Ordinary Rashism


Photo by Pavlo Pashchenko

In the first weeks of the war, listening to interviews with captured Russian on the program of blogger Volodymyr Zolkin, it was hard for me to not recall Hannah Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil: “I am a military man, I was following orders.” At that time we could imagine that it was necessary to separate Putin’s elite from the ordinary Russian people, who should be against the war. But no—six months later, it was already obvious that it was the people who were for the war, and Putin might even be a hostage of a concept he himself once built. If he is simply an imperialist who wants to rearrange the world according to his own rules, then who are the millions of residents of the Russian Federation, if not his accomplices, complicit in unleashing the most terrible war in Europe since World War II?

Ukrainians have come up with a new term for this type of Russian: рашист [translit. rashyst], or, as it variously appears in English, rashist, ruscist, russist. It seems that this term, a bilingual word literally meaning “Russian fascists”, may go down in history, perhaps along with Путлер [translit. Putler], another widely used portmanteau combining Putin with Hitler. Some historians say that it is impossible to call Russians fascists, because fascism has a clearer ideology, while rashism does not. For example, Mark Solonin says that comparing Hitler and Putin is offensive to Hitler. In his vlog from the first months of the full-scale war, he speaks of fascism as “an anthill covered by a great idea,” and goes on to say that “Putinism is not fascism by definition: there is no great idea, there is no party that would embody this idea, there is no leader whom everyone loves, there is no creation that could be observed in Germany in the 30s. And if you look for historical parallels, then the Russian Federation is organized according to the scenario of the South American republic of the mid-twentieth century with a dictator at the head. Modern Putin’s Russia is an ordinary “banana republic”, which instead of bananas sells oil to the West and timber to the Chinese, divides all the proceeds between the dictator’s henchmen and keeps its population in fear and oppression”.[1]

Timothy Snyder, writing for The New York Times,[2] argues that Russia is a fascist state and explains why such an interpretation is acceptable. Today’s Russia meets most of the criteria for the definition of fascism upon which most researchers tend to agree. Russia: a) has a cult of one particular leader (Vladimir Putin); b) is dominated by a cult of the dead (built around World War II); and c) has a myth of a lost “golden age” of imperial greatness that needs to be restored through “healing violence” (namely, bloody wars in Ukraine). Even if there is no big idea, in all its forms, fascism has been based on the notion of ​​the “triumph of will over reason”.[3] Ultimately, there is always something—in addition to ideology or instead of it—that unites millions of people in a single impulse to conquer and/or destroy. The subject is complex and grand, and will be widely thought about after the war. But even now, during the war, it is very important to define and signify the phenomenon of rashism, to understand what we are dealing with. And, what is even more important, the faster and more scrupulously we realize this phenomenon, the stronger it will affect the course—and end—of the war, as well as the post-war processes related to the world order as a whole.

No one knew what the emergence of fascism in Europe would lead to before the outbreak of World War II. Consider the example of Czechoslovakia, which in 1938 was a multilingual democratic republic that had simply been dealt a bad hand in terms of its neighbors. After the European powers decided to appease Nazi Germany with the Munich Agreement of 1938, the Hitler regime crushed the Czechoslovakian democracy through invasion, partition, and annexation. What happened in Czechoslovakia in the first stage of WWII is painfully similar to the scenario that Russia had planned for Ukraine. Even Putin’s rhetoric echoes that of Hitler, including false claims that the neighboring democracy was tyrannical, appeals to alleged violations of minority rights as a pretext for invasion, and claims that the neighboring nation does not really exist and that its statehood is illegitimate. If you have trouble remembering Hitler’s speeches, you might simply read the genocidal hate speech Putin published in July 2021: “On the historical unity of Russia and Ukraine”.[4]

These similarities make it well worth asking how the capture of Czechoslovakia influenced the subsequent sequence of events and the way World War II unfolded. Obviously, the war would have been impossible, or at least very different, if the Czechoslovaks had fought back, but instead German fascism only grew stronger, capturing a small country with virtually no resistance and without any repercussions. Today, in demonstrating the courage to resist, the Ukrainians have already averted a number of rather grim scenarios and provided time for the European and North American democracies in general to reflect and prepare. The authorities of some typically more pro-Russian countries, such as Hungary and Serbia, have had to make urgent decisions to reorient their political strategy and calm down their pro-imperial ambitions. These differences from fascism’s previous rise are crucial. The full significance of the Ukrainian resistance in 2022, like the appeasement of fascism in 1938, can only be understood if one considers the possible futures that it may open or exclude.

If in the 21st century an unrecognized fascist movement became possible in the center of Europe, and even found support among the leaders of some countries, then we can conclude that the fascism of the 20th century, despite its terrible consequences, was not analyzed enough, and that sufficient preventive measures were not taken to maintain the post-war world order. The symbolic register, in terms of structural psychoanalysis, has been broken, and Russia’s current war in Ukraine has exposed all the gaps in the existing world order. Suddenly, international organizations from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the United Nations have become vacuous and weak, incapable of taking decisive measures to stop the aggression and terror of the country that gave rise to this new fascism.

Snyder’s definition of fascism as “the triumph of will over reason” needs to be deciphered. “Will” in this expression is not will in the sense of courage, willpower, perseverance, but rather in the sense of a whim, a desire. In the language of psychoanalysis, this is the triumph of phallicity over the Law.

There are several versions of the origin story of rashism. The victory over fascism in World War II and the USSR’s great contribution emboldened the post-war Soviet Communist Party, which led to the distortion of historical facts, the removal of any unpleasant moments and the heroization of leaders making self-reflection impossible—divergent opinions were banned, and those who held them ended up behind bars or in exile. Additionally, Russia appropriated the war’s achievements, becoming almost the sole successor to the victory, and, years later, this pride grew into a “victory-madness” [победобесие, translit. pobedobesye] with revanchist moods epitomized in the slogan “we can repeat” [можем повторить translit. mozhem povtorit].

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 was experienced differently by the different nations that had once made up the Soviet Union. The USSR was not at all a “union of free republics”,[5] but a colonial empire. If Ukrainians received the long-awaited freedom, then the Russians experienced the collapse as the loss of their colonies. Stumbling and making many mistakes—including allowing pro-Russian leaders into power—Ukrainians, at the very least, began to build their own state, while the Russians, experiencing the collapse of values ​​and ideals, slipped into the era of depressive nihilism and outright banditry called “the crazy 90s”.

Looking for the roots of Russian imperial thinking in Pushkin and Dostoevsky, one might miss the main national hero of the newly minted Russian world of the 2000s—Danila Bagrov. The dashing and fearless main character of Alexei Balabanov’s film Brother [Брат translit: Brat] (1997), Danila is a fictional young veteran of the Chechen war who matures and finds before him a world of perceived permissiveness and imaginary superiority, which is further expanded upon when he arrives in America in the sequel Brother 2 (2000). How did it happen that the character personifying the superfluous man, who at the age of 18 went through the crucible of an unnecessary war, and who was written to be pitied, became a role model, and his remarks, which were meant to be condemned, became popular slogans? The line “You’ll pay for Sevastopol, you pigs!”, uttered by Danila’s brother, the gangster Tatarin played by Viktor Sukhorukov, turned into an anti-Ukrainian slogan during the annexation of Crimea in 2014.[6]

Nihilist moods, lack of values, and the assertion of blunt force are shrouded in a veil of admiration and empathy. The anti-hero becomes a real national hero. An approved ideology arises that does not need to be verified and is beyond doubt: Americans and Ukrainians—these are our enemies. Aggressive rashism is taken as a virtue and a solution to all problems. In Russia, the Brother films are considered cult masterpieces. Love for the hero and his idealization was reinforced by the premature tragic death of the actor who portrayed Danila Bagrov, Sergei Bodrov Jr. (Bodrov died in 2002, along with part of the crew of a film he was working on, during the collapse of the Kolka glacier in the mountains of Vladikavkaz). Fans of the film elevated the hero to sainthood, absorbing his “kid’s philosophy” with the sloganization of the line “Where is the power, brother?” and even planning a monument to the character (not to the actor). His character—an individual who evolves from a victim into someone who kills indiscriminately, right and left, using everyone he meets along the way—has been referred to by admiring fans as “an avenging angel who believes in the righteousness of his noble deeds.”

Here it is also pertinent to mention what some might consider to be the more highbrow cultural stratum, represented by the likes of director Konstantin Bogomolov, who, in February of 2021, published a manifesto[7] about the so-called “complex person”[8] to whom Western values ​​are being imputed, which turned out to be a narcissistic lament about permissiveness: “In Nazi society, a man was trained like a dog to hate the other. In the New Ethical Reich, a person is trained to love while being deprived of the right to hate freely.”

Such people make up the battalions of rashists who are now arranging the genocide of the Ukrainian people. Some are operating on Ukrainian soil, others are waging an information war in front of monitors. If such a subject even asks a question like “why?” or “for what?”, Putin’s propaganda, streamlined according to all the patterns developed by Goebbels, and in ways that even Orwell never dreamed of, has the answers. For armchair fascists shouting at their screens at home, Vladimir Solovyov, Olga Skabeeva, Dmitry Kiselev, Margarita Simonyan, et al., answer all the questions. For philosophizing pseudo-intellectuals, there are the teachings of Alexander Prokhanov and Alexander Dugin, the creators of the doctrine of the Russian World [Русский Мир, translit. Russkiy Mir] (the killing of Dugin’s daughter, the pro-fascist propagandist Daria Dugina, served to incite a new round of Russian aggression, the responsibility for which was hung, of course, on Ukraine). For admirers of pro-government speeches, the aforementioned article by Vladimir Putin “On the historical unity of Russia and Ukraine” and the program article by Timofey Sergeytsev “What Russia should do with Ukraine”, which begins with the words: “We do not need a Nazi, Banderite Ukraine, the enemy of Russia and a tool of the West used to destroy Russia.”[9]

Timothy Snyder uses the term schizofascism.[10] In simple terms, schizofascists are fascists who deny the fact that they are fascists and, conversely, accuse others of being fascists. Schizofascists are those who stigmatize others and suspect them of exactly what they intend to do themselves, or are already doing themselves. The prefix “schizo” means splitting, but in this case, we are not talking about neurotic splitting, in which pathogenic drives are suppressed and repressed. The definition of schizofascism describes a scheme of paranoid behavior of a psychopathic subject who, being a despot himself, seeks and finds despotism in another. Only in this case, the role of such a subject is played by a totalitarian state, immersed in a delusional formation—an imaginary world that rewrites history, in which a lie is not nonsense, but a necessary “truth” for the self-preservation of the structure of delirium.

I’m not sure if the prefix “schizo” is so necessary, because fascism itself is just such an entity. Russian propaganda copies the same principles of rewriting history that were mandatory in Nazi Germany. The German fascists did this under the guise of “fighting the falsification of history” under the leadership of the Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust. In 1944, school textbooks on the history of Germany presented the “victorious war of the Reich” as a humanistic liberation war, which was a necessary preventive strike against external enemies. Russian history textbooks and articles by Putin, as well as speeches by ideologues Alexandr Prokhanov, Alexandr Dugin, and Timofei Sergeytsev, are well-structured nonsense in which words have the opposite meaning (how can we not bring up Orwell again?). It is for this reason that any argument is useless: in such a delusional construction, signifiers have no power, opposite paradigms can exist in parallel without harming one another, and the logic of causality is perverted. The subject, being in a state of induced psychosis, has no subjectivity. They are not in a relationship with the Other, they are inscribed in the structure of delirium, and, as one of its parts, fulfill the will of the Master, in isolation from which they simply do not exist.

When the Russians attacked Ukraine, the Ukrainians treated them like people, not believing what was happening. They opposed the tanks with their bare hands, and tried to talk to them, saying, “Well, it’s impossible, this is our country, our land”. But the outcome was stunning, as we found out from Bucha, Mariupol, Hostomel, Irpin, Izium, and the list goes on. The Ukrainians saw that these were not people, the names of the rashists were replaced by more accurate names: orcs, zombies, walkers [орки, зомбі, ходоки]. These are characters from virtual reality, horror, and bloody thrillers like The Squid Game, where the letters Z, V, and O stand in for names.[11] And the Russian attitude towards the death of their soldiers is mesmerizing: their bodies are often not taken from the battlefield, the wounded are abandoned, and relatives buy cars with the money received for the death of a warrior. Usually, in the civilized world of the 21st century, the attitude towards human life is different—it is the highest value, but now it seems this is not so for Russians.

What such a subject is, refers to the problem of “the two deaths”. Lacan considered there to be a difference between real biological death and its symbolization of the fulfillment of a symbolic destiny. As we know (or as some of us may even remember), a totalitarian, a totalitarian ruler, being an ideal, sublime object, cannot die. Biologically, life may have left his body long ago, but symbolically, he continues to live. Lenin died almost a century ago, but for at least 70 years after his death, all state institutions were full of his portraits and slogans “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!” Even now, his preserved body is in a mausoleum, despite the fact that the Communist Party in the Russian Federation has long since relinquished power.

If you try to look at a Russian fascist in this construction, they are also in this place “between two deaths”, only in a different way: their bodies are alive, but they are doomed. Either they become cannon fodder at the front, following the order of the Master, or support the imperial fantasy in some other way, merging their individual subjectivity into a single whole. Here the question “why does he need this” cannot arise due to the fact of the absence of subjectivity: “the Master needs this, he has control of my body.” We can say that this is the fate of any soldier in war who follows orders, but there is a different scheme. In war, there are clear laws of warfare, approved by the Geneva Convention, and their violation leads to war crimes. When a subject enters the military, he is subject to the laws of war, but has the right to refuse to carry out any orders that he considers criminal. Thus, the distinction is on the side of the subject, as he is subject to the Law and not to the Master.

As I am writing this article,[12] we are living through the counteroffensive of the Ukrainian troops in Kharkiv oblast and are witnessing the defeat and flight of the Russians, which is extremely difficult for Russian society. Some deny the rout, others cry out for full mobilization, but there are those who are beginning to reflect. “Khokhols[13] have an idea, whereas we only have Mumu,”[14] the Russian armchair tacitian laments. Even if we consider any ideology to be merely a fantasy needed for the existence of a community of people, Ukrainians are using it to defend their land, their country, people, and nation. If they do not do this, they will be subject to complete extermination—there is no other way out. The Russians have no ideology like the German fascists did—they are waging an aggressive war, serving the imperial ambitions of their leader. Here, how can one not recall Ivan Turgenev’s character from Mumu, the deaf-mute slave Gerasim, who drowned his beloved dog to please his master?

Putin’s regime borrowed a lot not only from Nazi Germany but also from Stalinism. In his analysis of the ideology of Stalinism, Slavoj Zizek draws attention to how “to support the leading party” was a rigid designator of the definition of “people”.[15] Only those who supported the leading role of the Communist Party could be considered true representatives of the people. Those who did not agree with such a role were automatically excluded from “the people”, and transformed into “enemies of the people” with all the ensuing consequences during those years. Now, in Putin’s Russia, only those who support the so-called “Russian World”, Putin’s imperial fantasy, are fully-fledged representatives of the people. Dissenters, just as under Stalin, are excluded from the “Russian World” and are branded as “foreign agents.” Therefore, the subject, who tried to not turn into Turgenev’s Gerasim, automatically falls into the category of an enemy. In such a system, opposition simply cannot be.

Becoming a silent representative of the “Russian World”, the subject endorses the support of aggressive wars, the enlistment of all representatives of Western civilization as enemies, the obsession with the delusional idea of ​​imperial omnipotence—and thus becomes a rashist. Structurally, as I described above, this is in the interval “between two deaths”. This is the place of das Ding, the place of the real traumatic nucleus at the base of the symbolic order. This is a topos, the symbolization of which occurs only retroactively: as soon as the reality is symbolized in the course of giving the phenomenon a name and status, the empty space of das Ding is immediately closed. That is why the Russian military, unprepared for the real state of affairs and anticipating instead a warm welcome with flowers or an encounter with the “Bandera” people, when these fantasies fail to materialize, experience disorientation and are ready to surrender. A Russian soldier captured in Ukraine is not only the one who saves his life but also the one who, having fallen into a different symbolic order, can escape the psychological captivity of the “Russian World” and the place of das Ding and acquire a name and a status which are backed up by the laws of the Geneva Convention.

We are now witnessing not only the collapse of the frontline but also the collapse of the phantasm. This is thanks to the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian society, as well as the help and consolidation of many democratic Western nations around Ukraine. The phantasm of an omnipotent phallus is being resolved militarily on the battlefield, as it was done in 1945 with German fascism. And now the question of what to do with  Russia is already on the agenda. It is unlikely that it can remain in the same form as it is now. The destructive processes that were launched, not only with the onset of this current aggression, but much earlier, are unlikely to retain their previous form for a country that continues to be an empire of evil and misanthropy not only for its neighbors but also for its internal colonies. In the cultural and intellectual Ukrainian sphere, I have encountered proposals for direct participation in the process of Russia’s decolonization. For example, the Ukrainian director and writer Oleksiy Radynski makes a call to not only to take part in the anti-colonial struggle of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation against oppression, but also invites Kyiv, as a descendant and successor of Kyivan Rus, “to accept its thousand-year-old historical responsibility towards the colonized nations oppressed in today’s Russian Federation by belatedly acknowledging itself as the unfortunate origin of a despotic, colonialist Russian state—a state that oppresses every people with the misfortune of being within its territory, including the Russian people”.[16] Unfortunately, along with “responsibility”, Radynski is trying to put on the shoulders of Ukraine the old emperor’s mantle, worn and full of holes. Imperial thinking does not know borders and nations, it appears where borders with the other are not built, where there is an encroachment on the desire of another, or a fantasy that the other, like a slave, cannot have this desire at all. The question of what to do with Russia is up to the subjects of Russia. And to pull myths about medieval redistributions from under the rubble of millennia, as we know, is a thankless and pathogenic business.

Why Ukraine is not characterized by imperial fantasy is a separate issue and requires a no less voluminous article. For now, let us settle for the illustration provided by an old Ukrainian folk tale. Once upon a time, in the days of bohatyrs[17] and kings, there was a princess—pretty, narcissistic, and cruel. The kingdom announced that the bohatyr who overcomes all trials: defeating the serpent guarding the castle, and fulfilling all the wishes of the princess, will be able to claim her hand as well as half the kingdom. Immediately, bohatyrs and princes, in love with this unprecedented beauty, came forth to the royal castle. The eldest brother from a family of Ukrainian heroes rode out, but he was unlucky and was no match for the serpent, who killed him. The middle brother galloped after him, but suffered the same fate. In the meantime, rumors were spreading that the princess had specially lured and corrupted many bohatyrs, and the contest was only to amuse her. The youngest brother grieved for his two brothers, but then also galloped to the castle. He fought for a long time, and finally cut all the heads off of the accursed serpent. The princess was displeased, so she asked the potential groom difficult riddles, but these he also solved. There was nothing left to do: she descended the tower to the young hero and threw her silk handkerchief at his feet as a sign of approval of his courtship. The bogatyr knelt down on one knee in front of the princess, bowed, raised a handkerchief. Then he took out his sword from its scabbard and cut the maiden in half. He took the silk handkerchief, wiped the princess’s blood from his sword, and shouted “For the boys!” He then mounted his horse, and galloped off into the steppe.

Published 10 January 2023
Olena Hruzdieva is a Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalyst. She is a member of the World Organization of Problem Symbolic Approach (WOPSA). In addition to private practice, Olena is an author of numerous psychoanalytical texts on culture and art, stories, essays, and scripts. Her latest book Die, bichon! (2021) is a compilation of essays about the female subject analyzed through theater and cinema.
  1. SONIAKH digest’s editorial policy stands against citing liberal Russian scholars while Russia’s war against Ukraine continues. However, we respect the opinions of our authors and leave the quotes they consider important in place. The quote by Mark Solonin does not reflect the opinion of the editorial team.
  2. Timothy Snyder, “We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist”, The New York Times, May 22, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/19/opinion/russia-fascism-ukraine-putin.html
  3. Ibid.
  4. The full text of Putin’s speech is available in Russian on kremlin.ru, the official Kremlin website, published 12 July 2021 as Владимир Путин, «Об историческом единстве русских и украинцев», http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181
  5. From the lyrics of the State Anthem of the Soviet Union (written by Sergey Mikhalkov and Gabriyel Ureklyan):
  6. The battle for the strategic Crimean port city of Sevastopol was a key Soviet defeat by the Axis Powers in WWII [Editor’s Note].
  7. The text is available in Russian on novayagazeta.ru: Константин Богомолов, “Похищение Европы, Новая Газета, номер № 14 от 10 февраля, https://novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/02/10/89120-pohischenie-evropy-2-0.
  8. Ibid. As Bohomolov describes in the article, a Russian complex person is the one that “Dostoevsky describes [as] both high and low, angel and devil, loving and hating, believing and doubting, reflective and fanatical.” [Editor’s Note]
  9. The original article, attributed to Timofei Sergeitsev, was published on RIA Novosti on 4 March 2022: Тимофей Сергейцев, «Что Россия должна сделать с Украиной», РИА Новости, 4 марта 2022,  https://ria.ru/20220403/ukraina-1781469605.html?fbclid=IwAR0np-j-JpS5oMSqdCn_M4czTm6fH0zYD8RQDPuVZOOCoS5HnkEjilmiwto. It is also available in English: trans. Mariia Kravchenko, “What Should Russia Do With Ukraine”. Medium, 4 April, 2022. https://medium.com/@kravchenko_mm/what-should-russia-do-with-ukraine-translation-of-a-propaganda-article-by-a-russian-journalist-a3e92e3cb64
  10. Timothy Snyder, “We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist”, The New York Times, May 22, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/19/opinion/russia-fascism-ukraine-putin.html
  11. The letters painted on Russian army vehicles and materiel to designate military units during the invasion quickly took on symbolic meanings as insignia of the consolidating rashist movement.
  12. Starting in early September 2022 the Russian army was decisively repulsed from Kharkiv oblast.
  13. A common Russian slur for Ukrainians [Editor’s Note].
  14. A reference to Ivan Turgenev’s short story Mumu. In it, the protagonist Gerasim, the deaf since birth porter at a 19th century Russian household, blindly following the cruel request of his landlady, drowns his beloved dog Mumu [Editor’s Note].
  15. Slavoj Zizek, “The sublime object of ideology”, Verso Books, 2009.
  16. Olexiy Radynski, “The Case Against the Russian Federation”, e-flux Journal №125, March 2022 https://www.e-flux.com/journal/125/453868/the-case-against-the-russian-federation 
  17. A standard character in medieval East Slavic legends, akin to a Western European knight-errant [Editor’s Note].