Sunday, August 25, 2019

Presence of Imperialism, Not Absence of Nationalism, has Kept Russia from Escaping from the Past, Zaydman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – Vadim Zaydman says that Dimitry Savvin is wrong to suggest that Russia did not escape from the communist past because unlike the East Europeans and the Baltic republics, its people were insufficiently nationalist. In fact, the Russian problem hasn’t been the absence of nationalism but the continuing dominance of imperialism.

            Savvin, editor of the conservative Russian Harbin portal in Riga, suggested that in the absence of a strong legal framework, nationalism allowed the anti-communist revolutions to succeed in other countries but its absence in Russia meant that the revolution there failed (cf.

            Zaydman, an émigré in Germany, says Savvin is correct in pointing to the absence of elite turnover, lustration and restitution in Russia but says that it is unclear “what connection exists between all this and the Russian national idea – nationalist as the author writes” (

            Moreover, the Germany-based commentator continues, “why did ‘the Elder brother’ and the metropolitan center need a national agenda?” They did not have the reasons others did. At the same time, however, nationalist and not liberal materials continue to fill the Russian media and Russian bookstores.

            Zaydman comments that Savvin’s expression of regret that Solzhenitsyn didn’t return to Russia at the end of 1991is especially troubling given that the writer’s views on the need to preserve most of the empire would have meant that Russia would not have had to wait for Putin to end up in its current state.

            “In fact,” he argues, “nothing was achieved in contrast to the Baltic countries because of its imperialist nature, its centuries’ old curse.  Having overthrown communism, Russian democrats relaxed and decided that they had done what was needed.”  But Russia’s problem wasn’t communism but imperialism and “in the new free Russia it remained untouched.”

            Russian liberals and many in the West as well did not understand that “the communist regime was only one of the reincarnations of the Russian Empire, its most bestial reincarnation.” And if this historical imperialism remains Russia’s national idea, the country is fated to continue to inflict harm on itself and others as well.

            “The anti-communist revolution in Russia took place and even won, but the anti-imperialist one did not. And even up to now, Russians do not have an understanding that it is in  this that is to be found the main cause of their failures,” Zaydman says. 

            Zaydman adds there is another compelling reason for thinking that the absence of nationalism in Russia is not the problem. In almost all the former Soviet republics, there was plenty of nationalism but in very few of them have the leaders and peoples made anything like the progress the East Europeans and the Balts have.

            “The chief conditions for the success of reforms,” the commentator continues, “are a change of elites, lustration and restitution, a democratic society, and freedom … but for the metropolitan center, a fixation on a national idea is practically a guarantee of ditching any possibility of transformation.”


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