Friday, September 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Clash of Civilizations Splitting Russia Apart, Kasparov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 6 – Not only is the clash of civilizations dividing the Russian Federation from the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, Gari Kasparov says, but it is splitting Russia itself apart, with neither the ethnic Russians nor the Caucasians viewing the two groups as part of a single nation.

            As a result, the former world chess champion and political activist continues in an essay posted on his website yesterday, this division, which is rooted in history, culture, and more recent political mistakes,  is rapidly “transforming Russia into “a living corpse” that will eventually disintegrate (

            Indeed, he argues, there are few good or at least likely options on the road forward because “either the peoples of the North Caucasus will” have to agree to “accept not only federal money but [a common cultural and civic identity] or they cease to be part of Russia in every sense.”

            As Kasparov did in the course of an earlier commentary on tensions between Russia and Central Asia (, he begins his analysis with a series of general propositions drawn from the clash of civilizations literature and then works toward what many will see as an apocalyptic conclusion.

            “It is obvious,” Kasparov says, “that a contemporary state is a political union of citizens,” but it is also obvious that such a union cannot be simply “a mechanical sum of the residents of a particular territory.”  If that is all that the nation is, it won’t survive.

            Instead, this union must be “based on a common set of fundamental values shared by all  its members, by a common culture, and by a common historical memory if it exists in the hearts and minds of people and not only on paper and in official government documents.” If that exists, he suggests, then but only then is it appropriate to call it “a nation.”

            Many Russian commentators treat nation, nationality and ethnos as synonyms, but this is not the case either generally or in the Russian Federation in particular.  Nor is it correct to reduce the nation to “an exclusively ethnic community,” a view that has led “a significant part of [Russia’s] liberal camp” to view any discussion about the Russian nation as distasteful.

            They thus fail to recognize that the formation of such nations was the precondition for the rise of democracy in Europe, “a path that Russia is just beginning to move along.” But more immediately, “if we understand the nation not as an ethnic but as a cultural and political community, we must recognize that this community has the right to defend its cultural foundation.”

            Moreover, Kasparov continues, “Russia, being a European nation not only has the right but is obligated to defend its identity and its own ‘cultural code.’” Thus, while calls to “prohibit the lezginka in the Manezh square” may seem excessive, they do elicit “a positive response from significant number of Muscovites.” The reason is “not xenophobia but the unconscious and intuitive striving to defend their own cultural identity” from threats they see around them.

            Obviously, one cannot discuss the formation of a Russian political nation without dealing with “the problem of the North Caucasus,” Kasparov says.  “It is completely obvious that representatives of the North Caucasus peoples do not feel themselves part of Russia as a political community just as a majority of Russians view ‘persons of Caucasus nationality’ not as their compatriots but as aliens.”

            At present, almost the only “connecting thread” between Russia and the North Caucasus is the federal money that flows to the region, something Russians find increasingly difficult to tolerate given that it represents a kind of Russian tribute to those who defeated it in the first Chechen war and that the North Caucasians treat it as their due without being willing to adapt.

            Either the peoples of the North Caucasus must accept “the cultural values” that underlie Russian identity and thus become “part of a single political nation” or they “will cease to be part of Russia” and will in the future “build their own statehood as they consider necessary.” The Mormons in the US had to adapt to US laws and identities, and the North Caucasians must do the same with Russian law and identity.

            Those who view any discussion about national identity as “a manifestation of fascism” need to remember “about the fate of the state citizens of which we were at one time.” In the USSR, there was an attempt to form “a new historical community, the Soviet people” and when this idea proved “ephemeral,” so too did the country.

Thus, Kasparov argues, “even before Gorbachev came to power, the Soviet Union was condemned to disintegration.”  That is part of a general pattern “When citizens cease to feel themselves to be a single people, such a country is transformed into a living corpse.” It may  be kept together by force for a time, but “only until the first serious crisis.”

With regard to the Russian Federation, the writer says, “it is obvious that today this crisis has already arrived.”

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