Sunday, June 19, 2022

Non-Russians Must Escape from Soviet Imperial Thinking about the Basis of Political Communities, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

             Staunton, June 1 – Both the Putin regime and the Russian opposition in emigration remains trapped in the Soviet understanding of the country and nationhood, a phenomenon that has attracted a great deal of attention and criticism because the first is thus led to imperial revanchism and the second to a deafness toward many in their own country.

             But what is less widely recognized, the editor of the Tallinn-based regionalist portal, Region.Expert, says, is that many non-Russians remain trapped in that paradigm as well, even though that position condemns them to the failure of their aspirations in many if not all cases (

             Those who recently formed the Forum of Free Peoples of Russia appeared at first glance to have escaped this perspective from the past, Shtepa says. “However, all the same, one can note a kind of ‘semantic default’ among them connected with the continuation on the post-Soviet spaces of the Soviet treatment of the term ‘nation.’”

             “In the USSR,” the Russian regionalist argues, “nation was in terms of meaning practically indistinguishable from nationality; and under nationality in Soviet passports was understood ethnic origin. This is fundamentally different from the international term ‘nationality’ which designates citizenship.”

            What that means is this, Shtepa says. “If one applies the term ‘free nations’ only to the non-Russian ethnoses of Russia, the League which they have established is capable of including no more than 20 percent of the population of the Russian Federation, an amount hardly sufficient for the collapse of the empire.”

            The non-Russians must break free of that understanding and reach out to groups included by Moscow within the concept of an ethnic Russian nation which in fact are quite varied and constitute already or will in the future form political nations of their own even if they remain within a common linguistic family.

             One need not look far for evidence as to why this is so or at least possible, Shtepa suggests. Canadians and New Zealanders both speak English but are very different nations. In the same way, residents of Kaliningrad and Vladivostok are different as potential or actual political nations.

            That is possible, the regionalist argues, if there is recognition that “a nation is in the first instance a civic phenomenon,” something that unfortunately the non-Russians like the Kremlin and the Russian émigré opposition have not done either.  The non-Russians have an especially compelling reason to do so.

             Only by making this intellectual leap in understanding, Shtepa concludes, will they have a chance to gain the allies they need to form a movement capable of giving them a chance to achieve their goals.

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