Thursday, February 3, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Multi-National State Inherited from Soviet Past Precludes Democracy, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 3 - Moscow’s approach to the nationality question is based on “a set of prejudices inherited from Soviet times,” prejudices that by themselves have been exploited by some of the powers that be to build a power vertical and that thus have the effect of precluding the development of democracy in the Russian Federation, according to a Moscow analyst.
In an essay on the site yesterday, Mikhail Remizov says that the Russian ruling elite does not have a serious conception of nationality policy but rather operates according to prejudices inherited from Soviet times which are inconsistent with other aspects of post-Soviet realities (
Remizov names what he calls “the two basic contradictions of Soviet and Russian nationality policy. On the one hand, there is “the contradiction between a single political nation and the principle of multi-nationality of the state.” And on the other, there is “the contradiction between the state status of minorities and the lack of such status for the majority.”
With regard to the former, he notes, “representatives of ethnic minorities live in all states, but this by itself does not in any case make these states ‘multi-national.’” Rather, “the multi-nationality of the state is not a fact but a principle” based on the politicization of ethnicity which achieves it logical end in the ethno-territorial division” of the country.
“In other words, [Russians] are a ‘multi-national’ [country] not because [they] have ethnic minorities but because [they] have raised them to the rank of nations and given them state status,” something that from the outset contradictions “the logic of a civic nation which presupposes that ethnic membership of minorities remains their private affair.”
With regard to the second contradiction, the absence of “an analogous status” for the national minority either for the country as the whole or within non-Russian republics also gives rise to “the sharpness of the nationality question in the Soviet Union and in Russia.” Indeed, the situation in Russia in this regard is worse than it was in the USSR.
That is because “the Soviet Union as a state had a certain super-national source of legitimacy. It was an ideocracy,” in which “the bearer of sovereignty was the party which spoke in the name of a global ideology,” much as in pre-1917 Russia, “the bearer of sovereignty was not the people but the dynasty.”
“When power has a transcendental source of legitimacy, it can allow itself to play in mutli-nationality” because its basis of support in general “is outside the nation.” Now, however, Remizov says, Russia has “lost this support but it has preserved multi-nationality as a principle” of state organization. And that in turn is “blocking the democratic evolution of Russian power.”
Indeed, “this is the main reason why we unendingly reproduce the traditional construction of ‘supreme power’ raised above society – but already without any traditional or ideocratic basis for such a construction,” he adds, adding that “the Russian ruling class today is the nomenklatura without community and the feudal elite without the idea of divine law.”
According to Remizov, the problematic attitude of the powers that be to the nationality question “is connected precisely with the baselessness of its own position in the national system of coordinates,” a reality the analyst argues, “the powers that be sense – above all the President – given “the danger of Soviet inertia” leading to state collapse again.
It was a good sign, Remizov says, that Medvedev rejected the idea of re-establishing a nationalities ministry because “if [Russians] do not come out of this Soviet inertia, then [they] have every chance to become a failed state.” But moving beyond it to a civic nation in which nationality is a private matter won’t be easy.
Among Russians, the Moscow analyst argues, “the idea of a civic nation is conceived in mythological terms, as a certain guarantee of universal harmony as opposed to the danger and conflict-ridden idea of the ethnic nation” and “as a formula for the problem-free integration of the Caucasus.”
But this is “a very naïve” idea, Remizov says. The reality i8s that “a civic nation requires no less intensive community and even homogeneity than the ethnic,” a homogeneity “of political culture and civic consciousness,” something that “unfortunately” is not in evidence in relatins between Russians and the Caucasus.
That must be overcome through “national” rather than “ethnographic” assimilation into “a single civic culture.” If that project succeeds, ethnic differences will “lose their political significance.” But if it doesn’t, then the state must either operate as an authoritarian entity or find a new super-national ideological justification.
“A civic nation is called that,” Remizov says, precisely because “it consists of citizens and not of clans, feudal families and privileged strata” and “essentially this is precisely the situation to which the Russian majority is striving,” an effort that threatens both the authoritarians and the non-Russians clans.

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