Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Ongoing ‘Ethnicization’ of Russian Nation ‘Suicidal,’ Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 11 – Efforts to make Russians into an ethnic rather than a cultural and political nation represent a departure from their political past, a degradation of their community, and a “suicidal” threat to the survival of both the Russian people and their state, according to Aleksandr Tsipko.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Tsipko, a senior scholar at the Institute of Economics at the Russian Academy of Sciences and long one of the most provocative thinkers in Moscow, argues that “the Code of the Muscovite” city officials want for immigrants is part of a broader growth of a dangerous “tribal consciousness” (
“Can one imagine,” he begins, that Moscow officials a century ago would have thought of prohibiting Tatars from “speaking their native language and wearing their national dress”? Of course not, Tsipko says. “Even the most enthusiastic bureaucrats of the city of Glupov, as described by Saltykov-Shchedrin, would not have dreamed up such ‘patriotic’ initiatives.”
“But in Moscow today,” Tsipko points out, a ‘Code of the Moscovite’ is being worked up for the information of new arrivals, a document which starts from the proposition that the capital of Russia is a city of [ethnic] Russians,” rather than the capital of a multi-national and multi-religious state.
In contrast to the officials behind this current action, he continues, “the pre-revolutionary Russian bureaucrat had the instinct of self-preservation.” Usually well-educated, he knew very well that “his fatherland – the Russian Empire – from its birth developed as a multi-national country.”
Further, he “knew that the Russian nobility already from the times of Aleksei Mikhailovich, that is from the middle of the 17th century, entirely consisted of ‘inogordtsy’ [peoples other than ethnic Russians], from the descendents of the Lithuanian-Polish elite, the Tatar nobility, and the Rurikides,” the original outsiders or “inogorodtsy.”
Consequently, the pre-revolutionary official, especially at the start of the 20th century, would also recognize that “the so-called great Russian literature was created by the sons of all the peoples of Russia – Ukrainians and Poles and especially descendents of the Tatar elites … and Russian Germans and Jews.”
And such a pre-revolutionary official would understand without being told, Tsipko continues, that Saint Petersburg and Moscow were “called capitals [precisely] because they were a common home with open doors for absolutely all the peoples of multi-national Russia,” something that those who now say “Moscow is a Russian city!” clearly do not.
Tsipko says that he sees this shift as a sign of “the spiritual degradation” of the Russian people and an indication that “the nature of Russianness” bequeathed by the ancestors of the current generation as the basis for holding together “our multi-national Russia” is disappearing and being destroyed.”
The Moscow analyst continues that “the idea of declaring Moscow ‘a Russian city’ is not only a sign of the degradation of the mind but also a sign of the degradation of the spirit, that is, an open betrayal of the interests of the Russian people and the Russian state.”
That judgment is justified, Tsipko says, because non-Russians like the Tatars and North Caucasians say that if Moscow introduces such a “code,” the powers that be in Russia will have “only two options: either to declare the end of the Russian Federation as a multi-national state or at least to shift the capital of the country from Moscow to another, more tolerant Russian city.”
Not only would the introduction of such a code show that Russia “isn’t needed by the peoples of the North Caucasus, the peoples of the Volga or the peoples of Siberia,” but it would also lead to the appearance of “a ‘Code of Nalchik’ or a ‘Code of Kazan,’ which would prohibit Russians from speaking Russians in the capitals of the national republics.”
All such discussions about “Moscow as ‘a Russian city’” are “manifestations of a serious spiritual illness which gradually, step by step, and year by year is infecting the brain and body of thee new post-communist Russia,” a disease which scholars call an “’ethnic Russian identity’” based on “a feeling of blood descent and a tribal relationship.”
Russians today need to understand, Tsipko argues, that “the transition from a national identity based on a spiritual and religious choice and on an attachment to one’s own state and motherland to an ethnic and tribal identity in fact is in a cultural sense a regression and a sign of decay.”
And they also need to understand that the efforts of those who want to “convert Russia into a Germany or a Poland, that is, into an ethnic state where Russians form the majority” are acting in ways that will inevitably lead to an extension of “that ‘geopolitical catastrophe’ about which our current premier so often speaks.”
If in 1991, the Kremlin “by its own will separated from Kyiv, from Minsk, from the Crimea, Odessa and from all the main cities of the Russian Empire, then today, the deputies of the Moscow City duma want to continue the task of destroying the country to the end and separate Moscow from Kazan, Makhachkala, Elista, Nalchik and from everything on the earth.”
Because “suicidal ideas are attractive,” Tsipko continues, opposing “the ethnicization of the Russian nation is hardly going to be easy.” Identities based on blood are so much easier to understand and justify than those like the earlier Russian identity based on spiritual, cultural, religious and political ideas.
At its core, Tsipko points out, “Russianness has always involved a personal attachment to the Russian state and is thus a typical state identity. ‘Without Russia,’ Nicholas Berdyaev wrote, ‘Russians are transformed into a mass without any basis.’ And in this as he supposed, Russians are qualitatively distinguished form historical nations” of all kinds.
In the tsarist trinity, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and the People,” “ there was no tribal consciousness. “And here, in this negative attitude toward the idea of blood [as the basis of the nation] there was no distinction between the Marxist Vladimir Ulyanov, the liberal Paul Milyukov, and the traditionalist Lev Tikhomirov.”
Tragically, Tsipko say, it seems that “neither the powers that be nor the elite see the danger for Russia of this new tribal ethnic identity.” And if this identity isn’t stopped, not only will there be more absurdities ahead like renaming Gogol Boulevard because the writer wasn’t a pure blooded Russian, but the entire future of Russia itself as a historical project will be at risk.

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