Staunton, March 28 – In a major article for Russia in Global Affairs, Valery Tishkov argues that Russia is a nation state as well as a civilization and that the current coronavirus pandemic crisis has made both statuses more important now and for the future than they appeared to many only a few years ago.
The former director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and a former Russian Federation nationalities minister, says that those who argue that “Russia is not a nation state and cannot become one are mistaken.” It is a nation state based on an ethnically informed state nation and will remain one (globalaffairs.ru/articles/nacziya-naczionalizm/).
That reflects both international realities where nation states have become even more important as organizing principles of the international order in response to the crises of recent years and Russian realities including the state’s promotion of unity through civic nationalism in order to mobilize the population to achieve its goals.
The senior Russian ethnographer says that “a state is made legitimate and vital above all by its population which has a feeling of national self-consciousness, when each generation passes through its own kind of daily referendum on attachment to and involvement with this state as to its own Fatherland.”
“One may call this country-based or civic nationalism,” he continues. “One may call its patriotism or national self-consciousness (identity).” And he adds pointedly “the differences here are not essential; they reflect the traditions of each country’s social sciences and everyday use of terms.”
Nationalism, whether “civic)” or “ethnic” presupposes that “each country must govern itself without interference from the outside, that the nation is the basis of state construction, and that the people is the only legal source of political power. It calls for the establishment of a single national identity on the basis of common social characteristics” which can be various.
According to Tishkov, “the majority of political leaders (‘leaders of the nation’) are by their convictions and actions to one degree or another nationalists, that is, the national interests of their countries are priorities for them and they defend them by all available means.” Among such leaders he mentions Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
It has been this kind of nationalism which has powered their response to the pandemic and to other global crises over the last 30 years. And that shows that the nation state not only remains central to the international system but is likely to be its dominant form for a long time to come, Tishkov continues.
Talk today “about the loss of the nation and nation states is a response to neo-liberalism and post-modernists thought with their denial of the quite strictly organized forms of social coalitions in favor of freedom of the personality, world rule, and private interest,” he says.
And consequently, nation building “on the basis of nations and civic nationalism (often with an admixture of ethno-nationalism or in symbiotic relations with it) was and remains the foundation of the successful and secure existence of this or that country.” Those who talk about the fading of a nation state either already have one or even have one to excess.
That is exactly the situation in Russia today, Tishkov argues. “The presence of radical nationalists among Tatars, Chechens, Sakha or other Russian nationalities does not deny the dominance among them of an all-Russian identity which links them to the [non-ethnic] Russian people.”
The same thing is true for ethnic Russians, “for whom there is no dilemma between ethnic Russian [russky] and non-ethnic Russian [rossissky].” Indeed, this commonality is reinforced for both because Russia is not only a nation state but a civilization in which many participate. And so it will remain.