by Elizaveta Gaufman
Russian far-right watchers might have not paid much attention to Vladislav Pozdnyakov – next to neofascist Alexander Dugin or late neo-Nazi leader Maxim Martsinkevitch, he seemed to be a marginal character, attracting 155k supporters on Russian social network Vkontakte at the height of his fame. However, Pozdnyakov and his now banned organization “the Male State” need to be examined more closely as they represent yet another example of global misogyny trend on par with the incel movement.
Vladislav Pozdnyakov created a closed Vkontakte group in 2016 where he was praising patriarchy and nationalism, critiqued the Russian government and organized doxing and harassment of women that he thought did not behave properly. “Male State” activities were concentrated online, as the organization was never officially registered, but it grew in popularity and soon featured several regional branches (Pozdnyakov himself hails from Balakovo, a small town in Central Russia). Its members staged harassment and threatened representatives of the LGBT community as well as Russian women who were suspected or caught on camera, spending time with foreigners. Pozdyakov gained special prominence during the 2018 World Cup, when many foreign men came to Russia. This was one of the rare occasions of large and visible Western foreign presence in Russia that gave “the Male State” a pretext to act upon their nationalist views and declare war on Russian women who were not supposed to be fraternizing with the outsiders.
If there is a programmatic document that could give an overview of the Male State’s ideology (apart from the very strict community membership rules), it would be Pozdynakov’s manifesto that earned him internet notoriety. It is a typical misogynistic pamphlet that could probably be found in any conservative/far-right group around the world. In a now deleted post he described an ideal wife for himself in a typical patriarchal fashion, where he meticulously pointed out certain physical and moral characteristics, including his racial preferences (apart from Russians, only Germans, Austrians, Scandinavians, Spaniards, Serbs, Ukrainians were allowed).
However, Pozdnyakov’s manifesto is different from typical conservative rhetoric because he specifically rejected women who support President Putin or the Soviet Union: this type of far-right anti-Putin rhetoric has become much less common since the annexation of Crimea and the crackdown on far-right nationalists in Russia. While many moderate nationalists support the Kremlin’s policies, the Male State falls further on the right of the pro-Kremlin rhetoric as they consider President Putin not nationalist enough. While usually a more extreme version of the pro-Kremlin rhetoric gets a pass from the government – for instance, Alexander Dugin was never prosecuted for his appeal to kill Ukrainians – the double trouble of attacking both Putin and women was what probably led to Pozdnyakov’s eventual downfall. The manifesto hits the usual sweet spots of Russian white nationalism: patriarchy, adherence to the white race where notoriously Serbs and Slavs are considered allies, and, of course, the classic understanding of a woman as a biological reproducer of an illustrious progeny, checking all the boxes from the classic works on the role of gender in nationalism.
The reason that Pozdnyakov became particularly (in)famous is because several major Russian newspapers (Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Komsomolskaya Pravda) chose to give him a platform and interview him once his harassment and threats were publicized. Despite his anti-Putin stance, he is a clear example of a far-right mainstreaming that happens around the world.
Moreover, it is not surprising that racist and misogynist insults that were usually contained to social media pages have become much more acceptable during the World Cup. Thanks to Pozdyakov, his ilk, and the journalists who chose to propagate his views in Russian high-circulation newspapers, many racialized insults becoming part of mainstream press coverage with almost no pushback from the journalists who conducted the interviews. Even linguistic overviews of the words that the World Cup brought to Russia noted that racialized insults have been normalized and disseminated on a large scale during this event.
Harassment and abuse did not end with the World Cup. Pozdnyakov’s Telegram channel (over 86k subscribers) until recently published personal data of feminist activists and called them “biological garbage” among other obscene insults. One of the targets of the harassment campaign, feminist activist Daria Serenko described how she was getting on average 1,500 abusive messages a day, was forced to hire a private security detail and install video surveillance of her relatives’ house whose address was published as well.
Pushed underground, but highly influential
In December 2018 Pozdnyakov was sentenced by the district court of Nizhny Novgorod to two years’ probation for inciting hatred of women. In March 2019, the verdict was overturned due to the partial decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Pozdyakov’s luck ran out yet again in October 2021, where a Nizhny Novgorod court yet again declared the Male State to be an extremist organization and banned it on Russian territory. While accusations of extremism in Russia should be often regarded with a grain of salt due to the extremism prosecution abuse by the Russian government and a number of anti-corruption and human rights activists landing in jail on the same extremist charge, the ban of the Male State would make the lives of many threatened and marginalized people in Russia better. While the Male State has been pushed underground, they did manage to mainstream their misogyny and created more reasons for the global far-right movement to engage with their Russian counterparts.
Elizaveta Gaufman is Assistant Professor of Russian Discourse and Politics in the Department of European Languages and Cultures at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. On Twitter @lisas_research.
This article was originally published on C-REX website, republished here with permission. This blog post is based on the C-REX Webinar series Global perspectives on the Far Right. Click here to watch the recorded session with Elizaveta Gaufman.
The analysis in this article is partially based on Russian mass media coverage of the organization “Male State” and social media posts of the Male State, of which the latter have been removed since a Russian court declared Male State to be an extremist organization in 2021.