Staunton, September 2 – If the Kremlin wants to restore the empire, it must come up with a broader program than support for “the Russian world,” Moscow sociologist Aleksandr Filippov says, because many of the places it would like to draw into a single state do not naturally fit into an ethnic Russian state.
And unless it can come up with something broader and grander than a project based on some common culture, the co-author of a new book, Centers and Peripheries of the Post-Soviet Space (in Russian, Moscow, 2020), argues that the chances for restoring the empire are “not very great (vz.ru/politics/2020/9/2/1057502.html).
“The USSR,” Filippov points out, “was not the Russian world but rather an alternative version of modernity or globalization which suffered defeat.” That is not necessarily the end of the story: an empire can be reconstituted. But it can only be if the center offers the periphery something more than cultural or linguistic ties.
Those in Moscow who think such things are enough are making a mistake. Culture and language can be unifying, but they will not be enough to overcome other factors, economic, social and political, and especially the attraction some in the former periphery mail feel to other centers of power in the world, such as Europe, China or the West more generally.
In brief, “a community of culture does not automatically produce solidarity.” Instead, “inequality, injustice, corruption, and arbitrariness may prove stronger factors influencing the behavior of people than the community of culture,” the scholar says. People may identify with a culture but not feel any need to be part of a state offering that alone.
According to Filippov, the former Soviet space only appears similar to the one that existed up to 1991. There have been fundamental and irreversible changes; and anyone who wants to reassemble that empire must take those into account and adopt “other organizational principles.”
That hasn’t happened, he says, and “therefore the chances for the restoration of the empire do not seem to me high.” That doesn’t mean that a new empire can’t be built in place of the old one, but it can’t be built on a foundation that provides fewer reasons for inclusion and pride than the earlier one did.
Filippov concludes by saying that he “does not consider the demise of the USSR the greatest catastrophe of the past century,” thus putting himself at odds with Vladimir Putin in yet another way. Far more significant as catastrophes during that 100-year period were “the two world wars with their horrific number of victims.”