Once again, ultra-nationalists have emerged from an impoverished economy and turned upon outsiders. This time the main targets come from China, the rising power to the south…
Groups such as Tsagaan Khass, or White Swastika, portray themselves as patriots standing up for ordinary citizens in the face of foreign crime, rampant inequality, political indifference and corruption.
Cowen makes the point that Tsagaan Khass’s rejection of foreign influence is superficial at best when it is importing a Central European ideology that viewed most Asians as racial inferiors. But let us not forget how ludicrous and hypocritically foreign many of Nazism’s original traits were in the first place. Nazism’s mythological appropriation of various Scandinavian, Greek, and East Asian legends, along with the fondness with which Hitler and some Nazis viewed Italian fascism, all speak to the strange eclecticism and syncretism of Nazi thought. It should surprise nobody that ultra-right-wing ideologies can get away with a lot of logically inconsistent rubbish so long as something within it resonates with a profound sense of racial pride, fear, and aggressive nationalism.
It’s actually worth noting that during the Russian Civil War, a Baltic German army officer fighting on the side of the White Russians took over Mongolia established a brief dictatorial rule to uphold the reign of the Bogd Khan, the emperor and Buddhist spiritual leader of Mongolia – the result was the temporary expulsion of the Chinese, though the Bolsheviks and Mongolian communists would play the decisive role in Mongolia’s independence struggle. This regime was responsible for the only pogrom in Mongolian history, and while the killings and beatings Mongolian ultra-nationalists are administering now are certainly appalling, this may be a case where history, having played out its most tragic stage, is repeating itself as farce.
Mongolian Nazi “Big Brother” even points out that his interest in Hitler came via Russian groups, and really, if neo-Nazism can spring up and gain popularity in Russia, which suffered enormously in a brutal front of the war against Nazism, it is not so ridiculous that Nazi ideology could spring up in Mongolia, which has no direct historical grievances against Hitler.
But this is not the only strange story of Asian nationalism finding a strange fascination in Hitler and his thought:
Prayag Thakkar, a 19-year-old student in Gujarat state, is one of them: “I have idolised Hitler ever since I have had a sense of history. I admire his leadership qualities and his discipline.”
The Holocaust was bad, he says, but that is not his concern. “He mesmerised the whole nation with his leadership and iron discipline. India needs his discipline.”
Dimple Kumari, a research associate in Pune, has not read Mein Kampf but she would wear the Hitler T-shirt out of admiration for him. She calls him “a legend” and tries to put her admiration for him in perspective: “The killing of Jews was not good, but everybody has a positive and negative side.”
We are now living in a world where the historical memory of WWII and fascism is fading. Totalitarian socialism, left to play out to its eventual failure, is also discredited. It even has destitute Cuba and horrific North Korea to serve as living reminders. But fascism and Nazism are further removed from the consciousness of many around the world. Despite the arguable exception of some Latin American regimes, Nazism and fascism perished from the world after WWII. Now, the xenophobia, socio-economic turbulence and political concerns that animate far-rightist ideologies are again clear, and in the case of many Asian states, in countries far removed from the Western experience of WWII without the deep taboos on fascist ideology (though the same indifference does not apply for Japan’s imperial atrocities).
Most likely, Mongolia and other countries will prove resilient enough to prevent ideological capture by groups such as Tsagaan Khaas. But they may be more noticeable indicators of less extreme but more powerful trends in tomorrow’s politics. Xenophobia, hostile nationalism, and reaction to the international globalized era and its new balance of power may prove real threats in the century ahead.