Saturday, November 5, 2016

Putin’s Call for Civic Russian Nation Only Calls Attention to Its Absence, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 5 – Because of their Soviet experiences, residents of the Russian Federation view the term “civic Russian nation” (“rossiiskaya natsiya”) as strange and even contradictory; and consequently, Vladimir Putin’s call for its creation only calls attention to the absence of such a community in Russia today, according to Fyodor Krasheninnikov.

            The Yekaterinburg political analyst says that the Soviet system taught its subjects to view the word nation as something negative, closely related to nationalism or even Nazism, even though it also insisted that each person identify in terms of an ethnic nation like Russian or Ukrainian (главнаястраница/мнение_зачем-в-россии-вновь-поднимают-национальный-вопрос--/42567540 ).

            That is why, Krasheninnikov continues, that Russians have never been comfortable with the idea of a political nation on the European model, a system  which means that “an immigrant from Syria, having become a citizen of Geneva, is considered simply a Swiss and not ‘a person of Arab nationality.’”

            In the view of most people living in the Russian Federation, the term “rossiiskaya natsiya” “sounds like ‘a community of persons of civic Russian nationality,’” a notion that is on its face “strange” given that every citizen of Russia knows very well what his ethnic origin in fact is.

            “Like many other problems of present-day Russia,” the political analyst continues, “all this confusion arose as a result of the events of 1917 when the natural development of the Russian state was broken off and a 70-year experiment on the realization of a communist utopia was begun, an experiment which as we know ended in failure.”

            In his struggle against the monarchy, Lenin placed his bets “on the so-called ‘nationality question,’” given the anger of many minorities and their desire to live separately.  His policy bore fruit and “allowed him to win in the civil war.”  And it meant that the Soviets divided people along ethnic lines rather than religious ones as the tsars had done.

            Despite proclaiming that all this was being disbanded, the leaders of post-Soviet Russia have in fact continued much of it, and the residents of the country view citizenship as “a purely legal formality in no way connected with any all-state identity.” And that is the source of many problems, especially for ethnic Russians.

            Lenin and his followers “saw in Russian nationalism a threat to their power” and therefore did what they could to rein in the Russians relative to other nations, even as they oppressed the latter as well.  In Soviet times, Ukraine became a republic of Ukrainians; but the Russian Federation was never a republic of the ethnic Russians.

            Instead, it was a federation in which there existed and exist various state autonomies for nations, all except for the Russians who are simply too numerous to have their own autonomy but too divided up by the others to form a genuinely ethnic Russian republic. Overcoming this contradiction, either by suppressing the non-Russians or elevating the Russians, is dangerous.

            Some people believe that “Vladimir Putin is a Russian nationalist,” but that view is both “superficial and mistaken.  The civic Russian nation of Vladimir Putin is a nation of bureaucrats and siloviki, and all the rest of the population is supposed to unite for the benefit of these privileged groups in service to the state or at a minimum not interfere.”

            There is a way out of this, but it is not one Putin is inclined to choose. It involves genuine democracy and genuine federalism so that people can choose their own way and so many of the most serious issues of culture and language can be decided locally rather than by officials in Moscow, Krasheninnikov says.

            Were Russia to become a genuine democracy and a genuine federation, a single civic Russian nation would in fact arise on its own. But “unfortunately, the present leadership of the country just like all its predecessors is less concerned about the real creation in Russia of a full-fledged civil society and a contemporary political nation” than about its own power.

            The best that one can hope for as a result of this new upsurge of talk about a civic Russian nation, the analyst concludes, is that it will just be so much propagandistic noise; the worst is that it will be followed by the proclamation of Putin as “the irreplaceable and unique leader who stands above laws, elections, and the state.”


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