Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Proposal for Non-Ethnic Russian Nation a Symptom of Deeper National Problem, Moscow Analyst Argues

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 4 – Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal for the creation of a non-ethnic Russian nation reflects a far deeper national problem: the inability of Russians to face up to their national history and thus their tendency to keep resuscitating ideas from the past under new names while ignoring the context in which they existed, a Moscow argues.
As a result, the introduction of some such revived ideas, which many find attractive, opens the door to the revival of still others which they would not choose at all, or creates a situation in which the revenants from the past either fail to work as intended or even create new disasters.
In an article yesterday on the portal of the Information-Analytic Center of Social-Political Processes in the Post-Soviet States at Moscow State University, Natalya Belova says talk about ideas like the an updated Soviet people “would be funny if they were not so sad” (http://www.ia-centr.ru/expert/9650/).
Of course, she continues, it is the case that “everything new is the well forgotten old” but because of “historical amnesia,” Russians and their leaders seem to believe that they can pluck one part of the past out of context and revive it successfully without the risk that other parts of that past will return or that the restoration of the part will fail.
Consequently, she suggests, Russians are now being “welcome[d] to the second edition of the Soviet empire,” with “an all-Russian patriotism” supported not by “an atheist ideology” but by the views of the Russian Orthodox Church, an arrangement that by its very nature given the diversity of society in Russia will create a new set of problems.
The nineteenth century Russian imperial slogan, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationhood,” was, Belova writes, “a brilliant formual which under the conditions of the development of the Russian state does not even require a re-naming of the components,” however much things have changed.
At least in part that is because, “after the departure of Boris Yeltsin,the residents of our boundless motherland literally became gifted with an extra-sensory perception – already befeo elections are held it was always understood who will win.” But that is not the only problem Russia faces.
After the Manezh violence, it is far from clear that its participants will agree to live peacefully with everyone else because “we after all are one nation” or that assertions of that kind “will solve existing problems. And this means, that beyond the sacramental phrase ‘[non-ethnic] Russian nation” stands Stalin and the authoritarianism of Soviet times.
“Of course,” Belova adds, “one should not fall into paranoia and prepare for a rebirth of the 1930s,” but it is also a mistake to accept the misconception that “this process will be easy and without problems.”
Ancient wisdom holds that “if you want peace, prepare for war,” the Moscow analyst says. “Evidently, Russia must be prepared for uprisings and disorders.” “The optimists say that changes require victims,” but Belova notes, “the pessimists express the view that nothing good can be expected” and that disaster at home and abroad awaits.
“The main problem of Russia,” Belova continues, “is that [Russians] are not able to deal with [their] past.” Far too easily, they “forget and do not notice that what is being offered as ‘new’ in fact is old and far from the best of that” and worse that a non-ethnic Russian nation will depend on “the cult of a particular person.”
For those who want an example, she says, consider today’s Kazakhstan “where Nursultan Nazarbayev has been able to strengthen inter-national and inter-ethnic accord,” an arrangement that works while he is in office but “with his departure the entire idea may fall into pieces” with all the ensuring consequences.
“In Russia, however, there is no one leader.” There is the tandem, whose members Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev appear to have decided that “our future” will be ‘an upgrade of the Soviet epoch,” something that should worry all who know even a little about that past.
“Nevertheless,” Belova says, “one has to hope for the best. As one popular film observed sometime ago, ‘life will find a way out,’ sooner or later.” But in the near term, there are few grounds for hope given the gap between the leaders who think that a single “non-ethnic Russian nation” can be created and a population which is increasingly diverse.
And it is right here, Belova concludes, where there is “in truth an explosive mixture: a country where between the powers and the population is an enormous gap filled with distrust, a lack of understanding, conflicts of ‘fathers and sons,’” and an increasing influx of migrants alongside a growing number of residents who don’t want them around.

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