Monday, December 27, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Promotes Nationalism to Direct Popular Anger Away from Itself, Mlechin Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 27 – In the tradition of its Soviet predecessors, the current Russian powers that be are promoting radical Russian nationalism not only because it reflects their own private views but because such feelings direct popular anger away from itself and toward labor migrants from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, a prominent Moscow publicist argues.
In an article in yesterday’s “Moskovsky Komsomolets,” Leonid Mlechin says that “nationalism in Russia has flourished because this is useful to the powers that be” because it redirects popular anger away from them and because nationalism “doesn’t require any rational arguments” (
Poll show that “the majority of the population willingly supports the slogan, ‘Russia for the Russians’ although the very same people will never permit the Caucasus to leave Russia” after two wars. Instead, Mlechin says, the slogan means for them that “non-Russian smust know their place, live where they were born, not come to [them], and not settle alongside [them].”
Despite its lack of rationality, Mlechin suggests that there are three ideas behind this slogan in the minds of most Russians. First, “all countries encounter problems with migration,” but Russians ignore the fact that for most countries, migrants are foreigners, while in Russia, they are Russian citizens.
Second, he continues, Russians believe that those who come act badly and that they must live “according to our rules.” But again many of the rules that the Russians say they want migrants to obey, such as avoiding the law and not bribing militiamen, are rules that the Russians themselves do not follow.
And third, Russians view them as “the other,” as people with “different mentality and different traditions,” who “do not want to follow generally acceptable norms.” But Russians get angry when Baltic officials make the same point about ethnic Russians living and working in those countries.
The migrants in Russian cities, even though those from the North Caucasus are Russian citizens, are considered to be “second class people” who must “follow [Russians] in order to learn good manners.” But “what example do we Muscovites show the guests of the capital?” Mlechin asks.
“Drunken cursing, crudeness, impoliteness, caddishness, and a lack of respect to the elderly and women – here, unfortunately, are what our street existence looks like,” the publicist says. And he argues that “only the ability to see one’s own shortcomings gives one the moral right to reproach others. But we forgive ourselves for what we won’t forgive others.”
In large measure, he continues, Russians do not like those who “look different,” something that means people do not ask themselves whether they are objecting to an action that anyone, including another Russian commit, or simply to someone who is different anthropologically.
Now some officials are talking about “creating ‘ethnic’ units within the militia.” Other countries have these, but they generally deal with foreigners “who poorly speak the state language.” But people from the Caucasus “are not foreigners. And the word ‘diaspora’ is not very appropriate” either.
That is because “the Chechens or the Daghestanis do not emigrate to Moscow but go to the capital of their own state. And they must be subordinate to a common law, and one must relate to them as to all other citizens of Russia,” something the Russian nationalists clearly have no desire to do.
Many in the Russian Federation today think that these divisions are all the product of post-Soviet developments. But in fact, they have their roots in Soviet reality, something that was carefully concealed by the Soviets until they burst on the scene during perestroika and contributed to the destruction of the USSR.
That country, Mlechin stresses, “was destroyed not by the efforts of liberally inclined dissidents. [It] was killed off by open nationalism.”
He gives several examples of this, including the insistence of Stalin’s officials that “Jews have not only a ‘passport’ difference from Russians,” Nursultan Nazarbayev’s statement in Soviet times that he and his Kazakhs were “second class” people, and the regret a Chuvash cosmonaut had that he could not go into space before the Russian Yuri Gagarin did.
As then, nowadays, “politicians unceasingly divide the people of Russia into their own and aliens, into ours and not ours, into indigenous and non-indigenous, into titular and non-titular, into true believers and those who believe otherwise.” Not surprisingly, young people absorb all this and act upon it.
What should be happening, Mlechin argues, is inculcating in the population “a sense of unity, community, and the solidarity of the people of Russia.” But for that to happen, “at a minimum there would have to be a review of the principles of domestic policy, the values of official propaganda and the vocabulary of the politicians.”
And unfortunately, he adds, that is not going to happen. “The outburst of nationalist feelings is yet another testimony of the internal tension in society, of general disappoint and dissatisfaction, of despair and anger,” all of which have been intensified by the current economic crisis.
By promoting nationalist ideas, the powers that be both show who and what they themselves are, regardless of what they say in public, and achieve one of their own ends: they re-direct social anger at the way things are away from themselves and toward the migrant workers.” Thus, at least for a time, they protect themselves against united protests against their power.

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