Executing POWs: another manifestation of Russia’s fascist nature

Leonid Gozman analyses why the Russian state considers itself more important than any human being

Executing POWs: another manifestation of Russia’s fascist nature
Photo: Mykhaylo Palinchak / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

Among all features of fascism, either spelled out or unwritten, one remains the most distinctive for me: for fascists, the state is more important than the human being. Thus, such a state may do anything to its people for the sake of its goals and security. Therefore, an individual has no rights and is not supposed to have any: those exist formally, but only unless the state decides that those are better be forgotten about.

In this respect, Russia used to be a fascist country for vast periods of its history. It had one traditional value: absolute rule. This applies to family — meaning there is no need for a law on domestic violence, the man should sort things out on his own. The same happens at work — there is no need for trade unions, it all depends on the enterprise owner or the director he appointed. Abolishing serfdom was not the right thing to do as well: it used to put people together, and landowners would take care of their serfs as a father takes care of his children. Finally, nothing should be restricting the Czar’s power: in his letter to Prince Andrey Kurbsky, Ivan the Terrible referred to all his citizens as kholops, or essentially feudal serfs, and said he was free to do whatever he wanted with them. Alexander III encouraged his son to “save absolutism” as he was speaking from his deathbed. His son Nicholas failed, although there were other people to build it back up after him.

However, a state is not just an impersonal structure or the autocrat’s persona. It also has countless officials, in plain clothes and in uniform, to manifest the will of the Leviathan. Being one of those is not just comfortable and advantageous, although even ordinary police officers do indeed retire at the age of 45 and have lots of various bonuses. Besides, they get a free pass for bribery. Belonging to the state and realising to be a part of it changes one’s self-awareness by bolstering their self-esteem:

they are no longer a pathetic and useless bug, but rather a conductor of the pivotal will. And they, as part of the state, are allowed to do anything, unlike those who lack this privilege.

This ecstatic feeling of all-permissiveness… Irrational debaucheries that only harm patriotic MPs and propagandists are a consequence of that. They do not feel very comfortable in high-ranking offices of real authority where they are not reckoned with but are simply given assignments instead. This changes, however, on board a plane, where they keep convincing themselves that they are the state. The only way they can prove it to themselves and others is obnoxious behaviour and violation of rules. If everyone fastens their seatbelts, they do not. If they are asked to lower their voice, they only start speaking louder. Propagandists do realise that when things like that get posted on the Internet, this means real trouble for them, but there is nothing they can do about it as they are not able to stop.

Basically, humiliating others is the only way a state fascist can assert themselves. The policeman that kicked a woman in the abdomen during a protest rally in Moscow for nothing, for no specific purpose, was certain that he had the right to do so. Despite this right not being formally spelled out in his job instruction, he knows for sure that he has it.

When evidence of horrible torture in Russia’s prisons and pre-trial jails leaks, it is clear to everyone that sergeants caught doing this are being punished not for torturing people but for this evidence becoming known to the public. Such sergeants, I believe, do not consider themselves guilty at all: they received their orders, and they acted at the behest of the State itself. Who cares why the State needs this anyway, it is not something one should worry about. And how are you supposed to treat those troublemakers anyway? Moreover, many of those “sergeants” actually enjoy torturing people as it has become some sort of a selection criterion to work in law enforcement.

The State can do anything to you, and everyone knows it. It may take your home away from you: should even the pettiest representative of the State need it, they will get it, and you will never find justice in a court, no matter what the law says. The only option you have is to approach a higher-ranking official, and they will help you for money or at a friend’s price.

The State may take away your money, as it always used to do. People never had their Soviet bonds returned, were deceived with retirement money countless times, and their bank deposits are not secure either. The authorities believe they have their right to do so, but the worst thing is that people believe this as well.

Of course, it’s my money and my home, they think, but only before the State or someone who is in its service needs those for their own good. Vehicles may also be seized from people: say, for the needs of the “special military operation”. 

The State takes away people’s time, forcing them to wait while the government motorcade passes by. If you multiply this time by the number of cars waiting in such lines, the figures would be terrifying, potentially amassing to a lifetime. The State may do so, however, as it’s more important than people’s lives.

The State may take away your child. This can be done mentally by forcing them to learn some pro-government nonsense by heart from the cradle. There is nothing you will be able to do about it: you cannot just prevent your child from going to kindergarten or school, and working two jobs leaves you with neither time nor energy to fight this savagery, let alone to avoid causing harm to your child. They may take your child away from you for real as they did with six-grader Masha Moskalyova, who was separated from her father and sent to an orphanage for drawing an anti-war picture. Things like that would seem surreal even a year ago. Of course, this is a direct consequence of the war: officials who ordered such villainy are convinced that a girl’s mental health is worth nothing compared to uniting the nation in the face of a NATO invasion. They know for sure they will not be punished for excess brutality. However, excess “liberalism” may cause them trouble.

People are but dirt after all, therefore, for those that are the State itself, there are no limits: both on their own territory and abroad. Bucha, Mariupol, torture, rape, and pillage is what the so-called “Russian world” spreads by means of war in its modern official interpretation. Official is the key word here since despite the fact that there are no laws allowing people to rape and pillage, nobody has been punished for those crimes so far. Instead, the unit that had committed war crimes in Bucha was awarded an honorific title, and convicts were decorated. The execution of a Ukrainian hero that shook the world is not a stand-alone incident, but rather a direct consequence of our modern state’s fascist nature. A state that considers itself and its representatives more important than any human being.

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