Sunday, May 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Needs Ethnic as Well as Civic Nationalism, Russian Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – In words that recalled Solzhenitsyn’s 1974 warning to the Soviet leaders that in a conflict with China, “only the very first” Soviet soldiers would be ready to die because “the sacred truth” is on one page of Lenin rather than another, a Russian activist argues that the Russian Federation needs ethnic nationalism as well as civic if it is to survive.

            In a lengthy commentary on the Russian Federation’s nationality strategy concept adopted in December 2012, Yevgeny Belyayev, a leader of the ethnic Russian community in Bashkortostan, argues that Moscow can’t afford to sacrifice ethnic nationalism in its pursuit of a civic one (

            Instead, he says, the Russian government must revise its strategy in this area and seek to promote rather than repress a healthy ethnic nationalism among Russians and others, lest either or both take on dangerous forms, even as the center uses the resources at its disposal to promote a more general civic patriotism as an over-arching identity.

            But instead or promoting that, the Russian government under the terms of the nationality strategy seems more committed to substituting civic identity for ethnic identity among the Russians, an approach that deforms Russian nationalism by denigrating Russians and that in turn generates anti-Russian attitudes among non-Russians.

            Far less than any other nationality, the Russians “turned out to be unprepared for the destruction of the matrix of Soviet identity” and felt the end of the Soviet Union as a loss rather than a victory. Not surprisingly, some Russians have taken extreme positions, and the repressive response of the state has only made their situation worse.

            Moreover, many Russians are angry, Belyayev says, by the approach of the state to the non-Russians. On the one hand, Moscow backs “traditional” non-Russian approaches to rule even when this means as it does in parts of  the North Caucasus “mafi-like forms of self-organization.”

            And on the other, Moscow ignores the critical role that ethnic Russians play in the non-Russian regions and republics of the country, catering instead to the ethnocratic regimes that dominate these places and that, as 1991 proved, are less loyal to Russia as a whole than they are to their own communities.

            Because of Moscow’s approach to the non-Russian regions and republics, he continues, increasingly “the ethnic Rsusian population of a region is beginning to be viewed as’the descendents of occupiers’” rather than as fellow citizens who have played a key role in the development of the economy and society there.

            To overcome those divisions, Belyayev argues, the central government needs to promote, in ways that parallel what the Soviet regime did, “a national mass culture” that includes all groups and that makes use of “Hollywood”-type technologies to promote a common patriotic identity that includes ethnic identities as well.

            What is on offer to date, “non-ethnic Russian ‘constitutional patriotism,’ simply does not have the ability to “mobilize”the population.  Russian “constitutional tradtions are weak,” the existing constitution “is too young,” and the way it was adopted can hardly be described “as a heroic episode of Russian history.”

            The role of the ethnic Russians needs to be elevated, he argues, suggesting that Russia adopt a new constitution in which the preamble would declare that “We, the ethnic Russian people and all fraternal [non-ethnic] Russian peoples” on the basis of their centuries-long history form “a single People of Russia” (

            “Precisely through such a combination of [non-ethnic] Russiannness and [ethnic] Russianness,” Belyayev concludes, “we will be able to achieve a meaningful nationality policy based on a civic community and not on feudal suzerainty and the social exclusiveness of quasi-ethnic strata.”

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