Monday, April 30, 2018

Civic Nationalism in Russia Would Be a Kind of Ethnic Russian Nationalism, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – For several years, Russian scholars and officials have been debating whether the country should move to a common civic national identity or retain its multiple ethnic identities, often ignoring the fact that in Russia, a civic national identity would be profoundly Russian and thus create serious problems in the non-Russian republics, Yevgeny Ikhlov says.

            Civic nationalism, the Moscow commentator says, can have one of two forms: it can be based on “the doctrine of the egoism of a polyethnic political nation” like the United States where no one ethnic group dominates, or it can be one where “one ethno-historical component dominates” such as in France (

            In the latter, Ikhlov says, “the remaining ethnoses of the political nations are considered as allies” but it is clear to all who defines the nation in fact however much anyone talks about its pan-ethnic civic culture.  A Russia that adopted a civic nation model would be far more likely to take that form than the other – but moves in that direction could have other more dire outcomes.

            Thus, in the case of a declared civic national identity, “the confrontation at the ‘mosaic’ level (communities, confessions, regions, and social strata) of the traditional social system do not disappear: they are transformed into inter-ethnic [confrontations] without in any way losing their sharpness and severity.”

            Or what may prove even worse, they may become “class (socio-political) and inter-civilizational. Thus, in the final analysis, Stalin killed more Soviet peasants than Hitler killed Jews,” Ikhlov continues.

            As far as ethnic nationalism is concerned, the Moscow commentator says, “our generation still recalls the Leninist truism about the distinction between the nationalism of an oppressed nation in the process of being liberated and the nationalism of a great power state.”

            The former, he points out, is considered “historically progressive;” but it can turn out to be just as cynical and harsh as the other kind. “When bourgeois nationalism triumphs in Russia, this division will immediately occur along the line of non-ethnic or ethnic Russian,” Ikhlov argues.

            Consequently, he says, “despite the clear cosmopolitanism of the present-day democratic movement, the utopia of the Yeltsin revolution, ‘the United States of Great Russia,’ is doomed to remain only in the text of the Constitution.” As soon as people try to implement it, the dominant ethnos – the Russians – will dictate their terms.

            Despite this prospect, Ikhlov says, many in the democratic movement believe that uniting with Russian nationalism of one kind or another will only strengthen their position.  But that is problematic not only on foreign policy issues but also in terms of what is almost certain to happen in the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation.

            There, “nationalism where Russians are the dominant factor will require ethno-political unification.” No Russian nationalism, ethnic or civic, will give up on that, Ikhlov says; and as a result, it will generate a reaction among the non-Russians. And Russian liberals will seek to counter this in ways that will make the situation still worse.

            According to Ikhlov, “Russian democratic nationalists will try to give ‘real’ federalism and real local self-administration which will immediately increase territorial social differentiation” and hostility.  And that in turn will lead to an outburst of ethnic nationalism among the non-Russians “who will demand independence.”

            But there is an even greater danger involved in Russian liberals playing with nationalism even of the civic kind: “Nationalism is always ‘against someone else.’ If democratic nationalism throws off anti-Westernism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Ukrainianism of the current nationalism … then its sharp [anger] will be directed at Muslims. And immigrants first of all.”

            “The experience of2013 showed that Russian liberals having satisfied themselves that the new nationalists had broken with their black hundreds tradition proved quite tolerant to anti-Islamism which they ignorantly treated as ‘a conflict of civilizations’ in the spirit of Huntington and were ready to close their eyes to.”

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