Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Muscovites Not Russians are the Problem, Shekhtman Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 22 – Four years ago, liberal Russians began to refer to the hurrah-patriots who opposed them as “vatniks,” a reference to the padded jackets such people often wore but used to designate their slavish support of the Kremlin and their hostility to the West and civilization.


            But now, Pavel Shekhtman suggests, that term should be replaced by another, more comprehensive one: “Muscovites” who want imperial rule and are as crude in their own way as were their namesakes of pre-Petrine times.  After all, he argues, “to name an evil is to be half way along the path of defeating it” (


            It is quite wrong, he says, to blame Russians “in general” for what their government is now doing. Not only do not charges have racist overtones, but they ignore the act that “in the final analysis, Muravyev-Apostol, Herzen, Bakunin, Milyukov and Sakharov also were Russians.”


            But clearly some term is needed to designate those who are the source of the problem, and the Russian commentator suggests that one “without any racist connotations” that can be helpful in this regard is “’Muscovites’” – along with the term that designates their qualities “’Muscovitism.’”


            “Above all,” he writes, “Muscovites are anti-Europeans.” In the nineteenth century, many used the term “Tatarism” to refer to this set of attitudes; more recently, people have talked about “the Sovs,” a reference to the anti-Western attitudes embedded in the Soviet understanding of the world.


            “As is well known,” Shekhtman continues, “’Muscovite’ is the designation used in Europe for pre-Petrine Russians,” a term that included connotations of the ultimate anti-European, “of a crude barbarian … limited … xenophobic and aggressive, lacking the basics of education and science, understanding religion only as ritual, hostile to freedom, .. an inborn slave who deifies the authorities and constantly lives under the knout.”


            “This is approximately the complex of qualities which we would call Muscovitism,” allowing of course for a certain update in some manners, he writes.  But it is important to see just how deep in history this particular complex goes in order to understand its continuing vitality today.


            While some might trace it to Aleksandr Nevsky, who allied himself with the Mongols to fight the Europeans, “the first full-fledged Muscovite was undoubtedly Ivan Kalita,” and the particular culture it represented took form under Ivan III with the complete suppression of Novgorod’s freedoms and the rise of unlimited autocracy.


            Peter the Great, Shekhtman says, “struggled with Muscovitism but with Muscovite methods.” Then Elizabeth taught the elite French and gave it a cover which confused people but did not change the essence of the situation. By 1825, Muscovitism “went over to the attack already in European dress.”


            With the 1917 revolution, it appeared that Russia had finally broken with this past and become a European state, but the Soviet state in fact restored archaic approaches to such an extent that the feudal period looked “extraordinarily progressive” in comparison with the Stalinist system.


            “Bolshevism gave the Muscovite Lenin instead of God, Stalin instead of the tsar, and the Third International instead of the Third Rome,” and in 1945, Stalin in giving his famous toast to “the Great Russian People,” again put Muscovitism at the center of the country’s political life for the ensuing decades.


            In the same year, “our contemporary Vatnik” was born, a person who may best be defined as “a Muscovite who has passed through the stage of Sovietism.”  One can only hope that this all will be defeated and that the Russia of Herzen will ultimately defeat the Muscovy of Stalin.


            As the Russkaya semerka portal notes, coming up with such national “nicknames” has become so widespread that scholars are studying it and now call “neutral” nicknames “exonyms” and those with negative connotations “ethnophaulisms.” Those who know the origins of such names, it continues, “can understand a great deal about themselves, about their neighbors and about the neighbors of their neighbors” (


            Not surprisingly those so described are anything but happy about it; and when they have the power to strike out and punish are inclined to do so.  Shekhtman’s proposal is likely to be attacked on that basis, especially if one considers how Moscow has reacted to the use of the Ukrainian term “Moskaly” for the same phenomenon.


             Evidence of this is provided from a somewhat unexpected source: the website of the Ingermanland movement. Since December 2012, it has felt compelled to run on the first page of its portal the following explanation of its use of the term “Moskal” or “Muscovite” (


            On the Ingria site, the editors say, they “actively use” these terms. “That requires an explanation” because “a Moskal can be a resident of any city of any nationality … it is not a nation or an ethnos but rather a state of mind, a way of thinking, in the final analysis, a diagnosis.”


            A Muscovite, they continue, “is distinguished from a normal individual by his ‘sovietness,” his attachment to imperial ideals, his sympathies for authoritarianism, violation of human rights and anti-Western attitudes.” The roots of these attitudes go back to the Tatar-Mongol yoke. Indeed, the Muscovite is “the spiritual heir” of that yoke.


            Muscovites can be of “various types and subtypes,” the Ingermanland editors say, including “Stalinists, ‘Orthodox great power chauvinists,’ Putinists and others. But the above named characteristics unify them together.” And Muscovitism is directed at the destruction of the Russian super ethnos and also all the other peoples in “the Muscovite Empire Russia.”


            The Muscovites discriminate against the Russian people in the first instance because “Russians represent the greatest danger for Muscovitism and the imperial idea since for Russians the preservation of the empire is not profitable – it brings them only additional burdens for the support of ‘fraternal peoples’” and opens the country to gastarbeiters.


            “At the present tie in Russia, power is in the hands of a regime which actively uses the attitudes of the Muscovites for its own selfish interests. Under the pretext of preserving ‘the one and indivisible’ and of the necessity of reviving ‘a great power,’ it is thus in a position to steal our natural wealth and throw those who are dissatisfied into jails or graves.”


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