Since Russia annexed Crimea and sent troops to bolster the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” (the DNR and LNR) in Eastern Ukraine, thousands of Russian volunteers have traveled to the Donbass to take part in the fighting. While a few of them have teamed up with the Ukrainian side, the vast majority joined the irregular DNR/LNR forces. A recent Russian study asks what made these volunteers tick. The core motivation, the study claims, was a desire to defend one’s own people. As one would expect given the current domestic climate, the findings certainly suit the official story about the conflict. But that doesn’t mean they are wrong.
If you’re gonna be a serious activist in contemporary Russia’s neo-Nazi movement, you do not drink, you do not smoke, and you do not do drugs. You exercise to build physical strength, and, not least, you read in order to train the mind and develop your intellect.
On 18 January 1918, a hundred years ago today, Russia’s first democratic experiment was strangled at birth by Lenin and the Bolsheviks as they forcibly shut down the democratically elected Constituent Assembly and opened fire on unarmed protesters.
It will surprise no one that attacks on Jews occur in Russia. After all, this is the country that gave us the word pogrom. Yet it might surprise you to hear that the level of antisemitic violence in Russia, by all accounts, is quite low compared to Western Europe. Given the political climate in later years, shouldn’t we expect otherwise? Patriotic rallying, attacks against “foreign agents” and internal “fifth columnists”, rampant and officially sanctioned homophobia, a fortress mentality in which one in four say the country is “surrounded by enemies on all sides” — isn’t this fertile soil for a reinvigorated antisemitism?
As jihadism scholar Thomas Hegghammer and a selection of other fine scholars show in the book Jihadi Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2016), jihadis don’t just fight, kill, and die for their cause. In their spare time they also read poetry, interpret dreams, listen to music, pray, weep, and embroider. Such activities are ways to generate meaning, which, of course, is a very human endeavor, and jihadis are human too. So are right-wing militants. Just look at these dancing Nazis in St Petersburg.