Vienna, November 28 – Russian patriotism and Russian nationalism are generally treated as synonyms or at least as mutually reinforcing phenomena, both in nearly all cases equally at odds with political democracy and economic liberalism and thus anathema both to Russian reformers and to others who wish Russia and Russians well.
But in fact, the two ideologies rest on completely different foundations, with Russian patriotism focusing primarily on the state and Russian nationalism on the Russian people as a community. And consequently, some of the variants of each often are very much at odds with those of the other.
A programmatic article by a Russian nationalist a month ago calling attention to this divide has reopened this debate. And it shows few signs of any quick resolution but nonetheless says a great deal not only about where Russians and the Russian state are now but also about where they could be and are likely to be in the future.
In that essay, Aleksei Shiropayev argues that Russian nationalism properly understood will promote democracy, capitalism, and integration with Europe, thereby challenging a large number of the core beliefs of Russian patriots and of those Russian nationalists who follow them (http://www.nazlobu.ru/publications/article2333.htm).
Russian patriotism, he argues, presents itself as “the true service of the State” be it tsarist, Soviet or post-Soviet because “ontologically all these versions of the Empire are ontologically the same.” And consequently, it suggests that “the historic meaning of the existence of the Russian people” is sacrificial service to the Imperial Leviathan.”
“According to the patriots,” he continues, the Russian people do not have their own fate: their fate is [linked to that] of the supra-national hyper-State, of the fate of the empire. Not to rule in the empire but to be its eternal servant, its faceless cement; bearing without complaint the burden of imperial ‘super tasks” rather than acting for itself.”
That is the “imperial ‘liturgy’” of the Russian patriots, Shiropayev insists, a doctrine that reduces Russians to “eternal slaves,” permanent collective farmers,” and forever “proletarians” who must be herded forward by an all-powerful state entity that alone can decide where they should go.
Russian nationalists, on the other hand, focus on the Russian people, their needs and aspirations, but because Russian patriots and not they have been in charge so long, Shiropayev continues, their approach is best presented in terms of how different it is from the latter.
Because they focus on the people rather than the state, Shiropayev says, Russian nationalists – or at least the part of the Russian nationalist spectrum his “national democrats” represent – are “non-imperial” in principle. “Not through the restoration of the Empire lies the path to the Russian future, but across the corpse of the empire.”
“Thanks to the Empire, the Russian people has not become a nation,” he insists, and to change that, Shiropayev continues, it is vitally important to “open the sluice gates of regional development,” to promote “a bourgeois state,” and to integrate with Europe, must as the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic already have.
The first task ahead of Russians, he argues, is “overcoming the fetishization of the state” by advancing the claims of the people over which the state has ruled. And the most effective way to do that is to promote the creation of regional governments that are closer to the people.
These units could then perhaps form a Confederation, Shiropayev argues, and with that kind of a political arrangement, Russians would be in a position to develop the kind of economic and political system that would allow them to join Europe rather than stand in opposition to it as the Russian patriots always insist.
According to Shiropayev, Boris Yeltsin understood this point early on. In a speech to the Urals Polytechnic Institute in February 1990, the future president said that it should be possible to form within the Russian Federation “seven Russian republics: Central Russia, the North, the South, theVolga, the Urals, Siberia and the Far East.”
For Russian nationalists, Shiropayev argues, that action makes Yeltsin a hero, but for the Russian patriots, it makes him a destroyer of the state. And for them, Yeltsin is worthy of praise only for his willingness to launch of a war against the Chechen drive for independence.
Indeed, Shiropayev continues, if Russian nationalists have any reason to dislike Yeltsin, it is this: “he preserved” the core part of the empire, “its initial place des armes, its bastion of revenge – the Russian Federation,” rather than allowing that entity to disintegrate and the Russian people to become true historical actors.
Russian nationalists offer the Russian people the opportunity to “live and work for themselves and not for the imperial-bureaucratic ‘uncle,’ to be guided by their own real interests and not phantom ideological construction like the ‘Third Rome’ or the ‘Third International,’” to escape “the sacralized slavery of the empire and live in a bourgeois democratic state, “a Russian Europe.’”
In short, Shiropayev says, Russian nationalists want Russians to practice “national egotism and self-respect instead of imperial internationalism and the belittling of themselves,” to escape from “the idea of Russia” and begin to live on their own, and thus to “begin at last” to make their own “Russian history.”
In the course of his long, two-part essay, Shiropayev discusses each of these points in detail as well as making a wide variety of comments on Russian history and the views of his ideological opponents, the Russian patriots. But his most controversial remarks concern his open support for the rise of a Russia of the regions.
He surveys regionalist impulses in Siberia and other parts of the country, considers the movements that have already emerged to advance their ideas, and says he backs all of them even if that means that some of them might decide to pursue independence from the center.
Shiropayev has received some support from these regionalists – see, for example, the equally detailed article of Mikhail Kulekhov on Siberian neo-oblastnichesto at http://www.apn.ru/publications/print18447.htm which points out that Siberians “do not want the collapse of the Russian Federation but we do not fear it either.”
But his opponents, the Russian patriots, have attacked his ideas in a series of increasingly sharp, even vitriolic articles over the last month in the Russian “nationalist” – that is, “patriotic” – media. Typical of these is an essay by Vladimir Karpets that was posted online October 21st (http://www.pravya.ru/look/14380?print=1).
He accuses Shiropayev personally and those who have published his writings of betraying the country, of promoting its disintegration, and of being hirelings of various international forces who see Russian regionalism as a weapon to destroy the Russian state, the only entity capable of defending the Russian people.
To block the machinations of this group, he continues, Russia needs to establish “a genuine anti-separatist front,” on that will differ from the National Salvation Front only in that it will be directed not against the authorities but in support and under the guidance of them.
And having created that front, Karpets continues, Moscow should move to create a “Yezhov-style Empire” – a reference to Stalin’s notorious secret police chief – to ensure that the Russian state that Shiropayev and his like want to put in the grave will in fact survive and prosper.
In terms of argument, Shiropayev certainly has the advantage, but in terms of Russian politics under Vladimir Putin, Karpets and those who continue to deify the state at the cost of keeping the Russians from a nation like any other would seem to have the greater influence.