I don’t know about you, but I see the name Wagner in the news on an almost daily basis. Specifically, the name is attached to a private paramilitary organization, known as “The Wagner Group.” Essentially, it is a private military company full of highly paid mercenaries that until recently had been described as the private army of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As we have found out recently, its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin seems to have turned against his old pal, and taken matters into his own hand. But this still doesn’t explain why a group of thugs operating beyond Russian and International law go by the name of Wagner?
Richard Wagner: “Ride of the Valyries”
We can’t say for sure, but the group was reportedly founded by Dmitry Utkin, a former member of a special-forces brigade of Russian military intelligence, the GRU. After Utkin retired from the military in 2013, he began working for a private security firm that specialized in providing security against piracy. That security firm, in turn, set up the Hong Kong-based Slavonic Corps, “which headhunted contractors to protect oil fields and pipelines in Syria during its civil war.” As such, Utkin went to fight in Syria, and after his return to Russia, he teamed up with businessman—originally in the catering business—and ex-convict Prigozhin to establish the “Wagner Group” in 2014. Just in time for the Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.
“Wagner” might simply have been the favorite dog of Utkin’s beloved auntie, but it actually turns out to be his personal call sign. And while official sources report the origin of the name “Wagner” to be unknown, it supposedly comes from the German composer Richard Wagner. Fancy that, another lunatic using the name of a classical composer to justify his atrocities. Utkin is said to be a great admirer of the Third Reich and of Adolf Hitler, and Wagner was certainly Hitler’s favorite composer. Hitler had been close to the Wagner family, and he established an obsessive, cult-like infatuation with Wagner’s music. As he writes, “I recognize in Wagner my only predecessor… I regard him as a supreme prophetic figure.”
Richard Wagner: “Siegfried-Idyll”
Wagner’s own writings deal consistently with the concept of degeneration, and the idea that Germany’s heritage is threatened. As such, he encapsulated all that Hitler believed in, specifically the superiority of the German race that he sought to protect. Hitler was instrumental in bankrolling the “Bayreuth Festival,” and on the 50th anniversary of Wagner’s death the first festival was celebrated under the theme “Wagner and the New Germany.” Just a couple of days after Hitler came to power the “German-Nordic Richard Wagner Society for Germanic Art and Culture” released a statement inaugurating the Bayreuth celebrations.
It declared that “just as Richard Wagner created Der Ring des Nibelungen out of faith in the German spirit, it is the mission of the German people … to reflect upon themselves and to complete the organization of the German people, through which, in addition, all the ideal aspirations of the German-Nordic Richard Wagner Society will maintain a real political impact on the state, the nation, and the world around us in the national Germanic spirit of Richard Wagner.” It is certainly easy to see why no other musician is as closely linked with Nazism, and why his music is tainted with the ideological associations of the Third Reich.
Richard Wagner: Götterdämmerung, “Final Scene”
Elements of the Wagner Group are linked to far-right extremism and neo-Nazism. I am sure you detect just a hint of irony in the fact that the Wagner mercenaries were in Ukraine to officially fight neo-Nazism. Maybe that’s why Prigozhin, finally recognizing the irony, has decided to take his boys out of Ukraine and try a coup against Putin. Nothing as sophisticated as that, I am afraid, as it all seems rather personal. Prigozhin has been in a public feud with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, claiming, “the war was needed so that Shoigu could become a Marshal so that he could get a second Hero Star… the war wasn’t for demilitarizing or de-Nazifying Ukraine.” So there you go, for the Wagner Group it was all about money. Maybe it’s time to change the name of this jolly group of murderers? I think they should call themselves “Dough Boys,” from now on, what do you think?
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