Tuesday, September 13, 2016

‘I am a Russian Nationalist of Jewish Nationality,’ Moscow Songwriter Tells ‘Izvestiya’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 13 – “Izvestiya” today carries as a headline one of the more improbable declarations of recent times. Aleksandr Rozenbaum, a popular Moscow songwriter, says that he is “a Russian nationalist of Jewish nationality,” yet another indication of the complexities of what it means to be a Russian nationalist and even a Russian.

            Interviewed on the occasion of his 65th birthday, Rozenbaum says that he “calls himself a Russian nationalist of Jewish nationality. In a completely serious way [because he] loves the word ‘nationalist.’ For me,” he adds, “if you want, nationalist is the equivalent of patriot [but he doesn’t use the word because of its links to “the hurrah patriots” (izvestia.ru/news/631999).

            The songwriter says that in his use of these terms, “there is a clear line between nationalist and chauvinist. A nationalist is someone who loves his nation, country, culture, traditions, and history, and does everything to advance and popularize it without denigrating others.”

            When someone starts to do that, he continues, he become a chauvinist, and anyone who says “Denmark for the Danes” or “Russia for the Russians” is a chauvinist, although he adds, he would rewrite the first point of the Russian constitution to specify that its president “must be a Russian, an Orthodox, and then of a certain age.”

            Rozenbaum relates that he “always has said” that Russia doesn’t need “presidents, general secretaries, speakers or prime ministers. We have a tsar, whether you want it or not. Tsarism is in our souls.” And he says bluntly that he is “a constitutional monarchist.”

            But his ideas about what that means are rather different than the Kadets of the early 20th century. He says that with Russians, “much if not everything depends on the first person of the state. And we are so dependent on them that no one else matters. And this is not only at the level of supreme power. Such a model is everywhere,” in all institutions.

            Because that is so, Russians very much need “good and orderly ‘first’ people.’ Here is a national idea for you,” Rozenbaum says.

            Many Russian nationalists will find Rozenbaum’s words strange or even offensive given the longstanding anti-Semitic strain in the thinking of many of them and perhaps especially given the cultivation of the idea in recent times of the equivalence of Orthodox Christians and Russians.

            That makes the appearance of his words intriguing. They may be intended to signal that the Kremlin would like to see a more inclusive version of Russian nationalism, to suggest as Moscow has claimed in recent times that there is no anti-Semitism in Russia, or simply to test the limits of what Russian nationalists will put up with.

            The reaction to this article is thus likely to be extremely instructive.

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