When we say “Russia,” the double “s” is pronounced “sh.” In the middle of “fascism” we find the same sound, “sh” — though this time it is generated by “sc,” which English borrows from the original Italian “fascismo.” We can render that sound with “sh” or, in these two words, “ss” and “sc,” but the clarifyingly simple Ukrainian orthography 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 to fascism, but only because Ukrainians are playing with English. In neither 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 reclaim. When “Russia” becomes “Pаша,” the vowels firm up and become more honest; they no longer quite conform to English. The same is even true for the “ism,” which in Ukrainian requires a more clipped and disciplined sound. These honest vowels make it hard for English speakers to pronounce “pашизм” as it is supposed to be pronounced — and even if we were to pronounce it correctly in Ukrainian, it would not sound like much of anything in English.

This is why, to claim “pашизм” for English, I have to transliterate it — as Ukrainians also generally do — as “ruscism.” The mechanically correct transcription would be “rashysm,” which is hardly clear. We have to go back and get the “u” to indicate 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 suggest a weakness for American talk radio or Canadian classic rock. We know that “ш” did not actually come from an “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. But now, in English, the visible “sc” recalls the unusual spelling of fascism, as 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 female forms of these words.) Ukrainians sometimes refer to individual Russians as “ruscists,” making lists, for example, of prominent Russian supporters of the war. But there is also the tendency to refer to all Russian soldiers in Ukraine as “ruscists.” This runs into certain difficulties: Given the imperial character of the Russian state, a very high proportion of the Russian soldiers in Ukraine belong to national minorities. This suggests a deeper problem, which is that even soldiers dying for a fascist cause need not be fascists themselves.

Whereas Russian leaders have intensified the Soviet tradition of referring to contemporary enemies as “fascists,” in Ukraine, the word refers more simply to the horrors of World War II, which were even deeper there than in Russia. When Ukrainians speak of “ruscism,” they are accusing Russians of a deep betrayal of what should have been a common inheritance and a common memory. They are accusing Russians of becoming what should have been defeated long ago.

Few beyond Ukraine seem to know that millions of Ukrainians, exercising freedom of speech in a country that allows it, have invented and are deploying a new word. “Ruscism” will sound strange at first. So did “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing,” other words that emerged from (Eastern) European wars. The concepts that clarify our world today were once strange and new. But when they point to something, they can take hold.

Russian fascism is certainly a phenomenon that requires a concept. The Russian Federation promotes the extreme right everywhere. Putin is the idol of white supremacists around the world. Prominent Russian fascists are given access to mass media during wars, including this one. Members of the Russian elite, above all Putin himself, rely increasingly on fascist concepts. Putin’s very justification of the war in Ukraine, as an act of cleansing violence that will return Russia to itself, represents a Christian form of fascism. The recent publication, in an official Russian news service, of what I consider an openly genocidal handbook, providing a plan for the elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such, confirms all this. Moscow is the center of fascism in our world.

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