Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Like the USSR, the Russian Federation Doomed If It Tries to Rely on the Past Alone, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 6 – “The USSR was stable as long as it appealed to a common messianic dream and fell apart when in place of communism, the cult of the Great Fatherland War replaced that set of ideas,” Yevgeny Ikhlov says, a pattern that the Russian Federation is in danger of repeating.

            In a response to Igor Chubais’ claim that the peoples of the Russian Federation will be better off if they stay together (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5B671E7D23BC9), the Moscow commentator says that such “liberal imperialists” may be right but that his view is in fact irrelevant (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5B6776EB98424).

            Chubais, “a liberal imperialist,” says that he wants to preserve “the Russian power under democracy” and to rely on “a common Russian historical identity” as the basis for tying it together, entirely forgetting that the past as such divides peoples while only a common future dream can unite them.

            Nation states are different  than empires in that they can rely on the past because the past is what is the basis of a nation; but the Russian Federation like the Soviet Union before it is not a nation state but an empire – and talking about it as if it were otherwise is to ignore history and reality.. 

            Chubais offers ideas that not only justify “’a reconquista’ in the Ukrainian direction” but even the efforts of Mikhail Gorbachev to hold the USSR together 28 years ago in that both were based on an appeal to a common past which in fact never existed rather than a future dream which could be the basis for unity, Ikhlov says

            The Russian liberal imperialist is hardly alone in this: Winston Churchill defended the British Empire the same way as did Joseph Roth in the case of Austro-Hungary.  But he like these thought that a common past and economic benefits were sufficient to keep things together were and are deeply mistaken.

            “An empire unites territory either for gaining resources or … places for future wars,” Ikhlov says. “An empire requires cultural and state-mythological unification for its consolidation.”  And thus today, “all the reasons in favor of the preservation of the Russian ‘Federation’ in its current form are identical to the reasons in support of keeping the USSR.”

            There were enormous economic costs to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the commentator acknowledges, but that was not enough to hold it together when the dream of a common future was thrown overboard in the name of the defense of some common past and especially the celebration of the victory in the Great Fatherland War.

            What liberal imperialists like Chubais and all the others do not understand is that many of the positive things they like in an imperial state could be preserved by cooperation after separation. Indeed, separation which allows the preservation of ethnic and cultural uniqueness may make that easier to do.

            Only a focus on the future be in communism in the case of the USSR or the American dream in the case of the US can hold things together and create a new community. When these things are lost or rejected, Ikhlov says, there is little or nothing left.

            “Only a joint victory in the course of a future socio-political transformation can give a common identity to the peoples of Russia,” he continues. And that is possible only if the regime and the people come up with a common view of that future and agree to struggle together for it. Otherwise, they are lost.

            Surrogates like “’a Russian football political nation,’” which some have talked about won’t work. There has to be something bigger and it has to be about the future. The past, perhaps especially in Russia, divides rather than unites. After all, ask any Circassian what he thinks aobut the Tsar-Liberator.

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