Thursday, December 30, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Russian Nation’ Without Ethnic Content a Contradiction in Terms, Writer Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 30 – President Dmitry Medvedev’s suggestion this week that “the idea of a ‘rossiiskaya natsiya’ of “Russian nation” is absolutely productive, and one need not be ashamed of using the term” has sparked dissent from those who insist that “rossiiskaya” is a non-ethnic political term while “natsiya” is an ethnic one by definition.
While some Russian commentators are expressing support for Medvedev’s idea because they see it as opening the way for the assimilation of non-Russians inside the country, most are objecting to this formulation as a contradiction in terms or one that threatens the Russian “natsiya” itself.
Those opposed note that the very idea of a “rossisskaya natsiya” appears to be Medvedev’s update of the “sovetsky narod” or “Soviet people” in the USSR, but they note that in Soviet times, not only academic specialists but party ideologists were careful to make the distinction between the non-ethnic “narod” and the inherently ethnic “natsiya.”
And they point out that under current conditions, Medvedev’s favored term neither has the ideological foundation that the idea of the Soviet people did or any place for the Russian nation, even though it appears to allow for the existence of all other ethnic communities in the country.
One of the sharpest criticisms reflecting this point of view has been offered by A.V. Borozdin in a comment to the portal. The writer asks “just what is the ‘Rossiiskaya natsiya?” given that the first word always has been a political rather than an ethnic term and the latter has been an ethnic rather than a political one (
“In the USSR, there was the Soviet people, there were [ethnic] Russians who united around themselves other peoples like the Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Armenians and so on. This is the kind of matrix that our nano-kids are “attempting’ to copy” by “reinventing the bicycle” rather than going back and comparing the two terms.
Had Medvedev and his team done so, Borozdin continues, they would have seen that these two concepts, which to them seem so similar, are in fact very different. On the one hand, the “’Rossiiskaya natsia’ lacks the main element” that the Soviet people had, the ideology which held everything together and justified the actions of the state.
And on the other, the new term “lacks the core” of the Soviet people, the ethnic Russian nation. Within it, “there are Kyrgyz, Abkhaz, Tatars, Chechens, Daghestanis and even Chukchis, any nationality at all but NO [ethnic] Russians.” Consequently, there is neither an idea nor a human group to unite the population.
Instead, “there is only a common pot with the title ‘Rossiiskaya natsiya,’ in which we all are being cooked … [by] ‘events’ on Manezh Square, ‘developments’ in the Don camp, the Primorsky partisans” and all the rest, with nothing holding the various parts together except inertia and force.
Butakov says that “ever more often [he] hears from the first persons of the state that in Russia, there are no [ethnic] Russians; there are only [non-ethnic] ones.” Could it be that this is already the case, he asks bitterly, or are there still ethnic Russians who know they are a nation and not part of some artificial construct?
“It now seems to me,” Borozdin concludes, “judging b y the dynamic and acitons of our government that two nationalities are now pretending to be the root [of this new category]; the Chechens [and] the Daghestanis.” But such “a root,” regardless of what the current leaders think, will make it impossible for the tree of Russia to survive, let alone flourish.

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