East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 4, No. 2, Spring 1996, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe


Neo-Communist Multiethnic Fundamentalism

Why Russian people in the hinterland and the ethnic minorities in autonomous republics voted primarily for Communists and not for Zhirinovsky or General Lebed

Maryanne Ozernoy

What distinguished the ideology of Zyuganov's Communists from that of other opposition parties was their ethnic policy that was largely overlooked by observers and analysts of the [December 1995] elections.  Neo-Communists have used the revival of ethnicity in Russia to appeal to militant nationalistic feelings and co-opt anticolonial movements in the Russian  provinces for their own ends.  Zyuganov speaks to ethnic Russians as a Slavophile preaching Orthodox messianism.  When talking to ethnic groups such as Tatars, Buryats, and Bashkirs, he poses as a defender of their civilization and religion.  This point distinguishes his attitudes toward ethnic minorities from those of the Russo-centrists, who have preached russification of these minorities.

At first glance, it is hard to understand how it is possible for Zyuganov's program to support the aspirations of local ethnic elites for independence and autonomy from Moscow while at the same time promising to prevent a disintegration of the Russian Federation.  The explanation lies in his model of a multiethnic,  fundamentalist state that includes Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists while excluding Catholics, Protestants, and Jews as anti-national.  He supplants Lenin's idea of internationalism with the concept of the state as a federation of fundamentalist chauvinistic ethnic groups.  He proposes a state model that offers equal comfort for Russian ethnic fundamentalists (pochvenniki) and Tatar, Bashkir, and Buryat nationalists.  Zyuganov found and utilized the niche of multiethnic fundamentalism as a taming force for nationalistic and separatist movements in the regions.

Zyuganov openly claims to be the heir of traditional Communism and a proponent of the Eurasian concept that first the Russian empire and then the USSR comprised Eurasian civilization.  Neo-Communists are using traditional Communist internationalism to justify Eurasian chauvinism with its passionate hatred for Western civilizations, primarily the Anglo-Saxon world and the Atlantic powers.  Since Islamic fundamentalism is viewed by Russian Eurasianists as a committed adversary of the U.S., Communists consider an alliance between Orthodoxy and Islam as a coalition against Americanism, which they associate with Moscow, Yeltsin's government, and market economics.

Zyuganov praises the revival of "respect for historically developed religious beliefs as part of national cultures--Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism."  The Neo-Communists exploit anti-Moscow and anti-Yeltsin governmental sentiments in the ethnic republics and provincial regions in the same manner the old Soviet Communist Party exploited the anticolonial drive in Africa or Asia. The success of Neo-Communists in the [December 1995] elections demonstrates that Zyuganov was at least partially successful in creating a mutually beneficial program that would be acceptable for the [Russian] nation and [Russia's] multinational community.  However, the multinational fundamentalist state based on the Eurasian model is a dangerous nationalistic idea connected with traditional Russian xenophobic and messianic Slavophilism.

The so-called "red-brown bloc," with which Zyuganov has been affiliated, redeveloped the pre-war Russian Eurasian doctrine into a nationalist concept.  But when it comes to ethnic politics, racism prevents Eurasianists from giving ethnic minorities equal rights with the Russian nation.  The main ideologist of Eurasianism and Zyuganov's close associate, A. Prokhanov, preaches "loyalty to national, ethnic, and racial traditions . . . with a preference to the imperial type of  'great nationalism' over 'little nationalism' with separatist tendencies."  That policy, in fact, means the automatic subordination of minorities to the Russian nation and "loyalty to genuine, traditional Orthodoxy and Islam." 

Excerpt reprinted with permission from the Jamestown Foundation, Prism, A Bi-Weekly on the Post-Soviet States 2 (12 January 1996).

Dr. Maryanne Ozernoy is a visiting professor of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC.


Maryanne Ozernoy, "Neo-Communist Multiethnic Fundamentalism," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 4 (Spring 1996), 5.

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1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664


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