Russian hawk ascends to position of influence

Fears as right-wing critic of West takes top job at Moscow State centre. Melanie Newman reports

April 16, 2009

Moscow State University's appointment of a Russian nationalist as the head of its new Centre for the Study of Conservatism has proved to be a controversial choice in academic circles.

Aleksandr Dugin, who was made a professor of the university's sociology faculty last September, has called for the restoration of the Russian Empire and is a prominent "neo-Eurasianist" - he believes that Russia is culturally more Asian than European.

Professor Dugin, reputed to be close to Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister and former President, wrote in 1997: "In principle, Eurasia and our space, the heartland Russia, remain the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.

"The new Eurasian empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the US and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us."

Edwin Bacon, head of the School of Politics and Sociology at Birkbeck, University of London, described Professor Dugin as "well versed in the literature of his field of geopolitics and empire".

But he added: "Dugin does not really do objectivity. His conclusions are never in doubt, and he likes nothing more than to use arguments from Western academics and politicians in the service of his case for a resurgent Russian empire."

Dr Bacon said that there was no reason to suspect that his professorship signified any policy shift by the Russian Government.

"It does, however, show the continued presence of nationalist sentiment within certain sectors of the Russian elite," he added.

Alex Pravda, lecturer in Russian and East European politics at the University of Oxford, said that while Professor Dugin's neo-Eurasianist theories were fashionable in Russian policy circles, Mr Putin is more interested in closer relations with Europe than Asia.

But he added: "What might well appeal to the Putinists is Dugin's emphasis on modernisation without Westernisation, which (they) interpret as without having to follow the US' lead."

But Andreas Umland, assistant professor of contemporary Russian history at the Catholic University of Eichstatt-Ingolstadt, Bavaria, is more worried by the appointment.

"Dugin has been working for years to shift Russian elite discourse to the Right," he said.

"With similarly orientated publicists, he has succeeded in inserting the idea that the US is Russia's main problem into mainstream political thinking."

The Centre for the Study of Conservatism would help him "further smuggle" hard Right ideas into the Russian mainstream, he added.

Luke March, senior lecturer in Soviet and post-Soviet politics at the University of Edinburgh, shared Professor Umland's concerns.

He said: "Dugin's latest professional post does indicate a new stage in the respectability of what in Europe would be seen as the unpalatable far Right ... The basis of his world view is a fantastic conspiracy, in this case of the 'liberal' West against Russian 'civilisation'.

"The problem for Russia and the outside world is not just that people with provocative and incendiary views are being appointed to high positions, but that the state-controlled social and media environment ... does not give much scope for their views to be challenged."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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