Staunton, October 29 – A major conundrum
for Russians but much less so for Ukrainians or Belarusians is that they cannot
be Russian and not be imperialists but, like the others, they must pursue
civic, not ethnic, nationhood if they are to have the benefits of modernity
they seek, Vladimir Pastukhov says.
The London-based Russian analyst argues
that one must remember that liberalism and nationalism emerged at the same time
and for the same reason, as opponents of autocratic states, but then
nationalism changed and rooted itself not in this common agenda but rather in
Where the two worked together
longest, the modern democratic nation state became strongest; where they
separated early on, democracy was undermined by its former ally. In Ukraine and
Russia, the two have worked together; in Russia, however, those seeking
democracy and those pushing for Russian nationalism remain at odds.
The only possibility for progress,
Pastukhov suggests, is for democrats to recognize that Russians are inherently imperialists
and for nationalists to promote civic nationhood rather than a narrowly ethnic
vision. If the former do not make that change, they won’t have a needed
alliance; if the latter don’t, they will end by destroying both democracy and
In short, he says, both liberals and
nationalists need a Russian nation state, one that reflects the country’s
unique history but not one that elevates ethnicity to the defining principle. All
those who share some common identity will be part of that state and not just
those who identify as ethnic Russians.
According to Pastukhov, the only way
for the imperial Russian state not to die completely is for it to transform
itself “from a caterpillar to a butterfly,” rather than remain as it is now “an
eternal caterpillar,” something unnatural and impossible. It must either die or
become a butterfly, in this case, a nation state.
That will not be easy as an alliance
between liberalism and nationalism will be at risk if the former defers too
much to minorities or the latter insists too much on their complete absorption
into itself, the analyst continues. Indeed, there are enormous risks ahead that
make this project extremely problematic.
Pastukhov cites Lenin who observed
that “one must distinguish the nationalism of small peoples and the nationalism
of a great nation.” Empires are always
hierarchical, with some large nations dominating, even “swallowing up” smaller
ones. But because of that, it is also true that the construction of the largest
as a democratic society is restricted as well.
Russians find themselves today
trapped in something like a Versailles syndrome, and the Kremlin has used that
to block democratization. Unless that changes, the smaller peoples will seek to
leave. But if Russians democratize, then there is a way forward that doesn’t
lead to the end of the country.
What needs to happen, he suggests,
is for Russian Russians to accept other peoples as having two nationalities,
their own and Russian, and for non-Russians to accept that state rather than
feeling threatened by total assimilation. Many people in Russia have dual
citizenship now; it is not impossible that they could also have dual
For that to happen, Russia must
democratize and reorganize without the continued existence of ethno-national
state formations like the republics. Ideally, Pastukhov says, the stae should
have “a maximum of 20 to 30 major subjects,” defined territorially and not ethno-nationally.
But these subjects should have enormous
autonomy and thus be able to support the identities of the people living in
them. What that means, Pastukhov suggests, is that the descendants of today’s Russians,
Chechens, Tatars and Jews will be “Russian Russians, Russian Chechens, Russian
Ingush and Russian Tatars.”
The London-based Russian analyst
says that those who have followed his writings will note that he has never used
the word “Rossiyane.” “I consider that this is some kind of absolutely strange
ideological construction.” The word “Russian” is much better, and as a first
identity for ethnic Russians and a second for non-Russians a much better
If non-Russians agree and see in a
genuinely democratic Russia advantages for themselves, they will recognize that
they are not about to lose their cultural traditions, which after all combine
both distinct ethnic ones and what can become a common Russian matrix as well.