On June 5, 2007, the Ukrainian government declared Russian intellectual Aleksandr Dugin persona non grata and banned him from entering the country for a period of five years. This exceptional decision was motivated by a series of inflammatory remarks made by Dugin and his followers about Russia’s various pro-Western neighbors, the Ukraine foremost among them. It was not long, however, before Kiev retracted its decision, fearing further deterioration in its relationship with the superpower to the east. Dugin, after all, is not merely a philosopher. He has influential friends in the Russian presidential cabinet and is associated with many leading politicians, as well as prominent academics and celebrities. And indeed, Ukrainian apprehension was justified by the events that followed: That very evening, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykola Zhulynsky and his family, who had arrived in St. Petersburg to visit the graves of their relatives, were deported by the Russian government. This retaliation had no mitigating effects on Dugin’s aggressive public campaign against the Ukraine. On October 12, activists from Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement sawed through the country’s national emblem—a statue of a trident situated on Mount Hoverla—and announced that they had thus "castrated” the Ukraine of its sovereignty. Following this ostentatious act of vandalism, Dugin was again banned from entering the Ukraine. This did not, however, prove to be the end of the affair. Authorities in Moscow were quick to show their support for the provocative thinker, and promptly deported Ukrainian political analyst Sergei Taran. The Russian Foreign Ministry left no doubt about Moscow’s motivations when it announced that Taran’s expulsion was a direct response to the Ukrainian ban.1
If nothing else, this seemingly bizarre series of incidents demonstrates the enormous influence Aleksandr Dugin has come to wield in his native Russia. A gifted and charismatic intellectual, Dugin is the author of sixteen books on philosophy and politics that profess an extremist worldview which combines authoritarian politics with an imperialist strategic agenda and a nostalgic longing for the glory days of the Soviet Union.2 Inspired by philosophers closely associated with fascism and Nazism, Dugin is an outspoken critic of capitalism, liberal democracy, and the bourgeois social order, which he identifies with his archenemy, the United States. Despite his radicalism—or perhaps because of it—Dugin is a favorite of the Russian establishment, a sought-after figure in the media, and a popular and oft-quoted political analyst.
Dugin was not always such a prestigious public figure. Barely a decade ago, he was at best a marginal player in Russian politics. During Boris Yeltsin’s presidency in the 1990s, Dugin was a relatively unknown intellectual who spread his doctrines among small circles of followers. His attempt to enter Russian politics and bring his ideas to the public through the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) ended in an embarrassing electoral defeat. It was only in the late 1990s that Dugin finally began to shed his image as a professional gadfly and mingle with senior government officials, finally emerging onto the national stage in the early 2000s. Not coincidentally, Dugin’s meteoric ascent from anonymity to fame took place alongside Vladimir Putin’s rise to power as Russia’s new strongman. Indeed, there is an undeniable connection between Dugin’s politics and the regime change led by Putin, a former KGB officer who has put an end to democratization in Russia and subjected it to a centralized authoritarian regime.
Dugin and his philosophy cannot, therefore, be dismissed as an insignificant episode in Russian intellectual history. On the contrary, they reflect the dominant trend in current Russian politics and culture, and their influence over the general public and decisionmakers in the Kremlin is only going to become stronger. If we wish to understand the zeitgeist that prevails in Russia today, it is essential for us to acquaint ourselves with this thinker, who expresses the innermost feelings of many of his fellow countrymen and their leadership. Dugin’s intellectual and political biography is, in many ways, a window into a nation and culture that many Western observers still regard as, in Churchill’s famous phrase, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Yigal Liverant is a translator and M.A. candidate at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University.