Sunday, April 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Civic Russian Nationalism Being Promoted to Keep Ethnic Russians Down, Prosvirnin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 13 – Non-ethnic or civic Russian [rossiisky] nationalism isn’t nationalism at all but rather is a means to hold back genuine ethnic Russian [russky] nationalism and to keep it under the control of an authoritarian and pre-modern political system, according to the editor of “Sputnik i Pogrom.”

            In an article entitled “Ethnic Russians Against Non-Ethnic Russians” [“Russkiye protiv Rossian”], Yegor Prosvirnin says that those promoting non-ethnic Russian identity are not promoting democracy as they claim but rather preventing ethnic Russians from achieving their democratic rights (

            Membership in the ethnic Russian nation, he says, “presupposes master of the Russian language, acquaintance with Russian culture and history, the acceptance of certain rules of behavior in Russian society and loyalty to the Russian nation ... the goal of the Russian nation is extremely simple – the protection of the interests of all members of the nation in all areas of life and the transformation of the Multi-National Federation into a Russian nation state.”

            That in turn, Prosvirnin argues, “presupposes democratic reforms the return of real political life and the destruction of the national republics as ethno-territorial formations of alien nations which have [certain] characteristics of state sovereignty.” And it presupposes that the Russian majority benefits from democracy because with democracy it can get its way.

            Consequently, he says, “the main strategy” of those opposing the ethnic Russian nation and ethnic Russian nationalism is the use of “persons of Jewish or Caucasian origin who call themselves ‘democrat’ and who push a program which 90 percent of the population instinctively is alienated by in order to create a negative image of the very idea of the rule of the people.”

            “The task of [ethnic] Russian nationalism under these conditions consists of the propaganda of the bases of contemporary civilized society (democracy, the division of powers, constitutional law, independent courts, a market economy, and a political nation) and the struggle with those who seek to impose destructive myths and images.”

            The non-ethnic Russian [“Rossiyanskaya natsiya”] in contrast “doesnot presuppose a single cultural code, rules of behavior or anything else. It presupposes only the presence of Russian citizenship and only that. An [ethnic] Russian cannot put up monuments to those who are killers of [ethnic] Russians, [but] a [non-ethnic] Russian [like a Chechen]” can.

            “The essence of nationalism,” Prosvirnin says, “is that all members of the nation are equal,” but the non-ethnic version in Russia includes national republics which “presuppose inequality among its components” and the subordinate position of ethnic Russians “who do not have their own republics which could defend and preserve them.”

            The non-ethnic Russian nation thus “can be compared with a union of feudal lords sitting in the castles of their national republics,” oppressing everyone else and preventing the country from modernizing, Prosvirnin says.

            Thus it is possible to “assert that the [non-ethnic] Russian nation is a hypocritical attempt to freeze the situation of the rule of a multitude of non-Russian nations who have national states, national capitals and national media over the [ethnic] Russian nation.”  What that means, he says, is that “the [non-ethnic] Russian nation is not a nation at all.”

            For all their talk about democracy and freedom, advocates of the [non-ethnic] Russian nation are in fact anti-democratic and consider that it is “necessary” that 83 percent of the population of the country “sit at home and drink vodka while 17 percent” divide things up for themselves behind the scenes and without democratic constraints.

            Non-ethnic Russians, Prosvirnin continues, are “Asiatics who want to live in a closed static pre-modern world, with communal-tribal traditions, religions and the supremacy of adat [Muslim customary law] over formal laws,” while ethnic Russians “are Europeans who want to live in an open, global, and changing world ... and not according to a fetwa.”

                What this means, he suggests, is that “in Russia there is only [the ethnic] Russian national project.  [Non-ethnic] Russianness is not a national project but rather an attempt to freeze to the maximum amount possible [ethnic] Russian national building by disorganizing and disorienting the [ethnic] Russian public and introducing destructive ideas and distorted understandings of reality in order to preserve the rule of numerically small organized non-Russian nations over the large but un-organized [ethnic] Russian  one.”

            And that in turn means that “the task of the [ethnic] Russian intelligentsia is to secure the complete cultural and information rule of the [ethnic] Russian national project and the penetration of national ideas in all strata of [ethnic] Russian society.”

            Prosvirnin’s argument is important not because it is true or even possible -- he conflates unrestricted majority rule with democracy and writes as if minorities not only are the enemies of the majority group but are also undeserving of special protection – but because it represents an ideological trope that some in Moscow may try given what Vladimir Putin has been saying.
            But the adoption of such a program, unless seriously modified, would have the effect of leading to a recapitulation of what happened to the Soviet Union a generation ago. At that time, some recognized that a liberal Russia might be possible but concluded that a liberal Soviet Union would be a contradiction in terms.
            Now, if Prosvirnin’s ideas were accepted, the same outcome might occur again but this time on a slightly smaller scale with a somewhat liberalized Russia coming into existence only if and when many of the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation leave it and form their own independent states.


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