According to Adorno et al. (2019, p. xxiii), ‘the psyche of a fascist is “authoritarian” in the sense that it attaches itself to figures of strength and disdains those it deems weak. It tends toward conventionalism, rigidity, and stereotypical thinking; it insists on a stark contrast between in-group and out-group, and it jealousy patrols the boundaries between them’. This article will introduce the psychology behind Vladimir Putin’s actions against Ukraine during early 2022. It will also draw from Adorno et al. (1950) in order to teach about the intersection of psychology and politics. Topics such as narcissism, totalitarianism, and antisemitism will be covered with special attention to the current crisis Ukranian Jews are facing as a result of Russia’s declaration of war.
Putin invaded Ukraine on the 24th February, 2022. The next day, on the 25th February, Putin threatened the world with potential nuclear warfare. He stated: ‘Whoever tries to hinder us, and even more so, to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate. And it will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history’ (Gollom, 2022). Next, he placed his nuclear deterrence team on high alert two days later blaming the UK for it (BBC News, 2022)’. Many other news flooded the Internet:
- Russia captured the Chernobyl nuclear plant (Reuters, 2022a)
- Russia captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant but Ukraine denied it (Daily Sabah, 2022).
- Russia hit a nuclear waste disposal site (Tirone, 2022).
- Russia unleashed a special Islamic death squad against Ukraine (Blair, 2022).
- Russia is banned from Swift (Collins et al., 2022).
- Russia unleashed a group of blood-thirsty mercenaries (Tingle, 2022).
- Russia bombed a hospital of children with cancer (Rowlands et al., 2022).
- Russia bombed Ukranian schools (Pleasance et al., 2022)
- Venezuelan President Maduro supported Putin.
- Ex-president Trump called Putin ‘smart’.
- Belarus allowed Russia to attack Ukraine from their territory.
- Anonymous— the hacker group— declared cyberwarfare against Russia.
- China blamed the US for “escalating” tensions over Ukraine.
- Pakistani president Khan supported Putin.
- Syria pledged support to Russia.
- Myanmar supported Russia.
- Cuba supported Russia.
- North Korea supported Russia.
- Eritrea supported Russia.
- The European Union and the rest of the world stood with Ukraine.
Antisemitism & Totalitarian Narcissism
According to Shaw (2014, p. 55) ‘traumatizing narcissists (including those […] labeled “malignant narcissists”) create totalitarian systems in which their malignant envy and paranoid fears, defended against with delusional omnipotence and bolstered by self-righteous rage and hatred, merge to shape a contemptuous agenda to enslave, control, and annihilate others, if not literally then figuratively. They defend their projects as morally justified, for the greater good. The narcissist is convinced that his selfish, cruel agenda is in fact a generous, compassionate offer of enlightenment and liberation, conducted under his superior auspices for the benefit of the rest of the inferior world. With this kind of traumatizing narcissism, all is self-righteousness and sanctimony, but nothing is sacred, no boundaries are respected’.
It was not long ago that Parker (2018) made an attempt to defend Putin’s government as not antisemitic; however, now that we have seen Putin’s desperate attempt to restore the Soviet Union, and his hatred against the Jewish president of Ukraine, it has never been clearer that if Putin showed any love towards the jews in the past, it was merely a facade and a trick of impression management. ‘The Vladimir Putin government and regime could be reasonably expected to be officially and virulently anti-semitic. Both the major regimes that preceded it, the Soviet Union and the Romanov dynasty, were officially anti-semitic and actively persecuted Jews inside their territory, often singling them about above other minorities for special mistreatment […] In reality, however, the Putin government is not offcially anti-Semitic’ (Parker, 2018). Maybe it was not officially antisemitic in 2017 when Parker published this article, but the same cannot be stated for 2022 when Putin’s overt offensive tactics became transparent. It seems, not much has changed since ‘Cold War theorists of totalitarianism such as Hannah Arendt were promoting the view that Nazism and Soviet Communism were variants of the same ideological and political form’, (Adorno et al., 2019, p. xxxv). It is also clear from Parker’s paper that Putin has been accusing Ukraine of being antisemitic for a while now, an excuse he used to initiate what was to become a grim episode of European warfare.
Furthermore, the Russian news reported that the Russian Ministry of Defence wanted to punish Kyiv leaders for ‘humiliation and torture’ and that each of them would ‘be tracked down and inevitably and properly punished’ (TASS, 2022). According to them, this was done to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine. However, what really has been conducted is an attempt at de-jewfication, as Ukraine’s president is Jewish (his grandfather survived the holocaust; Veidlinger, 2022), and so are many people in Ukraine. For instance, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (2022) states that there is an enlarged population of 140,000 Jews in Ukraine, and that the largest population centres for the Jewish community are Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odessa, all cities that were targeted early in the invasion:
- Russia attacked Kharkiv and caused a lot of damage (Henley, 2022)
- Russia attacked Kyiv and caused a lot of damage (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 2022)
- Russia attacked Odessa and caused a lot of damage (Reuters, 2022b)
- Russia attacked Dnipro and caused a lot of damage (Martin-Pavitt, 2022)
Moreover, according to Marsden (2022), ‘against the backdrop of the rising tensions, Ukraine hosted the European Jewish Association’s (EJA) antisemitism conference that centered around the commemoration of Babi Yar in which 33,701 of Kyiv’s Jews were gunned down by the Nazis, the biggest single massacre of Jews during the Holocaust’. On the 1st March 2022, Russia announced ‘high precision strikes’ (Kingsley, 2022) and went on to attack the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre in Ukraine, an action which the Jerusalem Post (2022) described as villains ‘killing Holocaust victims for the second time’.
It was also stated in the Marsden (2022) news article that Jews in Ukraine were warned in January to evacuate as a Russian invasion was suspected. Also, just as commemorations of the Holocaust were due on the 27th January, 2022; Russia’s threat was looming all over Ukraine, and for Ukranian Jews, this became ‘a mental note to stay vigilant, plan for the worst — and prepare to move fast out of harm’s way amid growing fears of an invasion by the hundreds of thousands of Russian troops that President Vladimir Putin has amassed in recent weeks along the border’ (Liphshiz, 2022). And indeed, the Russian aggression took place, displacing many Jews, as well as many other people and children. ‘Under totalitarian rule, anti-Semitism is no longer a matter of primary hostilities on the part of the people and of truly spontaneous actions. It is an administrative measure which uses existing prejudices and, to an even higher degree, psychological dispositions’ (Adorno et al., 2019, p. XLViii).
Based on all of the above information, it can be hypothesised that there is an antisemitic element in Russia’s attack against Ukraine, including the specific targeting of Jewish infrastructure in Babi Yar. Finally, Adorno et al. (1950, p. 3) state that: ‘(1) that anti-Semitism probably is not a specific or isolated phenomenon but a part of a broader ideological framework, and (2) that an individual’s susceptibility to this ideology depends primarily upon his psychological needs’.
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