Friday, May 24, 2019

‘Post-Russian’ Identity and Regionalist Ones Not the Same But Could Reinforce One Another, Advocates Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – When the USSR disintegrated, many of the values of that system were simply replicated in the post-Soviet states, a tragedy for all concerned. Now, some say, there is an even greater risk that if the Russian Federation falls apart, the same thing will be even more true of its successors because older ethnic traditions will not be in place to contest them.

            To avoid that outcome, the compilers of the Ostrog online journal say, it is important to support the development of a post-Russian consciousness. (For background on that idea, see and

            Such views speak to many of the same concerns of regionalists who also are concerned about breaking not only the Moscow-centric nature of the Russian state but destroying the Moscow-centric vision of Russian culture; and so Vadim Shtepa, a Tallinn-based Russian regionalist, has begun a conversation with the Ostrog theorists (

                What makes this discussion important is that it allows prominent representatives of the two sides to define their positions more clearly and in shorter compass, a development that highlights both where they may be able to cooperate and reinforce one another and where their paths are likely to continue to diverge.

            The representative of the Ostrog editorial staff – not named on this occasion – says that advocates of post-Russianism have not yet begun to focus on regional differentiation. “The term ‘post-Russians’ says that the main thing now is to do away with the constraints Russians have had to function.”

            Once that occurs, he says, “regional differences will grow by themselves, organically and in a timely fashion. There is no reason to waste time now on making these distinctions; it is necessary to concentrate on the common understanding of the underlying factors at work.” 

            That decision may make it appear that the post-Russian movement is focusing too much on ethnicity, but in fact, the Ostrog editor continues, its supporters discuss ethnicity only in the context of their investigations on the evolution of the Russian nation, its archaic qualities, and the manner in which it can be displaced. 

            “Ethnicity can become an important factor of nation building where it is beginning on the basis of extended families and tribes, as for example in Chechnya or Tyva,” but not where a nation has already come into existence. The future of such peoples is “our past,” the Ostrog writer says. 

For that reason, post-Russians do not consider ethnic Russians “either their enemies or their allies.” Instead, Russians are “the raw material for the construction of a new credo-identity, one that is almost ideal for the basic types of group identity among Russians have practically been extirpated” by the Soviet and post-Soviet regimes.

            The destruction of the matrix of Russian identity as currently understood is “only a question of time,” the editor says. But he says that the current protests in Yekaterinburg and the Russian north do not have anything “post-Russian” about them. The movement is still too small and still avoids direct political action. It is in fact, “a revolt against the masses.”

            The Ostrog editor then asks Vadim Shtepa to talk about the current state and direction of regionalism in the Russian Federation and especially about why there is such great variation among predominantly ethnic Russian regions at the present time.

            The editor of Region.Expert says that “neighboring ‘Russian’ regions are developing very differently” for natural reasons. Regionalists do not see Russians as the integral whole post-Russian theorists do. “You imagine Russians in too unitary a fashion,” and thus, “in a paradoxical way, you remind one of the Kremlin with its single ‘Russian world.’”

            “In our view,” the regionalist argues, “ethnic Russians in different regions vary among themselves.” Despite a common language, for example, “the residents of Koenigsberg and Vladivostok are approximately as different as Canadians and New Zealanders,” who also speak the same language but view the world very differently.

            According to Shtepa, “the Kremlin very much fears the awakening of regional civic identities because in Russia, despite calling itself officially ‘a federation,’ all regional political parties are prohibited.” 

            In our view, the regionalist leader says, “a complete transit of power will involve not the replacement of a ‘bad’ Kremlin tsar by a good one, as many Russian opposition figures support. In that case, there will simply be a reproduction of the same imperial matrix, whatever ‘democrat’ comes into the Kremlin.”

            “Did the Yeltsin experience not teach these opposition figures anything?”

            “A real ‘transit,’” Shtepa says, “will be the exit from the empire via a voluntary (con)federal treaty of the regions,” with the capital of this new state being anywhere by Moscow. It should be a small city like Ottawa in Canada or Canberra in Australia.  But that is something the future confederation must choose.

            The opponents of regionalism, Shtepa says, the so-called “’national patriots,’” look stronger than they are because their views correspond to “official propaganda. But remember,” he continues, “what happened to all the imperialists and black hundreds types after the February revolution. They simply disappeared into thin air.”

            The same thing will happen again, Shtepa suggests, because only regionalism is “adequate to contemporary circumstances” in that it is network based and decentralized allowing people greater control over their lives and more flexibility in dealing with the ever-growing number of challenges.

            The regions, of course, do not want to live in isolation from one another, but they do want to choose what their relations will be rather than have them imposed from above. Their desire may lead to a future in which there won’t be one Russian state but many just as there are many English-speaking countries in the world.

            The Ostrog editor asks Shtepa whether there is any understanding of this in the West. The Region.Expert editor replies that there is some but it is not as widespread as one would like. “Many,” he says, “still live according to the stereotypes” of the past “and while critical of Putin’s policy, consider Russia as such a ‘normal’ state, not seeing its imperial nature.”

            And they do so, he continues, “even though this empire today is even more unitary and aggressive than the USSR was in perestroika times.”

            The author of these lines is flattered by Shtepa’s reference to an article I wrote in January about this problem and the failure of the West to grasp what occurred in 1991. “Then almost no one could imagine a ‘post-Soviet’ world. The term didn’t even exist and the West was completely unprepared for the disintegration of the USSR.”

            “Goble,” Shtepa says, “is calling on the West not to repeat this mistake, to recognize the growing significance of Russian regionalism, and ‘to have sufficient imagination to consider what kind of a new world may arise,” a post-Russian world to be sure but post-Russian in a way very different than Ostrog imagines (

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