13 May 2014

In Ukraine: no solidarity among fascists?

Writing in The New Republic, historian Timothy Snyder echoes Slavoj Zizek's talking point that, despite Russian accusations against Ukrainian fascism, most European fascists and far-rightists support Russia. Snyder goes further by claiming that President Putin "now presents himself as the leader of the far right in Europe." This begs the question of what the European far right is in 2014. Snyder insinuates that it is essentially fascist because it is virulently nationalistic. The core of fact in this is that far-right parties in Europe share a hatred for the European Union, Putin's perceived enemy, though the right is not alone in this. Snyder himself assumes an essential enmity between Putin's Russia and the EU that explains Putin's Ukraine policy and predicts what might follow:

Putin's goal was and remains eminently simple. His regime depends upon the sale of hydrocarbons that are piped to Europe. A united Europe could generate an actual policy of energy independence, under the pressures of Russian unpredictability or global warming -- or both. But a disintegrated Europe would remain dependent on Russian hydrocarbons.

To the extent that far-right parties undermine European union, Snyder sees Putin as their natural patron, but while he provides evidence of the rightists' affection for Putin, he apparently doesn't consider this article the place to prove Putin's patronage of the Euroskeptic right. Snyder may simply assume from perceived affinities. He sees Russia as the nearest thing to a fascist state in Europe, or at least as more fascist than the Maidan in Ukraine. As a historian, Snyder can't ignore the sordid history of Ukrainian nationalists' alliance with Nazi Germany and their mass murders of Poles, Jews, etc. But he argues for context, emphasizing that Ukrainian nationalists fought against the Soviet Union, an entity that no longer exists, while Russian propaganda argues that the nationalists fought out of hatred of Russia. Snyder is disgusted that Putin's Russia can pretend to be the world's great enemy of fascism, but for Russia, one can infer from Snyder, the essence of "fascism" is Russophobia, which is definitely a real force in the world but not necessarily the primary impetus behind Operation Barbarossa. According to Snyder, a kind of Ukrainophobia has been present in Russia at least since the Soviet 1930s, when Stalin supposedly blamed Ukrainians for starving themselves. Maybe Russians feel about Ukraine the way Americans feel about Mexico, with a belief in their rightful dominance compounded by the fact that Russians have often ruled Ukraine literally. But for Snyder Ukraine is just part of Putin's "Eurasian" plan to dominate the supercontinent and keep it a captive market for Russia's natural resources. Convinced that Putin is an ideologue committed to encouraging if not spreading authoritarian government, Snyder sees not just justice but the future of Europe (The magazine titles his article, "This Battle Means Everything") at stake in Ukraine, where Russia must lose.

Like Zizek, Snyder is at pains to prove that the Maidan isn't the fascistic junta of the Russian imagination but a phenomenon of the left, a movement for "pluralism" that rose spontaneously when President Yanukovich "tried to end all pluralism." By now it's clear that everyone sees what they want to see in the Maidan: fascism or liberalism, an authentic uprising or USA/EU astroturfing, depending on the observer. One would probably have to go to Kiev, and know the language, and maintain a strong commitment to objectivity to get a really clear picture of the actual situation. You wonder why no one wants to consider the most outrageous possibility: that all sides in Ukraine are "fascist" in some way, to the extent that all are motivated by nationalism defined by hatred of a neighbor and a willingness to get their way by bullying tactics. I don't doubt that there are both classical and progressive liberals in the Maidan and throughout Ukraine, but I wonder whether they have much control of events in either the Russophone east or the nationalist west. Once one side is labeled as "fascist," however, people have to resist an impulse to label the opposition the good guys, when the 21st century should have taught us already that there aren't automatically good guys wherever there are "bad guys." Snyder implies that as the self-appointed nemesis of fascism, Russia may become what it beheld -- but wouldn't this be true for anyone itching to wage a crusade against "fascism" wherever they choose to see it? "Fascist" may simply be this decade's homonym for "evil." It sounds more sophisticated because it has a historical meaning, but its usage is arguably the same as George W. Bush's usage of "evil" to denote those with whom we don't have to negotiate. Meanwhile, why don't the so-called fascists of western Europe support the so-called fascists of Ukraine? Is it because, as writers as ideologically disparate as Snyder and Zizek imply, they're all in on the big lie? Or is it because there's no more obligatory affinity among fascists than there has been among communists? There's bound to be less because each fascist movement is linked to specific national or ethnic chauvinism. But in that case the support of fascists tells us nothing more about whom they support than their opposition tells us about whom they oppose. It may be that the only thing you can say for certain is that nationalism is a hell of a drug.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it odd how, in this country, we tend to boo the "bad guys" and root for the "good guys" in other governments, but in our own government so many are willing to choose the "lesser of two evils"?

Samuel Wilson said...

It may be that we have two types of people here: the kind who see both foreign and domestic politics in good-guy vs bad-guy terms and the kind resigned to choosing the lesser evil at home -- who probably don't give a damn about Ukraine or any foreign country.