Friday, January 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Myth’ of Russia at Risk of Disintegration Works for the Kremlin, MGIMO Professor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – The “myth” that Russia is at risk of disintegrating is being advanced by the authorities “out of completely pragmatic political considerations,” Valery Solovey says, because it carries with it the notion that the population must support those in power because they are uniquely capable of “preserving the unity of the country.”

            Solovey, a professor at MGIMO and the head of the New Force Party, advances that argument in a wide-ranging interview on Russian nationalism and inter-ethnic problems that conducted by Aleksey Polubota and then posted on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal yesterday (

            The slogan “Russia for the Russians,” Solovey says is entirely reasonable unless and until it is interpreted to mean “Russia Only for the Russians.” And it reflects by the position of the Russians as the dominant ethnic group in the country and the anti-Russian policy that many Russians believe their own government is conducting.
            It isn’t important, he continues, whether the government’s approach in this regard is a conscious choice or the result of larger factors, the MGIMO professor continues, but it is important that Russians feel they have fewer rights than do the non-Russians who constitute a far smaller share of the population.
            “Over the last20 years, the authorities in Russia have been guided by the recipe of the communist powers of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s: put down the Russian majority by operating on minorities.” That is because they understood and understand now that “if the Russians come to understand that they are a power … the current power would simply collapse.”
            The Russian people, Solovey says, are currently suffering from a serious crisis, one reflected both in its demographic decline and in “its loss of a feeling of historical optimism. Russians want to have children but can’t afford to, and Russians who have always been upbeat about their future no longer are.
            The scholar and political activist adds that the appearance of groups within the Russian nation who seek to distance themselves from that nation, including the Cossacks, the Pomors, and “so-called” Siberian separatism, is “a classical reaction to the crisis” that members of the Russian community are going through.
            He suggests that “certain groups want to form a new identity” in order to set themselves in opposition to one that they no longer feel is profitable or attractive. But Solovey suggests that no one should make too much of phenomenon.  On the one hand, “this tendency does not have a mass character in Russia” now.
            And on the other, much of the talk about it has been promoted by the regime itself “out of completely pragmatic political considerations.”  The authorities clearly believe that “the myth” that Russia is about to fall apart works to their benefit because most Russians are likely to conclude that they must unite under those in power to prevent it.
             According to Solovey, “the overwhelming majority of Russians are not inclined to separatism, and even those groups within the Russian nation who are now setting themselves apart do not want that. “Therefore, there is no threat of separatism in Russia;” but there is the problem of restive territories like the North Caucasus where “in fact a civil war is taking place.
            Russians at the present time are especially concerned about and the regime needs to address the problems of immigration and those of the North Caucasus. If the authorities don’t change their approach, the situation in either case could easily get out of hand and create “a catastrophe,” Solovey argues.
            Russia doesn’t need 90 percent of the immigrants it has, he suggests. They are in the country only because businesses want to make money by using low cost labor. That is something that could be cured easily by setting up a visa regime on the borders of Central Asia and the Caucasus and establishing real quotas.
            The situation in the North Caucasus is equally clear if somewhat more difficult to address. For the last decade, Moscow has paid local elites for loyalty and order, and Russians “have received neither peace nor loyalty.” And Moscow has exacerbated the situation by treating some groups much better than others, including the Russians of Stavropol.
            Solovey says that it is “in general difficult to find [good sense] in the policy of the Russian authorities regarding the problems of the North Caucasus.  The establishment of resorts on a territory where a war is going on is,” he argues, “criminal idiotism.” Moscow must return the area to “the legal field” using economic and political “levers.”
            The central authorities need to understand that “the North Caucasus simply cannot live without Russia.” Consequently, Moscow must use its power to reward those in that region who actually restore order and not give money to those who don’t.  And it needs to impose special forms of rule in those places were “civil war” is raging.
            Asked about Russian national identity, Solovey suggests that Orthodoxy as a faith does not play a large role in defining Russians. “For the majority of them, Orthodoxy is a certain memory and a ‘cultural marker’ of its role.” That is reflected in the fact, he continues, that “Russians today are more likely to be pagans and agnostics.”
            (This distinction between faith and ethnic marker holds for “the majority of Muslims of Russia” as well, Solovey insists. Consequently, “the threat of a radical ‘Islamization’ of Russia is seriously overstated”)
            There is no need to come up with some doctrine on Russian national identity, the MGIMO professor says. “Russians always will distinguish Russian from non-Russian and they don’t need any formulas to do that. If there is a massive sense that we are Russians, that means that at the level of national self-consciousness everything is in order.”
            Moreover, Solovey continues, with regard to certain key questions, “Russians have already made their choice. They don’t want any Eurasian empire,” and they “don’t want to live in a Eurasian state” produced by an influx of migrants.  The country’s current nationalist organizations can’t come together to realize that goal.
            Instead, the scholar adds, “the movement toward a Russian national state in the European understanding of this word will be led by forces which still have not been formed.”

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