Article by Larysa Yakubova, a Doctorate in Historical Studies
Member and Reporter of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Headmaster of the faculty on the History of Ukraine 1920-30. Institute of History of Ukraine
In 1928, the Reichstag election for the NSDAP was not successful as it only received 2.6% of the vote. In 6 years, Adolf Hitler became the undisputed dictator of Germany – the so-called Law of the Supreme Head of the German State which legitimised his power was supported by more than 90% of the electorate. It wasn’t however without a global economic crisis, a German defeat in the First World War, a pinch of political adventurism and charisma of a maniacal failed artist, that we came to this point. Hitler was taken to his ‘throne’ by other failed, alienated, traumatised and disappointed Germans, whose dreams were crushed by post-war hardships. Those who saw the suffering and catastrophic loss of life in the Great War did not seek peace afterwards, but rather revenge in the next World War, which was even more catastrophic.
The animosity of those who came out of the First World War, the ongoing mixing of indigenous people from different European countries with large numbers of other migrants who suffered during the war (including the economically exhausted Russia) as well as the inability of European governments to tackle post war crises, all gave way to the rise of radicalism which quickly became appealing to the masses as a simple and quick solution to their problems. Some of these solutions included repressions, terror and ofcourse, class and ethnic discrimination. Hitler became chancellor as a result of a decision made by an inner circle of several German politicians who had previously failed to form a government due to a lack of parliamentary stability and essentially wanted him in power to avoid a communist takeover. This has a lot of parallels between the shift of power in Russia of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
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What was the essence of Nazism? It seemed to incorporate all the typical slogans and ideas that could resonate with the concept of a ‘commoner’, a victim of war, elites and numerous revolutions. Later came the promise of revenge under the idea of German unification, as ethnic Germans were split across many nations that formed after the collapse of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. Here is where the messianic eschatology of the Third Reich comes in as a means to satisfy the uneducated and simplistic ‘consumer’ who was previously familiar with Lutheran conservatism mixed with mediaeval mysticism and ‘Aryan’ chauvinism. There was also an irreconcilable sense of anticommunism, mixed with antisemitism. This was a matter of expression rather than logic. Hate instead of love. The cult of the Fuhrer over the search for one’s true self. War and terror as a means of solving all of one’s problems.
To the ‘common German’, who was barely able to make a living at the time, Hitler gave the illusion of a divine mission – to reshape the world according to the vision of national socialism. The imbalance of the fanaticism of Nazi ideologues and the common Germans was visually compensated through the showing of mass rallies by the Nazi party. It was more and more convincing that a bunch of petty and ignorant men, infected by this ‘great German idea’ were able to change the world through their synergy, like a herd of insects trying to become something bigger together rather than trying individually.
‘I free the people from the burden of their intellectual limitations, from the insulting self-torturing monstrocity, from the so-called conscience and morality, from the claims of freedom and personal independence, to which not many truly mature enough to reach’ said Hitler. In a particularly criminal manner, he did have a point here: upon freeing the ‘common German’ from remorse arming them with the idea of mass murder for the sake of a greater mission, the Fuhrer opened hell’s gates. The ideology which propagated massive terror by referencing a mythical past, turned everything upside down. Life was replaced with death and hence, the entire set of human values here was drastically transformed.
Hitler’s necrophilia was discussed by Erich Fomm in his written work, however, it was not an underlying characteristic of the Fuhrer alone, but of the entire Third Reich. Obsession with the past and the urge to stop time as such (or even reverse it for that matter), is one of the clearest signs that a society is heading towards an impending political doom. A pinch of messianism (Hitler often proclaimed that the thousand-year-reich was destined to reign just like Jerusalem or the so-called ‘Russian World’ which is propagated in Russia) would ensure Germany’s role in a mythical world order, seen through the narrow vision of Nazi mythology. The last component of this vision is the contempt held towards everyone who would eventually be left out of this macrocosmic structure. After going through these steps, a country increasingly becoming rigid to change and the challenges of its time, turned into a predator, infected with the idea of expansionism and the obsession with restructuring the world order according to its distorted worldview.
Nazism à la russe
Unlike Hitler’s ideology, Putin did not reinvent the wheel but rather used tools that were already available. He did not enchant anyone with his charisma – his portrayal as the almighty national leader was the work of Russian propaganda alone, as the Russians started to like him due to the vast resources of mass media platforms which were monopolised by the state. Such tools would have been a dream for the German Fuhrer. Putin did not cultivate or raise his audience, he did not capture their attention with scandalous, new ideas and visions. He did not even need to construct a distorted mythological vision (the so-called chimaeras of conscience). He merely took the Soviet/post-soviet individual as a substrata to slowly change this population to the necessary condition in order to proceed. The very ‘Soviet person’ was exactly what was needed to see the return of the state as the source of violence and totalitarianism – according to sociologist Yuri Levada in his 1990’s studies. Twenty more years of the cultivation of this substrata of people (Levada called it a ‘plasma’ – an entity without social structure in mass) with the ideas of Russian messianism with its backing through an army of demagogues and moral sadists, have created a social basis supportive of Putinism among the post-Soviet generations.
A lion’s share of Russian soldiers that are now dying in Ukraine are those that were born and raised during Putin’s reign of the last twenty years. Today, in the days of military euphoria, the absence of a natural clinical reflex (signalling human life and human lives in a way) to the tragic events taking place is completely absent among Russians. However, it is likely that the ‘patient’ was already unresponsive and unlikely to be ‘alive’. The collective conscience of the Russian people often showed the world their inability to construct a modern, humane and law-based society. To the contrary, the Russians expressed the will to participate in a country of all-out violence, as it has always been the case historically. The mood of the people in this case resonated with the interests of their masters in the Kremlin.
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Under such conditions, only some sets of ideas that were rigid were slightly changed, which were subsequently mobilised to be fed into the mass conscience of the population. This would make it easier to practically implement the ideas later. From an intellectual point of view, it is no secret that the ideology of the ‘Russian world’ is an eclectic tool set of absurd conceptions, stigmas, stereotypes, insecurities and dogmas (one can read more about this in my book “The Russian world in Ukraine: at the edge of the void”, 2018). A direct analogy to this ideology is impossible to conceal. For example, the notion that Ukrainians are a ‘brotherly people’, but still must be physically eliminated, thereby asserting the ‘higher’ form of Russian humanism. Evidently, present analogies and cynicism do not stand in the way of the expansion of the ‘Russian world’. On the contrary, these qualities ensure the ideological groundwork that effects the consciousness of common Russians, making this new reality analogous – anti-intellectual, anonymous and inhumane.
Psychological portraits of those with a totalitairan mindset and those who were responsible for the massacres in Bucha (rapists, terrorists etc.) are identical: one displays an example of a person who is forced to live in an eternal state of humiliation and helplessness, while the other – a totalitarian-minded individual who received orders to murder, and hence, manages to compensate for his own deficiencies. This structure of the individual ‘person from the masses’ in Russia as shown by sociologists, is a direct consequence of the long adaptation to political, legislative and economic abuse by the arbitrary government.
The expressions that are commonly used by the Russian propaganda machine are generated on different types of levels. This shows the unhealthy establishment of the ‘collective Russian’ based on mutually exclusive ideas and tasks. ‘We snapped fascism’s spine then and we will do it again’ claims patriarch Kirill. A month later, Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov delivers antisemitic remarks which are picked up by smaller propagandist circles. However, this is only one side of the problem. Rashist propaganda cultivates self-identification with Putin’s Russia among Russians as well as Soviet Russia, which does not exist anymore. The Rashist discourse of patriotism is not only centred around past eras, but also actively promotes the ideas of war and death as central to the meaning of life. This irrational and purely fascist discourse, which puts the masses into a state of destruction, eventually leads to its own self-destruction too. This is why Rashism is terrifying not only as a doctrine but in its practice.
In the ideal world order as seen by the Rashists, Russia is not a fragment of a collapsed USSR but rather a direct continuation of it. This is where the idea of expansion is established. Neighbouring nations are not seen as equals bound by international law but rather as parts of Russia which previously dropped out of the Soviet Union as a result of a ‘geopolitical catastrophe’ in 1991. On this basis, the mood in Russia is more and more directly aiming for the extermination of these ‘brotherly’ people, whose existence is acknowledged only as a stepping stone in the demographic construction of their empire.
A ‘deep people’
Who can be considered as part of the social basis of rashism and how did this ideology come about? When answering this question, it is necessary to turn our attention to the lack of structure in Russian society and its overall incompatibility with the European model of civilisation. The consequence of communist bolshevism in Russia was the total proletarization of the population in its cities and villages, then turning into a substrata, placed far from the means of production, added value and government as well. In essence, upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was not so different from Ukraine, which suffered a similar fate under the communists. The differences were uncovered afterwards. After the establishment of the Siloviki (domestic security forces) above all other branches of economic governance and after limiting the possibility of growth for small and medium business, social development in Russia became impossible. Furthermore, a large chunk of the population never recovered from its previous stagnation and social demise. The Moscow-Petersburg axis of wealth only delayed the imminent social catastrophe which engulfed more and more of the country. The historical clock has therefore stopped.
The masses situated in villages and deprived cities of small and medium sizes, live in very poor conditions, where people are barely able to make a living without a hope for the better. Even more so, this population has a constant sense of doom and fear for their own future. The chronic pain of feeling their own deficiency, dependency and humiliation have given rise to a social resentment which can be tamed only by a collective feeling of national supremacy (chauvinism). This self-perceived ‘supremacy’ is a repressive tool used by the state internally for its external expansion. The annexation of Crimea and the hybrid war in Donbas turned into a hard drug for the Russian people as they quickly became addicted to it. For eight years of being ‘hooked’ on this drug, the last drop of reality left them. Nevertheless, the urge for revenge is not new for Russia: the only relatively peaceful periods in its history (sic!) were 1991-1993, 1997-1999 and 2009-2014. This is if only taking into account wars on post-Soviet soil. If we were to take into account wars in which Russia acted through its proxies, then there would be no relatively peaceful breaks at all.
All these acts of aggression were treated by the government as ‘small and brilliant victories’, hoping to prophesize a greater future victory. Meanwhile, the intensity of hostilities and stakes held were constantly growing. In essence, all these wars were of a terrorist nature and subsequently built a network that supported the relevant level (lack) of moraility. This is what became a supportive factor that helped Putin’s Russia. This conceptualisation was evidently stalinist by nature and had already done its damage today. This shows that society in Russia has not evolved since the stalinist era. The changes (or expectations of them) that were so actively discussed by Russian intellectuals were in fact specious. The Russian ‘deep people’ or ‘an abyssal sense’ were stuck in stalinist times with its concept of a ‘fortress under siege’ (constantly under attack).
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In 2012, Russian anti-americanism entered a new phase, a phase of paranoid schizophrenia. The population was systematically daunted through means of mass media about the supposed threats the West posed to Russian sovereignty, as well as threats to its economy, moral values and cultural authenticity. If the gradual descent into military affection was not the goal of the Kremlin, then the creators of the ‘Russian world’ doctrine would have already been wearing straitjackets by the early 2000s. Instead, they were deans at faculties in prominent universities, as the government promoted their views, financed relevant literature as well as political and community projects. The Kremlin’s aim wasn’t merely to overcome how Russia was viewed in the past, but rather write a new myth based on a new ideology or quasi-religion. This would be facilitated by a quasi-state and drug (propaganda) addicted society, which would be the backbone of this ‘Russian World’. Instead of adapting to the real world, the Kremlin and its ideological wing created a new political utopia, where a country heavily dependent on natural resources (oil and gas) with only 2% of the global GDP would impose its hegemony on the rest of the world.
It must be said that the Russian people gave their consent in participating in this project. The skyrocketing of national pride and satisfaction which can be seen through numerous sociological studies, was closely related to the concept of ‘small and victorious wars’ (61-68% approval rate during the Russo-Georgian war and the annexation of Crimea). The dependence of Russian public mood on the ability to abuse and kill others was both the case and consequence of the demoralisation of the country. The last symptom of demoralisation is the collective ‘conscious schizophrenia’ which can be seen through the public support of the so-called ‘military special operation’, the elimination of ‘banderites’ but also is accompanied with talks of ‘brotherly love’ and the will to ‘liberate’ Ukrainians from American oppression. These are consequences of conscious justification of Russia’s state-level lies and state terrorism. Not noticeable to the common people themselves, the regime ‘tied’ the Russian people to the blood being spilt in Ukraine, thereby making the Russian people accountable for the atrocities and crimes against humanity.
As noted by sociologists, the hatred towards the West is caused by Russian despair from the inability to create a better future, a future that would (upon imagining) closely resemble that of ordinary life in the West. Realising their inability to live a life of dignified standards, this social substrata automatically generates hatred, a hatred fueled by the ‘crowd effect’, aiming to destroy the desired ideal, an ideal which they will never reach. This line of thinking was somewhat seen in many terrorist groups wearing Russian military uniforms in Ukraine. Now, this feeling of insecurity and deficiency has reached its most active phase in its crisis. The Russians are hence searching for a way out of this crisis through either the killing of Ukrainian civilians or perhaps by means of self-destruction. Parallel to this, Russia is extracting the remaining elements of liberalism and democracy from itself, in order to get rid of them once and for all (including those who refuse to live in a totalitarian and isolated society). This is the essence of a new Russia, a country that has been totally engulfed by rashism.
The beneficiaries of the regime
Nevertheless, even such a deprived and impoverished social stratum as this larger segment of the Russian people is not monolithic. It is clear that a putinist can be someone from a marginalised suburb in an impoverished town as well as a lecturer in a prominent university or government official. This seemingly amorphous mass of people does have a structure after all. There are only two elements in this structure. The beneficiaries are the corrupt vertical form of government; big business is dependent on it, the Siloviki with all their diverse methods of repression including the judiciary branch; the Russian Orthodox church, which became an ideological backbone of the regime; an ‘army’ of people involved in education, culture and art, who serve the verticality of power; propagandists and media outlets and lastly, puppet politicians. This is the very layer that benefits from Russian state rent-seeking from its oil resources and also acts as the protector of the mental ‘bubble’ of the ‘Russian world’.
With the common effort of these various channels, the regime became the single master of Russia’s cultural evolution, which was no longer influenceable by society itself. The matrices that make up the system of overall contemporaneous cycles and rules of conduct are schools, mass media, the military, penitentiary system, political parties and public organisations that reiterate the state version of the ‘desirable’ worldview of our time. These elements are homogeneous in terms of systems of thought and are completely subordinate to the government. The creation of isolated bubbles of information cycles, the prohibition of archive access and isolationism in scientific fields are completed by the creation of an ‘alternate reality’ for the ordinary Russian consumer. This signals a new era, an era of ‘fake time’ and fake news.
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With the common effort of various elements of this system, (ranging from a kindergarten teacher all the way to a prison commandant and further up the ladder) social development in Russia is stagnant. It is due to these common efforts of this entity that social synergy built on trust, humanity, solidarity, idealism, morality are all absent. Hence, any career or personal enrichment is impossible. It is due to these forces that Russia has been transformed into an intellectual dump, which then resorts to outdated clichés of domination, violence and destruction. The social degradation in Russia thus spills over to mutate its institutions: the ministry of defence quickly turned into the ministry of war, ministry of education into the ministry of lies, ministry of science into the ministry of metaphysics and the church turned into a terrorist organisation. Using all available instruments to construct their totalitarian matrix, the Siloviki implement a system completely based on coercion. Hence, everything becomes fake – Quasi-economics, quasi-markets, quasi-politics, quasi-state, quasi-church, quasi-culture are now in place. Nothing truly is what it is trying to show it is.
Strongly tied to the cycle of lies in the government, corruption, crime and exploitation of their own population, the Siloviki will be the last ones to abandon the doctrine of the ‘Russian World’. In fact, the ‘Russian World’ and its ideals were the source of their rise to power, and the subsequent creation of the quasi-subject of the present Russian reality (and hence a resource to feed their families etc.). Without the regime, they are nothing except participants in archived criminal proceedings. These rats will abandon their Fuhrer as soon as they feel that his ship is headed for the bottom of the sea. But for now, their task is to keep the common Russian people in the state of affection to the ‘Russian world’ and mobilise more cannon fodder for the cause, thereby neutralising any counteraction.
The demographic resource of the regime which its top officials are effectively parasitizing on, is the ‘bare’ or ‘naked’ human. This is the post-Soviet Russian, often called a ‘Vatnik’ (a political slur for post-Soviet people who feel nostalgic for Soviet times). The nucleus of this community consists of poor and depressing provincial environments, which have been on the brink of social catastrophes for almost a century. This is a zone of devalued human life. This lack of value of human life is directly dependent on the proximity of the individual to the corrupt state mechanism (and ability to feed off of it). Two thirds of the Russian population barely make it from one paycheck to another (or from one pension check to the next). Their descendants often inherit this fate. More than 50% are born and die in a socio-economically deprived area accompanied by extreme social anomie and deviations. Escape options from this environment are often limited: lottery, death, drug or alcohol binge or prison and the Siloviki. It is no surprise that the manpower that makes up the Soliviki and the army all come from this socio-economically deprived background.
A common characteristic of a typically post-Soviet Russian is the lack of global self-vision in the context of a historical chronotope. Lev Gudkov (Russian sociologist) famously labelled this group as ‘lacking originalities and social qualities. Furthermore, the Russian commoner’s thought process is trapped within the paradigm of paternalism. This commoner identifies himself with the state while simultaneously being its victim both through violence and its cult of limitless power. It is violence that shapes the lives of such people in all domains, starting with violence in the family, kindergarten, school, work, army and eventually in penitentiary institutions (as is often inevitable for many). Such a person is very fitting to the system of vertical power structures, something along the lines of ‘power means coercion’, while removing any possibilities of horizontal social networking. Such an individual can live their entire life without trusting or being able to cooperate with others. Even one of the modern rashist slogans ‘We don’t leave our own behind!’ was instantly debunked in practice as Russian troops literally left their own behind everywhere.
The revenues from oil and gas exports never reach the socially deprived areas of Russia. These areas are socio-economically heading in a downwards spiral – completely the opposite of what is happening in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is the zone of total dependence on state TV and therefore, totally entrenched in its propaganda which frees the individual from the ‘chimaeras of conscience’, from personal dignity and cuts off any metaphysical understanding of good and evil. Such a person lives in a dualistic world, taught for centuries through state violence, in which only two divisions are present – our ‘tribe’ and the other – the eternal ‘enemy’. The post-Soviet Russian citizen is a physical and mental reflection of this ‘matrix of violence’, a ticking time bomb which will explode in a time premeditated by the government. Masses which do not have any authentic intellectual and emotional reflexes, live in a collective mindset that fits the propagandist discourse and only reiterate several of its clichés depending on the situation.
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A typical individual from the masses of Putin’s era in Russia is a proponent of the ‘Strong Hand’ principle and deeply despises the inaccessible liberties of the West. This individual is eternally impoverished but desires wealth. He tries to get closer to any available corrupt vertical power structures to carry out rent seeking. He is a sufferer at home but a ‘Great Russian’ abroad. A member of such a totalitarian society is bound to it like a tuning fork to a pitch. However, Homo Putins is not only the base of the current regime but also its cause. Putinism and Putinists are inseparable and mutually bound – they feed from one another and when time comes, they unite to become a horrifying machine of destruction, a destruction of everything that lies outside of its totalitarian matrix. Do you recall one of the writings that the invaders left inside a Hostomel flat: ‘Who let you live such a beautiful life?’. This is exactly the type of person that is outlined here.
Hence, the typical mass example of Putin’s Russia is a historical replica of Homo Sovieticus. Its social essence for almost a century, was based on the dying Russian peasantry and townspeople in the first and second generations inhabiting socially homogeneous and deprived cities. Their collective conscience, deprived by totalitarianism, was later artificially cultivated by Putin’s regime (by itself it would not be able to exit the totalitarian trap), thereby reproducing the historical past and its corresponding pathologies.
Instead of the observed group under the name of ‘the Soviet people’ a new creation came about – a multiplied ‘sea’ of ‘Soviet people’ which once once were the spinal cord of Soviet communist bolshevism and nowadays – putinist fascism. In a general sense, these are people who follow the follow (or simply, follow the crowd): the parameters of their mental, moral and psychological characteristics are set by the state. Being and acting real for such a person is only possible when they are left alone by themselves. However, the aim of the regime is to set conditions that make it unbearable for someone to be alone by oneself. For such an individual, meaning in life could only be achieved as part of a dedicated tribe or pack. This person does not inherit anything and does not leave anything for its descendants either (as most do not accumulate any resources throughout their lifetimes) besides allegiance to their pack. This individual exists in a regime of disrupted social communication even in their own family, and hence unable to create meaningful social connections nor be happy.
An angry pack
Calls for giving more attention to internal issues instead of ‘liberating our brothers’ in Donbas, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan or any other made-up threats, do not resonate in a society like this. In a merely nominal land and state, Putin’s ‘electorate’ is absolutely powerless. The desire to tame the outside with the use of Russia’s ‘big stick’ power is used to compensate for the absolute lack of basic rights of the Russian people domestically. The absolute national humiliation of the Russian people by their government is compensated by the people themselves through violence against external victims. The bigger their despair from the lack of conscious self-existence, the stronger their violence against their victims.
Under the influence of the corrupt example and influence of the government, moral degradation of the common person reaches extreme levels. Hence, the population of such a big country turns into a flock of angry beings. Differentiation such as local (family or school), regional or international is a matter of time. Alarming signs were already seen as early as the autumn of 2018 in Kerch, when a student shot twenty other students and workers of a local college. More recently for example, on the 26th of April, in Ulyanovsk Oblast of Russia a man walked into a kindergarten, shot two children and their tutor and then shot himself. This is why some ideologues such as Vladislav Surkov proposed ‘exporting’ this violence abroad, thereby solving the problem of violence domestically. This is how events unfolded in Ukraine in Donbas in 2014. A large chunk of such maniacal and insane people were utilised by the Russian government.
The same was supposed to happen in the next phase of the Russo-Ukrainian war under the name of the ‘special operation’. The main aim was quite pragmatic: reduce the excess domestic social tensions, push the remainder of democratic and liberal elements out of Russia, finalise the formation of a totalitarian order, legitimise the illegitimacy of the government and gradually ‘digest’ occupied Ukraine and continue in this manner for at least a quarter of a century. When looking at broader global views and aims, rashism, proclaiming its struggle against ‘Western hegemony’, aims to implement its tribal way of life. The modern conception of a gulag on a global scale is an idea that Putin and his inner circle is strongly fixated on. The end of humanism (a term coined by Klaus Standke), naturalistically explained in the book Kolymski Tales by Varlam Shalamov, grows to global proportions – this is the so-called quintessence of rashism. If rashism contains a certain anthropological project, then the experiment results in the complete removal of the image of God from man. This is the future that Russians are forced to die for in mass.
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The great struggles of nations in the XX century (revolutions, modernisation of society and self-determination in a dynamic world) were completely ignored by Russia. An entire generation was stuck in a volatile post-Soviet stagnation. In fact, at least one more generation in Russia awaits this sort of self-destruction even if society comes to its senses and tries to leave the present state of cognitive decay and attempt its mental catharsis. If not, Russia will be stuck in this historical trap cycle once again. However, the worrying part of this is not the fact that Russia has doomed its own future but the threat it poses to the rest of the world.
As a historian, I often find it necessary to remind others that direct extrapolation from the present to the past and vice versa are counterproductive as they do not help simplify our understanding. However, there are some exceptions. There are essentially ontological repetitions which are the main driver of historical repetitiveness and cycles. This can be experienced through reading the works of Hermann Rauschning, in which he published conversations of Adolf Hitler with his like-minded advisers. The warning these publications provide concern the ‘collective Putin’ phenomenon as well, the Russian ruling elite as well as millions of common people which it is reliant on. Upon replacing Hitler with Putin, the Germans – with Russians, a déjà vu occurs. We see a trace of the infernal past in the present but also a recipe of how to overcome it. Henceforth, here’s a relevant citation of Rauschning:
‘A single person can bring absurdity to an entire epoch. There is a mirror in front of us in which we must recognise ourselves as distorted, in terms of our fate and our entire essence. One person is limited, a slave with all his slave-like instinct, similar to Don Quixote, accepts literally everything that everyone else would find a spiritual luxury. So if Hitler wins, there will be more change than just mere borders. Everything that was considered as meaningful life and human values will be gone. This is not a European war of politics. This is a ‘beast from the void’ which managed to emerge upon the outside world. All of us, regardless of the nations we belong to, Germans included (especially Germans), are bound by one goal: to close this void’.