Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Liberal, Soviet Approaches to Nationality Issues ‘Very Similar,’ Orthodox Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 12 – The current liberal approach to nationality issues is “very close” to the one the Soviet system promoted with its idea of the “Soviet people,” because like the Soviets, Russia’s liberals want to create a supra-ethnic community, the ‘Rossiyane,’ in which all ethnic distinctions including Russian will eventually dissolve, according to an Orthodox activist.

            In both cases, Anatoly Stepanov, the editor of the “Russkaya Narodnaya Liniya” portal, argues in the course of an interview with Alesey Polubota of “Svobodnaya pressa,” these policies are directed in the first instance against the ethnic Russians and reflect the fear the bureaucracy feel about the Russian nation (svpressa.ru/society/article/65216/).

            And Stepanov, whose portal pushes an Orthodox Russian nationalist agenda, argues that if the ruler of the country understands Russians correctly, as he believes President Vladimir Putin is beginning to, he will see that the nature of the Russian nation is intertwined with that of the Russian state as such and that the enemy of both is a bureaucracy that is out only for itself.

            The Orthodox activist says that he rejects the crude understanding of “Russia for the [ethnic] Russians” that figures like Aleksandr Belov, Egor Kholmogorov, and Dmitry Dyomushin advance. Such an approach would set ethnic Russians and other groups against one another and does not reflect Russian traditions.

            But there is a second and better meaning of that slogan, Stepanov suggests. It holds that the slogan is important but only if Russians are not for themselves but fulfill “their messianic vocation” and become a God-bearing people.”  Then, in contrast to the narrow nationalism some advance, they will fulfill the duties to themselves and other peoples.

            Asked whether he believes as some nationalists do that the Russian state is working against the Russian nation, Stepanov says that “this is both true and not true.”  On the one hand, he suggests, “the contemporary state to a large extent is continuing Soviet nationality policy,” a policy the Bolsheviks adopted because “they were afraid of the strength of the Russian people.”

             That policy, the Orthodox editor and activist continues, was based on the idea that all non-Russian nations should have national republics but that the Russians should not and was intensified when Boris Yeltsin told the non-Russians that they should “take as much sovereignty as they could swallow.”

            “On the other hand,” he suggests, it is not the case that people in the Kremlin see as their main the denigration and weakening of the ethnic Russians. “many of them are ethnic Russians by blood,” Stepanov says, and he dismisses Russian nationalist rhetoric about “the oppression of Russians” as “a vulgarization of the problem, a simplification.”

            But some of the government’s programs do represent a threat to ethnic Russians and must be reversed.  This is not a simple problem and there is not a simple answer, Stepanov says, but everything must be done “to raise the prestige of the [ethnic] Russian nation in the state” in order to allow Russians to play the role they have been called upon to play.
            The most effective way to do that, Stepanov continues is to raise the professions of military officer, doctor, teacher and scholar in which Russians have traditionally been leaders and to lower the status of those lie lawyers, bankers and managers “which were never organic for a Russian man.”

            Moreover, he argues, the government must take the lead in restoring “an ethnic hierarchy” in the country.  Here, Stepanov says, the Soviets had some good ideas.  Soviet ideology came up with the idea of the population of the country as “a family of peoples where the Russian people fulfilled the role of the elder brother.”

            “Something similar, perhaps, should be set up even now.”

            Russians sometimes have to use force to preserve the territorial integrity of the country, Stepanov says, but that must not be the main aspect of Moscow’s policies. Instead, Russians need to attract others by their commitment to justice and to promote the notion that they will serve as “the arbiter” in all inter-ethnic disputes that do arise.

            Despite all the problems that Russians do face, Stepanov continues, it is ridiculous to assert as some Russian nationalists do that “there are no Russians” and that the nation does not have the capacity to organize itself.  The fact is, he argues, is that the state has always played the organizing role for Russians and must do so again.

            That will require that the state provide the Russians with an inspiring idea because, Stepanov says, Russians do not see a comfortable life as their highest goal the way peoples in the West are inclined to do but rather want to fulfill a mission even if or perhaps especially when it requires self-sacrifice.

            Russians or at least a “passionate” core retain these values, and they await signals “from the supreme power,” a power that needs to recognize fully that the Russian people are with it and that the real enemy of both is a self-interested bureaucracy which “does not serve the people but uses its position to gain access to the trough.”

            “In any case,” Stepanov insists, “it is too early to bury the Russian people … More than once the Russian people has risen from the ashes like the phoenix,” and with the leadership of the ruler, it can and will do so again, to the surprise of many of today’s Russian nationalists and of any who wish the Russians ill.

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