Staunton, March 30 – Sometimes the most devastating critiques of an idea come from their nominal supporters. The latest example of this? A scholar who backs the Russian civic nation [rossiiskaya natsiya] idea says it will involve Russianizing and Russifying the country’s non-Russians just as many of the latter have long argued.
In a 2000-word essay in Nezavisimaya gazeta, Yury Granin, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Philosophy argues that “the project of a ‘Civic Russian nation’ must be completed” in order to integrate via russianization and russification the country’s non-Russian nations (ng.ru/ideas/2017-03-29/11_6960_nacia.html).
To that end, he says, Russians must recognize that the opponents of a civic Russian nation aren’t the people of the country as a whole but non-Russian ethnocratic elites and that the only way forward is to Russify the non-Russians both by increasing the use of Russian and by having Moscow impose a common and ethnically Russian cultural “code” on all of them.
Unless and until that happens, the Moscow philosopher says, Russia will not be able to produce real patriots and will remain at risk of disintegrating as did the Russian Empire in 1917 and the Soviet Union in 1991, something that no Russian government can allow to happen yet again.
Of course, Granin says, one can understand the unwillingness of “political and intellectual elites of the national republics” to lose the status of “nation” for their federal subjects; but no one should be confused by the euphemistic language that the Russian population as a whole isn’t ready for that. The Russian people and the Russian state are.
According to the Moscow philosopher, the source of many problems in this area is the lack of agreement on what is a nation. Some interpret it primarily as a political community; others as an ethnocultural one; and still others, including Valery Tishkov who follows the ideas of Benedict Anderson as “an imagined community.”
The latter sounds fine until one recognizes that it “logically” implies that “there can be as many nations in Russia as there are forms of national self-consciousness” and that the Russian people is reduced to being “a nation of nations.” But all three views ignore the most important thing: nations are created by states which have an interest in homogenizing the population.
European countries for the last several centuries have shown the way in this regard, Granin says, promoting common languages, common national symbols, and common histories for all the people under their control. The states did this because they needed soldiers who spoke the same language and citizens who shared the same values.
Russia has been moving in this direction, he continues; “but neither in pre-revolutionary Russia nor in the USSR was the process of the formation of a nation completed. And as a result, … the Soviet Union disintegrated.”
To prevent that from happening to the Russian Federation, Granin continues, people in Russia must not be afraid to look truth in the face and “stop using double standards.” Russians may not like what the governments of Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic countries are doing to Russian speakers, but “there is no other way to build ‘a nation.’”
For a political nation to exist, the state must promote a single language and a single culture, something that frightens ethnopolitical elites. But the requirements of the Russian state are more important: these elites must be Russianized and russified in order to form a common “’Russian identity’” and a common “’civic Russian nation.’”
A common language is only part of what is needed, there must also be “a high degree of cultural standardization. That is the only way to make “one ‘imagined community’ – the civic Russian nation’ – the dominant one.” So far that hasn’t happened despite calls for it by Vladimir Putin and the main documents on nationality policy of the last decade.
Instruction in schools in the non-Russian parts of the Russian Federation must increasingly be in Russian rather than in the national languages, Granin says; and the histories that these people learn must not be those based on the idea of Russia as a “prisonhouse” of peoples but as a common state.
“There never was any ‘friendship of the peoples’ in the Russian Empire and the USSR. It doesn’t exist now in present-day Russia.” But the only way to overcome this problem is to promote a common language, a common history and a common culture rather than allow the flourishing of a multitude of nations and cultures within the country’s borders.
Summing up, the Moscow philosopher says, that “the strategy of forming a civic Russian nation is connected with the development in Russia of political democracy, the institutions of civil society and of course an all-national system of education … The educational space of Russia must be unified” and the amount of Russian language broadcasting and publishing raised.
“Without these and other [similar] measures, we will not be able to educate patriots of Russia” or prevent its disintegration, Granin says. But he does not consider that precisely such a Russianizing and Russifying agenda is the force most likely to produce exactly the opposite of what he says Moscow should be aiming at.