Thursday, April 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russians Moving from Imperial Messianism to Ethnic Nationalism, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 18 – Russian anger at Central Asian and Caucasian gastarbeiters in Russian cities, calls for the introduction of a visa regime within the CIS, and opposition to providing more money to the North Caucasus have “a common denominator,” a leading Russian nationalist commentator says.

            These things reflect, Yevgeny Ikhlov says, not only a growing sense of separatness “from everything that does not correspond to a narrowly ethnic understanding of Russianness” but also are “a symptom of the rejection by the Russian people of any great power or imperial ideas,” often “regardless of the price” (

            Indeed, he argues, slogans about visas and “feeding the Caucasus” are part of a general unwillingness to “retain Central Asia in the sphere of influence of Russian ‘soft force’” and even of a rejection of “a geopolitical presence in the South Caucasus,” including a rejection of support for Abkhazia and South Osetia, and even “a state presence in the North Caucasus.”

            “A century ago,” Ikhlov says, “Russia completed its formation as an outstanding daughter civilization of the European type which in terms of its great cultural achievements was comparable at that moment with French and English cultures.”  And that status justified Lev Gumilyev in labeling Russian civilization “a super ethnos.”

            “Russian ethnic consciousness has been forming up on the order of 130 years,” a process that was both obscured and challenged by the cataclysmic events of the last 100, Ikhlov suggests.  When the Bolsheviks took over and recognized that Russian etho-nationalism could threaten them, they created something different.”

            That was “a new, utopican-mesianic identity which in a paradoxical way realized at one and the same time both the dreams” of the 16th century of a Third Rome (the project of a universal empire) and “the dreams of the Slavophiles of the 19th century about ‘a New Israel’ (a national-messianic project).”

            With the collapse of the USSR, Russia again faced a choice: between the path offered by Academician Sakharov, who wanted something like the European Union in “a union of equal sovereign national states of Western Eurasia” or the path of General Vlasov who in World War II offered the idea of “a conglomerate of independent national states” linked to Europe

            (Three years ago, Ikhlov writes, he spoke with some bitterness about the victory of Vlasov not only over Stalin but also over Sakharov in an article published in July 2010, although subsequent versions of that article dropped that specific part of his argument (

            Now that it appears that the Russian national idea is “becoming ethnic (ethno-confessional)” instead of “civilizational,”  “there are no more hopes for the preservation of the state even in its current borders.”  The only thing holding the place together, he suggests, are “inertia” and “fear.”

            One indication of just how far this process of nationalization at the expense of imperialism has gone, Ikhlov suggests, is that Russians today unlike only five years ago are not talking about the return of Crimea and Sebastopol and the unification with Russia of Belarus and the eastern oblasts of Ukraine. 

            “Supporters of the national-European paradigm” argue, Ikhlov says, that the emergence of a national state out of an empire is “objectively necessary and therefore a progressive process.”  But for Russia now as for Germany in the period after World War I, it is a traumatic one with many dangers.

            Nonetheless, the process is likely to accelerate, all the more so since “in contemporary Russia there is not a single influentialsocial or intellectual force that is consciously working for the preservation of a common civilizational basis of society.” 

            The efforts of the state to promote a common civic identity do not count, Ikhlov says, because it says that such an identity must rest on “a single cultural-civilizational base,” something that does not exist when Islamophobia, migrantophobia, and Caucasusophobia are on the rise in many segments of Russian society.

            Russians can only hope, Ikhlov concludes, that they will learn from the Weimar experience of Germany and that “ethnic or ‘tribal’ consolidation” represents not the end of their history but its youth and that ultimately “a civilizational civic identity” will arise as a mark of its maturity.

            Two other articles appearing this week provide implicit support for Ikhlov’s argument.  According to Pavel Svyatenko, no one should fear that a visa regime will “bury  the CIS” becauase that organization is “already dying on its own” (

            And a Russian nationalist website offers a list of recommended themes for the May holidays, themes and related slogans that go even further than Ikhlov in forswearing an imperial dimension and demanding the formation of a “really Russian” Russia (

No comments:

Post a Comment