Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Russian Liberals Not Very Different than Kremlin on Territorial Integrity, Languages and Culture, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 9 – “Russian liberalism ends at Ukraine,” it is often observed and with justice; but the problem is more profound than that, Ramazan Alpaut observes. Many proud Russian liberals have virtually the same positions as the Kremlin on the country’s territorial integrity, the primacy of the Russian, and the desirability of cultural homogenization.

            As a result, in many cases, the Radio Svoboda journalist says, members of the minority nations now within the borders of the Russian Federation have little to choose from – and the risk that the Kremlin constantly points to of the opposition using elections to play “the nationality card” appear chimerical or at least overblown (idelreal.org/a/29496365.html).

            Alpaut outlines the public positions of liberal opposition figures like Aleksey Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky to show how little they diverge from the Kremlin’s positions on many issues even if they express their thought in terms of regional rights and democracy. 

            An expert on the nationality question in Russia who spoke with Alpaut on conditions of anonymity nonetheless argued that he “sees one different in principle between the approaches of the present-day powers that be and the opposition: The first want to homogenize the population; the second want to modernize supposedly “backward” minorities so the country can modernize.

            That is not an unimportant distinction, but it leaves many non-Russians without much of a choice, particularly those who are Muslims, because Russian liberals like Yabloko’s Sergey Mitrokhin routinely describe Islam as “a brake” on Russia’s development and something that must be rejected and then overcome.

            Dmitry Semyonov, the vice president of Open Russia, insists that “the liberal opposition doesn’t see in ethnic groups ‘little animals’” which must be supervised and modernized so that they can fit into the broader society. Indeed, he suggests, compared to the LPRR or KPRF, they are the only allies that non-Russians can really look to.

            He and his group favor decentralization and greater rights for the municipality, but Semyonov like many liberals appears to be less sensitive to the distinctive cultural needs of non-Russians. He even suggests that representatives of the latter do not have a complete understanding of the situation.

            Many non-Russians see homogenization by modernization, the preferred alternative of most liberal groups, as not that much better an option for themselves than homogenization by state fiat, the Kremlin’s choice, Alpaut continues.

            He cites the words of Tamerlan Kambolov, a North Ossetian activist, who says that he has no doubts that those in power want to level out the ethno-cultural distinctions of the peoples of Russia.  But he is also concerned about the backing for untrammeled modernization not constrained by a concern for culture.

            The leveling that would lead to, he says, would involve the creation of “millions of marginalized people” who would have lost their own culture but not found their place in another. But the kind of modernization favored by liberals could have similar consequences even if nominally it was conducted in the name not of the state but of a liberal society.

            According to Kambolov, all too often the “liberal” approach “recalls the appeals of major state officials about the need to form a new type of personality, the personality of the consumer,” something that often sounds not like a commitment to all kinds of freedom but rather to “great power chauvinist” attitudes like those the liberals imagine they are against. 

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