Mikhail Savva: On Rashism, or what doesn’t officially exist – Russian state ideology

30 January 2023

by Mikhail Savva, doctor of political sciences, professor, member of the expert council of the Center for Civil Liberties / Центр Громадянських Свобод 

Source: Website of Mikhail Savva

In December 2022, I posted an analytical article on the Russian state ideology on my website. I offer you this text in English.

A huge number of war crimes have been committed in the course of Russian aggression against Ukraine. The inhuman cruelty of what is going on at present has set point-blank before the global community the question: Are these really the perpetrators’ excesses?  These crimes are too numerous to explain merely as personal deviations by Russian servicemen from the human norm. 

If these are not perpetrators’ excesses, the only remaining possibility is that the Russian Federation’s soldiers and officers have been conditioned by the state ideology to commit crimes en masse. Officially, no state ideology may exist in the Russian Federation.  Article 13.2 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation stipulates: ‘No ideology can be established as a state or mandatory one.’  The recognition of this ideology by its representatives is the simplest proof of its existence.  As Ivan Okhlobystin, a Russian actor and social activist who is popular among certain social groups, wrote on his page in the VKontakte social network, ‘I keep hearing, either as reproach or accusation, — rashism, rashism!!!  And what rashism exactly?  Rashism is good.  It is consolidated, international, and progressive.  Rashism is the ability to regard oneself as being involved in something that is profoundly right, spiritual, having its source in the understanding of what Russia is now — the last citadel that holds back the black wave of faceless individualism, cynical consumption, bestial salacity, and indifferent cruelty…’  The name ‘rashism’ has already stuck to this ideology, ‘mirroring’ the main official enemy of this ideology — fascism.  

Ideology is a system of ideas, based on which various groups (parties, social groups, states) conduct their activities.  An ideology has a number of mandatory features.  Based on their presence, a conclusion may be confidently inferred whether we are dealing with an ideology or something different: 

1. Unconditional values/ideals.

2. A vision of how to protect and promote values/ideas.

3. A picture of a future world order.

4. Persistent imagery (expressed in phrases) characteristic of this ideology only.

5. Symbols (visual signs, colour combinations) characteristic of this ideology only. 

The key values of the Russian state ideology include: 

1. Russia’s sovereignty, understood as the ability to act without regard for the rules of international law and morality, freedom from the influence of the ‘collective West’, i.e., the countries of developed democracy.  This value results in the notion of the West’s hostility and its intent to destroy Russia, illustrated by a quote from the Telegram channel of Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council: ‘I am often asked why my posts on Telegram are so harsh.  The answer is that I hate them.  They’re bastards and degenerates.  They want death for us, Russia.  And as long as I live, I will do everything to make them disappear.’  Protection of Russia’s sovereignty within the ideology of rashism suggests the possibility of aggression by Russia. 

2. A unique Russian democracy, including the notion of the inferiority of democracy in its ‘Western’ sense; a view that specific models of democracy may exist in each country, based on its traditions (‘Russian democracy’, ‘Chinese democracy’). 

3. Collectivism, which is understood as the denial of individual human freedoms and the priority of the ‘common good’ (a quote from Vladimir Putin’s speech: ‘The component of collectivism is, after all, essential to the character of our people or our peoples.  In other countries, individual success is mostly cherished, which is extremely important, but a very strong element of collectivism is still present in our people’s hearts, soul, which becomes one of the present-day competitive advantages’). 

4. The state’s predominant role in the life of society, suggesting the need for protection by the state from the destructive influence of globalisation, international corporations and domestic opposition.

5. A traditional family (i.e., a male-dominated family of different-sex spouses) that must be protected from modern influences.

6. The victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War, which justifies any victims and precludes criticism of any actions taken by the Soviet political and military leaders during that war.

7. Russian language and culture that need to be protected, including beyond the Russian Federation. 

Ways to protect and promote the state ideology values: 

1. State propaganda using mass media and social networks within the Russian Federation.  References to propaganda in this text mean the system of social technologies and psychological influence techniques used by Russia’s governing group to obtain support for their actions and involve in them a large mass of individuals.  Not only has Russia’s state propaganda become mass in nature, but also one without any alternatives.  In Russia, independent media outlets are being shut down, access to electronic resources is becoming restricted: websites and streaming options are being blocked, and accessibility of such electronic platforms as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram is becoming limited. 

2. Russian state propaganda in the West assisted by internationally accessible TV channels (more than 50 of them) and dedicated media outlets set up to broadcast abroad.  The latter include, for example, Mir inter-state television and radio company established in 1992 under the agreement between the leaders of the CIS member countries with the aim of developing a common Russian-language information space, as well as RT.  This international TV channel was founded in 2005 to provide ‘a view of what is happening in Russia and the world, which is alternative to that held by international information corporations.’ 

3. Legislative bans.  Provisions have been or are being introduced into Russia’s administrative and criminal laws and regulations, stipulating liability for criticising the values of rashist ideology.  For example, ‘denial of the Soviet people’s decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany and of the USSR’s humanitarian mission in the liberation of European countries,’ criticism of the Russian Armed Forces’ actions, etc., have been banned and criminalised. 

4. Politically motivated repressions against Russians and citizens of other countries, including primarily residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine.  The Russian regime uses a very extensive range of repressive techniques, including extremely cruel and unlawful ones, even in terms of Russia’s laws and regulations: putting a non-for-profit organisation or a person on the list of ‘foreign agents’, which significantly affects the ability to engage in public activities; criminal prosecution and deprivation of liberty.  For example, the list of political prisoners, which is maintained by Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre, contained 87 persons in December 2022; another 355 were deprived of liberty for their religious beliefs, 553 people are being prosecuted without deprivation of liberty, while 80 persons are included in the category of ‘likely victims not included in the lists’; attacks are organised by members of pro-government groups; murders and attempted murders, including in other countries, have been registered. 

5. Diplomatic pressure on the authorities and mass media abroad.  This is manifested, for example, in the response by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Russian diplomats to attempted restrictions on Russian propaganda beyond Russia’s borders. 

6. Armed violence involving the use of Russia’s armed forces and private military companies controlled by the authorities.  Russia’s top leaders have repeatedly emphasised the great role played by military force in addressing political problems.  For example, Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defence declared on 21 December 2020 at a meeting of the Ministry’s board that ‘the role of military force in addressing international problems has increased.’  Russia is currently waging an aggressive war against Ukraine. 

Within Russia’s state ideology, a fairly clear picture of the future world order has been formed.  In this picture, Russia is a strong, independent superpower, a stronghold of all conservative forces that oppose revolutions, chaos and liberal ideas imposed by the United States and Europe.  Russia’s leadership in the present-day ‘anti-colonial’ movement — in fact, over a coalition of undemocratic ‘third world’ regimes — was added to this picture soon after the aggression against Ukraine unfolded.  Paradoxically, a country that is obviously waging a colonial war declares itself the key force of anti-colonialism.  Russian state ideology, however, never strived for systemic integrity. 

This ideology includes several persistent images expressed by well-known and recognisable names and phrases, i.e., slogans: 

1. ‘Russian world’.  The name of the concept of Russia’s unity with the Russian diaspora and Russian-speaking population across the world.

2. ‘We never abandon our people’.  The slogan that expresses the idea of protecting Russia’s own (Russian, Russian-speaking) people around the world.

3. ‘We’re not ashamed’.  The slogan that expresses the idea that Russia is right to wage its war against Ukraine. 

These words and slogans are widely used by Russian propaganda. 

Symbols of the ideology known as rashism have been developed over a fairly long time, about two decades, and include several visual signs. 

The first visual symbol to appear was the so-called ‘St. George ribbon’ of 3 black and 2 orange stripes.  In terms of appearance and combination of colours, it corresponds to the medal ribbon ‘For Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945’.  Since 2005, these ribbons have been handed out to attendees at mass events, including those held outside the Russian Federation.  During Russia’s invasion in Ukraine in 2014–2015 and 2022, Russian servicemen used the ‘St. George ribbon’ stripe on numerous occasions to distinguish ‘friends’ from ‘foes’. 

Photo taken by the author in the Ukrainian village of Andreevka, Kyiv region, in the first days after its liberation from occupation

In the course of the military aggression unleashed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine in 2022, the Latin letters Z and V became established as symbols of the rashist ideology.  Along with the letter O, these letters were used to identify Russian military equipment.  Furthermore, Russian servicemen made active use of these letters to indicate their presence and control over the territory — for example, on houses.  Russian servicemen would generally paint the letter V on cars stolen from Ukrainian citizens.  When documenting war crimes, the author of this paper repeatedly came across such cars that had been abandoned by the Russians in the Kyiv Oblast.  Russian propaganda makes active use of the letter Z.  This sign is used to advertise the so-called ‘special military operation’, that is, the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, within the Russian Federation itself. 

Such symbols of Russian ideology as the St. George ribbon and the letter Z are often combined.  For example, this letter is shown painted in the colours of St. George ribbon (black and orange stripes) in advertising. 

Ukraine occupies a particularly important place in Russian ideology as a state and society that is the antipode of Russia, its opposite, i.e., ‘anti-Russia’.  Ukraine has a destructive influence on Russia’s state ideology by the mere fact of its sovereign existence.  In his keynote article ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’, Vladimir Putin wrote: ‘Step by step, Ukraine was dragged into a dangerous geopolitical game, the purpose of which is to turn Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia, a bridgehead against Russia.  Inevitably, there came a time when the concept of “Ukraine is no Russia” would no longer satisfy.  An “anti-Russia” became necessary, which we will never tolerate.’ 

The ideology whose features are systematised here has acquired its shape during the period of Vladimir Putin’s tenure as president, prime minister, and president once again over the period between the turn of the 20th/21st centuries and the present time.  This ideology is indicative of neo-totalitarian ideology and describes the trend of the Russia’s political dynamics towards a neo-totalitarian regime. 

Russian state ideology should be analysed on the basis of its imitative nature, which is a profound feature of Russia’s political regime.  Neo-totalitarian ideology is incompatible with democracy, while laws and regulations of the Russian Federation proclaim this country as democratic.  Russia’s political regime imitates democracy, including its basic elements — elections, division of powers, alternation of power.  Because of the imitative nature of Russia’s political regime, certain elements of the state ideology are not declared openly.  For example, its anti-democratic nature. 

Political decisions, including those on the format of interaction with other countries, are made in accordance with this ideology.  Decisions on the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine in 2014, and massive military aggression in 2022 were taken in accordance with Russian state ideology.

Republished by kind permission of the author in the English of the original, with some minor edits.

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