Nationalism becomes irrelevant

Russian nationalism today - between east and west

Today's nationalism in Russia, one of the most influential ideological and political forces in the country, consists of several currents and varieties. However, most of them show remarkable similarities, which are related to a Manichaean worldview. It is hard to say that Russian nationalism is turning away from the West today, because its main currents have always been anti-Western. There is nothing new in this regard.

The idea of ​​the West in general and of Western Europe in particular that is currently emerging in Russia may be more interesting. It is noteworthy that in this image Central Europe or East Central Europe, not infrequently also Southeast Europe, only stand out due to their remarkable absence. Central Europe as an ideological and cultural entity has no independent meaning for the Russians. At best, they recognize it as a temporary political reality in which they no longer participate. In fact, the idea of ​​Central Europe was always very alien to pre-revolutionary, Soviet and post-Soviet thought and has remained so to this day. For the Russians, there have always been only two Europe: Western and Eastern Europe, whose respective cultural contexts were largely determined by the changing political constellations.

The post-communist development in Europe is perceived in Russia as the advance of Western Europe into the eastern part of the continent (Yakovenko, 1999, p. 51f.). Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and also the Baltic countries are tacitly regarded as Western European, or at least as future Western European countries. Even Romania and Slovakia are included in Western Europe, if not because of their current status, then because of their cultural and historical ties to Western Europe. One may be surprised how little space the former communist countries occupy in the thinking of Russian nationalists and in the ideas of Russians as a whole today. In this regard, there is a kind of consensus in Russia that whether you like it or not, the Soviet empire has irrevocably disintegrated. This attitude is also reflected in Russian foreign policy, which has written off the Central European region as irrelevant in terms of national interests (Kobrinskaia, 1997, p. 6). If there is regret, it is more geopolitical than cultural. The Russian nationalists accuse Gorbachev less of releasing the former satellites than of failing to demand a fair price for it.

You could call that a realistic attitude. There are voices who understand the negative attitude towards the Soviet Union as it prevails in the Central European countries.

The Russians fought hard for their mother country and liberated it from Hitler. But they were unable to free anyone else. Because the state itself was not free, it could not offer freedom either. In this respect we were different from our western allies. (Podoprigora and Krasnopevtseva, 1995, p. 69)

However, the accusation against the former allies of being ungrateful and stirring up fear of the Russians has gained some credibility in public opinion and has alienated Russia even more from Central Europe. Many argue that Russia should turn its back on these former allies as they in turn turned away from Russia. There has recently been an attempt to reaffirm Russia's ties to Orthodox and Slavic Serbia, but only because the country had turned against the West. Nobody would come up with the idea of ​​Russian solidarity with Orthodox Romania, and very few even today evoke Russia's former ties with Orthodox and Slavic Bulgaria. In 2000 I dared to predict that the Russian nationalists would forget their brotherly love for the Serbs as soon as the new leadership of Yugoslavia turned to the West. It seems that I am right: interest in Serbia has rapidly diminished.

The dream of Eurasia

Does the feeling of isolation and alienation from the West observed in Russia indicate that the country is now actually turning to “Eurasia” - whatever one might understand by this vague term? One should be careful in this regard, as the speculative constructs of some ideologues of contemporary Russian nationalism are often inconsistent with the attitudes and feelings of ordinary nationalists, and even less so with those of the general public. While ideologues speak of the “Eurasian” character of Russian culture, of the historical symbiosis of Slavs and Turkic peoples and even of the alliance between Orthodox Christianity and Islam in the fight against secularized Western ideologies, their followers in everyday life are the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia and the "Asians" are generally hostile. A negative attitude towards Islam has also spread in Russia.

In fact, so-called Eurasianism is only popular with a small but vocal section of Russian nationalists. While some “Eurasianists” insist on the historical and cultural unity of all the peoples of the former Soviet Union, others assign Russia the role of the most important bulwark of the continental Eurasian culture against the Atlantic (e.g. Dugin, 1997). In any case, the history of “Eurasianism” proves its character as a crisis ideology. Before the revolution, very few Russian thinkers advocated the Eurasian character of the Russian empire; the majority considered it a European state. The Eurasian school of thought first appeared in Russian émigré circles in the 1920s. She tried to create an ideology for the restoration of the Russian empire in a different guise. In fact, this ideology was not very original and borrowed generously from various sources: the messianic religious philosophy of Russia, the pessimistic criticism of western capitalist civilization (Spengler), and even fascism. This mish-mash of ideas was spiced up with a romantic mythology of history. The early Eurasianists insisted on a hereditary enmity between continental Eurasians and the western-Atlantic cultures. They argued that for natural and cultural-historical reasons, all peoples from the Chingan mountain ranges in north and northeast China to the Carpathian Mountains shared the same fate and should form a common state. They also claimed that the autocratic form of rule they praised in Russia was a Mongolian contribution to Russian development (for recent reprints of the most important publications by the Eurasianists, see Isaev, 1992; Novikova and Sizemskaia, 1995; Tolstoy, 1997; on the ideology of Eurasianism see Tsimbursky, 1998).

Very soon some Eurasianists discovered that many of their attitudes and goals, namely the rejection of the capitalist West and the restoration of the Russian Empire, were not so different from those of the Soviet Communists. The result of this discovery was far from praiseworthy. Some Eurasianists became agents of the Soviet secret police (later, when they were no longer useful, they were jailed, but that's another story - see Ashnin and Alpatov, 1996). Others lost faith in the ideology or its practicability.

It was not until the 1970s that some of the ideas of the Eurasian movement, especially the thesis of the cultural and political symbiosis of the Eastern Slavs and Turkic-Mongolian nomads, revived, albeit in a somewhat less extreme form for a time, in the writings of their epigone , by the historian Lev Gumilev (1970; cf. also 1989; on Gumilev see Brudny, 1998, pp. 186-189; Shnirelman and Panarin, 2000). It is true that Gumilev was an eccentric in Soviet science; his unprofessional historical research was only exceeded by his vigorous imagination; however, this did not prevent Eurasianism from reviving itself during the period of perestroika and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Still, its influence on Russian nationalism today should by no means be overestimated. At times one has the impression that Eurasianism is attracting more attention in the West than in its homeland. In Russia it remains the domain of a narrow circle of ideologues and is very often detached from the practical demands of Russian nationalists. It is inextricably linked with the longing for the lost empire and the futile dream of a reversal of the course of history. A nationalist ideology with a strong imperial admixture, it represents in some ways a contradicting attempt to overcome narrow ethnic Russian nationalism, or rather to make it more attractive to non-Russian peoples. In doing so, however, it does not attract the Russians or non-Russians sufficiently.

Russia - Political or Ethnic Nation?

This leads us to further tendencies of nationalism in today's Russia. The fact that the Russian state was never a nation state in its entire history had a major influence on all of its variants; and even now Russia's emergence as a nation-state is more of a project than a fact. Just as in the past, Russia today is historically, ethnically and culturally more and at the same time less than the Russian state. To clarify, one should first look at philology and language instead of history. This may be difficult for those who do not speak Russian, but it is important to understand the current situation in the country.

In fact, there are two different nouns for the country and the people in Russian, and consequently two different adjectives. The nouns are (an archaic word, which today is mainly restricted to literary use) and - in English “Russia”. Accordingly, there are two different adjectives, and; the first is also used as a noun to denote the ethnic Russians as a people. In German, both adjectives are translated as “Russian” or “Russen”.

Today denotes the ethnicity of the Russian people. however, it is primarily a political and territorial, but only potentially a civic definition. The word was first introduced in 1718 by Feofan Prokopovich, an adviser to Peter the Great. At that time and much later it was used primarily in official parlance and exclusively as a term for the subjects of the Russian Empire. It thus had a strictly political meaning and was actually rarely used. As far as I know, in pre-revolutionary times the word was never used for the non-Russian peoples of the Caucasus, and certainly not for the Central Asian ones. In the official vocabulary, the former were usually identified only as Armenians, Georgians, Muslims or “other subjects” of the Russian Empire. At the turn of the century, the term was used only occasionally among liberals.

In Soviet times it was either used interchangeably with or, in some cases, referred to the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, for example, its territory, resources, administration, etc. As long as the Soviet concept of nation was based on the idea of ​​ethnic origin there was no place in it for a political nation (). It is true that the Soviets wanted to launch a far more ambitious project: the creation of a single Soviet people. However, this supranational community was called Soviet, not Russian, although it included linguistic and cultural Russification.

Hence the very idea of ​​a politically understood Russian nation is a new phenomenon. It has only been represented by liberals in Russia since the late phase of perestroika. Yeltsin took up the idea for political reasons. At that time he was fighting with Gorbachev for the sovereignty of Russia. To undermine Yeltsin's position, Gorbachev tried to incite the non-Russian Autonomous Republics against the central authority of the Russian Federation. For his part, Yeltsin made a proposal to the leaderships of these republics that he would have preferred to forget later: "Take as much sovereignty as you can digest."

It was precisely at this time that those who were more or less familiar with the Western understanding of the state began to talk about a multiethnic and political nation. In the “Newspeak” of the Russian Democrats, the archaic and rarely used noun rossijane, a derivative of rossijskij, assumed a new and different meaning. First, it should encompass not only an overarching citizenship, but also the common interests, values, cultural traits, common history and destiny that Russian and non-Russian citizens are said to have united, as well as the bright future that awaits them all . Rather implicitly, the word suggests that all citizens of the Russian Federation, regardless of ethnicity, are or should become patriots of this republic, although the term “patriotism” was not very popular in democratic circles. At the time, democratic intellectuals liked to quote a famous saying about patriotism as the villain's last refuge. (One must not forget that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Russian liberals viewed the nationalists as their enemies along with the communists. It was not until the 1995/1996 election campaigns that the democratically oriented parties began their patriotism and loyalty to the Russian Nation.)

However, it is not enough to construct identities. If they are to be successful, they must first be accepted. In this regard, there are far more unsuccessful attempts than success stories. It soon became clear that there is no consensus in Russia on a Russian political nation. Post-Soviet Russia remains not only a multiethnic, but also to a certain extent a multinational state that preserves the principle of ethno-territorial autonomy inherited from the Soviet Union. Many members of non-Russian nationalities are suspicious of attempts to impose a common identity with ethnic Russians on them, with the exception of citizenship. Many opinion polls and studies indicate that among the members of the territorial non-Russian nationalities, loyalty to their own nationality, republic or region / homeland is stronger than to the Russian Federation in general (Khazanov, 1997, pp. 135f.). Politically and culturally, the non-Russian political elites and nationalist intellectuals are the most resolute in rejecting the conception of a Russian political nation. The concept of the political nation includes, at least theoretically, an ethnically neutral policy and the equality of all citizens on the entire territory of the nation-state - exactly what the non-Russians want to avoid. Indeed, they insist that members of indigenous nationalities enjoy the right to preferential treatment in their titular republics.

Apparently there is more to a political nation than a common citizenship. It should have some common political, historical and cultural symbols that are accepted by the multiethnic majority. It is actually surprising that even after centuries of living together, the different nationalities in Russia have so few indisputable identity-creating similarities, so few common feelings and symbols that are indispensable for integrating the individual into a nation. Russian history lacks a George Washington or Abraham Lincoln as a symbol of an overarching national identity recognized by all - regardless of their ethnic origin. Lenin and Stalin are too discredited in the eyes of the majority of the population to be able to fulfill this function. The members of the different nationalities in Russia see the past in very different light and each have their own ethnocentric mythologies.

For example, one reads in the history textbooks of Russian-speaking schools that the conquest of the Kazan Khanate in the middle of the 16th century was a great achievement by the expanding Russian state and benefited all ethnic groups living there, including the Tatars. In the post-Soviet period, however, the day of Kazan's defeat is celebrated in Tatarstan as the greatest tragedy in the history of the Tatar people, and who knows, maybe we will see the birth of a new Kosovo myth here. In official Russian historiography, the Mongol invasion and the ensuing period of the Golden Horde is referred to as the “three hundred year Tatar yoke”.The President of Tatarstan, Mintemir Shaimiev, declared that without the Golden Horde there would have been no Greater Russia, since the Moscow princes were only able to unite the other Russian kingdoms through the patronage of the khans of the Golden Horde. All Russian children know that General Yermolov was a hero of the “Patriotic War” of 1812. In the North Caucasus, however, nobody cares about this war; there the children learn that General Yermolov was a bloody colonizer of the Caucasus. In almost all non-Russian republics of the Federation, Yeltsin's decree to reintroduce the old two-headed eagle as an official state emblem met with rejection because it is historically linked to the Orthodox faith, Russian imperialism and colonialism.

Even a common citizenship is controversial. Some leaders of the republics insist that the citizenship of the republics should take precedence over that of the federation. It goes so far that the decision of the Russian government to abolish the “fifth point” in domestic passports, which defines the ethnic identity of every citizen, is met with reluctance and even refused in some non-Russian republics. The abolition is seen there as a further attempt at Russification, or as an effort to deny non-Russians their privileged status at home. Interestingly, the Russian nationalists are also against this decision, albeit for completely different reasons.

But that's only one side of the coin. The other is that many ethnic Russians do not embrace the political concept of the nation either. It seems that nationalism as a post-imperial syndrome is very different in stable and prosperous countries than in those experiencing political uncertainty and economic hardship. The Russians have still not overcome the identity crisis that resulted from the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Now they fear that some parts of the Russian Federation could also be lost. In the early 1990s, there was an almost paranoid mood in Russia. Many people were convinced that Russia was on the verge of disintegration. The increase in ethnic nationalism among the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation encouraged the resurgence of Russian nationalism. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, only Russian nationalists conjured up the specter of Russophobia; almost all political movements use it today.

Because of this development, the ideological space in Russia could be occupied by a single variety of nationalism: ethnic nationalism. The Russians are currently looking for a new basis for their identity as a nationality and nation. Hence the ongoing debate about the character of the Russian Federation and the status of its ethnic minorities. Strangely enough, even the problem of an ethnic Russian nation is far from resolved. Who can actually be considered an ethnic Russian remains hotly contested. Many still argue that ethnicity is hereditary and is defined by blood or genes. One of the ambiguous features in this regard is the new official and public usage of the language, which emphasizes the difference between real Russians and Russian speakers - acculturated members of other nationalities who speak Russian as their first or even only language. This distinction is the immediate consequence of the Soviet practice of assigned and hereditary ethnic identity. The Orthodox Church and clerical nationalists, however, propagate an even more restrictive understanding of Russianism. They argue that only an Orthodox Christian can be a true Russian.

Farther-looking Russian nationalists advocate a broader approach: the gradual assimilation of members of non-Russian nationalities into the ethnic Russian nation. However, they do not have a clear answer to the question of how this goal can be achieved. Apparently their hopes are directed towards voluntary assimilation, but this possibility currently seems questionable, at least with the territorial nationalities of the Russian Federation.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the ongoing discussion among Russian nationalists of various currents is their intellectual poverty. The debate offers nothing new. The ideas and approaches discussed go back to pre-revolutionary times, although one of the main concerns of the pre-revolutionary Russian nationalists was the preservation of the empire, while the post-Soviet nationalists saw its dissolution.

Russia - bulwark against liberalism and modernity

A notable feature of Russian nationalism is that, from the 19th century to the present day, it has had anti-liberal, anti-western, and authoritarian features (I'm not talking about individuals here, but political movements, although there is little difference in this regard) . Nationalism has many facets and varieties. It can be a political movement, an ideology, or a feeling - or all of them together. Contrary to what one might think, nationalism does not necessarily belong to the left or right of the political spectrum. It is compatible with various political systems, from totalitarianism to democracy; it can also go hand in hand with various ideologies, from fascism and communism to conservatism, liberalism and even social democracy. However, the different varieties of nationalism are always linked to specific historical and political circumstances.

We were used to the assumption that nationalism strives for the congruence of political, linguistic, and ethno-cultural boundaries (Gellner, 1983). However, that was never the goal of Russian nationalism. In pre-revolutionary Russia, nationalism was always aimed at maintaining and expanding the Russian empire and maintaining the dominant position of ethnic Russians in the empire. When these aims were supported ideologically at all, reference was usually made to orthodoxy as the only true Christian faith, to the messianic mission of the Russian people, and to similar arguments that had gained new popularity in the country. Hence this type of nationalism could be called imperial nationalism. It was, of course, quite contradicting itself.

With regard to the non-Russian subjects of the empire, only two options were discussed: either their assimilation to the Russian people or their status as subject minorities. Even assimilation, however, was debatable: who should be allowed to assimilate and who should be denied it? In any case, the Russian nationalists did not consider linguistic and even cultural assimilation to be sufficient. For them that was the conversion to Orthodoxy. Even the last Romanovs and their ruling elite increasingly tried to legitimize the existing order by identifying the autocracy with the orthodox Russian people at the expense of the transnational ambitions of the empire (von Hagen, 1997, p. 63). All of this made Russian nationalism special.

Therefore, the boundaries between nationalism and other movements in the political and ideological space of Russia were largely different from those in many other European countries. In England it was possible to be a nationalist and a liberal at the same time because there was a clear distinction between England, Britain and the British Empire. In Russia this was more difficult because for the Russian nationalists the territorially connected Russian empire and Russia itself represented an indivisible unit. For them, ethnic Russia extended to the entire empire, but at the same time they denied non-Russian subjects civil equality and were strictly against the idea of ​​administrative or even cultural autonomy.

After the suppression of the revolution of 1905, a large part of the Constitutional Democratic Party, the most important liberal party in the country, advocated a strengthening of the state with regard to the nationality question (cf. Shelokhaev, 1996, p. 76ff.). Some of its most influential members, for example P. Struve, S. Bulgakow and N. Berdjajew, now also took the view that the Russians were a state people and that the Russian Empire was their nation state. However, they continued to insist on granting non-Russians the same civil rights as the Russians, which made them ideological and political opponents of the nationalists. Other liberals, such as Milyukov, who wanted to transform the Russian Empire into a multi-ethnic nation-state in which ethnic Russians would not occupy a politically dominant position, were viewed by the nationalists as archenemies (Weeks, 1996, p. 24ff .; incidentally, Milyukov occasionally used it the word as opposed to).

The history of the Second International has shown that it was possible to be a socialist and a nationalist at the same time. In Russia this only applied to members of ethnic minorities. There were Polish, Georgian, Jewish and Latvian socialist parties with pronounced nationalist programs; however, there was no Russian (russkaja) socialist party.

Under Soviet rule, Russian nationalism lived on more or less explicitly and remained focused on the empire. One of its main characteristics was the identification of Russia with the whole of the Soviet Union (Khazanov, 1995, pp. 87ff.). Let us skip the Soviet period and turn directly to the post-communist era. Despite some differences, there are notable similarities between pre-revolutionary and post-Soviet Russian nationalism. To this day, Russian nationalism has remained anti-modern, anti-western, anti-democratic, anti-liberal, authoritarian and offensive, although now often in a defensive guise. Constant shouts of warning about the threat to the Russians from numerous external and internal enemies are part of everyday life today.

Over the past few years I have dealt extensively with the growing number of Russian nationalist publications - not a very exciting read, as I must confess. All nationalist ideologies are largely based on mythology, and Russian nationalist mythology, like any other, presents itself as a self-evident truth that needs no proof. Preferred formulations of Russian nationalists are: “It is obvious that ...”, “It is well known that ...”. But there is one additional factor that makes the writings of Russian nationalists so boring. They are extremely verbose, bombastic and monotonous, use a preaching tone and are full of repetitions, in short, stylistically speaking, they are simply miserable.

This should come as no surprise when one takes into account that many of the ideologues and advocates of Russian nationalism can best be described as ragged intellectuals: poorly educated and professionally incompetent people who became redundant with the country's political change and the transition to a market economy. To satisfy my curiosity, I asked what some of these people had been up to in Soviet times. The result was extremely revealing. Many were Marxist philosophers or teachers of so-called Scientific Communism; others were Komsomol, communist party officials, KGB officers, or had similar professions. Now they have changed from Saul to Paul, or, perhaps more appropriately, from Paul to Saul.

There are also many poets, writers, and journalists among the ideologues of Russian nationalism. Two or three are good or were good, the rest is very bad. In the Soviet Union they were protected from competition, they were sponsored and, for their loyalty to the regime, nurtured by the Soviet government - and very well. Today they cannot keep up and defend themselves with every available means. A few years ago one of them, the poet Valentin Sorokin, made a telling remark: "I admit that Joseph Brodsky's poems are as good as mine." But then he added: “I am Russian, but Brodsky is not. He has no right to write in Russian. "

Mythology and program

Although Russia's nationalist movement is currently politically fragmented and made up of many parties and groups that often compete with one another, it is not difficult to identify the common features of its mythology and political program. Let's start with mythology. It is almost disappointing in its almost complete lack of new and original features. In many ways, contemporary Russian mythology repeats the myths of Soviet historiography and propaganda, or returns to pre-revolutionary nationalist myths.

Nationalist mythology claims that today we are witnessing a clash of cultures: a global struggle between the materialistic, individualistic, consumeristic, cosmopolitan, corrupt West under the leadership of the USA and the collectivistic, idealistic, spiritually and morally superior Eurasia, led by Russia. Russia is more than a country and a state, it is a culture in which spirituality prevails over materialism. The Russians are the chosen people who carry out a self-sacrificing mission to enlighten and save humanity (this claim goes back to the Russian religious philosophers Soloviev, Berdjajew, Fedorov and others, even to the "Russian idea", the Dostoyevsky formulated in the 1870s).

In this vision, the Russian Empire is unique. It was the most human in world history. The peoples lived together peacefully and on an equal footing within its borders. Non-Russians joined it voluntarily. Russia did not conquer or subjugate them, and if it did, then only for their own good, to protect them from external and internal enemies (this is a direct continuation of Soviet mythology).

So what or who is preventing Russia from fulfilling its messianic mission? The West, of course, and especially the USA at the moment. Russia has always been a besieged fortress, surrounded by enemies in the east and west. For many centuries the West wanted to bring Russia to its knees. The collapse of the Soviet Union is the result of this conspiracy. Today America wants to break Russia apart to turn it into a supplier of raw materials. And so on and so on. Conspiracy theories and complaints of Russophobia have become an indispensable part of today's nationalist mythology in Russia.

There are two eternal Russian questions: “Who is to blame?” and “What to do?”. The mythology of Russian nationalism gives the answer to the first question; his political program answers the second.

I will now describe the political program of the mainstream Russian nationalism, but not that of the extremist, openly fascist organizations like the Russian National Unity, which claims to have 150,000 members and wants to establish an apartheid system in Russia (Shenfield, 2001 ). So what is the mainstream nationalist program? The main demands are: Russia should be the state of the Russian people and Orthodoxy should be elevated to the state religion. Russia is understood as an indivisible unit and is to become a unitary state in which ethnic minorities enjoy at best cultural, but no political or territorial, autonomy.

The Russian people must reject democracy and liberalism for the sake of a new and organic political and social order based on the so-called. It is very difficult to translate the word because even in Russian it has many different and vague meanings. The Old Russian word, which was rarely used until recently, denotes a (ecclesiastical or secular) assembly. In today's nationalist jargon, a mentality of community and at the same time an alleged ethnic unity in which the interests of the Russian people as a whole should take precedence over individual interests. should be based on a spirit of self-sacrifice and emphasize the primacy of the national community. The language used by Russian nationalists shows parallels to fascist corporatism.

For the Russian nationalists, a strong and powerful state () is the meaning and purpose of the existence of the Russian nation. The state, by no means civil society, is the bearer, protector and guarantor of national interests. The most immediate and urgent goal of the Russian people is the restoration of the Russian state as a great power within its historical borders (i.e. the restoration of the Russian Empire). Since the West in general, and the United States in particular, seeks to prevent Russia from achieving this goal, Russian foreign policy should become anti-Western and anti-American. In short, the political program of Russian nationalism is not only anti-democratic and anti-liberal, but also revanchist.


The final question that remains is what role the nationalist factor plays in Russian political life today.Some observers consider it unlikely that radical nationalists, especially neo-fascists, will come to power in the country in the near future. I also tend to think so. There is another kind of danger, however.

First, some power structures in Russia and their functionaries are becoming increasingly receptive to the nationalist program. It is no secret in Russia that extremist nationalist organizations have many sympathizers in the Ministry of Interior, the judiciary and some regional administrations, not to mention the secret services. In open violation of Russian law, prosecutors and courts are sabotaging all attempts to prosecute those who incite ethnic and national hatred. Second, and perhaps more worryingly, other political movements are becoming increasingly receptive to nationalist programs and slogans. Nationalism is in vogue in Russia and most political movements and parties seek to portray themselves as the best defenders of national interests.

The basic Western, especially Western European, patterns of ideological and political orientation - conservatism, liberalism and social democracy - cannot yet be applied to Russia. Instead, I would name four main forces on the Russian political spectrum: nationalists, communists, the ruling nomenclature, which in Russian political parlance is called “the party (or parties) of power,” and fourth, those democrats and liberals who are currently in opposition to the government or are not involved in it (I am referring to formations such as Jawlinski's Yabloko party and, with some reservations, the “Union of Right Forces” of Gaidar, Chubais and Nemtsov). It could be instructive to what extent these forces open themselves to nationalist ideology.

What is particularly strange about today's political life in Russia is the lack of a strong social democratic movement. There are only a few small groups with a social democratic orientation, and that in a country with such a strong socialist tradition! There are several reasons for this, but I can only address one of them here. While in many East Central European countries the communists tend towards social democracy, this does not apply to their Russian counterparts. Instead, the Russian communists are drawn to nationalism. It is true that there are several ideological tendencies in the Communist Party of Russia at the moment, including a traditionalist and internationalist one (Urban and Solovei, 1997). By far the clearest, however, is the nationalist tendency.

Let us summarize the most important points of the relevant writings of Gennady Zyuganov (apparently a whole army is working for him), the leader of the Russian communists (cf.e.g. Zyuganov 1996 and 1997): Russia is then a unique, continental, Slavic, orthodox culture. At the same time, it is the legitimate successor to the empire of Genghis Khan. Russia continued Genghis Khan's mission of unifying the geopolitical area of ​​Eurasia (Zyuganov studied the Eurasianists diligently). The most important achievement of the Soviet era was the further strengthening of the Russian state; The main mistake in this phase, according to Zyuganov, was to downplay the Russian character of the Soviet Union. Stalin understood this and wanted to strengthen the Russian character of the Soviet Union, but - unfortunately - died too early.

According to Zyuganov, many Marxist ideas and doctrines contradict the Russian mentality and need to be reconsidered. So the class struggle is currently being replaced by the struggle of states. According to Zyuganov, Russia has always stood against the rapacious Western civilization, which is negatively influenced by Judaism, which is still true today. The present goal of the West is the ultimate destruction of Russia and the Russians. There are too many non-Russians in science and culture, in the mass media and in the state apparatus. Zyuganov sees this as proof that Yeltsin's leadership was pro-Western and therefore anti-Russian.

I think that should be enough to get a clear picture of the current ideological tendencies of the Russian Communists. Whatever you want to call them, they have ceased to be Marxists. We are currently observing the merging of radical right-wing extremism with a resurrected anti-capitalist populism.

Let us now turn to the “Party of Power”. It should be remembered that a significant part of the Soviet / Russian establishment, including the party, the military and the secret service, was indoctrinated with the ideas of Russian nationalism even before the phase of perestroika (Solovei, 1994, p. 58ff.) . Many of these people are still in power today. In the new situation they feel even more drawn to nationalism because it can give them a new legitimation for power. Other members of Russia's political elite are turning to nationalism for convenience.

Since 1994, statism has almost become its official ideology, just like demonstrative anti-Americanism a little later. Anti-Americanism is growing in Russia for various reasons. The Russian leadership follows this trend and at the same time continues to stir up public opinion. Many Russians cannot forgive the Americans for winning the Cold War, especially not the consequences of their defeat, which they see as national humiliation. The Russian leadership sees the US and NATO as forces that are preventing Russia from reestablishing its hegemony over East Central Europe and within the CIS.

In fact, the Russian political elite is trying to dance at two weddings at the same time, but without much success. In principle, the propagated state patriotism and the attachment to a strong and powerful state could be ethnically neutral. In Russia they are not. In some respects the propagated ideology of the derzhavnichestvo is a somewhat more prudent nationalism, but it remains an ethnic nationalism of the Russians. It is noteworthy that the term “Russian Federation” has almost disappeared from the official vocabulary.

Where the incomplete break with the Soviet past is accompanied by a growing desire to resort to Russia's imperial past and its symbols, which the non-Russians in the country completely reject, politics cannot be ethnically neutral. The same applies if the state de facto gives one of the country's many denominations the status of a state religion. If the new law on freedom of conscience and religion proclaims that Orthodoxy is an inseparable part of all-Russian history and the intellectual and cultural heritage of the country, this law cannot be neutral with regard to non-Russian and non-Orthodox citizens .

All ideas in Russia are based on two assumptions. First, that the interests of non-Russian nationalities should coincide with the interests of ethnic Russians. Second, that the Russians have a special responsibility for the preservation and strengthening of the state and that they act in the interests of all the peoples of Russia. If this line of argument is brought to the end, one could say that the 100,000 victims of the Chechnya war were slaughtered for their own good.

For several years the Yeltsin leadership tried to give the country a new national idea, albeit without much success. These efforts revealed not only a deeply ingrained authoritarian mentality, but also a specific vision of the post-Soviet state. In a society that is already pluralistic to a certain extent, such an ideology can only be propagated and disseminated by the state and then becomes a state ideology with strong nationalistic and anti-liberal features. Everything indicates that the new Russian leadership will not give up these efforts. The policy of authoritarian centralism that President Putin is imposing on the country is heavily influenced by the concepts of Russian nationalism.

And what about the liberals? They too nourished the longing for a return to imperial greatness because in their struggle against the communists and in their rejection of the Soviet era they increasingly resorted to an idealized pre-revolutionary past. More importantly, however, parts of the liberals are now also showing themselves to be more accessible to ethnic nationalism. There are still staunch liberals and “Westerners” who despise all forms of nationalism, especially its Russian variety; but there are also a growing number of others, so-called liberal statists or liberal imperialists, who are ready to make concessions to the Russian nationalists. A few years ago many of them supported the first Chechnya war, and many more support the second. In private conversations, some of them told me that they should bow to the public mood. According to a survey by the Moscow Academy of Humanities, 61% of Russians are in favor of restoring the state that existed before the October Revolution (Russia Today, January 4, 2001).

In summary, it can be said that in Russia today there is a lack of consensus on the concept of the nation and there is little that the people in the country can identify with together. In these conditions of social and political fragmentation, nationalism has - unfortunately inevitably - become an important factor in the development of the country.


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Published 8 March 2002
Original in English
Translated by Andreas Simon

Contributed by Transit © Anatoly M. Khazanov Transit