Sunday, December 27, 2020

Russian Nationalism Can’t Arise Because Russians aren’t a Fully-Formed Nation, Shapovalova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 25 – Many have wondered why Russian nationalism has not emerged and why Vladimir Putin focuses so much on the Russian language rather than on a Russian nation, with most observers blaming both on the fact that the Russian Federation is a multi-national state and that the rise of Russian nationalism would blow up the country.

            From that perspective, the Russian state has been the chief brake on Russian nationalism because of its fears of the consequence of its appearance; but Russian writer and blogger Marina Shapovalova argues that there is another and deeper reason that Russian nationalism has not arisen – the absence of a sense of nationhood among the “deep” people.”

            In an article for St. Petersburg’s Gorod-812 portal, she argues that there isn’t a Russian ethnic community on the basis of which Russian nationalism could arise but only a collectivity of “Russianized outsiders and hundreds of kinds of ‘half-bloods’” (

            As a result, they do not form more than a linguistic community or citizenship in a single state and are not in a position to form a nation on which nationalism could grow, Shapalova continues. That limits the threat of such nationalism to the state but at the same time limits the country’s future development.

            On the one hand, this is a restatement of the frequent observation that the tragedy of Russia is that the state became an empire before the people became a nation and therefore the country has never been a nation state but the people have remained a state nation, rather than one which defined itself.

            But on the other, it calls attention to a related development that is often ignored: Russia expanded by including within itself linguistically, religiously and culturally an enormous variety of peoples but has not fully integrated them into a single nation or even the dominant nation among a variety of other peoples.

            Instead, Shapalova’s logic suggests, there are in Russia many nations but that category does not include the ethnic Russians. They may be a linguistic, religious or cultural community, but they have not yet come together as a self-conscious nation; and there is no reason to think that they will do so anytime soon. 

            Instead, while the state may promote Russian nationalism, it will do so only up to a point, not only because a full-throated Russian nationalism would threaten the state’s control but also because the people it labels as Russians are far less interested in assuming that role than many students of other empires might think. 

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