Saturday, April 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s ‘Ingathering of Russian Lands’ has Always Involved Repression of Russians at Home, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Throughout history, Russians have been often been enthusiastic about government programs proclaiming “the ingathering of Russian lands,” only to discover that such efforts inevitably involve increasing repression against themselves and are in fact “a holy war” by the government against them in the name of strengthening itsel, Oleg Noskov says.

            In an essay posted online yesterday, the Russian commentator describes the actions of the Muscovite tsars against Novgorod and other independent principalities in order to show the way in which the Russian state has always presented these events and the way in which the Russian people have accepted that version (

            And his depiction of how the rulers defined the process of the ingathering of the Russian lands half a millennium ago, of what they were really about, and of how the Russian people still perceive them goes a long way to explain Moscow’s current campaign, its ultimately anti-Russian basis, and the willingness of Russians to accept the Kremlin’s version of events.

            Supporters of Russian autocracy have justified any action, no matter how many victims foreign or domestic it might entail, Noskov says, as something required to defend the state from “numerous foreign enemies” and as the recovery of what was rightfully Russia’s rather than its expansion into areas that were not.

            Such arguments, he continues, not only inform the views of ordinary Russians because they represent the core of the teaching of Russian history textbooks but also have continued to operate by inertia if nothing else as the basis of the modus operandi of the Russian state in its multifarious forms.

            At the end of the 15th century, he argues, Muscovy moved against Novgorod not because the latter was interested in launching a military campaign against it but rather on the basis of an argument that the Novgorodians were invoved in “’betrayal’” of Russia because they supposedly were trying to place themselves under the protection of “alien Catholic rule.”

            Thus, according to the official Russian accounts, Muscovy was doing no more than defending itself by recovering that which was in fact its own from the expansion of foreign influence, an argument, Noskov implies, which has lost none of its power in the intervening centuries and informs the Kremlin’s approach to Ukraine now.

            But behind such words, he says, what the Muscovite rulers were about was the extension of their own power and property, not the welfare of the Russian people, as some like to claim.  The Russian state was not created “in the interests of the Russian people but exclusively in those of the AUTOCRATS THEMSELVES AND THOSE CLOSE TO THEM.”

            Noskov suggests that this has been the pattern of many states going back to ancient times – he provides several examples – but he says that the autocratic behavior of the Russian state is different in two important respects: Many are inclined to blame the Mongol yoke for this rather than to see it as self-generated.

            And, in contrast to most other countries, the Russian state has continued to impose this vision on the population rather than to allow any dissent from it, dissent that could allow the Russian people to see that the power of the Russian state is in the first instance directed against them.

            Thus, Noskov says, the actions of the Russian rulers are not so difficult to understand,, but what is more difficult and troubling is “the interpretation of such facts,” the continuing willingness of the Russian people to accept the official version of the past and thus to allow the past to be repeated again and again.

Part of the reason, of course, is that “power-central patriots” have inevitably argued that “’truth’ must always be on the side” of the state and thus its version of events must be accepted even if  superficial examination of the facts suggests that the story it is putting out is both self-interested and false.

Thus, for example, official history has always suggested that Moscow is fulfilling “’the Orthodox mission,’” but the central authorities have not been reluctant to ally themselves with non-Christians from Aleksandr Nevsky’s time forward in order to promote their own personal power and property.

Nor did those who sought to be “absolute despots” restrain themselves by allowing their subjects “the right to economic independence.” Instead, these despots had to “deprive” the latter of their property or make it conditional on the will of the autocrat who could take it away at any time.

Consequently, behind the slogan of “the ingathering of Russian lands” from the very beginning has been the interest of the autocratic state in strengthening itself against the Russian people in whose name Moscow has continued to proclaim it is acting.

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