Saturday, April 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Alienation of Russian Nation from Russian State Led to 1917 and 1991, Moscow Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 13 – A major reason for the destruction of the Russian Empire in 1917 and of the Soviet Union in 1991, a Moscow historian says, was “the alienation that existed between the state and the Russian people,” a shortcoming that unfortunately the Russian Federation has not yet overcome with its new nationality strategy document.

            That document, published and approved last fall, Aleksandr Vdovin says, did not include either Vladimir Putin’s proposal to underline the state-forming role of the Russian nation or even address in a serious way the most important nationality problem of the country, that of the ethnic Russians (

            Indeed, Vdovin argues, that document and Russian policy flowing from it fails to take into consideration what the Soviet neglect of the Russian nation led to or the fact that the Soviet hymn proclaimed a special role for the Russians but the Soviet constitution did not formalize that, leading to a dangerous kind of cognitive dissonance.

            In some ways, he continues, the current situation is even worse. The national hymn doesn’t refer to the special role of the Russians at all, and those Russians who felt, like General Aleksandr Lebedev that “Russia is beginning to see itself not as a cosmopolitan (internationalist) empire but as a nation state” have been disappointed.

            Thus, “the contradiction between the Russian nation and the state” has continued, with few recognizing that there will be no success in resolving the nationality question in the Russian Federation unless the state, first and foremost, addresses the need to promote Russian culture, Russian language, and Russian patriotism.

            Of course, Vdovin says, “this does not mean” that the nationality question can be resolved without taking the interests of other peoples of the Russian Federation into consideration.  That is absolutely necessary, and it is something that almost all Russians and Russian nationalists have understood.

             Unfortunately, he argues, too much time has been wasted on sterile discussions of issues like the amalgamation of regions or other projects for promoting federalism “which ignore the ethnic Russian nationality question.”

            Focusing on the Russian question, he suggests, is easier if one understands the relationship between “russky” (ethnic Russian) and “rossiisky” (non-ethnic Russian).  “Despite the fact that in contemporary usage, the term ‘rossiisky’ man unlike ‘russky’ can include a ‘non-ethnic Russian,’ it is impossible to treat ‘rossiisky’ as meaning ‘non-ethnic Russian’ or to use ‘rossiisky’ in place of ‘russky.’”

            According to Vdovin, there are several ways that a Russian nation state might be formed.  It might be a Russian state “with national-territorial autonomies for other peoples” who form more than 50 percent of the population of a given territory or it might involve broader use of territorial or extra-territorial national cultural autonomy for the minorities.

            But however things are arranged, he concludes, the Russian state must avoid creating a situation in which ethnic Russians will feel alienated from the state under which they live. The Great Fatherland War shows what Moscow must do, base its internationalism “on a healthy nationalism.” 1917 and 1991 shows what happens when the center does not.

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