Tuesday, December 31, 2019

‘A Unitary Russian State with Non-Russian Republics is Nonsense,’ Inozemtsev and Abalov Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 28 – Vladimir Putin’s claim that Lenin set the stage for the demise of the USSR by setting up non-Russian union republics in violation of the Russian state’s tradition of unitarism is wrong is in at least three ways, Vladislav Inozemtsev and Aleksandr Abalov say. And failure to understand that is creating problems for Russia now.

            First of all, the Russian Empire developed as a unitary state only for a relatively small period of its history. Most of the time, it was anything but unitary with important regional differences and even autonomies that reflected its complex historical development, the two Russian analysts say (rbc.ru/opinions/politics/25/12/2019/5e01c5b69a7947cb907d538a).

            Second, Lenin did not destroy the empire but delayed its demise by almost a century.  The Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires did not survive World War I, but only Lenin was able to keep the country together by creating a state based on allegiance to a future-directed idea with elements of unitarism supplied by the communist party. 

            “Whatever kind of revolutionary one today considers Lenin,” Inozemtsev and Abalov say, “he showed himself here as a great statesman, for not a single other politician of the 20th century was able to prevent such an empire from disintegrating.”

            And third, Lenin achieved this because “the Soviet Union was united not by the common history of its peoples but by their common focus on the future.” One evidence of this is that until the 1960s, the USSR did not even mark the victory in the Great Fatherland War, whose 75th anniversary is slated to be “’the main event of 2020.’” 

            “The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the result of the exhaustion of the positive power of communist ideology and the revival of patriotism” on the part of each of its people, a patriotism based not on looking to the future but rather celebrating the history of its nation.

            The Soviet leaders might have offered “a new ideological construct” at the end of the 1980s “which would have extended the life [of the USSR] but neither ethnic membership nor common historical roots could provide this.” And now that Ukraine and Belarus are independent even talk about some common “’Russian world’” has “lost any political attractiveness.”

According to Inozemtsev and Abalov, “a much more important challenge stands before Russia than unification with Belarus or the reordering of the situation in the Donbass,” and that is this: ordering the domestic structure of the country in a way that will permit the Russian Federation to survive even as long as the USSR did.

“Unlike the Soviet Union, which did not have an ethnic or national definition but consisted of 15 national republics as members with equal rights, the Russian Federation has a national definition but consists both of territorially and effectively ‘ethnic Russian’ oblasts and also more than 20 national formations.”

The current arrangement “contradicts the spirit of ‘unitarism’ formed over the course of more than 400 years of the expansion of the Muscovite stat and its transformation into the Russian Empire. A unitary state with national republics is nonsense,” the two analysts say. (stress supplied)

That should be obvious to those who consider not only Russia but two other countries which are struggling with ethnic territories within nominally unitary states, Spain with the land of the Basques and Catalonia and Britain with Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“Lenin did not dream up the current national republics,” Inozemtsev and Abalov say. “They reflect the complex structure of the state which under Peter I could be run as a unitary one but that today cannot be.” Russia can’t return to some mythical past of unitarism; and, although the two do not say so, efforts to try could bring down the entire structure.

But they do conclude that the choice of how the country will be arranged is going to be fateful and determine more than almost anything else how Russia “will exist in the 21st century.”  

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