Staunton, November 9 – No one yet knows what the specific content of the law Vladimir Putin has called for to define the place of the Russian nation, Badma Byurchiyev says; but this proposal, judging from his earlier actions, suggests that Russia is moving away from the principles of federation and is returning to its imperial past.
The Kavkazskaya politika portal observer begins by pointing out that Vyacheslav Mikhailov, the former nationalities minister who proposed the law Putin now backs, stressed that “’the Russian nation’ is not a civic political but an ethnic concept” and that its special status must be enshrined in the constitution (kavpolit.com/articles/natsija_sverhu-29470/).
“If the law is successfully adopted,” Mikhailov said at the time, then there could follow corresponding changes in the constitution. The entire formulation, ‘multi-national people’ must be defined more precisely: behind it stands the ethnic people of the Russian Federation, a multitude of ethnoses but not a civic nation.”
As one can see, Byurchiyev continues, Mikhailov “juggled” the terms “people” and “nation” “like a magician” before pulling out of his sleeve his “trump card.” Officially, he said, “it is considered that there is no state ideology, but in reality, a state cannot live without an ideology.”
“Therefore,” the former nationalities minister concluded, “our law must have a declaration of principles as in the US which created a state by declaring its intention or even the USSR which viewed its goal as the achievement of communism … The goal of our bill is a Russian nation [“russkaya natsiya”] and its unification.”
To better understand what all this means given Mikhailov’s playing with terms, “one must return back to events of several years ago. In February 2014, we remember, staffers of the Presidential Administration were required to study the works of Nicholas Berdyaev,” including his “Philosophy of Inequality.”
There, Berdyaev said the following about nationalities and nationality policy:“Every nationality in various periods of its existence has various rights. And all historical natioanlities have varied rights. These rights cannot be equalized. There exists a complex hierarchy of nationalities. It is senseless and stupid to equate the right to self-determination of the Russian nation and that of Armenian, Georgian or Tatar nationalities.”
The émigré scholar continued: “And the nationality question is very different for small and weak nations and for large and strong ones. For the small and the weak, the nationality question is an issue of liberation and independence, one of the formation or preservation of a nation state. For large and strong nations, the nationality question is about world power and mission, a question of the formation and extension of the imperialist state.”
Byurchiyev notes that he discussed this at the time and that many non-Russians viewed the Kremlin’s advocacy of Berdyaev as a direct threat to their nations and republics (kavpolit.com/articles/berdjaev_i_vertikal-832/). Now it is clear, he continues, that “our concerns were justified.”
While the staff of the Presidential Administration has changed over the last two years, “the ideas certainly remain,” Byurchiyev argues. “The state already for 15 years has been constructed according to ‘Putin’s plan’ because there are no other subjects of political will in our country.”
Since 2004, when Putin began to speak about the construction of a power vertical, the observer says, “Russia de facto ceased to be a federal state. The next step is to enshrine this change de jure. Gradually of course” lest it stir up difficulties for the Kremlin as Putin himself has noted (regnum.ru/news/polit/2201877.html).
“It is curious,” he says, “how this reformatting is occurring at the level of symbols.” The idea of a law on the Russian nation was put forward “on the eve of the Day of National Unity” which was designed to get people to forget the October revolution and on the eve of 2017 which Moscow has decided to call the Year of Unity (nsn.fm/hots/sovet-po-mezhnatsionalnym-otnosheniyam-2017-god-stanet-godom-edinstva.php and lenta.ru/news/2016/11/01/thelaw/).
These holidays and the statues going up are “the very ‘ideological impulses’ for the sake of which the authorities intend to correct the Constitution and unify the peoples as a mark of the creation of a civic nation.” But of course, a nation can’t be built from above but only by shared values. (On this, see Leonkadiya Drobizheva’s article at izvestia.ru/news/642234).
Trying to build a nation from above as Putin is trying to do won’t produce a nation: it will generate instead a devotion to serfdom, a rejection of gender equality, a restoration of a state ideology, an official religion, and new punishments for anyone who dissents from any of these. Putin’s law on the Russian nation only shows the direction things are going, Byurchiyev says.