Spiritual evolution of Russia's sympathisers: from Soviet nostalgia to Russian Nazism

Public opinion polls held in late 1990s revealed an interesting fact: the majority of supporters of the communist ideology in Ukraine did not share its main theses. Say, only 28% of communist adherents believed in the possibility of building a communist society (while 52% of them did not), only 40% would support a return to centralised economic planning, while the majority (54%) of communist sympathisers would support the unification of Ukraine and Russia into a single state[1]. Supporters of communists and socialists more often than supporters of other political trends advocated the spread of the Orthodox influence in society (obviously, considering it as a means of resisting the "Western influence").

That is, support of the communists by part of the Ukrainian society rested not on communist ideas, but on pro-Russian sentiments. 53% of those polled in Ukraine then answered that unification of the East Slavic states — Ukraine, Russia and Belarus — was important for the successful development of Ukrainian society, although even more (59%) called for rapprochement with Western European countries. In fact, at the end of 1990s confrontation between Russia and the West was just starting to emerge, so it is not surprising that someone in Ukraine could look at both the West and Russia at a time.

Soviet nostalgia was often based not so much on the desire of some citizens to "return everything as it was before" but on the longing for an irretrievably lost youth, when "the grass was greener and the sky was bluer." And in general, despite its prevalence, this nostalgia had a "politically non-aggressive" character. At the same time, it was used by Russian spin doctors and political engineers of the Ukrainian pro-Russian parties (often, they were the same people) in the election campaigns of these political forces and instilled in Russian politicians a hope that over time these sentiments would lead to Ukraine’s return to its "Russian home harbour". 

To some extent, these hopes came real after the 2010 presidential elections, when disappointment with Yushchenko's "orange team" paved the way to power for Kremlin-backed Viktor Yanukovych. Kremlin ideologues called it the result of disappointment with Viktor Yushchenko's "pro-Western course." But the real reason was that such a "course" remained inconspicuous for Ukrainian voters, since no real reforms took place in the country during Yushchenko's office. One can't talk about his "team" either, since his term was remembered primarily for the President’s confrontation with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which had a negative impact on political ratings of both of these politicians, but primarily, on Yushchenko's rating.

At the same time, pro-Western spirits in Ukraine did not disappear, and Yanukovych's entourage also had to take them into account, drafting the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. We all know how the attempt to sign that Agreement at the end of 2013 and the refusal to sign it under the Kremlin’s pressure ended: with shootings of protesters, forced flight of Yanukovych and occupation of Crimea and a part of Donbas.

For supporters of the "Russian World", the events of 2013–2014 were milestones in terms of changing the ideological paradigm: from Soviet nostalgia to overt Russian nationalism. This process began a little earlier, when the Party of Regions, using pro-Russian slogans and breaking the communist "monopoly" on the pro-Russian electorate, began to displace the Communist Party of Ukraine from its electoral field. Voters who previously voted for the Communist Party of Ukraine easily switched to the Party of Regions, created by the same oligarchs against whom the communists used to conduct merciless rhetoric. The communists themselves did not really resist, and after Yanukovych came to power, they officially joined the pro-presidential parliamentary coalition. The events of 2014 generally pushed the Communist Party of Ukraine out of the political stage: there was no need or possibility to camouflage a pro-Russian stand under left-wing ideas any longer.

On the other hand, this change in the ideological paradigm, along with Russia's openly hostile policy towards Ukraine, significantly reduced the number of pro-Russian sympathisers in Ukraine, started the process of their marginalisation and, accordingly, contributed to the growth of pro-Western sentiments (including public support for Ukraine's accession to the EU and NATO).

Later, the official ideology in Russia evolved from nationalism to outright Nazism: the idea of ​​the moral superiority of the Russian nation (which "rests on conservative spiritual traditions") over the "decaying West", the right to a "living space" (much greater than the territory inhabited by Russians), denial of the existence of Ukrainians and Belarusians as separate peoples. The German Nazis also denied the right to separate existence of other Germanic peoples (such as Danes or Norwegians, treating them only as "offshoots" of the great Germanic nation). We can also cite the "cult of the national leader", suppression of political opposition, militarism that permeates all spheres of public life - from the economy to culture and education.

However, modern Russian Nazism is distinguished for its "symbolic attachment" to Soviet nostalgia: red flags, Soviet street names, monuments to Lenin (the Russians reinstall such monuments in some occupied Ukrainian cities, despite Putin's claim that "Lenin created Ukraine"). And, of course, the cult of the Victory.

However, in Russia this cult has undergone a significant transformation. As the US researcher Yevhen Dobrenko writes, in Stalin's times, the myth of the Victory over fascism became a factor legitimising the Soviet regime: "Since fascism was an absolute universal evil, its winner turned into the pole of absolute virtue, which gave the Soviet regime not only internal legitimacy but also worldwide justification. This potential was manifested in the Victory so much that, becoming a central event embedded in the system of memory production in the USSR, it retained the status of the main "founding event" in the modern Russian history as well."

But since the new Russian leadership needed not a Soviet but a Russian national myth, Russian propagandists turned the mythologem of the "victory over Nazism" into the mythologem of the "Russian national victory." They claimed that the victory over Germany was nothing but a "Russian victory" in an attempt to downplay the role of all other member countries of the anti-Hitler coalition. Back in 2010, Putin stated: "Now regarding our relations with Ukraine... Let me disagree, when you say that if we had been divided, we would not have won the war. We would have won anyway, because we are a nation of the winners."

The Soviet slogan "It must not happen again" (when it came to the Second World War) was replaced in Russia with "We can repeat it." That is, unlike the USSR, where the cult of Victory was still connected with the end of the war and transition to a peaceful life, in Russia the cult of Victory is connected with the preparation for new wars. It is the same cult of national Victory that was promoted in Nazi Germany.

Evolution of the official Russian ideology towards outright Nazism increasingly marginalises Russian sympathisers not only in Ukraine but in the whole world, because sympathies for Russia necessitate both acceptance of the ideology promoted by the rulers of that country and approval of the actions of its leadership. Few people will risk it — at least, not to be ashamed.

[1] Results of the poll conducted by the Ukrainian Institute for Social Research and the Social Monitoring Center in March and October 1999.


Mykhailo Mischenko

Deputy Director, Sociological Service

Born in 1962 in Kyiv

Education: Taras Shevchenko Kyiv State University, Faculty of Philosophy (1984). Ph. D in Philosophy


1984 – 1990 — Sociology Department at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1990 – 1998 — Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1998 – 2003 — Ukrainian Institute of Social Research

February – September 2003 — Kyiv International Institute of Sociology

Since October 2003 — Deputy Director, Razumkov Centre Sociological Service

(044) 201-11-94