Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Maidan’s Success Highlights Weakness of Russian Nationalism, Sergeyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – Russian nationalists have consistently underestimated the strength of Ukrainian nationalism and over-estimated the strength of their own, but the victory of the Maidan is forcing at least some of them at long last to recognize their own weakness and the improbability that they will be able to achieve what the Ukrainians have.

            That is the sobering and, for many Russians and especially Russian nationalists, disturbing conclusion Sergey Sergeyev, a Russian nationalist himself, offers in an essay  entitled “The Maidan as a Problem of Russian Nationalism” that was posted on the APN.ru portal yesterday (apn.ru/publications/article31117.htm).

            Sergeyev begins by saying that he had   hoped to read a serious analysis of the Ukrainian events from a Russian nationalist perspective, but unfortunately, none has been on offer. Instead, those Russian nationalists who have talked about Ukraine have reacted “reflexively” and “in a childish manner,” with some rooting for the Maidan and others rooting against.

            “It is difficult to say,” he continues, “which is the more irresponsible and silly.” Those who oppose the Maidan “automatically become persona non grata in the new Ukraine and thereby lose the chance to influence the situation there in the future.”  But those who support it appear hypocritical given the new Rada law depriving Russian of its status as a regional law.

             To help remedy this situation, Sergeyev five propositions about what has and is taking place in Ukraine that may help inform future understanding among Russian nationalists.

            First, he says, “after the victory of the Maidan, the process of nation building in Ukraine has entered a decisive phase.” Ahead “in one form or another” will be Ukraine’s “entrance into Europe,” its “final departure from the orbit of the ‘Russian world,’” and “the Ukrainianiztion of the [ethnic] Russians of the South East.”
            Second, the triumph of the Maidan again highlights “the anti-national and anti-Russian essence of the foreign and domestic policies of the ruling regime of the Russian Federation.” The regime’s attitudes in that regard explain its clumsy approach to Ukraine and its failure there and much besides.
            “The Customs Union without Ukraine loses its value for Russia,” Sergeyev says. Moreover, both “Russian territories from time immemorial and generously purchased by the shedding of Russian blood and millions of Russian people are lost to use for the immediate future.”
            Third, Sergeyev says, “the Russians of the South East (still) are not in a position to propose any serious alternative to the West’s nationalism and will be forced to adapt themselves to that which Kyiv dictates.”

            Fourth, Russian nationalists “have obviously underestimated the potential of Ukrainian nationalism.” Instead, they have assumed that “the weakness and provincialism of the cultural basis of ‘Ukrainianism’” cannot be the basis for “political successes” especially when they run up against the much more distinguished Russian culture of Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky.
            But it has turned out, Sergeyev continues, that “’the rural nationalism’ (to use the terms of Oleg Nemensky) of the Westerners [in Ukraine] which is based on simple ethnic solidarity has turned out to be effective during a state crisis when the stale work of the structures of ‘urban’ civilization are in tatters.”
            A major reason for this, the Russian commentator suggests, is that the Western portion of Ukraine was Sovietized more than 20 years after all of Russia was and consequently, its people “retained the habits of self-organization and the traditions of resistance to the communist regime” that those occupied earlier have largely lost.
            And fifth – and this is what Sergeyev argues is of the greatest concern – is that “the [ethnic] Russians in the Russian Federation in their majority are exactly the same Eastern Ukrainians (even in a yet more exaggerated form) – Soviet people and government employees who have been deprived of the ability of even the simplest day to day self-activity, not to speak about the political kind.”
            In short, he says, Russians in Russia, “in contrast to Ukraine, “do not have their own ‘West.”  That means they start the process of national rebirth from a far weaker place. “In order for Russian nationalism to triumph, what is needed first is the replacement of the ruling regime, but this is practically impossible given the level of political passivity of contemporary Russians.”
            Sergeyev adds that “this passivity is important not only for the nationalists but in a still greater degree for those on the left and the liberals.”  For them and for the nationalists, they are at least for the present trapped in a vicious circle,” and the situation may be even worse than that, he suggests.
            An “anti-utopia” is emerging, he writes. The rapidly increasing Muslim population in the Russian Federation constitutes a threat because its goal is the establishment of an Islamic state on the territory of the country in which “the ‘West’ of this project is becoming Chechnya,” whose potential in this regard may be even greater than the West in Ukraine.
            Given these conditions, Sergeyev concludes with a rhetorical question: may it not be the case that for the residents of predominantly Russian oblasts bordering Ukraine (to which by the way certain Ukrainian nationalists are already making claims), Ukrainization may [at least appear] be a lesser evil than Chechenization?”

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