“Ruscism” is a new term that has been thrown around a lot recently in social media and is even being used on posts from official Ukrainian government accounts. But what exactly is Ruscism? And what does the new notion represent in context to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Ruscism or “Pашизм” is pronounced like the word fascism with an “R” instead of an “F” as the starting consonant. It roughly translates to “Russian fascism,” or the culmination of extreme right-wing values that now form the Russian war ideology. According to The New York Times, “Pашизм” is a word created from 3 languages, namely Italian, Russian, and English, that contains complex puns references that highlight the Ukrainians’ wit and ability to code-switch.

“‘Ruscism’ is a concept that will be in history books, will be in the conventional Wikipedia, will remain in the classroom. And little children all over the world will stand up at their desks and answer their teachers when this ‘Ruscism’ began, on what land and who helped in the fight for freedom against this very terrible concept,” Ukrainian President Zelensky said in a press conference.

The word was first used by Mariupol City Councilors, who were trying to point out the utter devastation their city and residents had experienced. From physical ruin to casualties of war in Mariupol to the mass executions in Bucha, Ukrainians described what was “Ruscism” to them. Now, you can see “Pашизм” in comment sections on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, and even on the ground in Ukraine.

Ruscism provides insight into Putin, and other Russian radicals’ worldview, which is derived from old Russian imperial beliefs such as Stalinism – ideologies adopted by Joseph Stalin formed around the centralization of power, the cult of personality, and other theories of socialism.

It is also inspired by Tsarism, a reference to the older Russian Empire and its emperors, which signifies the return to traditionalism, autocracy, and the restoration of the country’s former “greatness” at the cost of freedom.

Compared to Western observers, Ukrainians had a front-row seat to the gradual shift of Russian society to fascism under the Russian invasion. They saw signs pointing towards a Nazi-like regime: a cult-like following for their leader (despite a few thousand protesters), corporatism, a fetishization of a once glorious past, media censorship, state-run propaganda, and now a war against a “common enemy” of the state.

“It is not just because everyone says that it is ‘Ruscism.’ You know, the word is new, but the actions are the same as they were 80 years ago in Europe. Because for all these 80 years, if you analyze, there were simply no such barbarities on our continent,” Zelensky said, referring to the rise of Nazi Germany eight decades ago.

“What they did – killing, torturing, everything they did to children, babies, violence against young children, rape, everything that was happening – that is Nazism,” the Ukrainian president added.

A Similar Promise

A photograph of Russian President Vladimir Putin last March 8 (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Putin_(2022-03-08).jpg
A photograph of Russian President Vladimir Putin last March 8 (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

Like the dictators of the 20th century, Putin was able to establish himself as an icon among the Russian populace. Hitler actively used the slogan “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!” which translates to “One People, One State, One Leader!” Upon observation, Putin has essentially built Russia on somewhat the same principles.

The Nazi Regime fed on the suffering brought by Germany’s defeat during the First World War. They framed it as a shameful time for the German people, which needed redemption. Hitler’s rise was primarily built on the promise of a renewed Germany, one that would reclaim its lost imperial might and regain territories that were lost in their defeat.

Similarly, Putin’s regime exploited Russia’s experience after the collapse of the Soviet Union near the end of the 20th century. Like Germany’s defeat, the collapse was once portrayed as a humiliating loss by the Russian people.

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Putin’s promise is eerily similar to that of Hitler’s, which is to restore the former glory of the “empire” and reclaim its lost territories that are inhabited by Russian descendants, speakers, and loyalists; and once again ascend as the top player in the global struggle for power which the United States had dominated for decades. One may even claim that China has surpassed Russia in terms of global influence, but that is still up for debate.

Putin, the National Icon

President Vladimir Putin giving speech during a celebration marking the anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia at the Luzhniki Sports Centre in Moscow 2022. The photo shows show popular Putin is with Russians, potentially spreading the idea of "Ruscism." However, despite massive support for the war, protests remain prominent in Russian society which represents the limited ability of Russians to push back against their government (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Putin_Moscow_rally_March_2022.webp
President Vladimir Putin gave a speech during a celebration marking the anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia at the Luzhniki Sports Centre in Moscow in 2022. The photo shows how popular Putin is with Russians, potentially spreading the idea of “Ruscism.” However, despite massive support for the war, protests remain prominent in Russian society, which represents the limited ability of Russians to push back against their government (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Even during the first years of Putin’s presidency, observers noticed the growing presence of his portraits, statues, and other paraphernalia that referred to the Russian president in both public and private establishments.

Putin’s cult of personality, or his idealization as Russia’s leader, further grew with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. It grew even further after the invasion of Donbas. Some experts believe that the more Russia is isolated from the rest of the world, the more Putin is celebrated as a hero of the country.

The Russian Sense of Superiority

A prominent feature of totalitarian regimes is targeting an internal foe to justify the brutal eradication of people. This, combined with the lack of criticism and need for justification for such heinous acts, is done to create a common enemy for the rest of society to unify against and provide support for the government. This is what happened in Germany when the Hitler regime accompanied this with expansionism to lands inhabited by German-speaking populations, and later on, non-German speaking people during the time leading up to the Holocaust.

The Nazi regime fed off the narrative of the Aryan race, which they believed was supreme above all else, coupled with a particular hatred for the Jews. Similarly, Russia has its own cult of supremacists who believe in the supremacy of Russian culture, language, history, military, and misogyny (such groups include the Male State).

These groups view Putin as an idol and a staunch preserver of their radical beliefs. Influential Russian fascists are given a platform in state-run media during times of conflict to misinform the populace. The Russian elite, particularly Putin himself, rely on these extreme-right ideologies and their supporters to garner support for his personal vendettas, including Ukraine’s invasion.

However, there is still pushback from Russian citizens. Multiple protests in the Russian mainland have erupted following the initial invasion and the discovery of mass executions and war crimes in Bucha, where thousands of Russian citizens took to the streets. By doing this, they are risking their lives as the Russian government is known to be extremely brutal against protesters and has even made a new law banning the proliferation and distribution of so-called “false information” against Russia.