Staunton, January 4 – President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed the law making advocacy of separatism in the Russian Federation a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. But a leading specialist on Russia’s regions argues that a new wave of separatism around the world will engulf the Russian Federation as well.
In a new book, “Global Separatism – the Main Subject of the 21st Century” (in Russian; Moscow: Liberalnaya Missiya, 2013, 132 pp.; text at csef.ru/files/csef/articles/4370/4370.pdf
Such hyper-centralization blocked the modernization of the Soviet Union and ultimately led to its demise, and it will have the same effect on the Russian Federation, he argues. People outside of Moscow increasingly view that city as “a parasite” on the country and are looking to futures in which they and not those within the ring road will make choices for themselves.
The center can buy off people for a time but only for a time, Kotsyubinsky says. Ultimately, without economic modernization, the center will lose the ability to do that and as it does the current territory will come apart. Moreover, he suggests, there are additional reasons for expecting that outcome in the coming years.
The current “unity and indivisibility of the Russian Federation are being preserved,” he says, “not thanks to historical trends with good prospects but rather by a banal system of inertia, the potential for which is disappearing year by year and not being replaced by new vital and creative impulses.”
The current powers that be may think they are in control for a long time, but “the recent historical experience of the USSR” shows that the radicalization of the population and divisions of the elite “can occur extremely quickly” and, at the same time, efforts to find a compromise with such opposition groups will only lead the latter to make more radical demands.
Both the authorities and many among liberal reformers discount this possibility. The powers that be think that “the conservative potential of society, passive b definition, can be ‘sublimated’ and made military by combining the spontaneous government feelings of Russian citizens with the ideology of the Uvarov trinity ... adapted to contemporary realities.” And part of the liberal community fear that such an approach by the powers that be will become “a trigger” that will lead to the emergence “from below” of “’Russian fascism.’”
There is some basis for both these views, but there are reasons to believe that neither is correct. The Kremlin is “inable of giving birth to a powerful ‘lower’ Russian-nationalist movement,” Kotsyubinsky says, and such a movement even if it was started would be unlikely to lead to the fascism liberals fear.
The reasons for that lie in the nature of the Russian state and Russian identity, he argues. “Inspite of the widespread publicistic stereotype, the Russian state is not the historicl product of the Russian people. Instead, the Russian people is an ‘artifact’ which arose as a result of the actions of the Russian state and exists as a single civil-political whole exclusively on the basis of power ‘imposed from above.’”
As those who served in the Soviet army will remember, Kotsyubinsky says, those who had “Russian” as their passport nationality did not unite as such but rather formed groups on the basis of where they were from: Siberia, Moscow, the Urals and so on. That is still the case for the population of the country.
“An all-Russian level of self-consciousness exists exclusively as part of a complex with ‘an imperial charge.’” The motherland of a ‘Russian man’ is not a concrete territory with specific borders but ‘limitless and largest country in the world’ at the head of which stands ‘the most important’ ruler in the world (tsar, general secretary, or president) and which is called upon to be the ‘chief power in the world,’” even though that requires a constant sacrifice of “victims.”
Given that reality, he suggests, it should come as no surprise that no rise of “’national self-consciousness’” from below has occurred. Instead, Russian national self-consciousness as far as its civic-political aspect is concerned “can be compared with the Stockholm syndrome, if one defines the Russian authorities as an aggressor and society as its defenseless victim.”
As a result, Kotsyubinsky concludes, when the state ceases to be effective, “Russian national self-consciousness immediately ceases to work as a politically motivating factor.” On those occasions, religion doesn’t change that equation as some think, and location becomes “decisive” as far as individuals are concerned.
According to the historian, this all flows from the “horde” principles which continue to inform relations between the state and the population in Russia and the fact that “the absolute majority of the territories of which the Russian Empire consisted and of which the Russian Federation consists now were unified to one degree or another by force.”
Many understand the ways in which that history helps to explain national movements among the non-Russians of the empire, but it also explains why “the Russian people, put in simplest terms, represents a combination of the descendents of Orthodox Eastern Slavs ... which at one time were forcibly integrated into the Muscovite imperial statehood” but never formed a self-standing nation.
That has led to the victimization of the ethnic Russians. “Over the course of the history of Russia,” Kotsyubinsky writes, “the Russian people formally assumed the role of the most privileged group” but in fact was the ethnos “most exploited” and never developed the idea of a specific motherland of its own with clear borders. Instead, it looked only to the empire.
Many in the Russian regime assume this is a source of strength for them, but in fact, the weakness of Russian national identity means that it is “not too reliable” –and whenever there has been a crisis in state power, Russians have been at a loss to define themselves as a single group until the state recovered.
But such recoveries, based in almost every case on the use of force, prevent the modernization that the state, the economy and the people need, and thus do not last very long. That is all the more so because Russians on the basis of their experiences with the powers that be, especially now, are deeply suspicious of the latter.
And in the next round of the decay of the state, many Russian regions have in the past and will in the future join the non-Russia ones in seeking a way out because their identity is tied more closely to the territories on which they live than to Moscow, however much those in Moscow believe otherwise.
In each cycle, the number of those going their own way has increased, with more having done so in 1991 than in 1917 and more likely to do so in the future, Kotsyubinsky says. Some will view this as “a catastrophe” but others will recognize it for what it really is: a way to promote freedom in a world where “states come and go but regions remain.”