Most common, national identity is created through a shared language and culture, but most recently, shared history has risen as the predominant factor in uniting people who share a passport. Among the former Soviet countries, shared history is the essence of national identity; citizens of Russia are united in referencing World War II as the single most important event in their nation’s history that shapes their national identity.
In the former Soviet Union, World War II is called the “Great Patriotic War” and still today, national holidays include “Defender of the Fatherland Day,” also called, Armed Forces Day, celebrated on 23 February and “Victory Day,” celebrated on 9 May, when Russia defeated Nazi Germany. These holidays are celebrated not only by Russian citizens but also by former Soviet Union citizens across the globe, from Uzbekistan to the United States.
Thus, it is most surprising when reading about the rise of neo-Nazism, especially in Russia. How can there be such a widespread neo-Nazi movement in a country that prides itself on having defeated this ideology?
Earlier this week, the United Nation’s General Assembly voted on the “Glorification of Nazism: Inadmissibility of certain practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Co-authored by 41 countries, among them, six former Soviet Republics of Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. With an overwhelming YES vote by 120 countries, the UN’s Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Third Committee adopted the resolution. Citing free speech, Canada, the Marshall Islands, and the United States were the only opposition. Among those abstaining were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Estonia, Germany, and surprisingly, Ukraine.
The resolution comes on the heels of rising racism and xenophobia in Europe where Nazism originated and proliferated. Monuments of World War II fighters have been defaced and vandalized. Ukraine suffered at the hand of Hitler, as most fighting between the two fronts took place on Ukrainian soil. For Russia, the resolution is integral, as it arms the government in battling with the extremism and growing fascination of Nazism.
At Russia’s most prestigious art museum, the Hermitage, a modern art exhibit by Jake and Dinos Chapman, portrays the inferno of Nazi Germany. The central piece of the exhibit, named “Fucking Hell” showcases nine large glass cubes, arranged in a swastika pattern, containing 3-D scenes of bloody battles with Nazi soldiers. Although public art is essential for community engagement and to inspire dialogue, the fascination with Nazism in Russia is troubling, not only considering its history but also fascination with such extreme and hateful views would be troubling anywhere.