Thursday, November 3, 2016

Putin’s ‘Russian Nation’ to Be Like Everything He Creates – Top Down and Without Horizontal Ties

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 3 – Vladimir Putin wants to create his Russian nation the same way he has created his power vertical, from the top down and with as few horizontal ties that might be used against him as possible, an increasing number of commentators and politicians are saying; and thus his goal is both an contradiction in terms and an impossible dream.

            The European Tatarstan organization has released the most comprehensive statement on this dilemma so far.  It notes that the existence of “a civic multi-national community” in the Russian Federation in fact exists, but that when one begins to speak “about ‘a nation of civic Russians,’ that is something else because it seeks to eliminate ethnic identities in the country (

            Moreover, the group says, “it must not seek to construct a firm national identity within the state with the help of legal acts or Olympiads or the speeches of this or that politicians. A nation “always is understood,” as Benedict Anderson has observed, “as a deep horizontal community,” rather than some vertically organized one.

            The Soviet leadership “attempted to create a community called ‘the Soviet people,’” the European Tatarstan organization says; but all that achieved was a situation in which people “said one thing to the powers that be and thought something else,” as the disintegration of the USSR in 1991 showed. 

            That history and much else besides strongly suggests that “ideological constructs based not on objective socio-economic foundations, based on propaganda and social-political force and fear turn out to be short-lived.”  But that doesn’t make the attempts to create them less dangerous: instead, it makes such attempts as the current one even more so.

            Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov agrees, arguing that social forces have produced a political nation in Ukraine over the last three years but that similar forces have not yet emerged in the Russian Federation and so there is little reason to expect that a political nation of Russians will emerge anytime soon (

Clearly, he says, Putin has not learned from the Soviet experience that “nations are not established by laws and political orders. They either arise or they don’t.” A political nation in the USSR might have arisen in the wake of World War II had Stalin not been so frightened of its implications that he destroyed it by terror.

This problem is far more serious than many think, Portnikov continues, because it is “a problem of the future.”  “Sociologists call the Russians the most ‘atomized’ people in Europe: here the political nation not infrequently ends at the door of one’s own apartment or even within it among the closest who nonetheless do not feel solidarity with each other.”

And that raises “a simple question: “Is a single political nation in general possible in the Russian Federation? And if it in fact is, not by Putin’s order but by the work of history, then another question arises: will this be one nation or two or three or ten?  And will all these new political nations want to live in one state? And if they don’t, will they separate peacefully?”

Portnikov concludes: “This then is the most important question of the immediate Russian future, a question which the self-satisfied initiator of the latest senseless law will hardly have asked himself” or be able to come up with a satisfactory answer.

Finally, the Russian Conscience Movement notes that attempt to create a single political identity for the country occurred not only in Soviet times but in tsarist ones. These didn’t truly succeed and the current effort is likely to fail for the same reason. It speaks of a nation but united people only on a political basis (

“The Russian super-ethnos is much bigger (at a minimum twice and in fact possibly three to four times as large) as the community of citizens of the Russian Federation,” Conscience declares.  Defining a civic Russian nation politically cuts these people off from Russia and from each other.

And the group suggests that “today ‘the most Russian’ Russians live not in Moscow and even not in Irkutsk. Russian Ukrainians and Russian Georgians who preserve their dignity and are much less indifferent to state misbehavior are today much more Russian than are the Russians of the former Leningrad” or elsewhere.

But perhaps the most damning comment about the idea of a civic Russian nation comes from Vyacheslav Mikhailov now identified as its author  --Others who might claim that honor are Boris Yeltsin and ethnographer Valery Tishkov – says that creating a Russian nation “should become the goal for the Russian Federation just as building communism was for the USSR (звук/925087/avtor_idiei_o_rossiiskoi_natsii_ona_dolzhna_stat_tsieliu_kak_kommunizm_v_sssr).

Mikhailov seems to have forgotten although many who lived in Soviet times have not that the Russians among others told an anecdote according to which communism was like the horizon in that the closer you approached it, the further away it became. So too it is likely to be the case with a Russian nation conceived as he and Putin do.

The problems are already agitating some in the Duma now that its nationality committee has taken up the issue and other deputies are being forced to think about what such a law should contain or even whether it should be written at all ( and

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