Policy Memos

“Natsdem”: The New Wave of Anti-Putin Nationalists

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In the December 2011 protests in Russia, pro-Western democrats marched together with new and old nationalists. Some of the latter, such as Eduard Limonov and his Limonovtsy, are accustomed to demonstrations and have been rallying against Vladimir Putin since the second half of the 2000s. Others committed themselves to the effort after the announcement of Putin’s return to the presidency and the fraudulent parliamentary elections. While some nationalist movements involved in the protests have maintained their traditional anti-Western orientations, others have sought to combine a pro-Western democratic stance with “nationalism.”

In Putin’s Russia, “nationalism” is not a strictly defined ideology linked to one political platform or an electoral machine. Rather, it is a tool used by all actors— from the Kremlin and United Russia, to the Communists and Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, to far right extra-parliamentary movements and the liberals (with Garry Kasparov being a good example of the nationalist-liberal conjunction). All have their own definition of what is meant by the “nation,” the “Russian question”, “nationalism,” and “patriotism.” These are the terms in which some key issues for Russian society are being debated, such as the definition of citizenry, the federal nature of the Russian state, migration policy, and the North Caucasus issue.

Entering into the spotlight only in December 2011, the tide of “national-democrats”—natsdem in Russian—reflects the evolution of Russian society. This paper discusses the genesis of this new wave of “national-democrats,” the major role attributed to blogger Aleksey Navalny, and his vision of Russia’s future. Also analyzed are the main paradoxes of the natsdem movement. [...]

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About the author

Research Professor of International Affairs; Director of the Central Asia Program; Co-director of PONARS Eurasia
George Washington University