In the spring of 1994, the third year of the Bosnian war, Ana, the daughter of Bosnian Serb Lieutenant Colonel Ratko Mladic, took a pistol from her father’s room in Belgrade – the special silver pistol with which he had been intention to celebrate the birth of her first grandchild – and shot herself in the head. She was 23 years old.
Ana Mladic was no longer herself, it was said, since her return from a study trip to Moscow where, it was assumed, she had read in a newspaper about her father’s war crimes in Sarajevo. Or had been alerted by the coldness of the other students. Her suicide was something Ratko Mladic – sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 for genocide – could never accept, believing she was murdered by the opposition. One of his last acts before his extradition to The Hague in 2011 was to lay flowers on his grave.
Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulivsin a chapter on Ana’s death in her book on Balkan war crimes and criminals They would never hurt a fly, speculated on what happened to Ana during those few days at Mladić’s house. It was, she says, the only time she felt compassion for the mass-murdering general. “Mladić finally felt the pain he had inflicted on thousands of people in Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Gorazde. But could it be the same pain? Can a butcher experience the same feelings as his victims? Yes, because the pain of a parent who has lost a child is universal.
His life sentence, she concluded – the one he couldn’t escape – really began that day. The chapter is titled “Punished by the Gods”.
Now, in another Slavic war three decades later, Aleksandr Dugin, a Moscow seer, pro-war historian and “Putin’s philosopher”, also lost his daughter – Daria Dugina, 29, a journalist. The circumstances were very different but equally devastating. After attending a cultural festival with Dugin on Saturday night, driving home alone in her SUV, she was blown up by a car bomb. Maybe the bomb was meant for Dugin – “What doesn’t kill me kills another” he tweeted, with an unconscious prophecy, last year. It seems unlikely, despite strident assurances from the FSB, that the bomb was planted by “Ukrainian Nazi” Natalya Vovk. As with Mladić, speculation changes very little on the event itself. Ana and Daria, in their own way, were collateral damage in their fathers’ careers.
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It is, tragic as it is, the last unbelievable event in Dugin’s life – which has been full of it. Dissident rebel, guitar-playing fascist sympathizer, born-again Soviet stalwart, polemical journalist, sociology professor, geopolitical guru, harsh patriarch, old Orthodox believer – no one can say that Aleksandr Dugin didn’t sound the changes during his 60 years of life.
Dugin is almost an archetype of the Putin era. Like the Kremlin, it seems to date back to the 19th century even as it seeks to design the 21st. Resembling his late namesake Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Dugin is equally stern and bearded, that same uneasy blend of nationalism and orthodox Christianity, but without the sublime works of absolved fiction produced by Solzhenitsyn. Anyone who wants to understand the moral schizophrenia of the Putin years – the mixture of brutality and sick religiosity, the attempt to pull out all the stops to mobilize support, the regime’s seizure of a metaphysical basis for its geopolitical and internal crimes, could do worse than studying this man – even pictures of him. He seems, despite all his colorful past, to have come out of an icon of Saint Spyridon. It’s hard to think of any other nation – other than, perhaps, Mladić’s Serbia – producing a similar figure.
In his book Black wind, white snow, in part an account of Dugin’s career, writer Charles Clover – an acquaintance of his – does not indulge in Dugin’s protean careerism and sinister mix of influences – Nazism, Bolshevism, numerology, occult. Yet his subject is also charismatic, generous with his time and endowed with a subtly perceptible sense of the absurd. Dugin, whatever his doctrines, is interesting to observe and never boring to read. Yet he was little known outside the circle of Russian junkies until last week – even Russian friends often didn’t know who he was. What put him on the map – and led to a flurry of “Who’s Dugin?” articles in the international press – was undoubtedly the untimely death of his daughter on Saturday evening.
Since then, most articles have given you some sort of “Dugin’s greatest hits” packaged for a lustful thrill. We get his ultra-nationalist past and his influence from the Kremlin as a geopolitical thinker. We see Dugin’s messianic, perhaps selfish Putinism – “Putin is everywhere, Putin is everything, Putin is absolute, Putin is irreplaceable” – and the remark he is most infamous for, from 2014: “The ‘Ukraine either needs to be wiped off the earth and rebuilt from scratch or people need to get it… I think kill, kill and kill. More chatter. This is my opinion as a teacher.
It was this comment that caused him to lose his job at Moscow State University. This was clearly going too far. Yet his daughter Daria, strikingly similar to her father, and described by Putin on Monday as “kind, loving, sympathetic and open… a Russian patriot,” doesn’t seem to have felt such restraints either. The Azov regiment, she said in an interview, was “not a people… more humane, its ideology is death”; the “collective West” was a “liberal Nazi civilization”. Putin was right to suppress anti-war protests: “When your country is at war, there must be absolute unity…There is a decision, there is an act of will, and it must be carried out. In all these statements, it is not clear whether she is speaking sincerely or trying – a little too much – to please her father.
None of this is reason for anyone to kill Dugina or rejoice in his death. Children are often dominated or controlled by their parents and distance themselves from them. People can change their minds or reinvent and redeem themselves, choices that are unfortunately no longer open to Daria Dugina.
By all means, hate an unjust man, wrote Solzhenitsyn, Dugin’s spiritual ancestor. “But once he’s knocked down, once the first furrow of self-awareness runs across his face as he crashes to the ground – lay your stones down! He returns to humanity unaided.
Fine words, but is Solzhenitsyn right? Far from being chastised by his daughter’s death, Mladić moved to Srebrenica where, a year later, he oversaw the execution of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in a single day. Dugin, in his otherwise dignified statement about Daria’s death on Telegram yesterday, was only too quick to blame the “Ukrainian Nazi government” and call for new war efforts. Bearded old men, we see, however sternly they look at us, however read or captivated us with their wisdom, can be just as flawed and fallible as the rest of us. As their daughters often realize too late.