Staunton, June 18 – Responding to suggestions that the possibilities for the promotion of an “enlightened” Russian nationalism” have been undermined by Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine, Aleksandr Khramov says that the real problems lie with Russian liberals who behave in ways that alienate the population and make cooperation with nationalists almost impossible.
Last week, Fedor Krasheninnikov wrote an open letter to his fellow Russian nationalists arguing that the liberal, western-oriented Russian nationalism he and his colleagues had hoped for has been rendered almost impossible, blaming both Putin’s hijacking of nationalist issues and the actions of the nationalists themselves. (For a discussion of Krasheninnikov’s letter, go here.)
Now, Aleksandr Khramov, a leader of the National Democratic Party, has responded and suggested that Krasheninnikov is mistaken about the possibilities for cooperation between liberals and nationalists not because of Putin and not because of shortcomings among the nationalists but because of problems with Russian liberals.
Khramov says that Krasheninnikov’s “nostalgia” for what he portrayed as “the former cooperation of liberals and nationalists” two to three years ago was misplaced not because Russian nationalists were not interested in such cooperation but because Russian liberals were not prepared to reciprocate, a situation that he says remains unchanged.
At that time, Khramov says Krasheninnikov has forgotten, the liberals refused to allow Russian nationalists to speak and even cooperated with the authorities in isolating and turning them in. Worse, the Russian liberals did not do anything to celebrate Russia or show their support for the Russian people besides attacking the regime.
The error of his ideological opponent and the problems of the Russian opposition are thrown into high relief by what has taken place in Ukraine, Khramov says. “With regard to patriotism, nationalism, and hatred to the enemy, everything is in order in Ukrainian civil society.”
But in Russia, that is not the case. The Russian nationalist project has indeed suffered a defeat, but “the liberal project [there] has suffered a no less crushing one. More than it, [in the case of the latter] it is not simply a defeat but a fatal trauma.”
In Ukraine, liberals support their nation and collect money for Ukrainian soldiers who have been injured or killed around Slavyansk. But Russian liberals condemn Russian soldiers now in Ukraine as they did when the latter fought in Chechnya. To say this is not to justify Moscow’s actions in Chechnya or Ukraine, but rather to point to a “psychological” problem.
The Ukrainian liberals are on the side of the people; Russian liberals are not, Khramov says. Worse, unlike their Ukrainian counterparts, Russian liberals routinely position themselves as supporters of those fighting Russia, now backing the Chechens and now the Ukrainians, defending both against Russia.
The reason “progressive Russian nationalists” cannot support the “pro-Ukrainian position” of Russian liberals is because they do not want to be politically irrelevant for the next 50 years. “Calls to return Crimea to Ukraine are logical when we hear them from Ukrainian nationalists. But repeating them in Russia is not going to speed up the demise of the Putin regime.”
Instead, such calls may have exactly the opposite effect. When a Russian voter hears Russian opposition figures call for the return of Crimea to it “’lawful owner,’” he is inclined to conclude that whatever he thinks of Putin, at least the Kremlin leader is closer to his views than are those people.
That may not be obvious in the hothouse climate of Moscow, but “if you go 100 kilometers or so outside the Russian capital,” Khramov says, “you will find in the heads of local residents exactly that view.” That should surprise no one: the Donbass worker is not so different from much of the Russian population.
For Russian nationalists to be successful, they must reflect that. Doing otherwise condemns them to the political wilderness.
“Ukrainian opposition figures overthrew Yanukovich precisely because they were Ukrainian patriots. Not Russian ones and not American ones,” Khramov says. But when they did so, Russian nationalists like Krasheninnikov rushed to support them “in order to overthrow Putin.”
And today, such Russian nationalists like to consider that they have become “very much like the Ukrainian opposition.” But they are wrong. They are not like the Ukrainian opposition because they are not concerned so much with making needed changes in their own country as staking out positions that may make them feel good but that alienate their potential supporters.
Russian democratic nationalists who have broken with Russian liberals on Ukraine are the ones who resemble the Ukrainian opposition. “We are for democracy and against a corrupt authoritarian regime. We want that Russian sounds in the Donbass just as Ukrainian nationalists want [their language] to sound in Crimea.”
Consequently, Khramov adds, those who take his position represent the first flower of “a future Russian Maidan” while those like Krasheninnikov who support Ukrainians but not Russians are only “a caricature of that.” “We are ready to stand with you on the same side of the barricades, but you are doing everything so that these barricades will never go up.”