When we say ‘Russia’, the double ‘s’ is pronounced ‘sh’. In the middle of ‘fascism’ we find the same sound, ‘sh’, although this time it is generated by ‘sc’, which borrows the English from the original Italian ‘fascismo’. We can represent that sound with “sh” or, in these two words, “ss” and “sc”, but the illuminatingly simple Ukrainian spelling picks up that sound, however it is spelled in whatever language, and renders it as “ш.” So “раша” + “фашизм” = “рашизм”, also thanks to that middle sound. The “sh” sound in the middle, the “ш”, refers to both Russia and fascism, but only because Ukrainians play with English† Neither in Russian nor Ukrainian does the word for ‘Russian’ have a ‘sh’ sound.
“Pашизм” relies on English to work, but it is not easy for English to win back. When “Russia” becomes “Pаша”, the vowels become firmer and fairer; they don’t quite conform to English anymore. The same is true even of “ism”, which in Ukrainian requires a more truncated and disciplined sound. These honest vowels make it difficult for English speakers to pronounce “pашизм” the way it’s supposed to be pronounced — and even if we pronounced it correctly in Ukrainian, it wouldn’t sound like much of anything in English.
This is why, to claim “pашизм” for English, I have to transliterate it – as Ukrainians generally do – as “ruscism”. The mechanically correct transcription would be “rashysm”, which is barely clear. We have to go back and get the “you” to designate Russia, and we take the “ism” because we know this is about ideology. And while the Ukrainian consonant “ш” demands a “sh”, the resulting “rushism” would indicate a soft spot for American talk radio or Canadian classic rock. We know that “ш” didn’t really come from a “sh” in the first place; it came from both the “ss” of Russia and the “sc” of fascism. We choose ‘sc’ and get ‘ruscism’. As in Ukrainian, a “sh” sound joins the two parts together. But now, in English, the visible “sc” recalls the unusual spelling of fascismas it should.
In English, if you believe in racism, you are a racist; if you believe in fascism, you are a fascist. This lexical progression is similar in Ukrainian. “Расизм”, racism, has the associated personal form “расист”, racist. ‘Фашизм’, fascism, yields ‘фашист’, fascist. Likewise, the new word “рашизм” has “рашист” or ruscist. (Unlike English, Ukrainian also generates feminine forms of these words.) Ukrainians sometimes refer to individual Russians as “Ruscists,” making lists of prominent Russian supporters of the war, for example. But there is also a tendency to call all Russian soldiers in Ukraine “Ruscists”. This encounters certain difficulties: given the imperial character of the Russian state, a very large proportion of Russian soldiers in Ukraine belong to national minorities. This suggests a deeper problem, which is that even soldiers who die for a fascist cause need not be fascists themselves.
While Russian leaders have intensified the Soviet tradition of calling contemporary enemies as “fascists,” the word in Ukraine more simply refers to the horrors of World War II, which were even deeper there than in Russia. When Ukrainians speak of “Ruscism”, they accuse the Russians of deep betrayal of what should have been a common legacy and a common memory. They accuse the Russians of becoming what should have been defeated long ago.
Little outside Ukraine seem to know that millions of Ukrainians, exercising freedom of speech in a country that allows it, have invented and put to use a new word. ‘Ruscism’ will sound strange at first. This also applied to “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”, other words that arose from (Eastern) European wars. The concepts that clarify our world today were once strange and new. But if they point to something, they can hold on.
Russian fascism is certainly a phenomenon that requires a concept. The Russian Federation promotes the far right everywhere. Putin is the idol of white supremacists around the world. Prominent Russian fascists gain access to mass media during wars, including this one. Members of the Russian elite, especially Putin himself, increasingly rely on fascist concepts. Putin’s justification of the war in Ukraine as an act of purifying violence that will bring Russia back to itself represents a Christian form of fascism. The recent publication, in an official Russian news service, of what I consider to be an overtly genocidal handbook, with a plan for the extermination of the Ukrainian nation as such, confirms all this. Moscow is the center of fascism in our world.