Sunday, August 22, 2010

Window on Eurasia: North Caucasus Will Be Independent within a Generation, Solovey Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 22 – Within his lifetime, a leading Moscow specialist on Russian nationalism says, Moscow will let the North Caucasus go its own way and be independent, the result of the coming to power in Russia of a democratic nationalism that will transform the Russian Federation in a variety of other ways as well.
In an interview on the National Democratic Alliance portal, Valery Solovey, a professor at MGIMO, a former expert at the Gorbachev Foundation and the author, with his sister Tatyana Solovey of ‘The Revolution that Did Not Take Place” (in Russian, 2009), argued that Russian “nationalism will triumph only together with the ideas of democracy” (
This is not immediately obvious, he suggests, because at present, Russian nationalism “has recognized the need for radical changes” but has not yet “transformed itself” as is required. The “democratic and human rights” trends within it are becoming more important, and Russian nationalism is “objectively” part of civil society, independent of the state and even opposed to it.
The old themes of Russian nationalism no longer can win general support, Solovey says, and as a result, he argues, the idea that will make it attractive to the population at large will be “a synthesis of Russian nationalism and the principles of democracy and a social state.” Indeed, “historically, nationalism and democracy if not twins are in any case quite similar.”
Like many analysts, Solovey says that Russian democratic nationalism must be oriented “above all to the middle class.” As for himself, he has “no doubts that the Russian middle class would begin to invest in nationalism, if the political prohibition on such investment were lifted and if the present ban on any political and social activity were removed.”
According to Solovey, Russia will “willy nilly have to repeat the experience of Eastern and Central European countries where democratic changes took place in nationalist forms and where the national-liberation revolution developed as a democratic one.” And that is true despite Russia’s differences.
The core element of Russian history, the MGIMO scholar continues, “consists of the conflict between the Russian people and the empire,” relations between the two being “dialectical: Russians not without basis considered the empire their child. They created it and put into it their resources and their lives. But in return, the empire exhausted” them.
Russian nationalism, Solovey says, “attempted to make sense of this contradiction, not wanting to separate itself from the empire. But while [they] were seeking a way out of this dead-end, history resolved everything for them. Russia no longer is an empire. And the task of nationalists consists in building in Russia an effective and full-bodied national state.”
Of course, there are still some “imperial” elements, first and foremost the North Caucasus. But Solovey says that that region “hardly in historical time will remain within Russia. Sooner or later, the question about its separation or falling away will become a practical issue. And [Solovey says that he] is certain that this will take place during our lifetime.”
Many Russians even “now think so, but still have not decided to say so aloud. It is perfectly obvious,” Solovey continues, “that we are losing colossal resources on these territories without receiving anything in return.” In fact, “we are taking away resources from Russians and Russia.”
“In the Caucasus nothing is being produced besides hatred and conflicts which are then being exported into Russia proper,” he says. “For a long time, the Caucasus has not been viewed as an inalienable part of Russia.” Ethnic Russians began leaving there in the 1970s, and “Russians no longer consider these places their own.”
The current powers that be in Moscow are not capable of drawing the necessary conclusions and taking the necessary actions. That is because, Solovey says, its leaders are interested not only in the defense of empire but see the North Caucasus as “a remarkable pretext for theft of particularly enormous size,” as the spending on the Sochi Olympics shows.
Solovey says that he “knows people who have fought in the Caucasus in the name of the unity and integrity of Russia and who fought heroically and have numerous medals but who now say: we fought for nothing; it isn’t worth fighting for these territories.” It would be better to let them go and invest the money and effort elsewhere.”
President Dmitry Medvedev’s constant suggestions that a supra-national Russian identity must be developed, Solovey remarks, remind him that “just as someone who is ill talks all the time about health and an alcoholic about vodka, so too those who talk about the need to form an identity are those who have serious problems with exactly that.”
“There is no all-Russian identity,” Solovey says. “The level of civic self-consciousness is extremely low.” Moreover, “society is atomized,” and the powers that be are doing everything they can to ensure that there will not appear even the smallest amount of “civic activity.” Indeed, “people do not feel themselves citizens of a single space.”
Russians “have nothing which unifies [them] except May 9th. [They] have no capable military, no effective economy and no effective social system. All conversations about a non-ethnic Russian identity are empty verbiage.” Ethnicity, however, can provide the basis of identity – and not just for non-Russians.
Solovey says that the Russian Federation must become a federal state, one in which “Russian oblasts and krays must have no fewer rights than the national republics.” Indeed, he suggests, “real federalism will only strengthen Russia” because “people will know that they can really participate in the life of their own region. This will stimulate them.”
Unfortunately, the current powers that be in Moscow “are totally opposed to everything Russian, to everything national. Their main opponent is the Russian people which “needs freedom and democracy,” while the powers need something else. Consequently, as long as they are in office, they intend “to hold on to their positions in Russia to the last – to the last Russian.”
And if that requires them to use force against the Russian people, Solovey concludes, the current rulers will “use it unsparingly … without any limitations,” sowing chaos in what is now the Russian Federation but saving neither their positions nor the system they have set up, at least not for very long.

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