Could Fascism Replace Communism in the USSR?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Moscow. - If, in the ruins of Soviet totalitarianism, Russian fascism ever grows into a mass political movement, future historians picking over 1991 for clues to what was coming will find plenty.

They might start with the anti-Jewish ravings in a dozen Russian-nationalist newspapers that have sprung up with the lifting of censorship. Take Russky Klich (Russian Battle-Cry), on sale for 80 kopecks in many Moscow metro stations.

A bold headline in a recent issue thanks Iraq for bombing the Jews, using the pejorative Russian word HD for Jew. Below are articles claiming that the "Jewish occupation" of Russia was begun by "Judo-Satanist U.S.A. bankers" who financed the 1917 revolution.

"When will Russians rule their own country?" the newspaper asks. It says Moscow's mayor, Gavriil K. Popov, is an ethnic Greek (true); that Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, is Jewish (false); and that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is Turkish (false).

It coyly advocates violence against non-Russians while skirting the legal ban on such calls: "I cannot say everything I want, cannot say, for example, 'Beat those vermin!' because that is a call for violence."

The editor of the paper is listed as "P.O. Gromov" -- in other words, "pogroms." The front page lists the addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses who testified against an anti-Jewish activist convicted last fall, inviting readers to take revenge.

For more subtle evidence, future historians could screen the programs of Leningrad TV journalist Alexander Nevzorov, beginning with his defense last January of Soviet troops' slaughter of 13 Lithuanian civilians while seizing broadcast facilities.

The spirit of the programs is captured by their common title: "Nashi," Russian for "Ours." The films are about Russians, usually Russians in the non-Russian republics.

The Russians are seen at once as defenders of an empire they conquered fair and square, and as victims of outrageous discrimination from other ethnic groups. Any attempt to take up arms in their defense is portrayed as not only justifiable but heroic, and Mr. Nevzorov occasionally appears himself armed with a Kalashnikov.

Mr. Nevzorov's shows are only marginally more truthful than Russky Klich, and they reach an audience incomparably larger -- about 70 million. To stir skeptical viewers, his films are accompanied by martial music, usually Wagner, and punctuated pictures of flames. (An assistant of Mr. Nevzorov said he declined to be interviewed unless he would be paid $250. The Sun's policy is not to pay for interviews.)

Future researchers might benefit, as well, from reading through the stump speeches of Russian presidential candidate Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky.

The frenetic Mr. HD, a lawyer widely believed to have close ties to the KGB, was seen by many as a joke during the campaign. But his fluent speeches rang bells with unsophisticated Russians, for he said what many more prominent politicians dare not say.

"When I'm president of Russia, I want to raise the Russian question," he told the Russian Congress of People's Deputies. "We've raised the question of all nations, but forgotten the Russian people. Nobody needs 155 million Russians. They're in an especially lamentable situation in the national republics -- 25 million Russians there have been turned into second-rate citizens."

Mr. Zhirinovsky's solution: preserve the Soviet Union, but rename it all "Russia," abolishing the republics and replacing them with purely geographical divisions. Given existing republican aspirations for self-rule, his plan is a recipe for all-out ethnic civil war.

Certainly anti-Semitic literature, pretensions to ethnic superiority and nostalgia for empire are not exclusive to contemporary Russia. But nowhere else is a huge, powerful nation in a period of profound economic crisis, political instability and ideological search.

Two Soviet political scientists writing earlier this year in the Moscow journal Gorizont drew a sobering comparison of Germany in the 1920s and '30s and Russia in the 1990s.

They said the tiny political group that eventually grew into the German Nazi Party began to gather strength by drawing together "the main forces experiencing fear for the future as a result of the collapse of the previous, monopoly-imperial

structures." Those elements included soldiers having trouble adjusting to peacetime, workers worried about their economic future, out-of-work bureaucrats and landowners afraid they would lose their property.

"National socialism drew diverse elements who were unable to adjust to new conditions arising with the establishment and development of market relations," wrote the two authors, Vladimir Pantin and Vladimir Lapkin.

They see a close analogy today, as the bureaucratic, militarized Soviet empire is threatened by republican independence and market competition.

"The probability of such a situation and such a union occurring during the transition to a market economy in our country not only exists theoretically," they say. "Already attempts to achieve such a union are being realized."

With irony, they offer a name for the party that is taking shape among reactionary forces: "Russian Workers'-Peasants' Defense Party of Justice, Order and an All-Round Bright Future."

Soviet demographer Mark Tolts sees potential recruits for such a neo-fascist party among Russians uprooted by political change: Russian military officers returning home from a transformed Eastern Europe, and those of the 25 million ethnic Russians living in non-Russian republics who are growing uncomfortable with local nationalism.

Both groups, acutely aware of Russia's painful loss of empire, arrive in Russia to find housing in critically short supply, Mr. Tolts says. In some cases, Russians have fled ethnic violence in Azerbaijan and parts of Central Asia with only the clothes on their backs, losing everything. Such refugees might well advocate the expulsion of non-Russians from Russia, Mr. Tolts says.

Another wary expert on the potential for Russian fascism is Yevgeny Proshechkin, a Moscow democratic activist who two years ago founded a watchdog organization called the Anti-Fascist Center. He attends many meetings and rallies of fascist groups and carries a tear-gas pistol for protection.

"The old structures of the Communist Party, army and KGB still hold the money, the property and the power," Mr. Proshechkin said in an interview. "They want to preserve that power. They can do that only in conditions of totalitarianism, and we know only two variants of totalitarianism: Communist and national-socialist [Nazi]."

Marxism-Leninism has been completely discredited by economic failure, Mr. Proshechkin said. "So there remains the nationalist, fascist variant. They have to repaint red brown," he said.

Mr. Proshechkin said the danger of extreme nationalism at the moment is its attractiveness to members of the Communist elite as they cling to power -- not, so far, its broad appeal to the masses. But just as world depression in 1929 helped transform Hitler from clown to fuehrer, Russian economic collapse could generate broad backing for a charismatic fascist leader, he said.

Still, many political observers are heartened by the fact that hard-line Russian nationalists have failed to win mass support in parliamentary elections over the last two years. They are keeping their fingers crossed for the future.

Vladimir A. Zhenin, a member of the Russian parliament from the industrial city of Sverdlovsk, said he considers fascism "impossible, because the larger part of society is not inclined to support any kind of dictatorship."

The Russian national idea can win votes only when accompanied by two other factors -- democracy and a market economy, Mr. Zhenin said. The success of Boris N. Yeltsin is based on such a triad, he said.

Leonid Nikitinsky, a respected legal and political reporter for Komsomolskaya Pravda, is somewhat more cautious.

"It seems to me that for fascism there has to be fertile soil, some kind of lumpen -- that fearful, animal-like crowd that can be infected with such an idea. The search for enemies is traditional for any crowd, and for a Russian crowd in particular," he said.

"There was a moment in perestroika when there could have been an explosion of a savage popular rebellion, a terrible rebellion like that described by Pushkin [in a famous passage]," Mr. Nikitinsky said. "I think we've got through the stage of blind aggression and gone somewhat farther."

He said he believes public anti-Semitism is on decline, and that Russians seeking scapegoats are more often targeting Communists or members of the Transcaucasian nationalities prominent in retail food trade.

Small fascist groups will remain and are capable of individual acts of terror, but chances of a mass fascist movement seem to be diminishing, he argued.

The economic discontent of last spring was expressed not in "an uncontrolled explosion, but actually took the form of a very orderly miners' strike, very dignified and calm," Mr. Nikitinsky said. "I think it's impossible to make fascists out of people like those miners."

Scott Shane is The Sun's Moscow correspondent.

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