Thursday, August 31, 2017

Kremlin’s Efforts to Use Russophobia as the ‘Anti-Sovietism’ of Today Don’t Quite Work, Troitsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – When the USSR existed, calling someone “anti-Soviet” was one of the most damning labels, even if some wore that as a badge of honor, Artemy Troitsky says; but now that it has ceased to exist, efforts to use “Russophobia” in the same way don’t work nearly as well.

            In an essay for Novaya gazeta, the music critic who has lived for many years in the West says that he well remembers the application of “anti-Soviet” to any critic of the Soviet system and thus is in a position to understand what the current regime’s use “Russophobia” is actually about (

                Russophobia as a charge appeared at the end of the 1990s ostensibly to serve as a replacement for anti-Soviet, a term that ceased to exist when the Soviet system did.  Such an attempt was based on the assumption that “you don’t love the Soviet Union, then you are an anti-Soviet; you don’t love Russia, then you are a Russophobe!”

            “What could be simpler?”  But there is a problem: the first term concerns attitudes toward Soviet power, a state system, while the latter concerns supposed negative attitudes toward the Russian people, their culture and ethnicity, as such. Thus, many critics of the Russian government are denounced as haters of Russians, something they as Russians reject.

                Russophobes, Troitsky continues, “are a mysterious breed! I suspect that in my entire life I have not met or seen even one.” Many emigres and many in Russia “do not like the Kremlin and condemn the policies it is carrying out. But the Kremlin whatever its lackeys say is far from Russia as a whole!”

            One Russian punk rock group sings “I love my country but hate the government,” he says, echoing an attitude that is to be found in many countries and reflecting a distinction that must be maintained “between a country and its government” or “between religion and the church.”

            And there is the secret of what the current charges of Russophobia are really about: a desire by the regime and its supporters to impose on people the notion that any criticism of the government is a criticism of the nation because the two are supposedly the same – an equation that is not true and that must not be accepted as true.

            The charge thus doesn’t really work for “’internal consumption,’” the critic says. But it doesn’t work abroad either.  The Russian government may assert that people in the West hate Russians but it is obvious to anyone who has lived there that Westerners don’t hate Russians but they do oppose Kremlin policies.

            The Kremlin of course would like to get everyone to forget that both to unite Russians behind itself and also to shut up any critics of the crimes of the Kremlin. That is what the powers that be want, but it is precisely why people should reject the term Russophobia just as they have dispensed with the term anti-Soviet.

            Even more than its predecessor, it is fundamentally false and imaginary, an effort to revive in the 21st century a term under false pretenses, “to equate the suffering Russian people and the Russian state and the great Russian language, culture and character and the crimes of Russian aggression, corruption and hypocrisy.”

            Indeed, Troitsky suggests, the real Russophobes are not those the Kremlin and its minions describe as such but the Kremlin and its minions themselves.

Is Putin Attacking Non-Russian Languages Because of Decline in Number of Russian Speakers in the World?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – Two developments this week may be more connected than it would seem at first glance: On the one hand, Vladimir Putin has ordered prosecutors to investigate cases in which Russians have been compelled to study non-Russian languages in the country’s republics (

            And on the other, statistics have been released showing that the number of Russian speakers in the world has declined by 50 million over the past 25 years, with the number of Russian speakers beyond the borders of the Russian Federation now roughly equal to those inside it.

            Given that the number of Russian speakers outside Russia is likely to continue to decline – or at least that the trend in that regard is much subject to what Moscow may do – it is at least plausible that Putin’s push against non-Russian languages this summer in part reflects his desire to ensure that the number of Russian speakers in the world doesn’t fall any faster than it has.

            That these two developments may be linked is explicitly suggested by experts Dmitry Rodionov of Svobodnaya pressa surveyed about the decline in the number of Russian speakers who collectively suggest that “Russia itself is guilty in the downfall of the Russian language” (

                Not only has a large part of the older generation which was compelled to learn Russian in Soviet times in the former republics and Warsaw Pact countries passed away with younger people choosing not to learn Russian but rather English and other languages, they say, but Russia no longer offers the kind of ideological attractions that caused some to learn Russian in the past.

            And Stanislav Byshok, an analyst with the CIS-EMO monitoring group, adds the following which may go a long way to explaining what Putin intends as far as the non-Russian languages inside the Russian Federation, a factor that “is no less important” than the falling away of people speaking Russian abroad.

            “The primary bearers of Russian are ethnic Russians and peoples tied to them,” the political analyst says. “Consequently, in the frameworks of Russia, the study of Russia must not be limited by anything, including the imposed need to study ‘national’ languages.” 

            And he adds: “In Russia we are united not by a kaleidoscope of mutually unintelligible languages, dialects and archaic traditions but by the Russian language and Russian, primarily literary, culture.”

            Such reflections go a long way to explain the passion Putin brings to this idea and the fears many non-Russians have about how their languages will be treated now that the Kremlin leader has focused his attention on this issue. 

How Tolerant are the Russians Today?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – The Moscow media this week have celebrated survey results suggesting that Russians are becoming ever more tolerant; but the findings of these polls in fact suggest that the situation is rather more complicated than that and any celebration is at a minimum premature.

            An article in today’s Izvestiya, for example, reports that “Russians have demonstrated religious tolerance.”  One of the figures the paper offers does suggest that; but others indicate that it would be a mistake to conclude that the Russians are as tolerant as the author of that piece suggests (

                Indeed, the newspaper’s journalist, Mariya Nedyuk, admits as much when she writes that “it is shown in Russia that our compatriots are tolerant toward religions but on issues of nationality and culture, the population is divided in half” between those who show tolerance and those who don’t.

            She notes that “only 32 percent” of Russians say they think any religion is superior to any other, implicitly suggesting that far more have a different position. She says that 48 percent do not believe in the superiority of one race over others but also that 49 percent think that some cultures, including presumably their own, are superior to others.

            Further, Nedyuk quotes Moscow sociologist Leokadiya Drobizheva to the effect that “only 30 percent” of Russians have a negative attitude toward non-Russians in general but that those who oppose immigration are much more numerous and that “people are much more tolerant on nationality issues in the republics than in the megalopolises.”

            And she cites another Moscow sociologist, Vladimir Mukomel, who says that the reduction in xenophobic attitudes among Russians found in surveys since 2013 is connected above all not so much with a change of heart as with “a falloff in the intensify of the information flow which could trigger xenophobia.”

            In support of that, Nedyuk concludes her article by pointing to a new finding by the Levada Center that the share of Russians who want to limit the numbers of other nationalities living in Russia has fallen to its lowest level over the last 13 years. But she acknowledges that those who want to impose such limits is still over half at 54 percent.