Saturday, July 5, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Caught Between Two Kinds of Russian Nationalism

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 4 – Moscow finds itself caught between two kinds of Russian nationalism, an “imperial” variant intended to promote cooperation among the nations of that country and the possibility of restoration of a larger state and an “ethnic” one seeking to establish a Russian nation state.
Although many observers have suggested that these two kinds of nationalism are mutually reinforcing, Georgian analyst Tengiz Ablotiya argues in an essay posted online yesterday that they are deeply antagonistic not only in terms of their goals but even more in terms of the values each seeks to promote (
“Imperial nationalism,” he points out, is necessary for the construction of powerful empires and is absolutely unsuitable for the construction of a purely national state. And conversely, ethnic nationalism leads to a separation of peoples and consequently completely excludes an imperial rebirth.”
Because imperial nationalism is in a certain sense “international,” Ablotiya continues, it typically “recognizes the equality of rights of all citizens and subjects of its empire which recognize its power.” The core nation, of course, enjoys certain rights but it must be careful not to “advertise” its “superiority” lest it generate countervailing nationalisms among others.
In the Russian case, he writes, “it is impossible to demand from a Chechen that he recognize himself as a citizen of the empire and at the same time not to give him the possibility to peacefully and without persecution from the cops to live in Moscow.” For this kind of nationalism, Moscow should be “just as much a capital for the Chechen as it is for the Russian.”
Ethnic nationalism is just the reverse. For its followers, their “nation is better than all the others” and thus deserves a special place in the sun. Such an approach, which lies at the basis of most nation states, “has a right to exist,” Ablotiya continues, but “it is absolutely unsuitable for empire building.”
In most countries, governments have to make a choice between these two lest they fall into a “paradoxical” situation. “However, as it well known, Russia is not to be understood by the mind alone: The two-headed eagle looks in various directions.” And at present, Moscow is promoting both kinds of nationalism.
“While dreaming about the rebirth of the empire, Russia is today increasingly under the sway of absolutely ethnic nationalism,” an arrangement, Ablotiya suggests, that is inherently inconsistent and ultimately unsustainable.
The average Russian does not relate well to non-Russians at a personal level, regardless of whether he or she identifies the nation of which they are members as a friend or foe of Russia itself, he writes. Thus, Russians do not like Georgians whom they view as an enemy nation, but they also do not like Armenians, whose nation they tell pollsters is a friend of Russia.
Thus, increasingly unconstrained even virulent ethnic nationalism among Russians undermines the chances for the restoration of the empire, Ablotiya says. But it does far more than that, Ablotiya argues, it threatens the continued existence of the Russian Federation as an integral country.
“One cannot demand that a Daghestani recognize the jurisdiction of the RF but beat him on the head if he walks the streets of Moscow. For Daghestan can be inside the Russian Federation only under conditions of imperial nationalism. But under those of a nationalism which proclaims ‘Russia for the Russians,’ sooner or later will lead to an adequate answer:”
“’Daghestan for the Daghestanis,’ ‘Chechnya for the Chechens,’ ‘Buryatiya for the Buryats’ and so on and on.
Many Moscow leaders, especially those who have come from or have experience in non-Russian areas, recognize this danger. But today “it is evident that the Kremlin for reasons not obvious to an outsider is playing with ethnic nationalism” by allowing the almost “absolute freedom of action of skinheads and nationalist groups.”
“That won’t bring Russia any good,” Ablotiya concludes, “because it is impossible to build an empire [or even maintain a multi-national state like the Russian Federation] and hate [all or even a significant fraction of] its residents. Especially in the 21st century.”

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