Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Unlike Other Republics Still ‘a Product of Soviet Collapse,’ Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – The non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union “to one degree or another have entered the modern world” and become nation states, but the Russian Federation is not one of them and even today “remains a product of the collapse of the Soviet system,” according to a Russian expert.

            Eduard Popov, the head of research at the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, said that Russia’s failure to make that transition, a failure it shares with Belarus and “in part” Ukraine, will continue to create difficulties for the country in the future (

            Among the most serious, he suggested, is ethnic Russian separatism. Earlier, Russia experienced non-Russian separatist challenges, but today, Moscow faces a rising tide of “ethnic Russian separatism based on nationalist attitudes” precisely because the RSFSR of Soviet times has not become a Russian nation state.

            Regnum interviewed Popov to get his reaction to reports that Ukrainian nationalists are planning to hold special summer camps to train Russian nationalists from Russian regions on how to protest and promote separatism, something that the RISI analyst said reflected not only divisions within Ukraine but also the nature of Russian nationalism.

            Popov noted that “the roots of nationalism are to be found within the phenomenon of the nation.  [It] arises in parallel with the formation of the nation; one can even say that [the two] occur simultaneously.” And he added that “contemporary Russian nationalism, if you will, had its beginning in the post-war period.”
            After the victory in 1945, “a movement of moderate nationalists and Russophiles arose in the 1950s” which “in party circles was connected with the personality of Andrey Zhdanov and the Leningrad party organization.”  And it was then that the current competition between Russophiles and Westernizers had its origins. 
            The struggle between the two, Popov said, intensified in the 1990s and had its “apotheosis” in October 1993 when Yeltsin fired on the White House “which was defended by the nationalists and the left.”  Because of that, “in a certain sense, the RF continues to exist in the form of Soviet Russia, having inherited its ideology and nationality policy.”
            Put in somewhat more concrete terms, he argued, “one can draw parallels with Khrushchev’s ‘thaw,’” a period when the internationalist approach of the top leader meant that there was no willingness to accept even “moderate forms of Russian nationalism.”
            Nationalism can be good or bad, he continued, and it comes in many forms.  “The Russian version of nationalism is very much different from the British or French. This is the nationalism of a large people which in essence is a reaction to the nationalisms of smaller ones.” Moreover, it is increasingly ethnic rather than “imperial and anti-ethnic.”
            “Contemporary Russian nationalism appeals not to statehood but to the Russian ethnic tradition,” Popov said.  It is thus no accident that among its adepts are a large number of “neo-pagans, the worldview of which is based not on political arrangements but on the genetic roots of the Russian people.” For such Russian nationalists, “the people and its interests stand above the state.”
            Indeed, “from the point of view of Russian nationalists of the new form, the present state is the enemy of the nation” and looks like “an occupier” rather than an expression of themselves, which was the view of the older generation of Russian nationalists.  Consequently, the new Russian nationalists want “the replacement of the occupation power with a nationalist one.”
            Because of that view, some of the new Russian nationalists have found common cause with nationalists from other ethnic groups because up to a point “their interests correspond.”  That is true in the Middle Volga already, Popov noted, and “the influence of these attitudes is spreading.” 
            According to Popov, however, Russia need not choose one or the other of these visions. Instead, he suggested, “Russia will proceed along a certain third path,” that will allow greater expression of Russian nationalist views of the new type but not necessarily threaten the existence of the country as such.
            To make that possible, he argued, the country must stop trying to use “the discredited definition” term for non-ethnic Russiaan (rossiyanin).  “This term is an anachronism which was adopted by liberal ‘Yeltsins’ as an ideological mechanism for suppressing Russian ethnic identity.”  Moreover, “there are no rossiyane; there is an [ethnic] Russian political nation.”
            But “the danger of contemporary Russian ethnic nationalism,” he said, “lies in its underassessment of the spiritual component” of the nation, of the idea that Russians are those who “share the spiritual values of the Russian people and historic Russia” regardless of whether they have “Russian names.”
            And Popov concludes that “Stalin was in his own way correct when he spoke of himself as an [ethnic] Russian man of Georgian origin.”

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