Sunday, April 14, 2019

‘Russia’ vs. ‘Russian Federation’ -- Two Projects in Conflict with One Another, Goryunov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 14 – The struggle over languages is “not a conflict between Moscow and Kazan but rather one between Russia and the Russian Federation as two models for the organization and development of the country, Maksim Goryunov says. The terms must not be used interchangeably because in fact, they are in near total conflict with one another.

            Although the Russian Constitution specifies that the two terms mean the same thing, the Moscow commentator says, people on both sides of this divide know that isn’t the case. Those who want Russia to be the model for the future may be called “the Russian party;” those who support the Russian Federation, “the non-Russian” one (

The Russian party thinks, Goryunov says, that the non-Russian party is “guilty of everything” because of its unjustified aspirations. “If it weren’t for the ‘extraordinary’ ambitions of non-Russian elites,” the Russian party believes, “the country would be united, powerful and rich.”

            The non-Russian party, in contrast, he argues, blames the Russian party for “’great power chauvinism.’ If it weren’t for ‘the imperial habits,’ the country in fact would be more powerful and richer.”

                But this argument over “who is guilty,” he says, “is similar to arguments about the chicken and the eff. Without a chicken there wouldn’t be an egg; without an egg, there wouldn’t be a chicken.” Unpacking this is impossible, and there must be a recognition that both play a role over all, although one may be more important than the other in specific cases.

            This dispute is no mere academic one, Goryunov continues, because it is part of the debate about whether the country can avoid losing its borderlands for a third time and what it must do to prevent that from happening. (It has already done so twice in the past century, in 1918 and 1991.) The two “parties” have very different answers.

            According to the Russian party, “the asymmetrical federation as any federation at all is the path to a new catastrophe. If not today, then certainly tomorrow.” For this side, “a federal presupposes the dividing up of the territory on an ethnic basis.” This party wants to eliminate federalism and ethnic diversity on which it is based.

            The non-Russian party is convinced that “the Russian Federation is the only means of preserving the territorial integrity of the country. Movement toward a unitary state is itself a movement toward catastrophe, which so frightens everyone.” This party says the essence of the task is making staying in the country attractive.

            Unlike the Russian party, the non-Russian party believes that individuals, groups and nations are always making decisions on whom to form a union with. When they have the chance they will choose the union which they believe gives them the greatest advantage – and they will certainly want to leave one that doesn’t give them as much or any at all.

            If Moscow wants to hold the non-Russians, the non-Russian party says, it needs to offer them incentives to remain, not try to hold them against their will – ultimately that won’t work – or suppress their national identity altogether, also something the non-Russian party believes is a fool’s agent.

            Goryunov points to the experiences of the three Baltic countries as evidence for his argument. Because conditions in the USSR were not favorable to them, they wanted to leave, not to remain in splendid isolation but rather to combine in a new group, the European Union, which offered them more. “Hence their choice.”

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