Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Problems Reflect that It is Still an Empire, Student Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 19 – Russia’s “fatal” level of inter-ethnic tensions reflect the fact that despite its formal name, the Russian Federation “in fact was and remains an empire,” a situation that must be changed lest it suffer “rapid degradation and disintegration into its parts,” according to a student at St. Petersburg State University.

            Svetlana Samarina, who has more than 1800 followers on VKontakte, says that she “doesn’t need an empire” but that the pursuit of empire has been “’the maniacal dream’” of leaders from Alexander the Great to Tamerlane, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin (rufabula.com/articles/2013/11/18/i-do-not-need-an-empire).

            It is not clear why leaders and peoples pursue such a course given its inevitable end and given that it is easier and often better to live in a small state. Especially now, it isn’t necessary to possess an enormous territory to have the resources needed for development, as Singapore and Japan demonstrate.

            Unfortunately, Samarina says, and despite the fact that these things are known, Russia “is trying to preserve its extremely strange and anti-natural borders which have been left to it from two empires which themselves collapsed, the Russian and the Soviet.”  And which reflect other inheritances including “blood, hatred, and centuries-long wars.”

            Catherine the Great supposedly pursued the “noble goal” of uniting all Orthodox “in a single state,” but why did she include non-Orthodox and even non-Christian places like Poland, the Baltic countries, [and] the Crimean khanate?”  And why did Soviet leaders in the name of internationalism cut a deal with Hitler to invade Poland and seize the Baltic countries?

When she was a young pupil, Samarina continues, she was “very proud that my country was the biggest. Roads, fools, and Gogol’s Russian troika were of course sad and beautiful but just try to run such an enormous country by an autocracy!”  Such a government is inevitably “ineffective” and leads to “permanent absurdities.”

“To take pride in the size of one’s country and the amount of useful natural resources it has is possible,” she writes, “only if one doesn’t have anything else to be proud of.” And that of course is a very bitter reality.

If the residents of the country don’t want that or can’t do that, she continues, then their ruler will force them to,” by war, bribery, social stratification, hatred, and the prohibition of any ideas the Kremlin hasn’t ordered.

These age-old methods are especially appalling and ineffective now, but nonetheless the authorities use them, promoting the idea that “the little father tsar is good, while the boyars around him are bad and give bad advice.”  But it is clear that “this is a utopia at the kindergarten level for the mentally retarded.”

Consequently, the regime relies ever more on “teaching us to find enemies,” be they Jews, immigrants, gays or someone else.  But these are all side issues, Samarina says.  The main one is his: why can’t we, that is Russia, give up our harmful imperial customs? Why to start can’t we ‘give up Chechnya’?” Apparenly because then we’d have to give up Ingushetia, Daghestan, Tatarstan and “someone else.”

In that event, “we would be left without oil. But then the question arises even more sharply: ‘who are we?’”

            If Tatarstan “purely hypothetically!” suddenly became independent, the St. Petersburg writer suggests, it would still have an interest in pumping oil and selling it to others.  And “even if it didn’t want to” for some reason, that wouldn’t be “’an illness but a variant of what is normal.’”

            Samarina says that “the fear of many people about the possible change in the borders of Rsusia is connected with the fact that they poorly understand where ‘genuinely Russia’ or ‘Rus’ begins and ends.”  But that is no argument because to accept it means that any neighboring place, be it Mongolia or Japan should be “considered ‘Russia’” too.

            But there is another fear at work, she argues, that makes this subject taboo. If one discusses it openly, then it is necessary to ask who bears responsibility for the two Chechen wars and the terrorist attacks that have resulted?  And that question obviously traces back to the rulers in the Kremlin among others.

            Soon, however, Russians will have no choice but to face up to these issues.  The situation now resembles that of the early 20th century or even earlier times.  “The second Russian empire died, after swallowing the first and giving birth to all appearances a third, albeit weaker one.”

            According to Samarina, “it would be wiser to allow those who want to separate to do so, to do away with the unthinkable centralization and monopolization left over from the USSR, and to learn to live in a new world, with new problems, and not with the misfortunes and headaches from 100, 200 or perhaps even 300 years in the past.”

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