Monday, June 23, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Conservatives Organize to Oppose Russian Nationalists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Encouraged by Vladimir Putin’s support for traditional values and convinced that ethnic Russian nationalism could lead to the disintegration of the Russian Federation, self-proclaimed Russian conservatives are seeking to promote a supra-national movement which draws heavily on the ideas of pre-1917 monarchist organizations.

            The publication of “Notebooks on Conservatism” in Moscow has attracted some attention ( and But this trend is far more clearly on display in groups like the Russian Assembly which hs branches in Tver, Perm and now Kazan (, and

            That group explicitly seeks to distance itself from and oppose ethnic Russian nationalists both because of the threat such nationalists appear to present and because of the willingness of some Russian nationalists to cooperate with liberal groups that openly oppose Vladimir Putin and his policies.

            “We consider ourselves the legal successors of the Russian Assembly, a monarchist organization which existed before the 1917 revolution,” Anatoly Stepanov, one of its organizers, said. And he added that the group “will take part “in the elaboration of a state ideology, for which there is a demand in Russia and about which both the authorities and society recognize.”

            Stepanov’s claim of being an ideological heir of such pre-revolutionary groups is disturbing because many of the extreme monarchist and conservative groups at that time were very much opposed to Russian nationalism but were if anything even more involved with odious and reactionary ideologists and supportive of anti-Semitism and even pogroms.

            Stepanov added that “in Russia there cannot be a revolution and a party system” because “in the world there are [only] two forces: revolution and Russia.”  Moreover, in his view, “Russia by its nature is an empire which does not needto be restored because it has always exited.” What is needed, he said, is active opposition to those who would import European values like homosexuality.  

            Another co-founder of the group Rais Suleymanov, a specialist on Islam for the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the Russian Assembly like its tsarist-era predecessors must be multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Although he did not say so, some of the most notorious members of Black Hundreds groups in pre-1917 Kazan were Muslims.

            Stepanov agreed. He said that “the term ‘Russian’ is deeply dialectical. Russians themselves think of Russians only on the basis of blood, but abroad, all Rossiyane are called Russians” because “with them has been preserved the imperial content of this definition” rather than the narrowly ethnic one promoted by the Bolsheviks.

            And he concluded by suggesting that contemporary Russian nationalists have much in common with Bolsheviks in that they both talk about “’abstract’” love for Russians but do no love Russians as such.  If the new Russian nationalists were to come to power, that would lead to consequences similar to what happened when the Bolsheviks did.

            Hence the need, he and others said, for a conservative movement that will mobilize people not only against liberals and westernizers but also against Russian nationalists who whether they understand what they are doing or not are in fact often doing the work of those they say they oppose.

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