Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Is a Russian Nation State Necessary or Even Possible?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 17 – Russian opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky has reignited a longstanding debate about the formation of a Russian nation state by saying that he is convinced that Russia must form such a state in order to integrate with Europe (

            That argument, commentator Vadim Sidorov says, raises many questions especially because the idea of a nation state is usually defined in terms of opposition to an imperial one. Indeed, he points out, Khodorkovsky himself has relied on that division himself, although in a different way than his current position suggests (

            In his first interview after being released from prison, the commentator continues, Khodorkovsky declared that he was “categorically against” the separation from Russia of the North Caucasus and was prepared to use armed force in order to prevent that from happening (

            That raises the question as to just what kind of a Russian nation state the opposition figure envisions given that there are many indigenous nations within the borders of the Russian Federation and many of them have their own national aspirations which do not include becoming ethnic Russians as a Russian nation state would seem to require.

            Essentially, there are two possible courses the country could pursue to become a nation state. Either it could agree to allow those nations within its borders that do not want to be there to leave, something Khodorkovsky rejects, or it could seek to Russify the empire, the path Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky favor.

            “If Khodorkovsky wants to follow the Putin-Zhirinovsky policy on the de facto Russification of imperial Russia, then he ought to be honest enough to say so.,” Sidorov suggests. If he doesn’t, then what does he propose? The answer is far from clear, especially if one believes as he does that the nation state is the only way forward.

            One possibility is the formation of a genuine civic nation. The Kremlin says that is what it wants; but in fact, its language makes clear that it is seeking a civic nation defined almost entirely by the Russian nation, something that other peoples of the empire find completely unacceptable.

            Another possibility, Sidorov says, flows from the arguments of the late Petr Khomykov who argued that the current Russian imperial nation could be most simply transformed into a civic nation if it were to be subdivided into “several political nations with their regional interests and specific features” (преодоление-национализма-и-задачи-русской-революции-2010-885f2ba6ca3c).

            What might that mean? Sidorov suggests that ethnic Russians living in non-Russian republics could become part of the civic nation of each of those as Bashkir opposition figure Ayrat Dilmukhametov has urged.  And then these nations, including Russians, could remain “in a single federation or confederation” capable of retaining and defending “the common space.”

            If all residents of such a system had equal rights, one could in a certain sense call the state a national one, Sidorov says; but it would contain within itself “a multitude of political nations” united in a federation rather than many subordinate to only one.

            Therefore, he continues, it is more appropriate to call such a country not a nation state but a national home and avoid any references to “state-forming” peoples, which inevitably suggest that one nation is superior to others. Getting to that point may not be easy; but not getting to it will preclude the modernization and integration Khodorkovsky seeks.

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