chapter  6
21 Pages

A comparative look at right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobic hate crimes in Poland, Ukraine, and Russia


With the breakdown of the Soviet Union, and with Mikhail Gorbachev’s politics of glasnost and perestroika, suppressed religious and national movements emerged as visible elements of political conflict in what once constituted the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). While in the former USSR this concerned the huge former “Turkestan” region with its religious roots in Islam, and the Orthodox denominations of Russia and the Ukraine, the post-USSR Eastern European satellite states saw an eruption of both nationalism and/or suppressed Catholicism. Mark Juergensmeyer (2008: 152) describes how in Russia, the Ukraine, and Poland “religion became the expression of a nationalist rejection of the secular socialist ideology.” Partly, the free expression of religion was a component of what could be termed

a democratic “eruption,” and at the same time it created strong links to “nationalist and transnationalist identities of a bygone era” (Juergensmeyer 2008: 156). The role of right-wing extremism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism ought to be assessed in the context of the transformation of the post-Stalinist political cultures of Eastern Europe and Russia. As much as religion and its institutions were indispensable for the opposition to the Stalinist state, they helped to recreate the old nationalisms of the 19th century (and earlier) of which anti-Semitism was often an integral component. Religious zeal combinedwith nationalistic patriotism contains ideologies of purity for which “others,” be they ethnic minorities or Jews, were the paramount danger and source of a feared “racial pollution” (cf. Douglas 1966/2007). In the early 1990s, after German re-unification, similar developments could be observed in parts of the former German Democratic Republic. Minkenberg (2002) sees the rehabilitation of the nation state (National-

staat) in Eastern Europe in line with the spread of nationalistic rhetoric and the concept of a national ethnic identity. In the context of economic, and partly also cultural crisis, minorities are used as a scapegoat for the problems at hand. Combinedwith a rejection of internationalism, diversity, and European Union (EU) integration, such resentments seem like “natural” consequences of newly formed national identities (Thieme 2007a, 2007b). In the findings of the European Social Survey (2006), Polish, Hungarian, and Ukrainian populations

frequently show more sympathy for conservative (right-wing) politics, gender inequality, and homophobia than Western European societies.1