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Hitler's Ghost -- Russia Becomes Fertile Ground for Neo-Nazis

New America Media, Commentary, Franz Schurmann Posted: Dec 08, 2005

Editor's Note: PNS editor Franz Schurmann looks at contemporary events through the historian's lens. In Russia today, the nation's growing ethnic and foreign-born population increasingly suffers brutal attacks from more and more neo-Nazis, while Russian politicians crack down on dissent. It's fertile ground for fascism, writes Schurmann, emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books.

Are Russians destined to be the successor to Adolph Hitler's Germans? Hitler died by his own hand in April 1945, but now his spirit has come back in the form of young Russian neo-Nazis, who could number 50,000 or more, according to the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights.

When he was only minutes away from death, Hitler reportedly said, "The German people were not worthy of me." The 50,000 Russian Nazis who salute the swastika and intone the "Hail Hitler," on the other hand, might be. They ignore their grandfathers and grandmothers, who sacrificed their lives to destroy Hitler's hordes.

Race was the issue that propelled Hitler into supreme power in January 1933. The year 1932 was horrendous because too many jobs vanished, while those jobs that were available went to those whom Hitler considered "foreigners," in good part Jews. Hitler preached that the Germans and other Nordic peoples (including the British) were a super-race of warriors and geniuses that could fight through any challenge.

In the 1936 Olympics Hitler refused to shake hands with Jesse Owens, the greatest black runner of his time. And he also refused to believe that so many Jewish geniuses got Nobel Prizes.

In Europe the meaning of race is generally different from that in the United States, where "race" means skin color. In Europe, race means roots, which results in many races. In the 1830s in the Austrian empire, renowned Catholic bishop Josip Strossmayer propagated that every person has only one "mother tongue." Though he had a German name, his mother tongue was Slavic.

Some researchers believe "Hitler" is a Czech name, and, if that is the case, Hitler was a genetic member of the vast Slavic linguistic family in Europe. Hitler's friend from his hometown of Linz, August Kubizek (a Czech name), also came to Vienna and they roomed together.

But Hitler also read about the great gods of the Hindu Aryans, who used similar words in the Greek and German languages. In the early 1920s, Hitler designed a flag for his party, the National Socialist German Workers Party, that featured his Hindu swastika, but with broken spokes.

During the Soviet period, possession of Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" (My Struggle) was grounds for immediate execution in areas ruled by the Soviet Union. But after 1991, when the Cold War thawed and the Soviet empire fell apart, copies were plentifully available in the new Russia. It's a new Russia that, like Germany in the 1932, is increasingly full of foreigners.

In the late 1990s, there were only 5,000 Chinese in all of the Soviet Union. Now, in Putin's Russia, there are 3.26 million Chinese, making them the fourth-largest ethnic group. The rank order is as follows: Russians, 104.1 million; Tatars (Muslims), 7.2 million; Ukrainians, 5.1 million. Vietnamese illegal immigrants, too, account for hundreds of thousands working in the underground economy in Russia.

It's enough to cause fear and resentment. Russian neo-Nazis did not appear during the 1990s, when democracy and free enterprise flourished in the new Russia. But on the literal eve of the turning of the year 1999 into 2000, President Boris Yeltsin handed the reins of power over to former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Putin began to rule with an iron hand, and played his xenophobia card.

An example is a visit by President Putin to the Russian Far East and Siberia. Putin summed up his trip, saying, "if the people here do not regenerate their region and economy they will all be speaking Chinese."

The new Russia, where democracy is ebbing away while media is oppressed, critics are being jailed and human rights groups and other NGOs are being purged, is fertile ground for the birth of Hitler's new followers.

In the North Caucus city of Nalchik in October, 150 young Muslims attacked government buildings and were brutally repressed. In St. Petersburg on Nov. 30, university student Timur Kacharava was beaten and stabbed to death by a dozen Nazis. A friend of his who wouldn't give his name told media, "St. Petersburg Nazis are not a disorganized gang. They are a full-fledged military group."

Pavel K. Baev, who writes for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C-based think tank, sums up the situation:

"There are few doubts that it is exactly this war spreading across the region as a brushfire of criminal violence and underground fire of Islamic extremist networks that drives the growth of Nazi-type of organizations, while the human rights NGOs feel the pressure of 'attention' from the concerned authorities. It is quite ironic that the Kremlin courtiers have found nothing better than to celebrate the end of the "time of troubles" some 400 years ago, while a new period of turmoil and dislocation was so visible from so many windows in Moscow; it may not even wait for Putin's departure in 2008."

The year 2008 is already full of tension -- elections will take place for new presidents in the United States and Russia, and China will host the Olympics. Putin will be gone, but not the Russian neo-Nazis. They could conceivably organize and reach a critical mass in the city of Moscow, paving the way for fascism in the former Soviet Union.

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