Monday, March 19, 2018

Russia Isn’t a Nation State but Rather a Stratified One of the Very Worst Kind, Pozharsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – Most countries around the world are or aspire to be nation states in which all the members of their societies share a common identity and have common rights and responsibilities, Mikhail Pozharsky says; but Russia in contrast, however much its leaders talk about the nation, is in fact divided up into social strata with different identities, rights and duties.

            In today’s world, the Moscow commentator says, “the only alternative to a nation state is a strata society,” and Russia under Vladimir Putin has again become one, thus rejecting or being deprived of the rights and freedoms which only a nation state can provide its people (

            Present-day Russia, Pozharsky says, “suspiciously recalls a strata-based society. It is obviously divided into groups which have different rights and different responsibilities.  For example, the average ‘Chechen’ has somewhat different rights than the average ‘Russian.’’ He can be almost openly a racketeer, but he also has certain limits: he cannot be gay.

            Similarly, “the average resident of Russia and the officer of the FSB have completely different rights” and this will lead them to behave in completely different ways. If an FSB officer runs over a pedestrian, he will simply record the license plate number and go on, confident that “nothing will happen to him,” something very different from the situation of other Russians.

            Thus, Pozharsky says, “we live in an obviously strata-based society and at that in one of its worst variants. All these different rights, privileges and responsibilities are nowhere written done or set in stone. They exist in an unwritten form because ‘everyone understands.’” But that also means no one can count on them either.

            Russia’s failure to move toward a nation state as Ukraine and other countries has, the commentator continues, “is entirely connected with the historical fate of Russian nationalism.” The Uvarov trinity of the 19th century – Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality – provides a clue to understanding why Russia is what it is.

            The nation is put in third place, after Orthodoxy and Autocracy, an indication, Pozharsky says, that the nation exists not in its own right but to support the other two, that is, “to feed the tsar, the priests and the nobility.” 

            That pattern, of course, “was not a purely Russian phenomenon.” Crudely speaking, there is the nationalism of a social contract like that in England or the nationalism of the realization of the state as the highest form of existence as Fichte and Hegel postulated for Germany two centuries ago. Russia is part of the latter world, not the former.

             Thus in this sphere as in so many others, “Russia did not think up something new in principle but simply borrowed this idea” and imposed it with such force and enthusiasm that many Russians imagine it to be uniquely theirs.  But they understand very well that spontaneous, contractual nationalism is something quite alien to theirs

            That keeps nationalism and liberalism apart in Russia, something that was not the case in Britain, and makes it very difficult to explain to Russian liberals that “nationalism is not xenophobia” and to Russian nationalists that liberalism, which releases the power of the nation, is not their enemy.

            Both the protests of 2011-2012 and even more the responses of Russians to the events in Ukraine in 2014 confirm that, Pozharsky continues.  According to him, “Crimea and ‘the Russian spring’ were [not] the result of some long-term geopolitical plan. The Kremlin reacted to the situation but things turned out very conveniently for it.”

            As so often in the past, Russian nationalists and Russian liberals both found themselves deceived by the Russian state for the usual Uvarov rules: the nationalists soon discovered that the Russian state wasn’t interested in national rebirth in their understanding; and the liberals found themselves at odds with the imperial nature of the state. Those differences kept them apart.

            Of course, Pozharsky says, there are also “objective preconditions for the formation of a nation state. These include a diversified economy, the existence of a bourgeoisie and middle class with its own interests which can unify others around these interests.” And Russia lacks all of these as well.

            Russia today is “a state in which two-thirds of the budget comes from oil and gas sales and most of the middle class consists of state employees or those whose livelihood is based on state contracts. It is understandable that to mobilize them for a national project is much more difficult than in countries where these nation states were formed historically.”

            That is in countries like the US, “a country of a bourgeoisie and farms,” Pozharsky explains. “But we have a country of state employees, policemen, and those who depend on them.” For such a country, a social strata state is easier to organize and likely to keep a nation state from appearing.

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