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Moscow's New Chief Ideologist: Ivan Demidov

By       Message Andreas Umland     Permalink
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Recent attention by Russian and Western commentators was focused on the presidential elections of March 2nd, 2008, and the personality of Dmitry Medvedev. Therefore, the appointment of 44-year old Ivan Demidov as head of the Ideological Directorate of the Political Department of United Russia’s Central Executive Committee in late February 2008 went largely unnoticed.  

Demidov is a colorful Russian politician who became a cult figure among the young in the 1990s when he was a popular moderator and producer of youth-related programs for various TV stations. His new post as official chief ideologist of Russia’s ruling party had to be freed by another prolific politician, Leonid Goryainov, for Demidov.

As Russia has recently returned to a de facto single-party system, Demidov occupies a unique position in Putin’s “vertical of power.” His office has the explicit purpose to formulate and spread the ideology of the party that controls most of Russia’s federal, regional and local parliaments, and which (together with some minor parties) officially nominated Medvedev as candidate for president. 

Demidov had already before his recent advance been working as an advisor for United Russia. In addition, he was editor of the party’s nationalist “Russian Project” web site, and head of the Coordination Council of United Russia’s rabidly anti-Western youth wing called “The Young Guard.” He also worked as director of the small religious TV channel “Spas” (Savior) which transmits a variety of programs informed by strong anti-Americanism. 

Demidov had become famous, however, already before these political appointments. In the 1990s, he was known as a non-conformist journalist coming out of a group of young anti-Soviet TV men who, with their widely watched talk-shows, had their share in the delegitimization of the late USSR’s social-political system. Demidov was then seen as somebody linked to Russia’s liberal or, at least, anti-totalitarian movement. Yet, in recent years, he developed along the lines of a number of other Russian prominent figures of his age, including Sergei Markov or Mikhail Leont’ev – two of the Kremlin’s preferred political commentators whom one can see on prime time TV shows several times per week.  

Like Markov or Leonte’v, Demidov went from being a symbol of Russia’s new post-communist generation to becoming a part of Moscow’s neo-traditionalist establishment.  He is now an advocate of Russia as a unique world civilization as well as self-sufficient great power, and participates in the Kremlin’s increasingly successful spread of such attitudes among teenagers and students. His recent promotion follows general trends in the Kremlin’s cadre policies expressing itself in the appointment, earlier this year, of the prolific Russian nationalist Dmitry Rogozin as Russia’s new envoy to NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

This might have been the reason why Demidov’s rise has, so far, caused little attention in Russia and the West. It needs to be added, however, that Demidov has professed to be under the influence of a particularly extreme brand of Russian imperialism known under the label of “neo-Eurasianism.” This ideology has been principally developed, in hundreds of articles and books, by the neo-fascist Russian theoretician Alexander Dugin (b. 1962), and constitutes perhaps the most radical anti-democratic ideology that has gained acceptance within Russia’s political establishment today. 

In a November 2007 interview for Dugin’s website, Demidov stated that “doubtlessly, a crucial factor, a certain breaking point, in my life, was the appearance of Alexander Dugin.” The two men have been cooperating for a while now within Demidov’s “Spas” TV channel where Dugin has his own show called “Vekhi” (signposts). To be sure, Demidov has repeatedly stated that his various patriotic propaganda projects are designed to deprive Russophile ultra-nationalists of their control of the nationalist agenda and thus aim to fight the increase of xenophobia and hate crimes in Russia. He announced that “the words ‘Russian’ and ‘fascism’ are antonyms,” and that he and his associates will “fight against the infusion of the term ‘Russian fascism’ into mass consciousness.” 

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However, in 2007, Demidov, with explicit reference to Dugin, also acknowledged to be a “convinced Eurasian.” This is oddly the same phrase that Dugin had used 15 years earlier to describe the political beliefs of Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942), the infamous chief of the SS Security Service and one of the planners of the Holocaust. Dugin sees his Eurasian movement as the follower of a secret “Eurasian Order” that existed for centuries, and included, among others, various German ultra-nationalists.  

While at times strongly distancing himself from Hitler’s crimes, Dugin has, throughout the 1990s, repeatedly expressed his admiration for certain aspects of the Nazi movement. For instance, he called the theory sector of the Waffen-SS an “intellectual oasis” within the Third Reich, and admitted that National Socialism was “the fullest and most total realization” of the Third Way that Dugin advocates until today. In one of his numerous pro-fascist articles of the 1990s, Dugin gets excited about the prospect that, after the failures of Germany and Italy, there will, in Russia today, finally emerge a truly “fascist fascism.” 

In the new century, to be sure, Dugin’s rhetoric has become more cautious. Now a frequent political commentator on various TV shows, he often poses as an “anti-fascist” and describes himself as a “radical centrist.” Dugin tries to draw a line between the inter-war right-wing intellectuals whom he admires and those who supported Hitler. Yet, as late as 2006, Dugin admitted that among his models are the ultra-nationalist German brothers Otto and Gregor Strasser who got into personal conflicts with Hitler in the early 1930s, yet had also played a crucial role in making the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) a mass party in the 1920s. In March 2008, his WWW site confirmed that Dugin has still sympathies for the Strasser brothers.

In spite of many similar well-known statements by Dugin and his associates, Demidov enthusiastically expressed his admiration for Russia’s chief “neo-Eurasianist” in an interview for Dugin’s website in 2007. Demidov stated, among others, that “doubtlessly, a crucial factor, a certain breaking point, in my life, was the appearance of Alexander Dugin.” Moreover, Demidov proclaimed that “it is high time to start realizing the ideas, as formulated by Alexander Dugin, of the radical center, through projects.” 

In his new position as chief ideologist of Russia’s ruling United Russia party, Demidov will have ample opportunity and the necessary resources to do so.

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============================================================================== Andreas Umland, CertTransl (Leipzig), MA (Stanford), MPhil (Oxford), DipPolSci, DrPhil (FU Berlin), PhD (Cambridge). Visiting fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution (more...)

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