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 ethnicity (polit.ru/article/2020/10/28/pastuhovrusimp/).
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 the state.
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 nationalities.
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 option.
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.