Staunton, August 21 – Russians are much agitated by the proposed pension reforms and by attacks on liberal intellectuals, Maksim Goryunov says; but they have failed to pay attention to a far more fateful decision by the Kremlin, that effectively “destroys the Soviet defense against separatism.”
In a Novaya gazeta commentary, the Moscow philosopher suggests that last action which involves making the study of non-Russian languages in the country’s 22 republics entirely voluntary while keeping Russian obligatory could ultimately tear the Russian Federation apart (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/08/20/77553-ni-slova-po-tatarski).
The justifications pro-Kremlin deputies have offered for this step imply, Goryunov continues, that “over the course of many years, Russian children have been forced to study non-Russian languages. How is this possible?” especially given Moscow’s criticism of the Baltic countries and Ukraine for supposedly stripping Russians of their language rights.
Moreover, he continues, given that Putin himself has delivered speeches in Tatar, it would seem that “until relatively recently, such problems as it were did not exist? Why then has this issue arisen now?”
The state structure of the Russian Federation is the heir of the Soviet one, he argues. The latter had as “the cornerstone of its nationality policy ‘the right of nations to self-determination up to the point of separation.” (stress in the original).
“Lenin and after him Stalin,” having rejected the Austro-Marxist program of extra-territorial cultural autonomy promoted by Otto Bauer and Rudolph Springer “considered that helping the peoples of Russia in the construction of their own states would solve the problem of separatism,” Goryunov says.
In his dispute with Georgy Pyatakov and other “leftist deviationists,’ Lenin asserted tha the Tatars and Udmurts would not leave the country as the Finns had [because] Moscow would help them in the construction of their own republics,” for which he as certain they would be grateful and thus loyal.
“Citing Marx, Lenin considered that in the end, all nations would have their own states. The national bourgeois state was an inevitable stage of the development of any society, after feudalism but before socialism. He was certain also that empires which included in their borders dozens of nations were doomed to disintegration.”
For Lenin,, “Russia was a typical empire, and for the Moscow government not to lose control over the territories, the country would have to change,” the Moscow philosopher says. That could only happen if Moscow “ceased the initiative from the nationalists” who otherwise would gain power and seek independence.
Goryunov draws on the argument of Harvard scholar Terry Martin’s 2001 book, The Affirmative Action Empire about the pre-World War II Soviet Union which describes the ways in which the Soviets promoted non-Russian cultures and peoples in order to win their loyalty and undermine calls for independence.
“From the point of view of Soviet nationality policy, forcing [those living in non-Russian republics] to study local languages was a down payment for the territorial integrity of the country,” the Moscow commentator says. “Russian pupils studied Tatar in Tatarstan and Udmurt in Udmurtia so that Tatarstan and Udmurtia wouldn’t think about leaving the country.”
“The current law obviously destroys [this] Soviet system of defense against separatism,” Goryunov says. Those most directly involved with the legislation haven’t been willing to talk about this or even justify what they are doing beyond the notion that it is important to do what Vladimir Putin said a year ago.
The “paucity” of comments by them, Goryunov says, “forces one to search for answers in other sources: for example, in the publications of the former minister for nationality policy of the Russian Federation, Valery Aleksandrovich Tishkov” who in contras to the authors of the measure said a lot “about how the Russian Federation should be reformed.”
Tishkov has his own “original” and even “extravagant vision of Russian history,” Goryunov continues. Despite the views of most historians and Soviet leaders, Tishkov “considers that Russia was never an empire” and that “beginning with Peter I, a civic nation was being formed in Russia.”
In his view, “Russia was divided not between a ‘white’ metropolitan center and ‘colored’ colonies like Great Britain but between those who had already mastered Russian culture and become citizens of Russia and those who hadn’t do so yet” but would ultimately accept Russian culture and become citizens of the same kind.
Tishkov takes as his model France, a country which even in the 19th century was populated by people who “poorly understood French and preferred to call themselves Burgundians, Gacons, Bretons, and so on.” With time, they learned French, acquired “’high French culture,’ and began to call themselves Frenchmen.”
Tishkov “is certain,” Goryunov says, “that Lenin made a mistake. It seemed to Lenin that he had destroyed ‘a prison house of peoples,’ ‘an empire’ consisting of oppressed ‘minorities’ and ruled by ‘Great Russians. In fact,” Tishkov is sure, “he divided into pieces the civic nation that was in the process of being formed.”
The former nationalities minister argues that “Russia must turn away from the Leninist project and return to the path of France: to reduce local identities to a secondary consideration and to make all-state identity primary. Only a single national identity – from the Baltic to the Pacific – is a reliable means of defense against separatism,” Tishkov insists.
Because of his beliefs, Tishkov wants Moscow to return to the path of assimilation on which the tsarist state was proceeding but of course only “using humane means.”
While Tishkov is not listed as one of the authors of the new language law, his ideas inform it; and the law itself is “an obvious step toward that very ‘Russian nation’ as the former minister understands it,” Goryunov continues.
Apparently, the Moscow philosopher says, “Moscow intends to construct ‘a civic nation’ by demolishing the Soviet system of national republics,” an action it will seek to sell to the non-Russians by financing various projects to promote “cultural ‘uniqueness.’” It is far from clear that the non-Russians will be as happy about this prospect as Tishkov assumes, Goryunov says.
Indeed, they are likely to take up the nationalist goals they had earlier. Given the reaction of Russians to the language law, one would never guess that “the nationality problem is the most important for Russia” and that the consequences of radical changes in it are likely to be equally radical.
“It would be well,” Goryunov concludes, “if citizens devoted to the nationality question just as much attention as they are to the pension issue. In the end, if the decision [on nationality policy] turns out to be mistaken, God alone knows with whom and on what language, today’s 30- year olds will be discussion pension issues in 2060.”