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RI Exclusive: A Talk With Starikov - A Strong Voice in Russia’s Rising Conservative Movement

Russia watchers should be keeping their eye on the rising star of Nikolai Starikov

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

For avid russia watchers, Nikolai Starikov is a man to keep an eye on. His star is rising and his message is truly resonating with many Russian people. He taps into powerful sentiments of nostalgia and pushes back against the ethno masochistic view of Russian history pushed by Russian liberals and Western academics.

Needless to say, Nikolai Starikov is very popular in Russia. He's written 11 books concerning historical, social, political and current affair issues. He focuses on Russia’s history, and his books push a revisionist form of Russia’s modern history.

<figcaption>Nikolai Starikov</figcaption>
Nikolai Starikov

In this video Starikov explains that someone is deliberately destabilizing Europe with migrant policy

Most of Starikov’s books become bestsellers, in particular his book:  “Liquidation of Russia. Who Helped the Red Army to Win?”  has done very well. It reached the level of history nonfiction number one bestseller in Russian book stores.

One of the best ways to see Starikov and hear what he has to say is when he goes on a speaking tour. The book events always get jam-packed with Russians eager to hear what he has to say. Nikolai Starikov is not just a historian or a writer, but he is also now the leader of the Great Fatherland Party- a new Russian political party. Starikov is omnipresent on Russian TV and performs masterfully in political debates.  They will not be running in the upcoming Duma elections this term.

I got a chance to sit down and talk with him. Most of the chat was informal, and light-hearted, but the topics discussed were anything but.

For Russia watchers, he is an important figure to keep an eye on. Many in the West might have heard of Alexander Dugin- a Russian esoteric philosopher with a new geopolitical vision for Russia- and the comparison is apt. While, both are voices of conservatism inside Russia, few Westerners know about Starikov. In general, Starikov’s message is much simpler to understand, and the ideas he propounds fall on fertile ground with a significant portion of Russians.  They also reflect the views held by the elites currently in power in Russia.

Starikov takes a hard-line stance against the West and the United States especially. It is not hard to understand why, because almost all of his political ideas are expounded upon in detail in his books. One of his more popular books "Who Set Hitler Against Stalin? Hitler's Terrible Blunder" explains why Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. In the book, Starikov makes the claim that the Americans and the British propped up Hitler and allowed him to grow unchecked so that he could unleashed on Russia. In that sense, Starikov lays more blame for World War II at the feet of the Anglo-sphere than he does with the Germans.

He himself speaks German and exhibits a characteristically Russian Germanophilia. His theories about the rise of Hitler shift the blame off the German people and certainly open the door for further Russo-German reconciliation- a policy that Putin has vociferously pursued since taking office.

In this video Starikov explains how the US succeeded in destroying the USSR, and after that, kept attacking Russia.  He argues that the US used much more immoral methods, such as importing drugs.

Many accuse Starikov of being a Stalin apologist- and he absolutely is. Starikov openly admires Joseph Stalin and sees in him a Tsar comparable to Alexander III- a deeply Conservative Tsar. Starikov sees in Stalin a great leader, one that made Russia great again after a heroic victory against all odds over Nazi Germany in World War II. But these are not sentiments felt just by Starikov, but by a significant portion of Russian society as well. In that sense, the Western Liberals are right- admiration for Stalin and nostalgia for the USSR are growing.  In a recent poll, more than half of Russians answered that they see Stalin in a positive light.

Starikov argues that the number of people who died due to political repression under Stalin’s rule have been wildly exaggerated, because it suited the needs of Russia’s enemies, and within Russia, from various political movements.  Western cold warriors needed to whip up popular support against the USSR, Ukrainian nationalists wanted their “holocaust”, Nikita Khrushchev had his agenda, and the Russian democrats of the 90s had theirs.  All this resulted in estimates of victims reaching into the 10s of millions (30 million is a number often mentioned), which Starikov says is preposterous.  When asked what he thinks the number is, he says that he has studied the data and the archives, and that he believes the number is about 600,000 - spread out over the 30 years that Stalin was in power.  

But Starikov goes further - he argues that these deaths should not be simply blamed on Stalin personally, because he argues that the whole country was caught in a political terror, which Stalin himself did not fully control, and was even himself at risk.  He makes the comparison with the French revolutionary terror, which no one really controlled, and indiscriminately devoured people in it path, including the powerful.

Starikov had a lot to say that wasn't related to his usual academic themes. In particular, he was shocked at the current state of American entertainment media- especially the hit Netflix show, House of Cards. In one particularly bizarre scene, the main character, is depicted having homosexual relations with his bodyguard. This scene did not really advance the plot and seemed thrown in there just for fun, and House of Cards is not the only show that does this habitually. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones immediately come to mind…

But Starikov didn't bring up House of Cards just to chat, he used the example to prove a larger point. In his mind, the West seems possessed by Satanic forces. Homosexuality, inversion of masculine and feminine poles, and flowering androgyny were all examples that he brought up to prove his point that something evil was at work in the West.

"If they had shown us this element of Western culture, my generation would have rejected it; my generation could have been saved!" he joked.

But his joke reveals a larger trend in Russian society, many are starting to look more and more towards Europe with disgust and not admiration. This is not a sentiment unique to Starikov, rather he is a reflection of a growing nostalgia for the USSR that is everywhere evident in Russia. These aren't the 90's anymore, Russia is no longer trying to run away from its history, but starting to embrace it.

Despite accusations to the contrary, Starikov is no ethno-nationalist, nor is he even a civic nationalist. He is a State nationalist- a man who believes in the importance of preserving the integrity of the Russian State. This is a very old tradition in Russia, and again Starikov is no real exception to the rule when it comes to his priorities. Ethno-nationalism is frowned on upon by the Kremlin, and "Russia for the Russians," does not jibe with the message of his party.

Instead, Starikov promotes the idea of the "Friendship of the Peoples," and views the Far-Right with suspicion- especially the Far-Right rising in Europe and the United States.

In his mind, the rise of the Far-Right was instigated deliberately by the American intelligence services. Millions of migrants were directed into Europe with the intention of destabilizing the countries and engendering a new Far-Right movement to come to power. Naturally, this new Far-Right would be directed against Russia just as it was done in World War II. At least that is what Starikov believes. And to be fair, his beliefs certainly seem to correspond to reality when looking at how nationalistic governments in former Soviet bloc countries love to saber-rattle at Russia, with American financial and military backing of course.

This is a video interview which the editor of RI, Charles Bausman did with Starikov in the Fall of 2015.  He explains what he thinks Russia should be doing to win the information war, and discusses his views on how many people died from repressions during Stalin's time.

That being said, he expressed an interest in working together with conservative movements in the West saying that such ties are important going forward for Russia. But herein lies a problem and a contradiction. Most of the conservative movements rising in the West are firmly anti-Islamic, a message and a position that Starikov says he cannot endorse or be part of. "Islam is as much a part of Russia as is Orthodoxy." He explained. Going forward, it seems unlikely that his message will resonate in Europe, and even less so within the Anglo-sphere…

While Starikov considers himself a patriot, and while his party is called the Great Fatherland Party, that does not mean he endorses an expansionary Russian foreign policy. "Russia has enough land, far too much even!" he said, gesturing at a map of Russia (with Crimea colored in, of course). "It would take years to even begin to develop Siberia, so why not start there?" But his conception of Russia also extends past the borders as they stand now. "Ukrainians are Russians," he says. "And Kiev is the most Russian city in the Former Soviet Union, its strange, but true!" This does not translate directly into calls for the conquest of Ukraine by Russia, but it certainly means that Starikov views the Ukraine as part of Russian civilization, and that Russia should not let it go without a fight.

Of all the conservative politicians out there in Russia, Starikov's brand of Russian patriotism seems to have the most potential of forming the backbone of Russia's national identity going forward because in many ways it already does. All Starikov is doing really, is expressing the de facto sentiments of a large segment of the Russian population and the de facto ideological stance of the Kremlin.  

It is difficult to argue with, after all his positions are well-thought out and defended by tomes of academic research. He is omnipresent on TV and hugely popular because of it. Furthermore, his appearances on political debate shows have adequately demonstrated his skills as an orator, and a sharp debater. Whether or not his party will be a force in the Duma in the future is debatable, but Nikolai Starikov's star doesn't look like it will fade anytime soon.

If anything, his message is spreading and his political future in Russia looks bright.

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