Thursday, May 5, 2016

Radical Russian Nationalism Faded for Three Main Reasons, St. Petersburg Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 5 – The radical Russian nationalism has been fading from the scene over the last 15 years for three reasons, Mikhail Sokolov says. Its followers were never as different from those in other trends as many thought.  Its numbers were never as large as the media made them out. And its members have grown up and are now part of the Russian mainstream.

            In an intellectually rich 7700-word interview (, the St. Petersburg sciologist discusses his research on the extreme radical right of Russian nationalism in the 1990s and why he believes Russian radical nationalism is at an end (

            His main thesis on this as expressed in the 2007 article was that “when a market has only appeared, products for various audiences are still not differentiated, but as the market grows, each product comes to occupy its own consumer niche” with “everyone know which product is intended for it.”

            “This relates to ideological products as well,” Sokolov argues. “When in the 1990s political elections and political advertising first appeared, every position appealed to all. But then step by step niches began to appear and there became ever more differentiated. And it turned out that in certain ideological niches there was practically no one” originally or especially later.

            “For example,” the European University professor says, “in the 1990s, it was believed that many people were involved with radical Russian nationalism and that they were prepared to support nationalists. But then suddenly it turned out that very few people were actually purchasing this.”

            When the political marketplace differentiated and “Russian nationalism was separated let us say from fundamentalism Orthodoxy, from pan-European white racism, from neo-Stalinism, and from Russian imperialism, it turned out that only a tiny group of nationalists remained” and their organizations became meaningless except when they attracted media attention.

            Some of these groups still exist but “few hear about them. [Their] niche has turned out to be empty.” In sharp contrast with Ukraine, there are “very few ideological trends in Russia [today] which show aspects of classical ethnic nationalism” such as concern about language, studying of history, folklore and the like.

            “In the first generation or perestroika nationalism, there were many such people,” Sokolov continues; “but now we almost do not see them,” at least in part of course, because “the cultivation of ethnic identity at the state level would conflict with other values such as loyalty to the state” regardless of one’s ethnicity.

            According to the sociologist, “there are three possible scenarios for why a niche which everyone thought was occupied by someone can turn out to be empty:  Either those who demanded some product have disappeared, or there weren’t very many of them in the first place, or there had not yet been the kind of product differentiate that has taken place since.

            Those who were labelled radical Russian nationalists in the 1990shave followed all three trajectories toward the political wilderness and oblivion, Sokolov suggests. Russian National Unity, for example, “overrated the importance of nationalist symbols and underrated the important of government ones,” the consequences of which became obvious only after 2000.

            Moreover, Sokolov observes, “radical protest against the entire social order loses its attractiveness as the generation of soloviki became less poor and they find their place in the new order.”  Those that can’t or haven’t yet may continue to attract attention by their antics but they are less important than many think.

            But more important in the decay of these groups is that the kind of “broad alliances” of the 1990s between people of the most radically different views have become unsustainable as each of the component parts has declared itself and revealed that those who were lumped together were not really part of one trend.

            “As a result,” Sokolov says, many who were part of “the broad ideological frameworks of Russian nationalism in the 1990s have evolved in the direction of various ideological sides.” Some have become Westernizers, especially those for whom anti-migrant and racist attitudes were “central” but they could never form a lasting alliance with liberals.

            “Another part of the right-wing figures, including former members of the National Bolshevik Party like Aleksandr Dugin simply exploited neo-Stalinism and imperialism and presented Putin in the role of the imperial leader.”  The current regime proved “closer to this ideological niche” than to any other.

            But because of the concerns of the state, those who did so generally felt compelled to reject “all attributes of ethnic nationalism or racism and generally speaking of religious fundamentalism.”  And thus, “that part of the nationalists of the 1990s evolved toward imperialism and as a result lost its meaning and political weight.”

            Instead, Sokolov concludes, it “became part of the mainstream” of thinking in Russia today.

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