Russia watchers have recently focused on the March 2 presidential election and the personality of president-elect Dmitry Medvedev. However, the appointment late last month of 44-year-old Ivan Demidov, as head of the United Russia party's ideological directorate, went largely unnoticed.
Mr. Demidov is a colourful Russian politician who became a cult figure among the young in the 1990s when he was a popular host and producer of youth-related programs for various TV stations. His new post as chief ideologist of Russia's ruling party has apparently been created just for him.
As Russia has recently returned to a de facto single-party system, Mr. Demidov occupies a unique position in the continuing power structure of outgoing President Vladimir Putin. The explicit purpose of his office is to formulate and spread the ideology of the party that controls most of Russia's federal, regional and local parliaments, and which (with some minor parties) nominated Mr. Medvedev for the presidency.
Mr. Demidov had been working as an adviser to United Russia; he was editor of the party's nationalist Russian Project website and head of the co-ordination council of United Russia's rabidly anti-Western youth wing "The Young Guard." He also was director of the small religious TV channel "SPAS" (meaning Saviour) that transmits a variety of programs informed by strong anti-Americanism.
In the 1990s, Mr. Demidov was known as a non-conformist journalist, part of a group of young anti-Soviet TV personalities who, with their widely watched talk-shows, had a share in delegitimizing the USSR's social-political system.
Mr. Demidov was seen as somebody linked to Russia's liberal or, at least, anti-totalitarian movement. In recent years, however, he developed along the lines of a number of other prominent Russians of his age, including Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow, and Mikhail Leontyev, a Channel One television host with a decidedly anti-American point of view. Such men are among the Kremlin's preferred political commentators, seen on TV shows several times a week.
Like Mr. Markov or Mr. Leontyev, Mr. Demidov has become a part of Moscow's neo-traditionalist establishment. He is now an advocate of Russia as a unique world civilization, as well as a self-sufficient great power, and participates in the Kremlin's increasingly successful spread of such attitudes among teenagers and students.
His promotion follows general trends in the Kremlin that included the recent appointment of the prolific Russian nationalist Dmitri Rogozin as Russia's new envoy to NATO.
This might have been the reason why Mr. Demidov's rise has, so far, caused little attention in Russia and the West. It needs to be pointed out, however, that the man has professed to be under the influence of a particularly extreme brand of Russian imperialism known as "neo-Eurasianism." This ideology has been principally developed by the neo-fascist Russian theoretician Alexander Dugin and constitutes perhaps the most radical anti-democratic ideology within Russia's political establishment today.
In an interview in November for Mr. Dugin's website Evrazia.org, Mr. Demidov credited Mr. Dugin as being "doubtlessly, a crucial factor, a certain breaking point, in my life." The two men co-operate on Mr. Demidov's SPAS TV channel where Mr. Dugin has his own show called Vekhi (signposts).
To be sure, Mr. Demidov has repeatedly stated that his various patriotic projects seek to deprive ultra-nationalists of their control of the nationalist agenda and aim to fight the increase of xenophobia and hate crimes, in Russia. He says "the words 'Russian' and 'fascism' are antonyms," and that he and his associates will "fight against the infusion of the term 'Russian fascism' into mass consciousness."
However, he also described Mr. Dugin as a "convinced Eurasian." This is the same phrase that Mr. Dugin used 15 years earlier to describe the political beliefs of Reinhard Heydrich, the infamous chief of the SS and one of the planners of the Holocaust. Mr. Dugin sees his Eurasian movement as the successor to a secret Order of Eurasia that existed for centuries, and included various German ultra-nationalists. While, at times, strongly distancing himself from Hitler's crimes, Mr. Dugin, throughout the 1990s, repeatedly expressed his admiration for certain aspects of the Nazi movement.
For instance, he called the theory sector of the Waffen-SS an "intellectual oasis" within the Third Reich, and admitted that National Socialism was "the fullest and most total realization" of the Third Way that Mr. Dugin still advocates. In one of his numerous pro-fascist articles, Mr. Dugin gets excited about the prospect that, after the failures of Germany and Italy, there will, in Russia today, finally emerge a truly "fascist fascism."
Since 2000, Mr. Dugin's rhetoric has become more cautious. On his frequent television appearances, he often poses as an anti-fascist and describes himself as a "radical centrist." He tries to draw a line between the interwar right-wing intellectuals whom he admires and those who supported Hitler. Yet, as late as 2006, he admitted that among his models are the ultra-nationalist German brothers Otto and Gregor Strasser who got into personal conflicts with Hitler in the early 1930s, yet had also played a crucial role in making the National Socialists a mass party in the 1920s.
This is the Alexander Dugin who Mr. Demidov admiringly calls Russia's chief "neo-Eurasianist." "It is high time to start realizing the ideas, as formulated by Alexander Dugin, of the radical centre, through projects," he said.
In his new position as chief ideologist of the ruling United Russia party, Mr. Demidov will have ample opportunity and resources to do so.
Andreas Umland, lecturer at the National Taras Shevchenko University in Kiev, edits the book series Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, and compiles the Russian Nationalism Bulletin.
A Comment piece yesterday on Ivan Demidov, chief ideologist of the United Russia Party, incorrectly stated that his position had been created especially for him. In fact, Leonid Goryainov had held the post before him.