Staunton, April 25 – Vladimir Putin’s promotion of the idea that Moscow must preserve “the Russian world” has already led to the transformation of his country into something very different than it was before, but the shakiness of its three main foundations is such that it is unlikely to survive for very long, according to Rashit Akhmetov.
In a lead article in Zvezda Povolzhya this week, Akhmetov says that Putin’s moves mean that the citizens of the Russian Federation “now live in a new country,” one which has driven the Yeltsin period underground, become “a besieged fortress,” and is seeking out “traitors to the nation” (no. 15 (695), April 24-30, 2014, p. 1)
But “what does this term include and where are the borders of this beautiful new ‘Russian world’?” Akhmetov says there are three, none of which is without serious problems and all of which both separately and in conjunction with each other mean that “the Russian world” is an ideological construct without the basis in the real world that will allow it to survive for long.
The first basis for defining Putin’s world, of course, is “the genetically Russian,” but that is anything but unproblematic, the Kazan editor says. As ethno-genetic studies have shown, “95 percent” of those called ethnic Russians now are “a conglomerate of Finno-Ugric tribes” and remain internally divided even in ethno-national terms.
“The Pomors, the Don Cossacks, the Siberians and the people of the Urals are significantly different from each other,” he points out, suggesting that in fact, they are “literally parallel worlds.”
What Putin has done in suggesting that Russians and his “Russian world” are unified on this basis is nothing more than “a television cartoon” that seeks to put all this diversity onto a bureaucratically-established “Procrustean bed.” That in turn could lead to a “new geopolitical catastrophe.” At the very least, it shows that “it is impossible to build ‘the Russian world’ on genetics.”
The second criteria that Putin has employed in advancing his idea is that the Russian world is based on the Russian language, that “the zones of the dominance of the Russian language are to be understood as the zone of ‘the Russian world.’” But that understanding, with its roots in tsarist and Soviet times, is no firmer a foundation, Akhmetov says.
“If the Russian language is accepted as the definition of ‘the Russian world,’” he continues, “then one can predict the next conflict in Northern Kazakhstan where three million ethnic Russians live.”
But by itself, Akhmetov argues, language is “a weak ‘patriotic’ mobilizing tool,” one on the basis of which no state can successfully maintain itself for very long. Language does nothing to overcome ideological and political divisions among those who speak it, and for at least some of these partisans, their views on other questions are more significant to them than language is.
And third, Akhmetov says, “it is possible to identify ‘the Russian world’ with the Russian Orthodox Church.” But that is a very “narrow” world, given that at least half of the population of the Russian Federation today is either non-Orthodox by faith or atheist. Any attempt to make Orthodoxy the state ideology will inevitably provoke a reaction among them.
Moreover, the Church itself, however much it denies this, is hardly unified, however servile to the Kremlin its top leaders may be. And it is not unimportant that the Moscow Patriarchate derives half of its income from Ukraine where there has been a religious rebirth and not just the bureaucratic extension of the hierarchy.
For all these reasons, Akhmetov concludes, Putin’s “Russian world” is really “a phantom … on the basis of which it is impossible to build a state.” Nationalism of course is a product of the romantic era, he continues, but for it to take off, there must be “a passionate impulse.” That doesn’t exist in Russia today.
Where that impulse doesn’t exist, he continues, “the narcotic of imperialism” only hides the forces leading to decay and disintegration. That may distract some for a time, Akhmetov suggests, but even if the Kremlin makes use of increasing doses of this drug, that will not be enough to maintain the state or anything like “the Russian world” for the long term.