Sunday, June 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: New Wave of Russian Nationalist Thought Focuses on Nation State, Not Empire

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 29 – A new wave of Russian nationalist thought, one that focuses on the task of creating for the first time a Russian nation state, is gaining strength in the intellectual circles of Moscow, gradually pushing aside the more bombastic and imperialistic imperialism of the Eurasians, according to a new study.
In a 5700-word article in the current issue of “Politichesky klass,” Sergey Sergeyev says that what he calls “the third wave” of contemporary Russian nationalism represents “a return to the old ‘Russophilism’ [of the late Soviet period but] on a new theoretical foundation” and thus rejects the pretensions of Eurasianism (
Sergeyev, who writes frequently on Russian nationalist thought, argues that there have been three “waves” within it since the 1960s. It consisted of two parts: the “legal” which included the village prose writers like Vadim Kozhinov and Yury Seleznev and the “dissident” which included people like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Igor Sharafevich and Vladimir Osipov.
Behind their enormous intellectual diversity, Sergeyev says, all these writers shared a common commitment to making “the Russian question” the chief question of public life, to recovering historical memory so deformed by the Soviet occupation, and to tracing “lost or half-forgotten cultural roots” of the Russian people.
The “weak point” of this trend, Sergeyev argues, was what initially attracted so many people to it: its advocates were almost all literary figures. Indeed, he says, “among the ideological leaders of the ‘Russophiles’ there were practically no professional economists, sociologists or political scientists.”
And that meant that when the Soviet Union collapsed, he writes, they were unable to cope with what for many of them was “a terrible existential catastrophe” that led to “a change of monuments” in a way that was summed up by the late poet Boris Primerov with the words: “God, Return the Soviet Union to us!”
Writers who only a few months before had been condemning “collectivism and ‘the red terror’ suddenly transformed themselves into flaming advocates of Stalinism.” For them, “the Soviet empire acquired the unquestioned status of a paradise lost and socialism as the centuries-old Russian ideal.”
The resulting intellectual and ideological confusion opened the way for “the second wave of ‘Rusism’,” one that externally at least was “the complete antithesis of the first. Its central notion was Eurasianism, a pastiche of multi-national neo-Soviet imperialism, anti-Westernism, and deference to Orthodoxy.
Its chief proponents were editor Aleksandr Prokhanov, the late theorist of ethnogenesis Lev Gumilyev, chemist Sergei Kara-Murza, theater director Sergei Kurginyan, and “the extravagant esotericism, geopolitician, conspiracy theorist, metaphysician (and much else besides) Aleksandr Dugin.
The Eurasianists attracted a great deal of attention at first, Sergeyev notes, but their influence began to decline after the mid-1990s for five reasons. First, fewer and fewer people could accept their insistence that the USSR could and should be reconstituted. Second, most of the younger writers had no nostalgia for the Soviet system.
Third, the leftist parties to which the Eurasians were linked displayed “an incurable political impotence. Fourth – and in Sergeyev’s view, this is the most important – few Russians could accept the idea of a “Eurasian brotherhood” of various nations after their experience with the Chechen war, immigration, and the rise of non-Russian nationalisms.
And fifth, Sergeyev notes, “the main ideologues” of this wave, having converted themselves into “television personalities and Kremlin troubadours completely lost their former intellectual glory” and could impress only those who knew little about politics. Kara-Murza is a partial exception, the “Politichesky klass” author says, but only a partial one.
By the early years of this decade, “the most original intellectual projects” of Russian nationalist thought were sufficiently different to justify speaking of a “third” wave of Russian nationalism, one that rejects the Eurasianist project and returns to the Russophilism of the first but “at a completely new theoretical level.”
Like the literary figures of the first wave, the theorists of the third view “the Russian people as the main subject and one valuable in itself subject of Russian history and the contemporary period.” But unlike the first, the third wave has adopted a “free and non-dogmatic relationship” toward religion and avoided any nostalgia for the past Soviet or tsarist.
And unlike either of the first two waves, the third views as the object of their concern not a country within the borders of the Russian Empire or the USSR but rather “in the frameworks of a radically transformed Russian Federation,” one that might have different borders entirely but that reflects the interests of the Russian people.
Among the most important of those in this group, Sergeyev says, are political scientist Valery Solovey, historian Andrei Fursov, and Spenglerian philosopher Vadim Tsybursky, and among the centers of this new Russian nationalist wave at the present time is the Moscow Institute of National Strategy with its website,
But in addition to the big three, there is now a pleiade of third wave Russian nationalists who, Sergeyev says, are attracting attention because of their willingness to explore new paths to the future. Among them are Mikhail Remizov, Konstantin Krylov, Boriz Mezhuev, Viktor Militarev, Yevgeny Ivanov, Aleksandr Eliseyev, Mikhail Delyagin and Pavel Svyatenkov.

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