From Hitler to Putin: from Race to Russian
Adolf Hitler, as a youngster in Vienna, had learned the teachings of the race theorists (Gobineau & Co.) and became obsessed with them. The Nordic race (himself, slim) and the Faelic race (Bismarck, obese) were destined to conquer and rule the world.
Problem: Even after Austria's "Anschluss" and further acquisitions, the German Empire, with about 100 million subjects, was not a real world power. So more Nordics and Faelics were needed. But where to find them? In the East! So Hitler's armies were fitted with racially knowledgeable politruks whose job it was to identify "racially valuable human material" that could be "Nordicized" or Germanized ("Volksdeutsche"). Those to be Nordicized were expected to be aware of the enormous honor bequeathed on them and would not or could not resist the Germanization.
But what this nonsense has to do with Putin nowadays?
Unfortunately, very much.
In 1989, the Soviet Union burst, releasing some 150 million Russians into a democracy they could do little with. Democracy was not a concept to be enthusiastic about. The vacuum of ideas demanded to be filled. Young Vladimir Putin had a proposal: Russia.
Russia, its culture, its language, its religion, its history should take the place of the former class rule, socialism and friendship between peoples. Instead of Marx and Lenin the old tsars became fashionable, once again.
The tsars professed Orthodoxy and, even if they were not native Russians, identified themselves with Russians. On the other hand, Russians in this empire were less free and prosperous than other peoples. In the autocratic tsarist state, they had no political power as an ethnic community. Russians compensated for the lack of rights and relative poverty with symbolic allegiance to the splendor and power of the empire. This impaired the emergence of a Russian national self-image and led to a specific reactionary form of Russian nationalism.
It was Putin's brilliant move to suggest to the Russians the symbolic belonging to the splendor and power of the empire (in this case not the tsarist empire, but the faded USSR) through revived Russian nationalism, compensating the lack of rights (drastic punishments) and the relative poverty (because of sanctions).
The fact that the Russian people accepted the Ukrainian war without grumbling is mainly due to the specific reactionary form of Russian nationalism.
Thus, Putin was not the inventor of (the much older) Russian nationalism, but tits skillful reawakener. Originally conceived as a gap-filler after 1989, the new nationalism developed a surprising life of its own, the first victim being the Soviet Union.
The new "Putin Union" would by no means be a copy of the old Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a federal structure of single Soviet republics with some limited autonomy. The Putin Union, on the other hand, would abolish the independence of the annexed republics (Belarus, Ukraine, Luhansk, Donetsk) in favor of a tight Russification. Thus Putin would become the final gravedigger of the Soviet Union.
Like Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, Putin soon discovered a demographic problem in his Russia. The country was geographically the largest in the world, but with its 146 million citizens it was not a real world power. Worse, low birth rates and higher death rates continue to shrink the population. Endemic alcoholism and COVID 19 are having their impact.
In his Davos speech, Germany's Chancellor Scholz attested to Russia's ruler Putin's imperialistic quest to gain land. That is true. But it is only part of the truth. More important still is the pursuit of population size.
Putin is unquestionably obsessed with the demographic problem. What the race was to Hitler, the Russian is to Putin -- the central ideas of their lives.
Hitler's quest for racial domination demanded the subjugation and/or annihilation of every person of a different race -- Putin's Russo-idolization and quest for world power status demand the annihilation of everyone resisting: In the current case the destruction of Ukraine.
Low birth rates, rising mortality, declining immigration.... Despite a birth policy that is among the most stimulating in the world, Russia is gradually emptying itself of its inhabitants. "A major problem for Vladimir Putin, for whom population is synonymous with power," says French demographer Laurent Chalard.
In 1991, at the end of the Soviet Union, Russia counted 148.2 million inhabitants. Since the Ukraine war started, the decline has accelerated. According to official statistics the Russian population stood at 146.1 million in 2021. By 2050, demographers expect a decline to 130-140 million.
COVID 19 not only increased mortality, but also stalled immigration from Russophone Asia. . Since February 24, out-migration has accelerated, especially of young and highly skilled Russians.
"Putin is obsessed with this demographic issue," says Laurent Chalard. "In his mind, he links the power of a country to the size of its population. The bigger it is, the more powerful the state is."
Today, however, Russia's demographics are worse than ever.
That's why, Chalard says, Putin has only one choice in Ukraine: he must win.
Just as Hitler's people scoured Europe for populations that could be germanized and absorbed, Putin is searching far and wide for populations that can be Russified. Like in its German precedent, victims of Russificationn are expected to feel honored and promoted by acquiring Russian citizenship. Ukraine offers Putin the greatest demographic prey. Not only are about one-third of Ukrainians native Russian-speakers, but the other two-thirds also carry several centuries of neighborliness with Russia in their mental DNA.
This is what Putin is building on . He wants to turn 42 million Ukrainians into Russians. To this end, the occupation regime in the territories conquered by Russia is following to the letter the recommendations of the ideologue Timofey Sergeytsev, as in Destroying Ukraine: Moscow's Plan
For thirty years, the process of de-Ukrainization and Russification is scheduled to continue with methods on par with the persecution of the Uighurs in China. In the end, even the term Ukraine is to disappear and likely to be replaced by "New Russia."
Not only Russia, but also Ukraine has a demographic problem. The long-term shrinkage trend of the population is accelerated by the war: some 6.5 million Ukrainians have fled abroad so far, and many of them -- especially those who have come to the EU -- are apparently thinking of staying. This is also a problem for Putin: millions less are now potentially Russifiable.
What is happening is an unparalleled tragedy: had it not been for Putin's megalomania and Russo-fanaticism, Russia and Ukraine could have lived amicably side by side, like the U.S. and Canada, for example.Heinrich von Loesch