Even today, many are having trouble recognizing the true nature of a man who is currently in the process of turning the European peace order on its head. Perhaps we don’t have the courage to make the right comparisons because they remind us of an era that we thought we had put behind us. Within Germany’s Left Party and parts of the center-left Social Democrats, Putin is still viewed as a man molded in the tradition of the Soviet party leader, who stood for an idealized version of Socialism. The old knee-jerk sense of solidarity is still there. It is based on a misunderstanding, though, because Putin isn’t post-communist. He’s post-fascist.
A search for the right historical analogy should focus on the events of Rome in 1919 rather than Sarajevo in 1914. It won’t take long for those who step inside the world of echo chambers and metaphors that color Putin’s thinking to identify traits that were also present at the birth of fascism. There’s Putin’s cult of the body, the lofty rhetoric of self-assertion, the denigration of his opponents as degenerates, his contempt for democracy and Western parliamentarianism, his exaggerated nationalism.
Enemies of freedom on the far right in Europe sensed the changing political climate early on. They immediately understood that, in Putin, someone is speaking who shares their obsessions and aversions. Putin reciprocates by acknowledging these like-minded individuals. “As for the rethinking of values in European countries, yes, I agree that we are witnessing this process,” he told his television interviewer last Thursday, pointing to Victor Orban’s victory in Hungary and the success of Marine Le Pen in France. It was the only positive thing he had to say in the entirety of a four-hour interview.