Monday, October 25, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Unwillingness to Support Russian Nation Reflects Its Own Imperial Agenda, Kazan Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 25 – Like their Soviet predecessors, the current powers that be in the Russian Federation are quite prepared to sacrifice the national interests of the ethnic Russian people in the pursuit of an imperialist agenda, but this sacrifice will not serve either Russian national interests or Moscow’s imperial goals, according to a Kazan sociologist.
Aleksandr Salagayev further argues that “the legal vacuum which characterizes the situation of ethnic Russians in the Russian Federation and the position of the powers that be who are ignoring this contradiction is the source of inter-ethnic conflicts with migrants, the extremism of Russian organizations in Russia and the weakness of Russian diasporas abroad.
In a 3200-word essay posted on the news agency, Salagayev, a specialist on social and political conflicts at the Kazan State Technological University, traces the long and complicated history of the relations between the ethnic Russian nation and the states within which it has existed (
Prior to 1917, he notes, “Russians were an imperial nation.” The state’s slogan, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality,” applied only to them, but the Russian nation included the Great Russians, the Little Russians (Ukrainians), and the Belarusians, as one might expect an imperial people, as opposed to a nation, to do.
The country’s nationality policy changed dramatically with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks. Their ideas about “proletarian internationalism,” Salagayev argues, instituted “a double standard” with the rights of the non-Russians being protected and the rights of the ethnic Russians as a community being ignored or at least slighted.
While that balance shifted over time, the Kazan scholar says, many now believe that “the main cause of the destruction of the USSR was the weakening of the Russian ethnos and the loss of its role in economic and state-political life which took place after the October 1917 coup” that brought the Bolsheviks to power.
In the first years of Soviet power, the communist tilt toward the non-Russians was most pronounced, with the non-Russians being given republics and the ethnic Russians, routinely denounced for “great power chauvinism,” being denied one repeatedly. Salagayev notes that efforts to form a Russian republic were blocked by Soviet leaders in 1922, 1923, 1925, and 1926.
After Stalin declared “the final solution of the nationality question in the USSR” in 1934, the Russian nation was redefined. No longer was it “the former oppressor nation” with a historic “debt” to the others, but rather the Russian nation became the elder brother – or as “Leningradskaya Pravda” put it in 1937, “the eldest among equals.”
But despite the rhetorical change, Russians were still expected to provide funding for the non-Russians to help them catch up with modernity, a policy that continued throughout the rest of the Soviet period and one that by “ignoring the interests of the Russian people [was] inevitably accompanied by Russophobia” on the part of the regime.
That is because this attitude “was expressed not so much in the denial of the ‘positive features of the Russian nation and its positive contribution to world history’ as in a fear of the Russian national factor … and the possible resistance from the side of the most numerous people of the communist reconstruction of the country and the world.”
Indeed, KGB and then CPSU leader Yuri Andropov famously observed, Salagayev recalls, that “the chief concern for us is Russian nationalism; as to the dissidents, we would take them all in one night.”
In short, “self-determination of the Russian people was assessed as chauvinism but the self-determination of other peoples was considered as a necessary condition of their national development,” Salagayev says. And as a result, “the national interests and the interests of Russians in autonomous formations were simply ignored.”
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, this policy continued. “Ethnic mobilization” seized “all the ethnic groups” of the country except the ethnic Russians “who despite the actual loss of their imperial status preserve the illusions about their imperial destiny, responsibility for the fate of Russia and other such myths.”
Ethnic mobilization among ethnic Russians thus has been dominated by marginal groups like the RNE and Primorsky partisans and by “the spontaneous ethnic mobilization of Russians” in relatively small cities such as Kondopoga. In his article, Salagayev lists 22 such cases of the latter since 1999.
None of these efforts can be called successful, he says, largely because Moscow opposed all of them. The 1996 law on national-cultural autonomy did not apply to Russians and efforts beginning in 2001 to adopt “a law on the Russian people” were blocked by the powers that be and have come to nothing.
“In thus preserving the imperial ambitions of Russians,” Salagayev continues, “the powers that be are not showing any interest in the fate of the Russian people and in fact are struggling against those who recognize the real situation, calling such people Russian extremists or Russian fascists.”
Moscow continues to subsidize the non-Russian republics at far greater rates than the predominantly Russian areas, but its failure to support the Russian nation is undercutting its own imperial strategy because it is leading ever more ethnic Russians to flee non-Russian areas back to the center of the country.
In Salagayev’s opinion, “the situation is very similar to the policy of support of the national borderlands of the Soviet Union at the expense of the central oblasts which are populated primarily by Russians, a policy which in the final analysis led to the collapse of the USSR. It is obvious that such a policy will preserve the territorial integrity of Russia.”
The Kazan scholar suggests that there are two possible solutions to this situation, a “radical” one in which ethnic Russian oblasts would be formed and non-Russian republics liquidated, and a “moderate” one in which ethnic Russians would gain the same right to form national cultural autonomies that other nations now have.
Salagayev adds that some combination is likely, and he concludes by suggesting that Moscow must address the Russian question at home if it is to have any hope of protecting compatriots abroad, many of whom have been reduced to the status of “second class citizens” there in a way paralleling that of ethnic Russians in the Russian Federation itself.

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