Wednesday, September 6, 2017

‘No Russian Nation has Yet Arisen,’ Birna Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 5 – Russian officials and commentators talk constantly about the Russian nation civic and ethnic, but no such community has arisen, Irina Birna says; and as a result, those in power are always able to set one group within it against another, sometimes on the basis of genuine hostility but more often because of the indifference on one to the other.

            That difference, the Moscow commentator says, explains why the peoples of the countries in Eastern Europe could come together to resist oppression but why those living in Russia have not been equally successful. Indeed, in many cases, they haven’t even tried (

            A nation, she writes, “is above all a feeling of being part of a community, a feeling which speaks to each member of it that is no less real even if it remains beyond the understanding of many specialists, a community in which there is no one alien within it and that if you today stand silent at the abuse of others you can expect the same for yourself tomorrow.”

            No such community has arisen yet in Russia.  More than that, both the intellectual community and the state have sought to “exclude the possibility of the establishment of a nation and have blocked this process” with all the resources at their disposal.” Instead, these groups have promoted division and caused one group within Russia to view others as outsiders.

            A nation, of course, “can be divided into classes” but – and this is the important thing – “this division will be secondary.  What is primary and what thus defines social reactions is the nation, and this means that at a moment of danger, an individual will save another individual and not ‘a peasant,’ ‘a worker,’ or ‘an intelligent.’”

            In a state with a nation, the regime cannot rule by “divide and conquer” means; and that is why the Russian state for all its talk about a Russian nation of whatever kind doesn’t really want to see one emerge. It would be too much of a threat to the powers that be and their pretensions to decide for others.

            Instead, Birna continues, to save itself and its powers, the state promotes hostility not only to other ethnic communities but also to groups within what should be the nation: hoping to encourage urban hostility to rural residents, intellectual hostility to workers, and thus keeping people apart.

            As a result, she says, “it is impermissible to speak about ‘the endurance of the people’” in the Russian context. What exists is not patience and tolerance but an all-too-real “indifference” of one group to the fate of others.  Until that changes, the Russian state will not be constrained by the population but will act in its own interests against the population.

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