Saturday, November 18, 2017

Any Consistent Russian Nationalism Must be Western in Orientation, Shiropayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November18 – Aleksey Shiropayev, a self-described national democrat and longtime liberal Russian commentator, argues that any consistent Russian nationalism must be oriented toward Europe and oppose the imperialists in Russia who remain trapped within the paradigm of the Mongol horde.

            “The failure of the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine inevitably intensifies the crisis of Russian identity,” pointing to either its final “agony” or toward its fundamental “revision.”  The regime calls for “’popular unity’” but the way forward, he insists, is by separation into two camps regarding the Russian mentality (

            The first “type,” Shiropayev says, is “the traditional, archaic, ‘old Testament’ imperial and anti-Western, ‘Muscovite,’” in short.  “Its heroes are Ivan the Terrible and Stalin.  “The second type is anti-imperial and pro-European” and traces its origins to the free cities of Novgorod, Pskov, Tver and Ryazan of pre-Mongol times.

            Today, this second type takes the form of urban protests, the strivings of the young and the middle class to identify themselves in ways that open the way to the future rather than keeping them trapped in the past, the commentator continues. Indeed, the rise of “anti-Putin Russian nationalism” which is opposed to the Crimean Anschluss is the archetype of this kind.

            Nationalism has a bad name in Russia, but that’s because it is linked in the minds of many with the past or with trinkets rather than as it should be with the defense of Russianness as a form of European identity and a defense against the horde-like approach of the current government.

            Such Russian nationalists, he acknowledges, are not fundamentally different from those who describe themselves as Westernizers, especially since Russian nationalism understood in this way is not narrowly ethnic but rather about the promotion of a genuinely civic communal identity.

            Shiropayev suggests that the time has come to form “an informal, secular cultural-political net movement which could be called Alt-Rus,” for “Alternative Russians,” in order to reach out to all those “who want to be Russian but at the same time live in a contemporary and democratic country.”

            What this constitutes, he says, is an affirmative answer to the question as to whether “a positive, progressive Russian identity of the post-imperial era is possible or not.” 

            For this to take off, Shiropayev argues, Russians needs to go through the process of national self-determination within Russia “via federalism and regionalism.” There is  no reason that there shouldn’t be “several” genuinely ethnic Russian states on the territory of the country as it now exists given the enormous size of the Russian Federation.

            And he concludes with this observation: “everything will be decided not at the level of the clashes of Putinites and liberals, Russians and non-Russians but on the level of the opposition within the very understanding of Russianness itself.”

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