The Russian military conducted a sweeping invasion into Ukraine in what Russian President Vladimir Putin termed a “special military operation” for the purpose of “denazification” of its sovereign neighbor. “Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide…for the last eight years. And for this we will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin argued during an address on Russian state television.
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, however, is Jewish, a democrat and certainly not a Nazi. Though Russian media has repeatedly attempted to depict Ukraine as being affiliated with neo-Nazi fascism, no reliable evidence has ever been provided.
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In political terms, a “strongman” is one who leads by force within an overarching authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial regime. Sometimes the formal head of state, sometimes another political or military leader, the strongman exerts influence and control over the government more than traditional laws or constitutional mandates sanction.
Strongmen situate themselves within positions along the political spectrum, usually toward the extremes on the right and the left. In an extensive Wikipedia list of strongmen by country, Benito Mussolini is included among those from Italy, Adolph Hitler from Germany, Vladimir Putin from Russia, and Donald Trump appears on the list from the United States.
They find themselves in the company of, for example, Juan Perón of Argentina, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Francois Duvalier of Haiti, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Manuel Noriega of Panama, and Idi Amin Dada of Uganda.
Individuals often voice unwavering commitment to their values to shield themselves from unwanted desires and impulses, while attributing these to others thereby shifting the blame from themselves onto others. In psychological parlance, this is referred to as “projection.”
Vladimir Putin, by depicting the Ukrainian administration as fascist, and of bullying and committing genocide, is clearly projecting.
On the right-wing side of the dictatorial strongmen’s political spectrum, we find the philosophy and practice of fascism. While also deployed as an epithet by some, fascism developed as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism in early-20th century Europe in response to liberalism and Marxism on the left.
Two political scientists, for example, have constructed lists outlining the basic characteristics of fascism.
Political scientist, Lawrence Britt, enumerates his 14 tenets:
- Powerful and continuing nationalism,
- Disdain for the recognition of human rights,
- Identification of enemies/scapegoats [of the country’s problems] as a unifying cause,
- Rampant sexism,
- Supremacy of the military,
- Controlled mass media,
- Obsession with national security,
- Religion and government are intertwined,
- Corporate power is protected,
- Labor power is suppressed,
- Disdain for intellectuals and the arts,
- Obsession with crime and punishment,
- Rampant cronyism and corruption, and
- Fraudulent elections
Umberto Eco, who grew up under the fascist Mussolini regime, catalogs the characteristics of what he calls “Ur-Fascism,” or “Eternal Fascism” in 14 “typical” features. He stressed that, “These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”
- The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
- The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
- The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
- Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
- Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
- Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
- The obsession with a plot. “Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.”
- The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
- Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
- Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
- Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
- Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
- Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
- Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
Putin may believe in his narcissistic sociopathic calcified heart of hearts that he is putting something over on the world community, but anyone with a shred of critical awareness understands Putin for what he is.
Putin is the bully in this drama that he chose to direct. Putin is the one committing genocide on the Ukrainian people.
And Putin, most certainly, is the neo-Nazi fascist strongman who will ultimately pay the price for his evil actions.