Extremism from the Perspective of a System Approach

By Zinchenko, Yury P. | Psychology in Russia, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Extremism from the Perspective of a System Approach


Zinchenko, Yury P., Psychology in Russia


Modern Russian society is witnessing a considerable level of extremism. By denying basic vested rights and freedoms of citizens or by opposing the established order of socio-regularized and legitimatized relations, extremism is a threatening phenomenon to society.

Extremism is an equally urgent problem for many countries irrespective of their political and socioeconomic advancements. Worldwide experience shows that as a way and a means of handling socioeconomic, political, religious, ecological, and other issues extremism can emerge in almost any country including industrially developed and politically stable ones. As Dontsov and Perelygina (2011) put it, "A great threat to social stability is posed by periods of acute social crises and shocks, upheavals, and revolutions, which have brought about drastic changes in social structure, together with the resulting very profound crises of historical consciousness and also of 'time out of joint,' the crisis of the historical continuity of culture" (p. 43).

It has become a rule to explain the decrease in the number of conflicts involving state participation in the late 1990s and the early 2000s by the increase of international efforts at peaceful conflict settlement (Human Security Centre, 2006a, 2006b). However, despite the decrease in several indicators of military activity, threats to security have not disappeared, but, on the contrary, they have increased according to various independent parameters. Total human losses caused by all kinds of political violence have been virtually unchanged since the beginning of the 2000s. According to Stepanova's data, "Those forms of armed violence that do not only decrease in number but are on the uptick -- terrorism, interconfession and other forms of intercommunity violence -- and are less lethal than, for instance, conventional wars, are first and foremost directed towards civilians" (Stepanova, 2008). The general level of the infringement of human rights worldwide is not decreasing either. "The public mind has not yet adjusted to the perception of modern risks. The current dynamic of social sentiments reflects a growing level of expectations of uncertainty" (Zinchenko & Zotova, 2013, p. 110).

The concept of extremism (from the Latin extremis, ultimate, and the French extremisme) is used to define a stance (regarding ideology, intentions, actions) corresponding to extreme opinions. According to documentation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) extremism is a form of political activity that, directly or indirectly, denies the principle of parliamentary democracy. In Russia the legal definition of acts treated as extremist ones is provided in article 1 of Federal Law 114-??: "On counteracting extremist activities." In compliance with amendments of April 29, 2008, the following activities are among those referred to as extremist: forcible changes in the constitutional structure and corruption of the integrity of the Russian Federation; public justification of terrorism and terrorist activities; incitement of social, racial, national, or religious enmity; propaganda about exceptionalism, the superiority or inferiority of an individual owing to his/her social, racial, religious, or linguistic background or attitude toward religion; violation of the rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests of an individual as a citizen depending on his/her social, racial, religious, or linguistic background or attitude to religion (Zinchenko, 2011).

The psychology of extremism itself is a subject of special interest. Psychology researches extremism in its multiaspectual form of origin and its multivariant forms of passing into society as a sociopsychological phenomenon expressed by the actions of individuals and groups.

In a position paper entitled Addressing Extremism, Coleman and Bartoli (2003) emphasize that "extremism is, in essence, a complex phenomenon in spite of the fact that its complexity is difficult to detect and to understand. …

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