Staunton, January 26 – In the Moscow Patriarchate’s clearest signal yet that it opposes the non-ethnic identity of Rossiyane [Russian Federation citizens], Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin says that no one should be afraid of talking about the national self-consciousness of the ethnic Russian people or try to “dissolve” it within some “new and artificial identities” at home or abroad.
Chaplin, a protégé of Patriarch Kirill who heads the church’s department for relations with society, says that “today it is very important to say how Russians are distinguished from non-Russians” and to reject any attempt to ignore or level the differences between them.
Russians should not be afraid of being quite specific about who they are, and about questions concerning their “national self-consciousness,” Chaplin says. And they should view as “absolutely incorrect” any efforts to subsume them into larger groups or give them any “new artificial identities.”
To be sure, the churchman continues, Russia is “a multi-national country and there are various identities in it, but just as no one must block the self-definition of people whose identity is distinctive from Russian in one or another degree, so too no one should interfere with Russian people who are engaged” in defining their national identity.
Many commentators and politicians give lip service to this idea, but their statements have not yet led to actions. “Among the basic state documents and legal acts, the situation continues by inertia to be what it was in the 1990s when the authorities were too attracted by an attempt to drown ethnic identities into something new and constructed.”
“I hope,” Chaplin says, “that we will soon be able to overcome this sad inheritance” from that decade.
The attempt to create a non-ethnic “Russian identity” was in many ways a recapitulation of what the Soviets tried and failed to do with their “Soviet people.” “Such a community never existed,” Chaplin says, and despite enormous efforts, the peoples of Russia did not lose their ethnic identities and have sought to build on them since 1991.
Equally mistaken, the churchman says, are those who act as if national and religious identities were created by the Soviets. “Such people do not notice” that it is not these identities which were created but rather that the Soviets tried to destroy them, including the distinctive Russian national identity.
There is another threat to Russian identity, Chaplin says, one that arises from the attempts to subsume Russia into a European or any other identity including that of Islam. “Many people are thinking about how to avoid one or the other,” and that is appropriate because Russian identity must remain unique.