Thursday, November 30, 2017

Russia's Imperial Nature and Its Continued Partial Decay are the Country's Real Problems, Zaydman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Other empires have come to an end, but Russia’s has experienced a different and more tragic trajectory, Vadim Zaydman says. It has periodically fallen apart – twice in the 20th century alone -- but then has partially reconstituted itself only to set the stage for its falling apart more completely in the next round.

            “In 1991,” the Moscow commentator continues, Russians “mistakenly decided that the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the destruction of communism was the final and irreversible collapse of evil, an exit from darkness into the light and from slavery into freedom” (

            But it turned out to be too soon to be happy with that outcome, Zaydman continues. Once again, “this was not the final disintegration but only a partial disintegration. [And] it turned out that the chief evil was not in communism but in the imperial essence of the Russian state” regardless of the livery in which it decked itself out.

            As a result, after a brief interval and claiming to feel “phantom wounds,” the empire began to try to reassert itself; but it could do so only in part and by so doing could not fail to restart yet another semi-disintegration that would leave the country ever small, just as 1917 and 1991 did.

            Vladimir Putin, Russia’s ruler today, “is an outstanding 19th century politicians” who is trying to preserve the Russian Empire in the 21st, an effort doomed to failure however much bluff and bluster he brings to the attempt and one that has no more genuine vitality than “an exhibit in a museum.”

            This cycle of partial disintegration followed by partial reconquest will continue, Zaydman says, until the Russian people and its rulers finally recognize that “the imperial essence” of the Russian state “is the chief centuries-long curse of Russia and its Achilles’ heel” and until they see that each new iteration of this process is ever less an empire and ever more a parody of one.

            “The more parody-like this becomes, the commentator continues, the more people will experience these phantom pains until from the former greatness of the past will remain only the Muscovite principality, from which, in fact, all this began.”

Kazan Caves, Votes to Make Tatar Instruction Voluntary, and Puts Survival of Republics at Risk

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 29 – In a major and possibly fateful victory for Vladimir Putin and Russian nationalists of various stripes, Tatarstan’s State Council has voted to make instruction in Tatar entirely voluntary, exactly what the Kremlin wanted and a move that likely presages similar actions by other non-Russian republics – and possibly even their elimination altogether.

            Now, only children of parents who explicitly ask for their children to receive Tatar instruction will it be given for two hours a week; and those children will also be required to study Russian whether their parents ask for that or not.  As a result, there will be enormous downward pressure on Tatar instruction (

            Tatarstan’s leaders, having failed to secure Putin’s agreement to the power-sharing treaty that had governed relations between Kazan and Moscow since the 1990s, had made the defense of obligatory instruction in Tatar a last line of defense of their republic’s dignity and talked until the end about a compromise. But now they have bowed to Moscow on that as well.

            The vote followed a report by the republic’s procurator, Ildus Nafikov, who found that only 24 of the 1412 educational institutions in the republic were providing the number of hours of Russian language instruction required by federal law. Tatar officials and even some Tatar activists tried to put the best face on this, but not everyone went along.

            On her Facebook page – and Tatar activists have been reduced to that – nationalist writer and activist Fauziya Bayramova denounced this action as “a shame” and said it meant that the Tatar leaders had joined with Moscow to throw their nation “on the ash heap of history” (

                As hyperbolic as her words may strike some, they may not capture the entire seriousness of what has just happened. Putin has been unwilling to make any compromises with Tatarstan or the other non-Russian republics, he is pushing hard for a new definition of the Russian nation, and he may now launch a new attack on the republics as such.

            While that would infuriate the non-Russians, it would please many Russian nationalists and imperial centralists; and from Putin’s point of view, it would have another positive consequence: If the republics are dispensed with, that would require a rewriting of the Russian constitution, an action he could exploit for other purposes as well.

            Consequently, what many who focus on Moscow rather than on the Russian Federation as a whole may be inclined to dismiss as a minor event could prove to be revolutionary in its consequences, leading to the end of anything resembling federalism in Russia and a harsh new period of Russianization and Russification as well.

            Most non-Russians will not be happy about this, and at least some will try to resist. But now that Kazan, the capital of the most important non-Russian republic has twice bowed to Moscow this year, they have few hopes.  What they will do in their despair very much remains to be seen.