Fashisty: Q&A with Marlene Laruelle

LaruelleOn Monday, February 13, 2017, Marlene Laruelle from George Washington University will give HURI’s Seminar in Ukrainian Studies. Entitled, "Fashisty! Russian Nationalists and the War in Ukraine: The Semantics of Fascism and Conservatism in Russia," her talk will examine a re-invigorated political tool utilized by Russia in the current war with Ukraine. By labelling Kyiv’s government as fascists, Russia is evoking its historical enemies, Laruelle says. However, while condemning Ukrainians as fascists, Russia has been supporting far right groups throughout Europe, painting them as guardians of true European values.

The seminar takes place at 4:15 pm in room S-050 in the Center for Government and International Studies, 1730 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA. The talk is free and open to the public.

Talk abstract:

During the 2014 “Ukrainian crisis”, the Russian state reactivated the—never dead—image of fascists as Russia’s historical enemies, projecting it on the Kyiv’s government. Russian nationalists were at the forefront of the ideological battle against Ukraine, even if some groups spitted and a minority joined the Euromaidan. For the majority however, and especially nationalist groups prospering under the Kremlin’s umbrella, the Donbas war was the historical reenactment of WWII, with Ukrainians re-embodying fascists, and the insurgents Soviet soldiers. At the same time, the Kremlin has been developing a new axis of convenience with European far right groups, many of whom have deep roots in the post-fascist landscape, by presenting them as authentic conservatives fighting for European values. In this presentation I will discuss the semantics of fascism and conservatism as used by the Kremlin and Russian nationalists, and explore its impact on the Russian perception of Ukraine.

We asked Laruelle a few questions ahead of her talk:

HURI: What will you be talking about at the seminar?

fascismLaruelle: I will discuss the apparent contradiction between Russia’s stance of criticizing Ukraine and its supporters of being ‘fascists’ while at the same time the Kremlin has been cultivating new fellow travelers among European far right groups, many of whom have deep roots in the post-fascist landscape, by presenting them as authentic ‘conservatives’ fighting for European values.

HURI: Why did you choose this topic? Why is it important to understand?

Laruelle: It is a critical issue to understand what is happening at the ideological and symbolic level between Russia and Ukraine and more globally how it impacts European world order and the failure at building a unified pan-European memory.

I argue that in Russia’s perception, today’s ‘fascists’ are those who put Nazism and Communism as equal evils, and lower the symbolic value of the Soviet victory of 1945, while ‘conservatives’ are those who pursue the narrative of the Cold War and détente decades during which the West shared the same narrative as the Soviet Union in interpreting 1945 as a victory and in validating the Yalta order. By trying to keep its status as the winner over ‘fascism’, Russia therefore considers itself a protector of a conventional, old-fashioned conception of what Europe means, and of its legitimacy of being part of this ‘authentic’ Europe.

HURI: Who would be interested in coming?

Laruelle: Students and faculty following post-Soviet affairs and more broadly all those who try to understand the sudden revival of discussion about ‘fascism’ in current US and European politics and Russia’s role on the European theater.

HURI: What else are you working on these days?

Laruelle: I am finishing a book manuscript on that exact topic (a monograph on Repertoires of Fascism in Russia to be published by Pittsburgh University Press in 2017).

HURI: Can you tell us a little about PONARS Eurasia, which you co-direct?

Laruelle: The Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia (PONARS Eurasia) is a network of about 100 academics, mainly from North America and post-Soviet Eurasia, advancing new approaches to research on security, politics, economics, and society in Russia and Eurasia. Its core missions are to connect scholarship to policy on and in Russia and Eurasia and to foster a community, especially of mid-career and rising scholars, committed to developing policy-relevant and collaborative research. 

Marlene Laruelle is Research Professor of International Affairs and Associate Director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. She is co-director of PONARS-Eurasia and director of the Central Asia Program at GW. She explores contemporary political, social and cultural changes in Russia and Central Asia through the prism of ideologies and nationalism. She has authored Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), In the Name of the Nation: Nationalism and Politics in Contemporary Russia (Palgrave, 2009), and has recently edited Eurasianism and the European Far Right. Reshaping the Russia-Europe Relationship (Lexington, 2015). She is currently finishing a monograph on Repertoires of Fascism in Russia to be published by Pittsburgh University Press in 2017.

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