Thursday, March 28, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalists ‘Gathering Strength,’ Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 28 – Russian nationalist parties are likely to form in the near future and to gain enough support to put their representatives into the next Russian Duma, according to a Moscow specialist who has examined polling data, monitored the Russian media and talked to other members of the expert community in the Russian capital.

            “Izvestiya” reported yesterday that Mikhail Romanov of the Institute of Social Projections which the paper said is close to the ruling United Russia Party had presented that conclusion to the Social Chamber’s working group on the analysis and resolution of inter-ethnic conflicts (

                “All the results show,” Romanov told the paper, “that the nationalists are gathering strength.”  At present, if elections were held today, they would not garner the five percent needed to have deputies in the Russian parliament, but if the vote occurs as scheduled in 2016, they would pass that barrier “without difficulty,” possibly gaining as much as ten percent.

                Aleksey Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center polling  agency, agrees, but he said that for that to happen “the nationalists must become less aggressive in order to attract the support of voters.” Because of their prospects, both the LDPR and United Russia are likely to try to steal their thunder and their votes.

                Gadzhimet Safaraliyev, head of the Duma nationalities committee, told “Izvestiya” that he had no problem with the rise of “a healthy nationalism.”  After all, “there is a nationalist party in France, it works and has its own electorate. Therefore why shouldn’t this” happen in the Russian Federation as well.

            The nationalists themselves certainly have confidence that they are on the rise.  Vladiimir Tor, head of the National Democratic Party, said that Russia has tried communism and liberalism and won’t be deceived by either again.  “The nationalists are a fresh face and the future belongs to them.”  The powers that be need to carry out “a moderately national democratic program.”

            But Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA analytic center, introduced a cautionary note. He told the daily that what happens will entirely depend on what the Kremlin does. If the elections should turn out to be honest, he suggested, the nationalists “would break through the barrier.”  But of course they might not be.

            The spectrum of Russian nationalist opinion is very wide ranging from those who simply want to be proud of their country to those who want to restore Russian rule over the former Soviet space to those who want to expel immigrants and ensure that ethnic Russians predominate in all things.

            Not all of these ideas are noxious, but the extent to which many Russian nationalists are playing on broader Russian concerns about immigration and winning support for that is disturbing.  And it is certainly a matter of concern now that at least some more extreme nationalists argue that Vladimir Putin is personally responsible for the immigrants and their “crimes” against Russians (

                Given the divisions within the Russian nationalists, the Kremlin will likely to reduce its power by simultaneously coopting some of its ideas while using repression against the advocates of others.  That strategy has been effective, with the nationalists often proving to be their own worst enemies, but it will be increasingly difficult to use if the nationalists gain in strength.

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