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Into the Heart of Russia’s
Fascist Youth
with Ian Garner

by Alissa Ordabai


Having found himself at different points of his life on both sides of the Russian-language education system — first as a student in St. Petersburg and later as a teacher to Russian schoolchildren — Ian Garner arguably possesses the most comprehensive knowledge of the country's young generation among his fellow historians in the West. From the obscurest corners of the Russian-speaking internet to the latest Duma legislation, Garner knows the terrain he writes about like few of us do.


His most recent book — Z Generation: Into the Heart of Russia’s Fascist Youth (on sale in UK / Europe on May 4 and in the US on July 1) — is already turning heads: not only among fellow Russia experts, but also the Kremlin's sock puppets on social media — something which can only be taken as evidence of the topic’s relevance. But rather than intimidating Garner, the storm of trolling on Twitter and Facebook provides him with extra material for his ongoing research.


What he has discovered so far, however, is already perfectly bleak. Exploring the subject which hasn't been receiving much attention from Russia scholars of the anglophone world, Garner introduces a universe both sinister and alien: The world of indoctrination of Russia's young and poor into hate-filled ideology which has no place for the nation’s humanistic values or its own rich cultural heritage.


Although not a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst, Garner nevertheless has managed to tap into some key components of the Russian psyche in the tradition of the best researchers of totalitarianism before him. But where Alain Besançon and Françoise Thom maintain a dim view of the cynicism and misanthropy of “homo post-sovieticus”, Garner is more hopeful, believing ordinary Russians can and should be engaged in a debate, informed, and brought back to their senses.


"We can reach into social media space in Russia,” he tells me over Zoom from his study in Kingston, Canada during our interview last month. “We could reconstruct the meaning of being Russian into something more positive.”


Alissa Ordabai: Ian, congratulations on your new book! I think each and every department of Russian studies of each and every university should be researching this topic. But no one is doing that. Why do you think this is?


Ian Garner: That’s a good question. It’s a politically touchy topic. It’s difficult to deal with. There is also a label “Russia, fascist” in the title, which is partly me being a little bit provocative. Universities are hesitant to use that sort of language. I appreciate that there is a debate to be had — whether or not it is fascist —or something else, in order to really understand Russia for what it is, which seems very different from the Russia that we thought we knew even 10 or 15 years ago. And I don’t think people have really appreciated the scale of change.


The other huge issue is the dominance — in particular when it comes to political science end of the spectrum — of the quantitative approaches for so long, in particular in the departments of political science, where most of the funding comes from for stuff that is more bordering on international relations and economics.


The idea of interpreting behaviour in the present through historical methodology and the cultural studies methodology is still seen as something to be avoided. Which is problematic when you are dealing with things that resist logical explanation, resist rational explanation, which I think is the case in Russia today. There is no quantification you can put on understanding why genocide happens, or why war crimes can happen, or why the society on the whole remains silent about these war crimes, thus leading us into this tricky issue of whether the Russian society is apolitical, which I very strongly believe it is not.


AO: Why do you think we in the West are only now waking up to the reality of the genocide perpetrated by Russia? Why didn’t the two Chechen wars really trigger the awareness? Why are we only now clutching our pearls and waking up to the really of what the Russian society really is?


IG: If you look back to the first Chechen war in the mid-Nineties, this was the period when in terms of the political discourse in the West politicians and the public alike were generally fairly convinced (with, of course, with many notable exceptions) that joining international institutions and participating in the global economy would inevitably lead toward a wider societal change. Therefore Russia could be forgiven its sins because it was starting to participate in those sorts of institutions in the mid-Nineties.


Of course, there was also the problem of not wanting to see what was happening because Chechnya is a small country — at least from the perspective of many people. I hate using the word “liminal,” but it has been widely viewed as a sort of liminal space that is neither here, nor there. There was also a sense that Yeltsin was somebody that we could work with. Look at the way Tony Blair went to meet Putin before he even won the elections. There was a sense that we could work with people who had flaws but could be drawn back “into the fold of civilized nations.” This was, of course, Yeltsin’s and his Foreign Minister Kozyrev’s phrase.


AO: Going back to the title of the book: why “fascism”? Why not “chauvinism,” or “nationalism," or “nazism”?


IG: I am overusing this phrase and I know it’s controversial. But for me, there is a fascistic element built into the Russian culture. I am not somebody who believes that it has always been there or that Russia is innately evil or that there is something about the Russian culture that predisposes it toward this sort of existence. But the political culture over the last 22 years has been one of violence, one of seeking out a group of “others” and promising the population that the body politic can be renewed. It speaks in terms of “health” and “disease” — the idea that Russia has been diseased, and if only we can free the population of this parasite, this vermin, this disease, then Russia would become healthy again, and all of our dreams would come true.


First there is an idea of a renewal. But what does that renewal look like? The renewal looks like the return to a time — or the creation of a fulfillment — which is inherently ahistorical: the revelation of a period of history which combines elements of the soviet past, the tzarist past, which for obvious reasons are completely contradictory to one another historically, with one negating the other. But in the promised utopia both of these time periods — the strength of Russia, the great golden flowering of the nation — can come true. But also there is a sense of futurity in the way it is spoken about: you are creating something new, you are creating the multipolar world; there is a revelation of the future and there is something almost utopian about this. And this very much reminds me of the discourse of nazism.


Look at, for example, the fascist Italy which created modernism, but also was deeply attached to the vision of classical Rome and an empire. Of course they are contradictory, of course fascism doesn’t make sense. Aside from the violence, and the aggression, and the obvious problems, it’s just a political philosophy that has no real logic behind it. You might differentiate it from communism in that regard. But I see those hallmarks existing in much of today. We have moved from one group of victims to another, the state is increasingly using totalitarian methods to try to control the population, to use the economy, and talk about education, and youth, and youth militarization, and socialization. The government is increasingly using all tools possible to make the revelation of the future through destruction of “the other” the main raison d’être for the nation.


AO: Why do you think these ideas resonate with the general populace? Or do they? Because this is a subject of much debate. As the Russian society remains silent and docile, it is very difficult to decipher what people actually do believe and what they don’t believe, what they support and what they don’t support. In terms of methodology — when writing your book — how did you go about establishing what the society (or simply people at large) actually believe?


IG: What really interested me in this discourse was the way in which people construct identities, the way in which people talk about the world around them. Not just in terms of speech, but in particular using the digital world. I think that this is something that has just been so sorely understudied when it comes to Russia. The idea is that Russia is not just full of bots and trolls, and that it’s all lies in the information sphere, and no one really believes it.


When we turn back to the work some historians have done about the soviet 1930s — and I have particularly been influenced by Jochen Hellbeck, his work on the battle of Stalingrad, but also his work about subjectivity and the diaries that he studied — well, social media does function somewhat like a diary today. I am very attracted to post-modern ideas of Judith Butler and performativity and the idea that we can read people’s minds not just from what they say, but also from what they share, what they like, the way that they construct the world for themselves online.


If you are looking for a great article to read, there was an article by a scholar from the University of Glasgow, whose name is Andrew Hoskins, which is about the personalized war feed and the ecology of war on social media over the last few months.


So what I did for the book was find a number of subjects who were willing to be interviewed. I sent out a lot of emails and got a lot of cold shoulders. But also —surprisingly — people even on the extreme nationalist end of the spectrum were willing to talk. Maybe because the book is aimed at a more wide-reading audience that includes character-driven interviews and biographies alongside the exploration of how these people present themselves online. The main argument I make really is that the way that we can understand how people’s identities are constructed has to mean taking what they say online seriously. It’s a reflection of their real identity and their real beliefs — the groups they are joining, the movements they are participating in, the hashtags they are using, the ways in which they pick up on the government speech, or the ways in which they are consciously choosing to reject it.


AO: So what is Russian fascism? How is it different from similar movements in, say, Hungary, Serbia, Germany, the UK?


IG: I think the great similarity is in this use of social media. There is a fabulous book by a Danish scholar whose name is Mikkel Rasmussen which is called Late Capitalist Fascism and is my absolute top recommendation in regard to global movements happening in fascism. And Rasmussen makes the argument that on social media you can stage a simulacrum of society, because we live in media-ties realities. We live in our own social media bubbles and we can construct and deconstruct our worlds at a click of a mouse, at lightning speed. This means we don’t need traditional fascist institutions such as, for example, a nazi party to create a fascist movement. In the States you can see that there is no fascist party per se. There are elements of the Republican Party — but very much on the peripheries — that are fascistic, and yet there are movements online that come into being quite quickly.


The same is true in Russia. There are these movements that appear, and then collapse and evaporate very rapidly, and reconstruct their identities at lightening speed. By living in these environments on social media they can also construct the sense of the utopian fascistic world that I was talking about. I can live in a world where I can plaster my VK wall with elements from the tzarist past, but also the soviet past, and the supposedly “post-American future” in which Russia has become great again. So we have this  bizarre topsy-turvy reality where anything could be true and time itself ceases to function.


The Russian state takes advantage of this because it uses endless amounts of Telegram groups, VK groups, some of which are explicitly run by the state, some of which appear to be grassroots groups, and some of which are genuine grassroots groups that feed off the state’s fake material as well — constantly bubbling up, bubbling over, and collapsing. And that means anybody can participate in this. It also makes it unavoidable in a way that it wasn’t — I think — even in the most totalitarian states of the previous century where it was possible to escape: You could go behind closed doors and shut your door and be alone. Read your…

AO: ... Read your Mandelstam or Pasternak...

IG: Exactly. The reference I am making in my book is Vasily Grossman: “Stalingrad is the greatest moment in history or the greatest moment of the Soviet Union precisely because Stalin isn’t there, because the party isn’t there and everybody is cut off in bunkers alone, fighting in glorious military spirit.”


And yet today that’s not really possible because everybody is constantly reading, interacting on their smartphone. If you don’t want to be a part of the movement, then guess what? You are friends with somebody from school, you have your brother on VK, you have your slightly eccentric uncle on Odnoklassniki, and suddenly this fascistic world interrupts yours because they share a post and you can’t keep your bubble isolated from the language of the state and the language of fascism — whether it is produced by the state or this civic voluntarism that gives birth to new language. And that makes it extremely hard — for children in particular, which is the focus of the book — to resist this onslaught of material.


AO: A lot of European researchers — in France in particular — are talking about the moral collapse of the Russian society. What you are describing — this mash-mash of ideas from the tzarist Russia, and the “past glory” of Russia from the days of the Soviet Union — does this give you an impression that the knowledge of history of Russia, the knowledge of Russian culture, is also in the state of collapse where Russians don’t know their own history, they don’t know their own culture? Alain Besançon famously wrote back in the early 1970s that an ordinary Soviet person has no clue what Crime and Punishment is about, no clue what The Idiot is about. Do you think this state of affairs has reached its peak where the whole body of self-knowledge is collapsing, as well as the moral structures?


IG: There are two questions there. The first is the question about morality. Of course, morality is a relative term.


AO: When we talk about the humanistic tradition in the Russian culture — about Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky — people really have no clue what Crime and Punishment is about.


IG: There is such a distortion of this material…


AO: Exactly, through the education system.


IG: These materials are propagandised to the point were everything is subjected to the state’s lens of militarism and constant war: “War is peace”. So when you look at War and Peace, that’s a pacifist novel. That is a novel that is all about stripping back military ego and saying war is senseless, but when it has to be fought, it’s not best for states and nationalists. And yet you look at the way that Tolstoy is discussed in Russia today, and War and Peace simply becomes evidence of Russia’s messianic historical fate to save the world from the European invaders: “Thank goodness for the government and thank goodness for the tzar, or Putin today.”


All of the people that I spoke to — even the people on the most extreme end, people who are voluntarily going to the front, who work for the media creating really grossly abusive posts and videos online — all of these people are still genuinely convinced, absolutely convinced that they are doing the right thing, that their actions in calling for the erasure of Ukraine and the destruction of Ukrainians are morally correct: that they are saving Russians because Russians are under threat. “Russia is under threat from these shadowy forces that operate to constantly destroy the country.” It’s all completely detached from reality — it’s mad. Russia’s humanistic tradition has been twisted, its language borrowed and used to justify crimes.


Going back to your question about Chechnya in the 1990s — that was the way in which the state taught about why they had to invade: “We are actually saving people because of the human rights issues.” And that was what happened in Georgia. Look at Georgia in 2008 when they went to the United Nations and said, “Thousands of Ossetians, thousands of ethnic Russians are being killed by the Georgians — this is a genocide.” This humanistic language, the language of international human rights was used to distort the reality and plugging it into a context which is detached from the real world.


AO: Quite a few commentators and researchers of Russia would disagree with you here. Arkady Babchenko, for one, would say, “They know. They don’t believe a word of propaganda. They don’t believe they are under threat. They know exactly what is going on — the way in which people knew exactly what was going on under Stalin. They just pretend they don’t know. They just pretend to believe that the neighbour who got executed a week ago was the enemy of the state.” How would you respond to this argument?


IG: Of course, there are people who know. I wouldn’t disagree to a certain extent. But the way I understand the manner in which reality is constructed by people is much more flexible than Babchenko would allow. People can hold within themselves what looks like extreme cognitive dissonances and resolve those dissonances. That’s why Hellbeck is so good. To understand what is going on today, if I had to read just one book, I would go read Hellbeck’s Revolution on My Mind, which is all about how people can — if they are oppressed by the state, or even if their families have been arrested by the state — still reconstruct themselves as good stalinists genuinely believing it’s true, and even writing behind the closed doors in their diaries with nobody watching, but still using the language of the state and constructing the vision of the state in which stalinism is good.


I think we see that today. If we try to understand Russia today by saying “Nobody believes a word of it,” then we refute the very real reality that there are people at the front murdering Ukrainians who are not being forced to, who could surrender to the Ukrainian side, who could — going back to Grossman — just say “no”, who could refuse to carry out orders, and choose to go to jail, yes, potentially risking a beating or an execution  themselves. But they don’t. They choose to carry out these crimes.


This is too widespread and it happened too many times over the last 25 years and counting right back into Latvia of 1991 and Georgia of the late 1980s. It is not historically determined that it should happen, but it has happened so many times. You can’t simply say that on a mass scale millions of people somehow don’t believe this, because reality defies that.


AO: When writing this book and doing your research, did you ever think, “I need a degree in psychology,” or that one needs to be a psychoanalyst or to have some serious background in knowing how the human mind works?


IG: Absolutely. I began digging into the question of psychology and how to fix this problem to some extent in the closing chapter. What can we do if we are worried that this situation in Russia is going to perpetuate itself and the whole of the state seems to be strengthening rather than weakening? Looking 10 years down the line, will we have a generation of children that might be more ideological and more motivated to commit violence than we have today? Hopefully not. But it’s a possibility that we have to deal with.


I did get to the point when I was interviewing experts and specialists in cult deprogramming thinking about these issues and asking, “How do we change this? How do we affect it?” And one of the most startling conversations I’ve had was with a guy called Sokeel Park who is the director of a charity in South Korea, and who works with folks who have escaped from North Korea, who have actually chosen to leave the regime, which, of course, is incredibly risky for them and their families. Much more risky than pretty much anything that happens in Russia today. And even those people — when they arrive in South Korea — often struggle to adjust to the new reality. In particular it would interest those with a scholarly research in Russian history. The area where they often struggle the most is understanding the Korean War — what really happened, who were the heroes and who were the villains.




2022-03-06IanGarner008 (2).jpg

Z Generation: Into the Heart of Russia’s Fascist Youth by Ian Garner.

Pages: 256.

ISBN: 978-1787389281.


To be published in the UK / Europe  by Hurst on May 4, and in the US by Oxford University Press on July 1, 2023


Stalingrad Lives: Stories of Combat and Survival by Ian Garner.

Pages: 336.


ISBN: 978-0228014188.


McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal, 2022.


Grozny, March 1995. The Chechen capital lies in ruins after the First Battle of Grozny when the Russian Army's invasion resulted in the military occupation of the city. Images: AP footage still frames.


Grozny, February 2000. In 2003, following the Second Battle of Grozny (1999-2000) — the siege and assault of the Chechen capital by the Russian forces — the United Nations called Grozny the most destroyed city on Earth. Images: AP footage still frames.


Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton, October 23, 1995, Hyde Park, New York, image by Ralph Alswang, William J. Clinton Library. 


Tony Blair visits Vladimir Putin in Moscow ahead of the latter's 2000 election. Image: Getty. 


Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich by Jochen Hellbeck.


Pages: 512.


ISBN: 978-1610397186.


PublicAffairs, New York, 2016.


Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly by Judith Butler.


Pages: 256.


ISBN: 978-0674983984.


Harvard University Press, 2018.


Late Capitalist Fascism by Mikkel Rasmussen.


Pages: 140.


ISBN: 978-1509547449.


Polity, Cambridge, 2022.


For a Just Cause is a novel by Vasily Grossman, first published in 1952. A revised English translation, including additional material from Grossman's manuscripts, was published under the author's preferred title, Stalingrad, in 2019 by NYRB Classics.

Pages: 1088.

ISBN: 978-1681373270.


Crime and Punishment is a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. First published in 1866, it explores the concepts of free will and personal responsibility, and is often cited as one of the supreme achievements of world literature.


War and Peace is a novel by Leo Tolstoy which chronicles the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on society. It was serialized in The Russian Messenger from 1865 to1867. Thomas Mann thought War and Peace to be "the greatest ever war novel in the history of literature."

Revolution on My Mind: Writing a Diary under Stalin by Jochen Hellbeck.


Pages: 448.


ISBN: 978-0674032316.


Harvard University Press, 2009.


In the North the Korean War plays a sort of foundational myth role akin to — you might argue — the one that World War II plays in Russia today. I think myths around sacrifice in World War II, mass death, and the idea of Russia’s messianism are so central to understanding what is happening today that speaking to Russians about this is going to require a really complex psychologically informed approach. You can’t just be presenting, “Here is what really happened,” because people will just refuse to believe it


AO: Talking about fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-year-olds in Russia today — where can they derive a sense of genuine self-respect from? If you are an honest fifteen-year-old Russian who wants to be a decent human being, where do you turn for a sense of self-respect? What do you do?


IG: This is really the issue at the heart of the book. As well as speaking to the more extreme crowd, I spoke to a number of Russians in their twenties to the early thirties, who have tried to find alternative paths. And the most effective things they have done in the last 10 years was to deconstruct alternate identity pathways, deconstruct the possibilities of what it can mean to be a Russian and to be non-violent, non-macho, and non-aggressive.


Because to be Russian often means to seek out “the other” — both without and within. So if you are young, then how do you do it? And I talk extensively about the LGBTQ community in Russia today because it has been a huge victim of what goes on today in terms of the propaganda laws of the last 10 years. Increasingly it is hard to find VK and Facebook groups that are going to support you. It’s hard to speak about it because you are worried that you may be accused of spreading homosexual propaganda, especially under the law that came out last fall — simply by talking about it. You are worried that your parents are going to reject you…


One Russian artist who I spoke to — who is now in New York and managed to flee in the beginning of last year — said, “When I was in Russia, it was like a fight with myself.” It was an internal battle. His words were something along the lines of, “I was manipulating myself. I was tired of this fighting to reconstruct myself internally along the lines of what was expected of me.” Who could he talk to? Nobody. Where could he find support? Almost nowhere. We know that activist organizations are being closed down at an unprecedented rate.


“Can I post something publicly? Can I like something? Can I share something without the fear of the state watching?" If you do the wrong thing, you will be outed as a homosexual and as a non-Russian, which is even worse. So where do you find people to go and protest with? You are fragmented, you are shattered, you are so busy fighting yourself inside, that there is very little possibility of finding other people. There are no opposition leaders really. There is no opposition movement. There is nowhere for these people to go.


We can argue that Russians should be protesting more, and I understand that they should. But it is easy to understand on individual level how this media ecology has created this violence and this fear, but as I note in the book, in the first years after the first LGBTQ propaganda laws a quarter of gay Russians tried to kill themselves. You might say that the state is murdering gay people, because tacitly it is endorsing the murder of gay people and violence against gay people, but the effect — psychologically speaking — the propaganda and the environment it is creating is that the undesirables want to destroy themselves through these internal fights with themselves and through physically harming themselves.


AO: A childhood friend of mine — Vitaly Lazarenko — who was a gay rights activist and one of the editors of Kvir Magazine, was murdered in 2006 in his apartment in Moscow. So this topic is close to my heart.


IG: It really is a tragic situation and it upsets me very much.


AO: So what do the right-thinking, active people in the West can do? What they should do is probably another issue, but what can they do in practical terms?


IG: What we can do — very simply — as well as putting economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia, is to win the war in Ukraine, for things to begin to happen. But we can also reach into that social media space in Russia. Russia is trying to erect this silicone curtain around itself. Of course, it is a curtain with holes because they do not have the technical capacity to keep us out of their social networks.


So what can we do? If the Russian government has created a hundred AstroTurf groups that spread violent messages, we can very clearly turn the identity pathways and could, for example, reconstruct the meaning of being Russian, or being, or example, an Orthodox Christian into something more positive. You could find a starting point. You could track exactly where their identity turns and we could provide our own Facebook groups, our own VK groups, our own Instagram campaigns — in the Russian language that don’t look like they come from the West.


This could just begin to provide information drip by drip, for example, “Did you know that Tchaikovsky was gay? We have learned about Tchaikovsky at school this week, he was a great Russian composer. Wasn’t The 1812 Overture a brilliant achievement? (Going back to Russian nationalism)”. We could just drip in a few posts about Tchaikovsky’s background.


If it appears to come from the West — and this is the great flaw of the current information policy toward Russia — it simply describes the reality as I explained in regard to North Korea, and there is a chance that we will just get what is called a blowback effect, as in, “I don’t believe it, I don’t want to believe it.” And that’s the most of the information that we provide: “We will expand the BBC services, we will expand Deutsche Welle in Russia…” And it’s great, don’t get me wrong — that can be a part of it. But if you are really deep in a cult, you are just going say, “Those are the liars, those are the people attacking us, that’s the enemy.”


Do it in Russian, make it appear to be organic, harness the capacities of willing Russians within the country and the willing Russians outside of the country as well. Use this sort of content, don’t label it as a Western reality. Label it as a Russian reality, just a slightly different version of reality than what you are seeing emerge from the Kremlin. And that’s how you start.


AO: How did you get involved in Russia and particularly in this topic, and what drives your interest in the Russian society? How old is your interest? Is it recent?


IG: This goes back to university when I had to pick a subject to do — in Britain you apply for a subject and not just a faculty. I was going to do French. Everybody does a second language and I had a list to choose from, and picked Russian — why not? And then I moved to Russia studying in St. Petersburg at a conservatory there, then worked in Finland teaching at schools with lots of Russian children, and then went to Toronto to do graduate school.


This particular project is motivated by my long-standing interest in the ways in which propaganda constructs identity, and also on a personal level — thinking back to all those kids I taught in Finland between 10 and 14 years ago — those are the people that we are talking about today. I think back to those children — and I had a lot of them as my VK friends — and see how they’ve grown up into their early- to mid-twenties, and some of them are absolutely on board with the Z bandwagon.


Some of them are beginning to have children themselves, and I wonder the sort of world they are going to grow up in when in three or four years they are going to be in kindergarten and they are going to have the state’s new navigatory detstva helping out in kindergartens.


(“Navigatory detstva” (“Childhood navigators”) — is an initiative of the Russian Ministry of Education for selection of schoolchildren to the advisor posts to school headmasters on issues of children’s personal development. - Ed.)


And then they are going to primary school where they will have a youth army brigade. They may join or they may not, but they are entering this world of discussions of history with these violent fascistic beliefs. They may not hold them, but these are dominating elements of education and elements of culture. I don’t see those things disappearing. There is no liberal white knight in Russia waiting to take over. Putin is bad, but what comes next…


AO: I remember having a conversation in 1995 with my husband, who was a historian, and asking him if he believed in Russia ever becoming a country of the rule of law and democracy. He replied that he believed Russia would eventually get there, but it would perhaps take another 300 years. What kind of response would you give to this question?


IG: I think it can get there. Like I said, there is nothing historically predetermined about any of this. Russians are not evil people. Evil is conditioned. Evil is taught and evil is learned and is something that is societally constructed. And I think there are ways in which we can start to fix that. But the broader step has to be a willingness on the part of the Russian public, and especially the Russian leadership, to effect real change, and I don’t believe that this willingness — at least in the halls of power — has ever existed.


AO: Do you have much hope for people like Navalny or Vladimir Kara-Murza? I don’t know who else I could name who wasn’t murdered or harassed into silence.


IG: I think the problem is that the state has painted these people so effectively as non-Russian, and therefore evil — and, of course, non-Russian could mean homosexual, it could mean literally foreign, Western, Muslim, you name it — and so deeply suspicious that I can’t see the public accepting anyone who has any name recognition today as ever being a leader of Russia who could unite all these different democratic fractions and extreme nationalist fractions.


AO: Here we are talking about Kasparov, who is a non-Russian, Khodorkovsky, who is Jewish, Kara-Murza who is Russian but has an odd name for the Russian ear. But what about Navalny?


IG: I think Navalny has become a controversial figure because of some of the comments he had made in the past — comments that I obviously very much disapprove of. Navalny today seems to me to be a light nationalist leader. I don’t think he will necessarily take Russia in the right direction fast enough. But also just he will never be accepted, even if he survives the next few months or years.


But somebody like Navalny — who is a sort of a light patriot and is perceived as a light nationalist by the public — might actually be the best hope to lead Russia away from the more extreme nationalism toward something more palatable. He could reform the Orthodox Church and make it part of being Russian, but tolerant and accepting, and would remove the links between politics and the Church.


But to do this stuff is just such a tall order politically when the political sphere is dominated by the security apparatus, by Prigozhin and Wagner — by all these different players none of whom are in any way committed to what I have just mentioned. The future to me seems to be very, very bleak. Putting aside the fate of Russia and Russians — which should be at the bottom of our list of concerns — our perspective has to be, “How can we weaken Russia as much as possible?”


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