If migrants, political correctness, and the LGBT community are all objects of Russian right-wing scorn, the surprise is not that they are met with disapproval; rather, the question is: why are these the issues that have risen to such prominence?
Migrants are a predictable folk devil, given the number of people from former Soviet republics who have sought work or shelter in Russia, but the focus on migrants in Europe is not a reaction to the world outside Russians’ windows. The LGBT community, while never beloved by the population at large, managed to get through the first fifteen years of post-Soviet Russia without being demonized. And if political correctness is a real phenomenon in twenty-first century Russia, it’s fighting for closet space with most of the country’s lesbians and gays.
The rhetorical fight against a PC straw man is the key, since political correctness is framed as an odious attempt to respond to the needs or demands of minority and/or oppressed groups. Just as American conservatives have tried to recast gay rights as “special” rights or privileges, today’s “traditional values” movement in Russia sees minority and majority rights as a zero sum game. As liberpunk shows, the imaginative leap from minority rights to minority dominance is close to reflexive. In other words, if the majority does not defend itself, minorities will overwhelm it.
At this point, any explanation I might provide for the discursive construction of the “majority under siege” can only be speculative. Certainly, it resonates with the xenophobia of the European Far Right, but the idea of a fragile Russian majority is an unlikely Western import. Instead, three particular frameworks come to mind.
The first is postcolonial, a holdover from the Soviet era, when Russian language and culture dominated de facto, but had little status de sure. Even as the Soviet government continued a decades-long policy that highlighted the cultural and ethnic specificity of the USSR’s constituent republics, any similarly over emphasis on “Russianness” as connected to ethnic Russians looked reactionary. The balance between a Russian national (ethnic) consciousness and an imperial (multiethnic) consciousness has always been delicate.
The second framework is more complicated. It would be a gross overgeneralization to say that Russia and the Soviet Union historically rejected all forms of pluralism; the mere fact of a multiethnic empire that was not based on all-out Russification necessities the recognition of diversity. Instead, I would argue that pluralism and diversity have traditionally existed as phenomena that, while accepted, must also be carefully managed.
Certainly, this is the case currently when it comes to questions of faith. The 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations granted a higher, protected status to “religious organizations” (Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism) than to “religious groups” (such as Mormons, Baptists, and Lutherans). The law’s concern is less for individual freedom of confession than it is for the categorization and limitations of religious bodies. Like a car or a gun, a religious must be registered.
Finally, late and post-Soviet Russia have provided an uncomfortable home to subcultures. In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States and Western Europe witnessed a subcultural boom, particularly in the counterculture. The Soviet authorities, while encouraging hobbyist “circles” and interest groups that worked through the existing structures (such as Palaces of Culture), looked on independent subcultural movements with great suspicion, an attitude that has not entirely vanished since the Soviet Union’s collapse. As we will see in the next chapter, even fans of The Lord of the Rings are frequently discussed in the same terms applied to cults.
Majority status has its privileges, and chief among them is the right to reject the very idea of majority accommodation to the minority.
The "Evil Empire" Strikes Back