Gli squadristi russi in motocicletta chiamati “Lupi Notturni” avevano programmato una cavalcata trionfale fino a Berlino, per celebrare in modo adeguato l’anniversario della vittoria sovietica e la distruzione del Reich. Anche se non è stato loro consentito di realizzarla, il gesto simbolico resta in tutta la sua valenza: testimoniare che la Russia è la legittima erede dell’Unione Sovietica, che la violenza squadristica, il culto machista per il corpo, il nazionalismo e l’appoggio del Cremlino sono costitutivi della nuova identità russa. Non è un caso che i “Nocni volki”, i Lupi Notturni, mescolino nel loro armamentario i simboli del comunismo, del fascismo e del nazionalsocialismo: gli stessi simboli che hanno accompagnato le celebrazioni putiniane per l’invasione, e poi l’annessione, della Crimea.
Putin’s Night Wolves
The aggressive and provocative manner in which the Night Wolves announced and tried to implement their “drive to Berlin” is more than highly symbolic. At first glance it is considered a sign of Moscow’s brazen and arrogant attitude towards all those who criticize Putin’s regime. Yet if one digs deeper one finds a much more complex and disturbing picture.
The Night Wolves are not just a semi-criminal biker’s gang that has the blessing of the country’s leader and (how paradoxical!) of the Russian Orthodox Church. There are many other biker’s organization that have a distinct criminal element, big or small, yet the Night Wolves fulfill a much more important role. They are an expression of Putin’s neo-fascist machismo, similar to the fascist gangs of Italian leader Benito Mussolini in the 1920s (who, by the way, had the same disturbed view of manhood resulting in a ridiculous overstressing of physical body-strength), or the SA troops of Adolf Hitler. Both dictators used these gangs to provoke, to trigger feelings of disgust and fear, and to do the things that the “regular” forces were not able to do. And, interestingly, both gangs had a strong mix of Communists and fascists, with the members of the SA often referred to as “beefsteaks”: brown on the outside, red on the inside. Also the Night Wolves have this pathological mix of Communist and fascist symbols, which was vividly shown during their pompous event commemorating the annexation of the Crimea, held in the early summer of 2014.
Yet the “drive to Berlin” goes much further, and much more deep, probably without them realizing it themselves. The manner in which the drive was planned, half-stealthily, provocatively, with overt government support and with the main purpose to shock and stun, is in fact very reminiscent to the way in which the USSR invaded Poland on September 17, 1939. While the country was waging a struggle for life or death with the Nazi invaders from the West, the Soviet Union treacherously attacked the country from the East, implementing part of the secret agreements of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Stalin and Hitler. The result was Soviet terror in the East, mass killings and deportations of whole sectors of society, and the murder of the core of the Polish officer corps at Katyn.
After three years of Nazi terror the Soviets were back, continuing their rape of the country under the devious name of “liberation”. It took Poland another forty years to end the Communist occupation. Even though the country is now part of the European Union, doing economically very well and having turned into a full-fledged European democracy based on the rule of law, it will take still many years to come to terms with the tragedy of its 20th century history.
In the Baltic countries it was no different. The Soviet “liberation” of 1944 had nothing to do with liberation, but was the beginning of half a century of occupation. And also in the other Western Soviet republics – Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and even Russia itself – the 1944-1945 “liberation” was only the beginning of more suffering, more pain, and more terror. I remember some ten years ago, when Putinism had not yet taken on its current forms, I regularly traveled to the Kaliningrad region for work, and at one time visited the Fifth Fort outside the former city of Konigsberg, which was taken by the Soviet Army in March 1945 after heavy fighting. A large Soviet-style monument was dedicated to “the liberation of Kaliningrad region”. Even my Russian colleague started to laugh – what happened had nothing to do with liberation: Prussia was occupied, purged of all Germans and those who were not killed were kicked out. “Well,” he said, “but we hardly could have put up a monument for ‘the occupation of Prussia’, could we?” Yet he knew what in reality happened, and how false the word “liberation” sounded in this context. However, I have no doubt that another ten years of Putinism has altered his “subversive thoughts” and that for him the multi-dimensional notion has become one-dimensional again.
The complexity that Russia faces, as “lawful heir” of the Soviet Union, is the invariable mix of being victim and perpetrator at the same time. While presenting itself as the victim of Nazism, which heroically liberated nations from Nazi oppression, it in fact was equally much a perpetrator, an aggressor that subjugated the very same nations (as well as itself) to decades of terror and oppression. It is a dilemma that many other nations share. Winnie Mandela’s football club was part of the ANC’s struggle for liberation, yet in practice they were a gang quite similar to the Night Wolves, killing suspected collaborators with the Apartheid regime by burning them alive, exactly the same as ISIS does in the Middle East. Among the Lithuanians that killed their Jewish compatriots in 1941 with incredible speed and ferocity, were many partisans that before had been fighting Soviet occupation. As a result, the national heroes became perpetrators at the same time, and the cause of a deeply entrenched trauma in the Lithuanian national conscience.
Russia has not even started to accept its very conflicting role in recent European history and is yet unable to acknowledge that many do not see them the way they like to see themselves. They want to be seen as lovers, but in reality they are more often seen as rapists. It will take a lot of soul searching for them to come to terms with that. And to make things worse: the country that co-signed the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact, which resulted in this “rape of Europe”, is probably their best role model in how to deal with such a horrible and painful past.
Robert Van Voren