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A few years ago, during a panel discussion on the politics of memory at a university in a German-speaking country, I called Russian President Vladimir Putin “the most powerful fascist politician in the world.”

Afterwards, the organizers shyly told me that while the event had gone well, the label I applied to the Kremlin leader was “too much” — even though Russia had by that time already occupied Crimea and started a war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. I was surprised not so much by the organizers’ comment as by the way they made it. They seemed genuinely embarrassed, as if I had said something obscene.

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