Staunton, June 21 – Ever since Nicholas I’s education minister Prince Sergey Uvarov promulgated in 1833 the idea of “official nationality” combining “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality,” each Russian government committed to walking back reforms by its predecessor has invoked its own variant of this.
Vladimir Putin is no different, Moscow commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov argues, is no different; and in a new essay on the Kasparov.ru portal, he describes what he sees as the content that Putin has invested in each of these terms of the Uvarov trinity (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=576842F10D9B8).
“’Orthodoxy’ in this formulation,” Ikhlov writes, “is hardly an appeal for the secular elite” to enrich itself with the values of that branch of the Christian church but rather a call “for religious fundamentalism or mysticism,” something that “requires acknowledging the exclusive character of Russian civilization as the alternative to the humanist and enlightened West.”
Uvarov’s understanding of Orthodoxy reflected his effort to cope with the problems arising from “police-bureaucratic authoritarianism,” and in fact, it represented “a translation of feudal, sovereign-vassal relationships into a charismatic system of the power of ‘the ruler-prophet’ and the ancient ‘tsar-first priest.’”
The first time this happened in Russia was with Ivan the Terrible, but it was repeated by Joseph Stalin, and in certain respects, it is being reapplied now by Vladimir Putin, Ikhlov suggests, and for the same reasons: to delegitimize his predecessors who based their authority as “leaders of a modernizing project.”
And the third element of Uvarov’s trinity – “narodnost’” which is usually translated as “nationality” “does not mean some kind of ‘conservative’ democratism” based on the imposition of “a mass culture of quasi-folkloric elements.” That is not what Putinism “of the second and third terms” is about.
In the tsarist past, this term “was only and exclusively a synonym of romantic ‘racial’, that is, tribal, nationalism and also a militant denial of distinctive elite qualities,” a pattern, Ikhlov argues continued into Soviet times with all the communist talk about “worker-peasant simplicity.”
But in every case, “nationality” was invoked in response to earlier reformist efforts. “The Gorbachev-Yakovlev turn to Westernization, which appealed to ‘all-human’ Western enlightenment values has been cursed in the period of the current ‘romantic reaction,’” Ikhlov continues.
What this means for Putin can be seen in the behavior of the Russian soccer louts in Marseilles. For most, such behavior is viewed as shameful. But “for a country attached to ‘Uvarov’s nationality,’ the militant fans are on the contrary a national advance guard which has shown its physical force and moral decisiveness” against “’the rotting West.’”
That reflects Putin’s pursuit of “a cult of archaic qualities and the simple people,” Ikhlov says. “Let them not like us,” he and his followers say; but “let them fear us” because if they fear us, “this means that they respect us,” at least from the perspective of those who follow this latest edition of Uvarov’s ideas.