Friday, November 25, 2016

Russian Elite More Anti-American than Russian Population as a Whole, Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 – The  Russian elite is now significantly more anti-American and nationalistic than the Russian population as a whole, the reflection of a paradox: the elites become more nationalistic when tensions with the West go up, while the masses become more nationalistic when such tensions ease, according to two Higher School of Economics experts.

            In a summary of an article that has been accepted for publication in “Politeia,” Eduard Ponarin, head of the Higher Schools laboratory of comparative social research, and Mikhail Komin, a graduate of its Politics and Administration program, say that this difference is now affecting the nationality question within Russia (

                Before the Crimean Anschluss, they say, Russian elites talked about “the construction of an ethnically varied society under a special ‘state-forming’ role of the Russian people.” But now, “the nationality question is being decided differently … in favor of a nationalism of an ‘imperial’ type with the great ‘Russian’ nation opposed to the Western world.”

            Russian intervention in Ukraine “transformed the US into the main foreign enemy of Russia” according to polls which show that “more than 80 percent of the representatives of the elite” now call it that, compared to only 48.1 percent who were prepared to do so as recently as 2012.

            Anti-Americanism among ordinary Russians rose from 30 percent in 2013 to 65 percent in 2016, an increase but with figures in both years far below those for the elites, Ponarin and Komin say.

            The reasons for the difference in such attitudes between the elites and the population as a whole, they suggest, reflect two things. On the one hand, the elites suffered far more from the decline in Russia’s prestige after 1991 than did the masses. And on the other, for the masses, the “significant others” as far as nationalism is concerned are immigrants; for the elites, who rarely deal directly with that group, the group they compare themselves to are Western elites.

            Those distinctions have meant, the two investigators say, that “at the mass level, ethnic nationalism has intensified during periods of the weakening of anti-Americanism,” while “in periods of the intensification of anti-Americanism at moments of sharp confrontation between Russia and the West, nationalist attitudes of an ethnic kind recede.”

            The situation with regard to the elites is just the reverse. When tensions with the West increase, then the elites become more nationalistic and conversely when tensions with the West are less, the nationalistic views of the elites decline as well, the two researchers say.

            They note in support of that conclusion that while “about 60 percent” of members of Russian elites said that “the national interests” of Russia should be “limited to the current territory of the country.”  But now, “fewer than 18 percent” express that view, a reflection of the very different direction Putin has taken it in recent times.

            This shift has had an impact on how Russians view the nationality question and the role of the Russian nation in it, the scholars say.  “The contradictory idea of the construction of ethnically varied society under a special ‘state formation’ role of the Russian people is losing its importance.”

            In its place, they are, has arisen the idea of support for the creation of a large “’rossiisky’ nation” in opposition to the Western world.  Ponarin and Komin stress that nationalism can be of various kinds, the statist which can have “an imperial shading” and which organizes people on the basis of a negative image of a foreign enemy, and the ethnic which in Russia’s case threatens the territorial integrity of the state.

            These two kinds of nationalism, they point out, “have different sources and different mechanisms of dissemination.” The selection of one or the other depends on what the elite wants and hopes to accomplish, and the increasing support for the “’imperial’” variant reflects three factors in that regard.

            First of all, they say, the events in Ukraine have increased support among the masses for the anti-Americanism of the elites; second, “the military operation in Syria has permitted the elite to successfully promote the special role of Russia in the world;” and the role of the significant ethnic “other” has changed.

            In support of that third notion, the two scholars point to the willingness of Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov to “track down terrorists” not only in his republic but “before its borders.” His statements in that regard, they say, “weaken anti-Caucasus attitudes and thus assist the imperial consolidation of the peoples of Russia.”

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