious amounts of state media propaganda. It also directly calls into question Russia’s allegations of “fascists” taking over Ukraine’s government in Kyiv as a result of the last year’s Euromaidan Revolution. Moreover, staging such a fascist show in the city that suffered so greatly in the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II is particularly abhorrent to the city’s many survivors and eyewitnesses. Not to mention that in May, Russia will again tout its victory over fascism when it marks the 70th Anniversary of World War II.
The motley crew of participants, including professed neo-Nazis as well as proud fascists.
— Mannfred Nyttingnes (@MannfredNikolai) March 22, 2015
Speakers denounced the coming of the Islamic Caliphate to Europe, the degradation of European society by homosexuals and non-Christians, the Kyiv “junta,” and the usual extremist rhetoric we’ve become accustomed to hearing from the far-right and increasingly from Russia. Jim Johnson of Britain, for example, shows a slide of Jesus Christ during his presentation, to unite Christians, apparently.
What was even more interesting was the prevalence of statements in support of Russia in general, and Putin in particular, as the true conservatives that can save the world from all these imagined horrors. There were even quotes from now infamous speeches of Putin’s in which he speaks of the emergence of nationalism and conservatism as a natural expression of Russian patriotism.
This support for Russia from Europe’s far-right goes hand-in-hand with the Kremlin’s own move toward embracing far-right values, manifested in brutal crackdowns on civil society, human rights, freedom of speech and assembly, as well as a growing nationalism that divides the country into patriots and traitors. “No one can stop you from being Russian,” said one speaker from Euro-Rus party.
— 🇺🇦Paula Chertok🗽 (@PaulaChertok) March 22, 2015
Chris Roman made this particularly offensive statement: “Politkovskaya, Berezovsky, Nemtsov. I know where they live. They live in hell” to rousing applause. From the jailing of Pussy Riot to the arrest of lonely “single” picketers after Charlie Hebdo to the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, voices opposing Putin’s Russia are being marginalized and even silenced.
Nonetheless, a number of brave Russians continue to stand up, protest and dissent. Several picketers appeared today at the Holiday Inn, the site of the conference. Some were Lefties from Russia’s Communist Party, others were from the Liberal opposition. Their signs read “We don’t need foreign fascists in St Peter, we have yet to get rid of our own.”
Protester outside St Petersburg forum venue: "We don't need foreign Nazis. Enough of our own". pic.twitter.com/S7xiRFLjGu
— Leonid ХВ Ragozin (@leonidragozin) March 22, 2015
Of course, there were plenty of police on hand, and eight protesters were arrested, as reported by Radio Svoboda. One was severely beaten and was taken to the hospital.
— 🇺🇦Paula Chertok🗽 (@PaulaChertok) March 22, 2015
Alexandra Garmazhapova’s full report in Novaya Gazeta has the latest pictures and report of the protests.
The take-away from today’s “Fascist Forum” must include a discussion of the purposeful shift in the very meaning of the term “fascist.” When confronted with questions about his espousing old-fashioned fascism, Nick Griffin, of Britain’s Nationalist Party, replied, “We are not fascist; fascists are those who kill Russians in Ukraine!” So who are the fascists? In Putin’s Russia, the fascists are indeed the enemy, and the enemy is Ukraine and its supporters.
Nick Griffin, ex-BNP, in StPetersburg, Russia: We are not fascist, fascist are those who kill russians in Ukraine! pic.twitter.com/nLVMG9Ycd1
— Jüri Vendik (@MaloverjanBBC) March 22, 2015
To Russian ears, this conflation of “fascist” and “enemy” as one and the same plays well into Russia’s identity as the global leader in the world’s war against fascism, forged over nearly 3/4 of a century since World War II, when fascists and enemies were indeed one and the same to Russians. Unfortunately, these words are not interchangeable in the 21st century. This appears to be more myth-making than reality, as we can see from the very presence of neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and far-right extremists welcomed with open arms in today’s Russia.