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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Neo-Nazi Hype Lacks Perspective




A few dozen neo-Nazis march down a sleepy side street, a handful more interrupt a meeting of has-been democrats - and suddenly it's mass hysteria, the fascists are coming!


This has become a reflex: Any time there is a flimsy excuse to publicly wring one's hands about fascists, journalists and bureaucrats here leap to do so.


Last year, Communist Duma Deputy Albert Makashov first ignited controversy by calling on Muscovites to go "beat Yids" over Russia's economic collapse. At that time, focusing attention on Makashov's call was justified: Not only did he represent the country's largest political party, that party's leadership was openly loathe to repudiate Makashov's call. That the Communist Party dropped the veil to show its true racist and anti-Semitic face was an important event. That it continued to hold the veil down and snarl despite mounting international criticism told volumes about who Gennady Zyuganov is and what he stands for.


The same cannot be said about those who marched in Moscow this weekend, or those who showed up at Yegor Gaidar's party conference to disrupt the monotony. The frightened and respectful attention given these fringe elements is out of all proportion to their significance. Paying attention to them in fact only encourages them: Normally those neo-Nazis would never have bothered to harass Gaidar's coffee klatch - but they no doubt took the political temperature and realized they had a chance to get on NTV television. (This was a bonus for the visibly elated Gaidar, who also rarely gets on television today).


This isn't to say that extremism is not a danger. Russians have been impoverished, the government has been too corrupt to act in their interests, and it makes them angry.


But the majority of Russians have so far disdained extremism to vote with pragmatism. Russia's citizens deserve respect for that patient track record. They should look with suspicion at shrill claims they are now about to embrace fascism - most likely someone's political agenda is behind such talk. After all, what better way to cancel future elections than to cry wolf on fascism?


If the Russian elite wants to fight extremism, there are smarter ways to do so than to find a fascist under every rock. It could start by dropping its racist policies toward Caucasians - on the logic that hate breeds more hate. State-owned television like RTR and ORT could carry thoughtful programming about the histories of the world's peoples. Or hey, here's a novel idea - the government, which continues to waste money on Kremlin dachas and an army of bureaucrats, could tighten its own belt and pay some teachers and miners.