Tiit Hennoste: Fascism

Tiit Hennoste.
Tiit Hennoste. Source: Ülo Josing/ERR

In becoming a term of abuse, "fascism" turned into an empty shell the only real feature of which is the ultra-negative connotations it carries. The result is a word family the use of which is characterized by utter contempt but very different meanings, Tiit Hennoste writes in a comment originally published in Sirp magazine.

Fascism is a phenomenon the definition of which has eluded scholars for decades. It is first and foremost characterized by rabid nationalism, collectivism-corporativism and anti-individualist sentiment, yearning for authoritarianism or dictatorship, focus on tradition, regulation of social life, cult of the leader and violence.

We can add a host of other markers, including longing for ethnic or racial purity, antisemitism, victim mentality, preferring emotion to rational analysis, conviction of the status of a special people, glorification of family values etc. These are accompanied by symbols and external tokens, whether we are talking about the swastika, Nazi salute, black clothes etc.

Next to signifying an ideology and movement, the term "fascism" became a curse-word used by European leftists, especially Stalinists but also socialists, to refer to different countries' fascists but also other right-wingers as early as the 1920s. In Estonia, the moniker was attached to both the Vaps Movement and Konstantin Päts' regime.

However, Stalinists attached the same title to socialists as bearers of something called social fascism. Followed World War II after which "fascism" became a truly universal swear-word. Elderly Estonians still remember being branded fascists.

The Baltic countries were reminded of their fascist status, that they support fascists or foster fascist moods after they regained their independence. Putin and his followers accuse the Ukrainian authorities and people of fascism, while the Ukrainians refer to as Russian fascism the ideas and actions of Putin and his supporters. In other words: the communists' famous motto of "those who are not with us are against us" gradually morphed into "those who are not with us are fascists."

But the new era also brought new forms of fascism. In 2008, an American discovered that fascism is not a far-right phenomenon at all and managed to turn into an influential book the idea that modern liberals are the intellectual successors of former fascists. This was the birth of liberal fascism.

The coronavirus period came with vaccination and restrictions on movement as medical or Covid-fascism. How can one word be at the same time full of meaning and completely devoid of it, able to change its appearance like a chameleon and endure despite all this controversy?

While we can look for explanations in European history and present day, the phenomenon of word obscurity is equally to blame. Words with enough openness and inaccuracy take on a life of their own. The ideological feature set of fascism is so broad and vague that we can refer to it as a collage or merely a nebula. The label of fascism could be slapped on everything that exhibited only a few ingredients of the original notion. What is more, fascism is a parent notion the variants of which are not expected to match their origin.

In becoming a term of abuse, "fascism" turned into an empty shell the only feature of which is the ultra-negative connotations it carries. The result is a word family the use of which is characterized by utter contempt but very different meanings.

Why am I writing this piece? I was once naive enough to think that the Soviet period turned "fascism" into a kind of taboo word for Estonians. And it did for a time. Things started changing with the emergence on the political arena of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) some young members of which openly flirted with fascism. It took off from there. First, EKRE was declared a fascist party. While this particular label soon disappeared from public politics, it persists in social media.

However, EKRE itself turned things around after being ousted from the government by starting to declare, through its leaders and mouthpiece, the "obvious truth" that Estonia is ruled by a fascist government that represents liberal fascism or disguises its fascist aspirations as Europeanness and other liberal slogans. At the very least, we have creeping fascism as the Reform Party apparently wants to do in Estonia what the Nazis did to "second-class citizens" in the 1930s.

By now, this has gone beyond the government and a single party. [EKRE newspaper] Uued Uudised offers us a far more powerful truth: "Never before have fascist moods been so tangible and open in Estonia as during the ten months the Reform Party has been in power."

Therefore, fascist moods, which were negligible and hidden in Estonia before, have come over an increasingly big part of the nation. The sentence is from last November. Looking at the Reform Party's soaring rating, we are left with the conclusion that the number of such passive fascists has indeed swelled in recent months. What should be done with this part of the people I will leave up to the reader's imagination.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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