Sunday, March 15, 2020

Russian Great Power Chauvinism Drove Non-Russians Away in 1991 and is Doing So Again, Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 10 – Vladislav Surkov’s remark about the need to “force Ukrainians into friendship” with Russia reflects a deeper truth about Russian statehood, Aleksandr Tsipko says. Few peoples have voluntarily joined the Russian state, and the Russian state has existed only by the use of force to force them into “friendship.”

            When the powers don’t use force to hold things together, the state disintegrates as it did in 1991, the senior Moscow commentator says; but when Moscow continues to threaten to use force to reclaim what it views as its own, a manifestation of great power chauvinism, it drives them away even further (

            In reality, he continues, everything including Russian areas have always been held together by force. “In this sense, Lenin was right: tsarist Russia was, as he said, ‘a prison house of peoples.’ It is another matter that ‘the prison house of peoples’ under the tsar was a paradise on earth in comparison with ‘the prison house of peoples’ which Lenin and Stalin organized.”

            The smaller peoples suffered even more than did the Russians: they lost their entire intelligentsias. The Russians lost theirs as well, but they did not view that as the national catastrophe that the non-Russians did, Tsipko says. And that reflects the terrible truth about Russia that lies behind the current hatred of Mikhail Gorbachev.

            Unlike Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev was against the disintegration of the USSR; but “as soon as perestroika destroyed the mechanisms of ‘forcing people to friendship’ by force and destroyed ‘the iron curtain,’ ended the persecution of ‘dissidents, then the peoples of the country began to leave in ‘free flow.’”

            “The decisive role here, of course, was played by ‘the iron curtain.’ Just imagine what would have remained of the Stalinist USSR  if it had not been an enormous prison camp surrounded on all sides by barbed wire.” But at the same time, “one could not preserve the USSR under conditions of democracy.”

            Gorbachev “did not recognize that as soon as were destroyed the tradition bindings of the Soviet empire, its disintegration would take place” and that Yeltsin would use democracy against him and it. “The paradox of 1991 is that the main force which destroyed the USSR was Great Russian separatism. Not Gorbachev but Yeltsin pushed Ukraine and Belarus away.”

            Those who condemn Gorbachev today do so out of a conviction that Russians don’t need freedom and that “we are condemned to live in a country in which everything rests on force.” Such people, Tsipko says, “consider that it is better to have a USSR, even in its Stalinist form, than the present democratic Russia which can’t achieve friendship of the peoples by force.”

            That attitude explains Moscow’s moves in Ukraine and its attitudes elsewhere, because tragically there is no understanding in the Kremlin that “’forcing people to friendship’ does not yield anything except an outburst of anti-Russian attitudes and a broadening of the circle of enemies of contemporary Russia.” 

            Tsipko says that “the Russian empire has died forever,” adding that “the tragedy of the current powers that be is that they do not see that it is impossible to bring back to life something that has already died.” Instead, they act as if it were possible and drive others away, be they Ukrainians or Belarusians.

            But there lies behind this an even deeper tragedy, Tsipko concludes. “There cannot be any great power when it rests of forcing people [within or beyond] its borders to friendship by force.”

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