Russian authorities held another forum devoted to the so-called “Russian World.” Official media reported that the fifth “World Congress of Compatriots” was held in Moscow. The congress was heralded as “an important milestone in the consolidation of the Russian World.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the congress, pledging that Russia would support its compatriots abroad. The Kremlin saw the congress as “an important milestone in the further consolidation of the Russian World.” Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated that “the anti-Russian actions of Washington and Brussels, including the introduction of unilateral restrictions, had not had any impact on our dialogue with [Russian] communities, who had reacted in an appropriate manner to the events and expressed their support for Russia.”
Despite the deep economic crisis in Russia, the Kremlin is spending colossal sums of money on various events aimed at strengthening Vladimir Putin’s role abroad. In Russia, despite the drop in people’s purchasing power, the Kremlin has used TV propaganda successfully to ensure people’s loyalty, and to convince them that the West wants to destroy Russia, and that everyone needs to band together around the wise leader in order to fend off the attacks. In Europe, all this is much more difficult to achieve, given the lack of Kremlin’s access to mainstream media that could transmit the Putinist point of view, i.e., Kremlin lies. Moreover, the ability for critical thinking is, according to many experts, higher in Europe than in Russia.
The Kremlin has therefore turned for support from European ultra-rightwing nationalist parties. The leader of France’s Front National, Marine Le Pen, for instance, has met with the speaker of the Russian State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. A year ago, when speaking to students of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Ms Le Pen stated that “Russia had saved Syria.”
In May 2015, speaker Naryshkin had an unexpected meeting with Marine Le Pen. There was no word on the specific details and agenda of the meeting, but French media suggested that it could have been related to financing the party known for its sympathetic attitude toward Russian policies in Ukraine.
It is thus obvious that the Kremlin is trying to connect with European ultra-rightwingers on a platform of homophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. This is particularly interesting in the light of the constant accusations of “fascism” and “nationalism” hurled by Russian officials and parliamentarians against the Ukrainian government, and calls on “compatriots to fight against the glorification of Nazism, all forms of xenophobia, interethnic hatred, racism, and aggressive nationalism.”
Equally astonishing was that when Russian media were expressing outrage at Ukraine’s alleged ban on the use of the Russian language (which turned out to be false), obligatory tuition in the Buryat language was abolished in schools in Russia’s national republic of Buryatia. This led to protests by local residents, but their grievances were not heard.
Despite the enormous financial expenditure (no one can cite the exact figure), the Kremlin’s efforts to form a “conservative, anti-immigrant, and homophobic Russian World” will result in nought. The events organised produce mere declarations (for spirituality and against the West and its debauchery) that bind no one. One must also note that the forces that have agreed to cooperate with the Kremlin are regarded in their countries, for the most part, as marginal.
In March this year — the year of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, — St Petersburg hosted a forum of nationalists that included fans of the Third Reich among the speakers. In contrast to liberals, the nationalists who supported Vladimir Putin had no trouble in organising the event.
At the forum, Putin’s supporters met with European neo-Nazis, whose symbol was a stylised swastika and who insisted on the existence of a “Jewish conspiracy.” On the sidelines of the conference, Kris Roman, head of the Euro-Rus organisation [in Belgium], took time to praise Russian nationalists for smashing the vegetable stands of immigrant market traders.
The organisers of the event, who included a Russian official — Andrei Petrov, deputy head of the Central District of St Petersburg and former mayoral candidate, — insisted that the forum brought together parties that supported “healthy conservatism.”
It seems that this included Italy’s Forza Nuova, which is characterised as an ultra-rightwing party. Public sources indicate that the first generation of the party activists were skinheads and fans of the punk rock band, Intolleranza. Forza Nuova’s ideology is based on extreme nationalism, Catholic traditionalism, and the heritage of Italian fascism. The party’s political platform is based on the views of Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.
When anti-fascists tried to put up a banner that read, “Nazis Kiss Putin’s Ass,” police officers tore it up in mere seconds. Police also arrested people chanting “Fascism Will Not Pass!” outside the hotel.
It is notable that at the same time as the congress devoted to building a “Russian World” was going on in Moscow in November, St Petersburg was hosting the sixth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Despite the economic crisis, which the authorities keep blaming, Russia spent nearly half a billion rubles — over 457 million rubles (approximately $7 million) — on the conference.
Another feature in line with the logic of today’s Russia was that there was no public tender for the organisation of the anti-corruption conference: Russia’s ministry of Justice awarded the contract exclusively to the St Petersburg International Economic Forum Foundation.
The terms of the agreement were abound with interesting details. For instance, there was a “Meditation Room” available to the participants. Andrei Zhvirblis, Deputy Director of Transparency International Russia, who took part in the conference, even took a photo of the Meditation Room’s door at the Lenexpo exhibition complex.
Activists of [Alexei Navalny’s] Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) reminded the conference organisers and participants that Russia had failed to ratify Article 20 of the UN Convention, which criminalised “illicit enrichment.” Consequently, Russia’s Criminal Code did not contain a rule that would allow criminal prosecution of officials who had failed to explain why their assets exceeded their official income.
The activists only managed to hand out a few dozen leaflets before they were detained for holding an unsanctioned demonstration. At the police department, they were accused of treason, seen as “Russia was now in a difficult situation and surrounded by enemies.” The police reports also claimed that the activists had “accosted foreign citizens.”
It is obvious that the Kremlin has nothing to brag about in the fight against corruption, nor in building a “Russian World” outside Russia. Putin’s words about support for Russians abroad have met sharp criticism from those who have left Russia, fleeing the authorities. For instance, the Russian LGBT activist, Natalia Tsymbalova, who obtained political asylum in Spain, wrote that Putin could stick his help anywhere, and that all she needed from him was to leave her alone.