Monday, June 28, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Russian Nationalism Will Triumph Only Together with Democracy,’ Moscow Historian Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 28 – Russian nationalism is currently in a deep ideological crisis, unable to mobilize the Russian nation because of its obsession with out of date ideas and opposed by the regime which fears the coming to power of a Russian nationalism allied with democracy, according to an MGIMO historian.
Indeed, Valery Solovey, an expert on Russian nationalism, argues in an interview posted online last week, “nationalism will triumph only if it is allied with the ideas of democracy,” much as was the case in Eastern Europe whose historical path Russia “willy-nilly” seems fated to follow, however much the regime opposes it (nazdem.infor/texts/132).
Supporters of Russian nationalism recognize, he continues, “the need for radical changes” in both their theory and practice, “but the very process of these changes has not been completed and that in turn means that Russian nationalism still has not been transformed into a new quality.”
While this process is likely to be prolonged, Solovey says, “the democratic and human rights trend in Russian nationalism” are becoming “more evident.” And “it is coming to be understood that Russian nationalism is objectively being transformed into an important part of civil society, for it arose independently of the state and in a certain sense in opposition to it.”
For that to happen, Russian nationalists have to find “ideas capable of mobilizing society.” Anti-Semitism and Orthodox Monarchy “weren’t able to mobilize anyone even 20 years ago.” Now, such ideas are simply laughable. Instead, Russian nationalist need to form “a synthesis of Russian nationalism with the principles of democracy and a social state.”
As Solovey points out, “historically nationalism and democracy if not twin brothers are in any case extremely close and in many things even correspond.” Russian nationalists often do not see that reality because “the very term ‘democracy’” was “compromised in Russia, although the ideas it encompasses has not.
Most Russians, the historian insists, “support the basic values of democracy: they are for honest and free elections, competition in politics, and a multi-party system, for everything in short that represents the content of democracy. And if nationalists want to achieve success, they must be with their own people” on that.
Moreover, Solovey says, Russian nationalism must focus “above all on the middle class,” the class which is always the basis for nationalism’s success. He adds that he “has not doubts that the Russian middle class would invest in nationalism if the political prohibition on that were lifted and if the current ban on any political and social activity in general were removed.”
What that means in turn, Solovey continues, is that “willy-nilly [Russians] will have to repeat the experience of the East and Central European countries where democratic changes took place in nationalist forms and where the national-liberal revolutions played out as democratic ones.”
Because of Russia’s complicated history, Russian nationalism faces a greater challenge, the MGIMO expert says. In many respects, Russian history has been a playing out of “a conflict between the Russian people and the empire” in “a dialectical” fashion. Russians “not without reason considered the empire their offspring,” but the empire treated them badly.
“It was impossible to convert the empire into a Russian national state,” he points out. Indeed, “even the equality of Russians within the framework of the empire – and it doesn’t matter whether it was Orthodox or Communist – could not be guaranteed.” But most Russian nationalists have refused to accept this.
However, “while Russian nationalists were searching for a way out of this blind alley, Solovey says, “history decided everything for them: [With the end of the Soviet Union,] Russia is no longer an empire, and the task of nationalists is to build in Russia an effective and fully national state.”
Asked about the North Caucasus as “a relic” of empire, Solovey responds in a way that will trouble many Russian nationalists. He says that “already during our lifetimes,” the North Caucasus will separate from or be separated by the Russian Federation, an outcome he says “many now are thinking about but still have not decided to say aloud.”
The Caucasus is not worth what it costs, as those who have fought there know best. Unfortunately, Solovey continues, “the current elite [in Moscow] will never resolve this problem in a principled fashion.” Instead, they will continue to throw money at the problem, not only to hold the place as part of the empire and its “mission” but to steal as well.
Over the next few years, he suggests, the problem may even get worse: President Dmitry Medvedev has called for increasing the financing of the North Caucasus republics. But according to Solovey, “this is connected with the approaching Olympic Games [in Sochi, games that are set to become] the most expensive in the history of the Olympic movement.”
Medvedev is also talking a great deal about “the creation of some kind of common non-ethnic Russian identity,” Solovey’s interlocutor points out, to which the Moscow historian responds that “just as someone who is ill talks all the time about health and an alcoholic about vodka, so too he who speaks about the need to form an identity has serious problems with that.”
“There is no all-Russian identity,” Solovey argues; the level of civic self-consciousness is extremely low.” Society is “atomized and people are not allowed to unite” because “every form of civic unification is persecuted” by the powers that be. Indeed today, the only thing that unites the population of the Russian Federation is May 9.
Solovey says that he see Russia ultimately as a federation rather than a unitary state, not only because Russia is too diverse to be run from a single center and according to a single set of rules but because it is “a guarantee of democracy. Real federalism will only strengthen Russia” because “people will know that they really can participate in the life of their own region.”
But getting there is going to be hard given the nature of the powers that be, people who Solovey suggests are more interested in “destruction” than in “creation” and who are capable of “sowing only chaos.” And he adds that “even in the 1990s, the country was led better than know and the effectiveness of administration was higher” because there was less corruption.
The current powers that be, he says, are “totally hostile to everything Russian, to everything national.” Indeed, “the main opponent” of the regime is “the Russian people which objectively needs freedom and democracy.” Those in power feel that and consequently strive to prevent Russians from organizing.
And these powers know they can get away with almost anything as far as the West is concerned, and consequently “the Russian elite intends to hold onto power in Russia to the last – to the last ethnic Russian. If it has to use force, it will use it without a shred of conscience and without any restriction.”

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