Monday, September 2, 2019

Kremlin Still Engaged in Nation Building But Now of Russians Not Non-Russians, Kordonsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – In the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet state supported or even created a whole number of non-Russian nations but did little or nothing to develop the Russian nation, viewing it as a threat. Now, the Kremlin has reversed course, promoting nation building among Russians but not among non-Russians, Simon Kordonsky says.

            The former Putin advisor and now Higher School of Economics sociologist says the Kremlin’s efforts to boost the Russian nation have not worked out very well because of both the collapse of the kind of monitoring needed and the poor design of its nation-building plans (

            In an interview he gave to the Daily Storm’s Mariya Nemtseva, Kordonsky says many non-Russians who did not live within the territory of the national-territorial units bearing their name reidentified or were reidentified as Russian, reducing the integral quality of that national identity.

            Because of that, he continues, there were many attempts to form up the ethnic Russians as “a special ethnos” and to use Russian nationalism as a means of doing so. But after 1991, these attempts have generally failed in large measure because the necessary monitoring of all ethnic groups collapsed in the early 1990s.

            In Soviet times, Kordonsky says, the government maintained a system to monitor religions and “in the KGB there were corresponding structures which carefully tracked nationalist movements. Somewhere about 1994, these functions disappeared.” And they haven’t been replaced.

            “Now, the enormous ethnic and sectarian activity is practically unmonitored, except perhaps for those sects which are defined as totalitarian. The authorities apparently simply don’t know hos to go about the process of establishing a new ethnicity,” in this case, that of the Russians.

            Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov has made numerous attempts in this direction in the hopes of “unifying the intelligentsia in opposition to a mythical Russian fascism.” Those efforts have failed, the projects of one kind or another including putting stars in the Duma and supporting Navalny have been cancelled, and the money to them has stopped flowing. 

            Nonetheless, ever new projects continue to be proposed, Kordonsky says, at least in part because “the authorities very much fear revolts,” especially ones that unite various groups in various regions at one and the same time as happened in the 1990s. The powers that be know they can deal with isolated protests but fear that they couldn’t to combined ones.

            Moscow lacks the statistics it needs to do its work, a sharp contrast to the situation in Soviet times when the authorities were obsessed with statistics and ensuring that they reflected the communist ideology.  Today, “the census in Russia is an instrument of administration” rather than an enumeration of the population.

            That opens the way for manipulation of both the total population and the size of the population of particular administrative units.  And such manipulation in turn feeds the manipulation of elections and of the distribution of resources from the center. But it means that the center can’t be sure that what it is doing reflects reality.

            “The USSR was a profoundly statistical state,” he continues. “The census gave a precise measure of the relationship among various social groups. The authorities tried that the relationship between the number of workers, peasants and employees as among that oof socialist nations was approximately equal in all social places.”

            This meant that members of these groups were allocated slots in legislatures and institutions in correspondence with their numbers in the population.  But now there is no agreed-upon basis for allocating slots and there is no accounting that would allow for such an allocation if there were.

            “Surkov tried to reproduce the Soviet model and began to send into the Duma artists and sportsmen,” Kordonsky says. But this didn’t work “because of the lack of a clear social structure” defined by the powers that be.  The same thing has happened and even more clearly with the representation of ethnic groups.

            In the course of this interview, the sociologist and former Kremlin aide makes two additional points: First, he says that Putin has “a photographic memory” which is “striking.” And second, he says that the quality of education in Russia has declined mightily over the last decade or so.

            When he joined the Higher School of Economics in 2006, “the students were children whose parents had received a Soviet education. Then in their place came children whose parents had unlearned much in post-Soviet times. Education for such students is a means of obtaining social status rather than knowledge.”

            “With each passing year,” Kordonsky says with obvious regret, “there remain ever fewer people who are ready to get involved in any activity except that directed toward obtaining social status.”

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