Thursday, February 22, 2024

Decolonization Must Begin with Acknowledgement that Russia was and is an Empire, Sulyandiga Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 18 – When many people in Russia talk about decolonization, they see that as a process that inevitably leads to the disintegration of existing states and the formation of new ones, Pavel Sulyandziga says. But in fact, decolonization begins not with a drive to the exits but rather with an acknowledgement that Russia has always been an empire.

            The activist for Russia’s numerically small peoples of the North who now teaches at Dartmouth University in the US says decolonization thus can be a step toward real federalism and not just to the demise of the Russian state (

            Both those who want to see Russia dismembered and those who fear that outcome must recognize that reality, Sulyandziga says, and must come together to work for a recognition by everyone that Russia has been an empire but must change. The result could be genuine federalism.

            “I can say with 100 percent certainty or at least 99 percent that representatives of the indigenous numerically small peoples will not aspire and speak about the establishment of their own states,” the activist and scholar says. And if those who now oppose decolonization see that, perhaps they can come together with them.

            To that end, he is planning four meetings this year, two in North America and two in Europe, that will bring together members of the Russian opposition and the regionalists. The divides between them are large, but Sulyandziga believes they are not insuperable if both sides can speak with each other.

            All too often, members of the Russian opposition are imperialist in their attitudes; but also all too often, the regionalists act as if decolonization is only about exit and the formation of independent states. Each needs to recognize that decolonization is about far more than that and to recognize its respective shortcomings rather than attack those of the other side.

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