The historian Anne Applebaum sees parallels between Putin’s Russia and the dictatorships of Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union. Peace in Ukraine can only come after Russia’s military defeat, she said contrasts-Interview.
contrasts: How would you describe the current political system in Russia?
Anne Applebaum: Russia is an autocratic system that bears many similarities to fascist and communist dictatorships of the past. It is a system tailored to a single guide that has no flaws and cannot be replaced. There is no regular successor. There is no legitimate way to criticize him. And there is no way to show contradiction. Any form of opposition is banned in Russia today, as are all types of non-governmental organizations.
Anne Applebaum is an American historian and author. She studied at Yale University and the London School of Economics. She has taught at universities in the US and Europe and writes columns for publications primarily in the US and UK. In 2003 her book “Gulag” about the Soviet camp system was published. The book “Red Hunger” published in 2017 with the thesis of a planned genocide of Ukrainians during Soviet times led to a controversy, including among scientists.
contrasts: Can it be said that Russia is a fascist country?
apple tree: I was careful with the term fascist, because then everyone immediately thinks of the murder of Jews and the Holocaust. But in this case I would say yes, you can use the word fascist. The way Russians are now talking about Ukrainians is genocidal. They talk about Ukrainians as people who don’t deserve to exist, who need to be wiped off the map, that their “race”, even their name, needs to be erased. Ukraine is not a real country. Russian soldiers in Ukraine explain to the Ukrainians that they have to clean them of dirt, that they have to be removed from the earth. We know this kind of language from the Nazi past.
Opposition is treason
contrasts: Fascism also means mass mobilization. Do you see them currently in Russia?
apple tree: Yes, we see an attempt to mobilize society for a war that is not even called a war. Instead, he is referred to as “Special Operations”. But anyone who dares to criticize them will go to prison. Attempts to support or join the “Special Operation” will be rewarded.
There is no legitimate way to oppose or stay out of it. It’s a mobilization of society around this idea and around the idea that Putin is infallible. The idea that the state cannot be criticized and that any form of opposition is treason. These are all ways to mobilize society.
contrasts: Is there a real mass mobilization in Russia, or is it just a show for state television?
apple tree: It is true that Putin does not want mass recruitment, or, for example, to involve several million people in his war effort. To some extent, the mobilization is a show, for TV, for Russians and the world outside Russia. But I think control over the information sphere and control over education, over culture and all other forms of social communication is real.
Z is used like the swastika in Nazi Germany
contrasts: What does the use of symbols like the Z tell us about the regime in Russia?
apple tree: The Z is a strange symbol because it has no tradition in Russia. At the beginning of the war I even wondered if it served to mentally separate the state from the war in case the war was lost. However, we are seeing more and more linguistic connections between the Russian state, Russian history and Russian society with the war, and people understand that there is unity between the Z symbol and the idea of the Russian state and victory. So the Z is used in the same way as the swastika was used in Nazi Germany: as a symbol to remind people not to criticize, that the state is united and that there is no point in breaking away from it.
contrasts: When you say: Russia is a fascist state – does that mean that you see Russia on the same level as Hitler’s Germany?
apple tree: I find it important to distinguish between different types of societies. I don’t believe that all forms of authoritarian rule are created equal. However, it can be useful to compare them in order to understand them better. It is interesting to compare Putin’s Russia with Soviet Communism. Let me remind you that there are more political prisoners in Putin’s Russia than in the Soviet Union under Brezhnev.
It is also interesting to compare Putin’s Russia with Hitler’s Germany. If you make comparisons, you will find differences, but also similarities. Putin is clearly using tactics and techniques borrowed from Hitler’s Germany. for example using the Z instead of the swastika or showing organized marching groups on TV to convince people that society stands together. But he also uses Soviet-era tactics to crack down on any form of civil society.
claim to total domination
contrasts: Part of the Russian propaganda are historical falsifications. What role do they play?
apple tree: Alternative history plays an enormous role in Russian propaganda, as it did earlier in authoritarian fascist and Soviet communist propaganda. The idea is to give people a false sense of the past in order to control it. This is a very old idea that has been practiced many times before.
Putin’s version of this is his belief that there was a natural Russian empire. It includes most of what we now consider Eastern Europe, as well as perhaps part of Germany and some non-Russian and non-Slavic areas. Putin posits that this is a natural space that Russia should continue to dominate. Precisely because of this alleged past, Russia could continue to dominate this area in the future. He tells this story to the Russians to explain his claim to total domination and control.
contrasts: What does this mean for negotiations with Russia regarding the Ukraine war?
apple tree: Given the nature of modern Russia, the fact that today it contains elements of both fascist and Soviet communist dictatorship, any attempt to end this war will not begin until Russia is defeated or even feels that it is lost or could lose the war. I don’t think the war will stop until the Russians are convinced that the war is lost and they are imperialist and the fascist ideology has failed.