Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Putin’s Call for Law on Russian Nation Opens a Pandora’s Box for Him and for Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 1 – By calling for the drafting of a new law defining “the civic Russian nation” but failing to specify what that law should contain, Vladimir Putin has opened a Pandora’s box for himself and for the Russian Federation which in the end is likely to mean that even hope, unlike in the Greek heroine’s case, won’t be left.

            That is because Putin’s words are certain to spark a countrywide discussion on a far broader set of issues than he will like and thus raise questions that neither he nor anyone else can answer except by engaging in even more repressive actions, a step that may trigger a new round of debate and action rather than quieting things down.

            Among the issues that have already been touched upon in the first two days since Putin made his remarks are the following:

·         How does a civic Russian nation differ from an ethnic Russian one? Does the first supplant the latter or just the reverse?

·         How is this new Putin-era “Russian nation” different from the Soviet people of Soviet times? If it is similarly an ideological construction, is what Putin is talking about “a Putin nation” rather than a Russian one?

·         Is this in fact an indirect attack on the ethnic Russian nation and its traditions? Does it gut the role of Orthodoxy? Or does it elevate it?

·         Or is this an attack on all non-Russians? Should they conclude that they have no future in a Russian Federation in its current borders?

·         Are the non-Russians supposed to simply assimilate into this new entity or will they be able to retain their distinctive features, including separate republics and/or national cultural autonomies?

·         Are ethnic Russians living outside the borders of the Russian Federation part of the new construction?

Had Putin proposed a law, it might have angered some while garnering support from others.  But by suggesting that the new law should emerge from an all-Russian discussion, he has invited people to ask these and other questions, the answers to which strike at the base of his support and of the country as a whole.

What is truly surprising is that Putin doesn’t appear to understand that ethnic Russian activism brought down the Soviet Union and could bring down him because ultimately the fate of that country is, as I.A. Kurganov pointed out more than 60 years ago, in the hands of the Russians and their reaction to the non-Russians rather than the other way around.

And by this incautious playing to the rise of Russian nationalism, Putin, like Mikhail Gorbachev and Nicholas II before him, may contribute to the decline and even demise of the Russian state. That is something Stalin understood very well indeed. It is odd that his pupil lacks that understanding. 

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