Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Russian Nation State Based on a Non-Ethnic Civic Nation isn’t Viable, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – In a seminal and multi-faceted presentation to the Liberal Mission Foundation, Vadim Sidorov argues that the formation of a Russian nation state based on a civic Russian national identity is not a viable option because of the imperial nature of Putin’s rule and because of a fundamental divide between ethnic Russians and non-Russians.

            At the end of the imperial period and at the end of Soviet times, the regional theorist continues, a certain number of commentators discussed the possibility of creating a common civic Russian nation and based on it a Russian nation state, the regionalist commentator says; but at neither point was much progress made in either direction (

            Now, some believe that the current regime given its new Strategy of State National Policy will be able to create “’an all-Russian civic identity … based on the preservation of the dominance of Russian culture and informing all the peoples of the Russian Federation” and on the basis of this civic nation a Russian nation state.

            But Vladimir Putin’s rule, whatever he says about creating a civic nation and a nation state, is “an absolutist power, hostile to any genuine civic participation and thus isn’t national in the modern European sense. Instead, it is imperial not only because “it is not controlled by its on nation which Russia lacks” but also because it seeks to rule over other peoples and lands.

            If 25 years ago Russian liberals spoke about creating “’a liberal empire,’” now they are more inclined to speak about setting up “’a nation state’ as an alternative to Putinism,” Sidorov says.  But there are at least two aspects of the situation that cast “serious doubts” that such an entity would be viable “in Russian conditions.”

            On the one hand, he says, any civic nation of Russians would face “serious competitors in the form of other nations. No, not ethnoses, which theoretically could integrate into a single civic nation, as Russian liberals going back to the Kadets and Struve have presupposed but in fact political nations.”

            “Today we see this in civic protests in Russia which in ethnic Russian areas generally involve only a thin stratum of the population concentrated in major cities but in the case of national republics like Kalmykia, Buryatia, Sakha and Ingushetia, the protests are large and all-national in character. [stress supplied]

            “These [non-Russian] protest movements have a clearly expressed national agenda just as they did at the beginning and end of the last century. When they encountered them, the Bolsheviks recognized the right of nations to self-determination not out of great love for small peoples … but simply because they really wanted to win in the war for power and unlike the Whites understood that it was necessary to do so.”

            And on the other hand, Sidorov continues, there is an underlying problem with “the Russian nation” that helps to explain why only the educated stratum of 10 to 15 percent is prepared to act as a nation. It is this: the Bolsheviks created the Russian nation in its current form out of a population that was not yet ready to become one.

            And after the Bolsheviks did so – one must remember that in tsarist times, there was no official reference to an ethnic Russian nation – the Soviet system which wanted to hold all those in this category within an imperial matrix did not allow it to develop in ways that might  have led to the creation of a national movement.

            Such a movement would have been fatal to the Soviet project, and the communist administration worked hard and successfully to prevent its emergence as anything more than a marginal intellectual game. As a result, while there are numerous political nations existent among the non-Russians, Sidorov says, there isn’t a sizeable one among Russians.

            The Kremlin may be able to promote Russian language and Russian culture as core values for its population, but it is highly unlikely to be willing to allow the emergence of a genuine Russian nation ethnic or civic because either if it took off would be a threat to the Putin system. 

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