The Nazis of the Second World War are reviled, and rightly, for their crimes; the Holocaust comes to mind. One might sympathize with an underdog country, afflicted with crippling poverty, seeking to recover their lost national pride — but never a government philosophy that burns books, stifles thought and expression, and slaughters their own citizens wholesale. Italian fascist militarism was barbaric; German Naziism was inhuman.
If there are Nazis in Ukraine, it’s worth our time to examine and our attention if it’s true.
Vladimir Putin would have you believe that Ukraine is the home of a neo-Nazi movement, and that the government not merely permits but actively encourages modern eugenicists and the concept of racial purity. He’s not entirely wrong in that belief. In similar wise, one might say that the incorporation of the fasces as a symbol of the United States Congress is an assertion of American fascism, even though that predates Mussolini by a century and a half.
In other words, there’s an element of truth, but it’s not at all what you’d think.
In actual point of fact, the so-called “Nazis” are, for the most part, adherents of the quasi-traditional Slavic native faith, Rodnovery (or “Ridnovirya” in Ukraine). As a religion, it’s roughly equivalent to an eastern European version of modern Wicca or Celtic Druidism, and in modern times first rose in direct opposition to Hitlerism and Stalinism in the 1930s. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, exiled adherents returned to their home countries and began accruing a following. Today there are several hundred thousand Rodnovers, most in Russia and Kazakhstan; it’s said that it’s easier to find a Cossack Rodnover than it is a Cossack Christian.
It would be as difficult to pin down the general tenets of Rodnovery in terms of modern religion as it is Wicca — more so, in fact, as while most Wiccans generally agree on some tenets, the forty-odd major varieties of Rodnovery are sometimes militantly opposed to one another. Most scholars agree that there’s a loose general framework based around a common Slavic national identity, which is then modified either individually or according to one or another authority. Some are strict dogmatists; some are vehemently open-source syncretists or eclectics; some are monotheistic, others poly, and a few either gnostic, agnostic, or both.
The single common trait is the focus on Slavic traditions, which adapts itself to nationalism and racialism. Where Wicca is highly inclusive, the origins of Rodnovery under such thinkers as Shaian in the ’30s led some of the early adherents to include eugenic themes. Most of the modern variants have since rejected that, but a few — Russian Ynglists in particular — are, by and large, religious believers in racial purity. It’s worth mentioning that these views were formally rejected at a 2016 veche of Russian Rodnoverians; they’re organized and numerous, but still a fringe group.
A “veche”, by the way, is a eye-to-eye (vich-na-vich, in Ukrainian) meeting, an assembly of elders and citizens of substance who, traditionally, would make decisions for a town, city, or small country. It was a traditional form of early democratic government among early Slavic communities, and approval of this is the only political commonality in Rodnover.
Generally speaking, then, what we’re discussing is a nationalist neo-religious group. There are no ties to fascism, Hitlerism, or any other political organization. Some are Russians and pro-Russia; some are Ukrainians and pro-Ukraine; some are Poles and anti-Poland. It varies.
There are a few factions that could be accused of anti-Semitism, like the Ynglists; they’re not “white nationalists” but “Slav nationalists”, which means that, as a rule, they oppose intermarriage with Italians or Germans or the Irish as much as with anyone else. Even the few pro-eugenics splinter groups are, by and large, politically unaffiliated. Outsiders may well find some of their beliefs odious, but they’re like no Nazi or neo-Nazi in the world; it’s worth remembering that many other religious groups discourage marriage outside their community.
Compared to mainstream Rodnover, it’s somewhat similar to the Westboro Baptist Church: There are 42 members, but they show up to protest at funerals and make such a huge stink that one is tempted to view their hatefulness as common to all of Christianity, where in reality it’s the extremist fringe of an uncommon practice. The “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s would have had us believe that Wiccans sacrificed infants in demonic rites; it turned out to be ignorant superstition and hysteria.
So it is with Nazis in Ukraine. It’s not that they don’t exist; instead, consider them a nuisance fringe group with one Congressman, elected from someplace like rural Tennessee. They’re not quite Nazis, and they’re far from mainstream.
“But the Azov battalion—“, I hear you say. That, and its pro-Russian opponents, the Spartans and the Slavic Unification and Revival Battalion, began as a volunteer militia composed largely of Rodnovers. If one were looking for violent neo-Nazis, one would indeed find them there — fighting for both sides. The majority of the Azovs aren’t even Rodnover; of those that are, only a handful belong to any pro-eugenics splinter group, and they keep their views quiet because some of the other Azovs are Jewish or of middle eastern or African origin.
When Mussolini and his associates founded Italian Fascism, they deliberately used symbols already sacred to supporters of American democracy in order to gain followers. Hitler did the same in Germany, but using traditional European proto-religious symbols still sacred to Rodnovers today, which is why you’ll find variations of a swastika on badges, a wolfsangel on a flag, and an iron cross as the sigil of the Ukrainian Ground Forces. You’ll also find a German eagle on the Russian national flag as well as the American, come to that; symbols, it seems, are what you make of them.
It’s easy to find Nazis in Ukraine’s history. People forget: Germany and its allies overran the entirety of present-day Ukraine in 1941, and occupied it for two years. As in every territory they occupied, they found people eager to cooperate, others who fought against them as partisans or soldiers, and a large population that just tried to survive. If we wish to condemn a nation for what they were eighty years ago, there are other, more obvious targets to pick.
The bottom line, then, is this: If you’re looking for neo-Nazis or pro-Soviets in the Ukraine war, you’ll find them — on both sides, and at least as many on the Russian as the Ukrainian team. You could probably find some in any army or militarized police force in the world, if you look hard enough.
What you won’t find are book-burnings, krystalnicht, toothbrush mustaches, jackboots, or the Holocaust. Well, not unless you look in Russia.
If what you just read pisses you off, that’s not because it’s wrong. People are wrong every day and it doesn’t get to you. If you’re upset by this article, it’s because deep down you’re afraid it’s true.
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