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Conflicting “Homeland Myths” and Nation-State Building in Postcommunist Russia

  • Vera Tolz (a1)

The second disintegration of the empire this century has reopened the debate over Russian state and nation building with direct implications both for Russia's reform process and for its relations with other newly independent states. In December 1991, the Russian Federation was transformed into an independent state as a historically formed regional entity, not as a nation state. Scholars argue that the Russian empire was built “at the cost of Russia's own sense of nationhood.” In the past, the efforts spent conquering and ruling vast territories and diverse populations diverted the Russian people and their leaders from the task of consolidation and nation building. This was true not only in the prerevolutionary but also in the Soviet period, during which the majority of Russians saw the entire USSR rather than the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) as their homeland. Now, after the disintegration of the USSR, the questions arise whether the majority of Russians can accept the borders of the Russian Federation as final, and, if not, what the alternative myths of Russia's national homeland are? The answers to these questions determine whether Russians will ever be able to define themselves other than as an imperial people.

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The author would like to thank Yoram Gorlizki, J. F. Brown, Taras Kuzio, Maureen Perrie, Teresa Rakowska-Harmstone, Wendy Slater, and the anonymous reviewers for Slavic Review for their valuable comments and suggestions.

1. Hosking, G., Russia: People and Empire, 1552–1917 (London, 1997), xxivxxv.

2. Kaiser, Robert, The Geography of Nationalism in Russia and the USSR (Princeton, 1994), 5, 1520.

3. Smith, Anthony D., “Gastronomy or Geology? The Role of Nationalism in the Reconstruction of Nations,” Nations and Nationalism 1, no. 1 (1995): 19.

4. Tolz, Vera, “Radical Right in Post-Communist Russian Politics,” in Merkl, Peter H. and Weinberg, Leonard, eds., The Revival of Right-Wing Extremism in the Nineties (London, 1997), 184–85.

5. Those who left Democratic Russia were Viktor Aksiuchit's Christian Democrats, Mikhail Astaf'ev's Kadets, and Nikolai Travkin's Democratic Party of Russia.

6. Nezavisimaia gazeta, 31 January 1995.

7. Ibid., 8 February 1996.

8. Danilevskii and Lamanskii are more frequently cited by contemporary intellectuals who advocate the restoration of the union than by those who propose the creation of an eastern Slavic state. Pan–Slavists were the first Russian thinkers who attempted to “reconcile the geographical space of the empire with the cultural historical space of the Russian nation.” See Bassin, Mark, “Russia between Europe and Asia: The Ideological Construction of Geographical Space,” Slavic Review 50, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 12 . And it is this part of their ideological construction that attracts the greatest attention of today's intellectuals and politicians in their attempts to defend the empire.

9. It was back in 1934 that Stalin, A. Zhdanov, and S. Kirov wrote comments about the new textbook History of the USSR, criticizing its authors for failing to put Russian history within the context of the history of the other peoples of the Soviet Union. These comments were published only two years later in Izvestiia, 27 January 1936, 3. See also Pravda, 1 February 1936, 2, on the progressive nature of the formation of the Russian state.

10. Tillett, Lowell, The Great Friendship: Soviet Historians on the Non-Russian Nationalities (Chapel Hill, 1969), 331 . Maureen Perrie, “History in the Service of Patriotism: Representations of Tsarist Russia in the USSR, 1934–45” (paper, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham, 13–15June 1997).

11. Raeff, Marc, “Patterns of Russian Imperial Policy towards the Nationalities,” in Allworth, Edward, ed., Soviet Nationality Problems (New York, 1971), 30.

12. Coble, Paul, “Three Faces of Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union,” in Kupchan, Charles A., eds., Nationalism and Nationalities in the New Europe (Ithaca, 1995), 125 . See also Suny, Ronald G., The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford, 1993), 84126 ; Brubaker, Rogers, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe (Cambridge, Eng., 1996), 2353.

13. ITARR-TASS, 20 October 1992.

14. Riasanovsky, Nicholas V., “The Emergence of Eurasianism,” California Slavic Studies, no. 4 (1967): 3972 ; Charles Halperin, “Russia and the Steppe: Vernadsky, George and Eurasianism,” Forschungen zur Osteuropaeischen Geschichte, no. 36 (1985): 155–94.

15. Gumilev, Lev N., Geografiia etnosa v istoricheskii period (Leningrad, 1990).

16. See the dialogue between A. Prokhanov, the chief editor of Den'IZavtra, and A. Ianov in Literaturnaia gazeta, 2 September 1992; and Literaturnaia Rossiia, 24 July 1992, no. 31.

17. Pravda, 9 September 1992.

18. Den', 12–18 August 1992.

19. L. Drobizheva, “Etnicheskoe samosoznanie russkikh v sovremennykh usloviiakh: Ideologiia i praktika,” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1991, no. 1: 3–13.

20. Alisa Rusakova, “Dve tsivilizatsii,” Molodaia gvardiia, 1994, no. 12: 10.

21. The leader of the neo-fascist Party of Russian National Unity, Aleksandr Barkashov, as quoted in Moskovskii komsomolets, 4 August 1993.

22. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, Kak nam obustroit’ Rossiiu (Moscow, 1990).

23. Kliuchevskii, V. O., “Terminologiia russkoi istorii,” in his Sochineniia v deviati tomakh(Moscow, 1989), 6: 97.

24. Byrnes, Robert F., V. O. Kliuchevsky: Historian of Russia (Bloomington, 1995), 146–49. In contrast, Keenan, Edward L., “On Certain Mythical Beliefs and Russian Behaviors,” in Frederick Starr, S., ed., The Legacy of History and the New States of Eurasia (Armonk, N.Y., 1994), 23 , argues that it was only after the annexation of Ukraine that the claim on “Kiev heritage” penetrated official Moscow ideology.

25. Tillett, Great Friendship, 293. See also Solchanyk, Roman, “Russia, Ukraine, and the Imperial Legacy,” Post-Soviet Affairs 9, no. 4 (1993): 337–65.

26. See, for instance, Szporluk, Roman, Communism and Nationalism: Karl Marx versus Friedrich List (Oxford, 1988), 206 ; Goble, Paul, “Russia and Its Neighbors,” Foreign Policy, no. 90 (Spring 1993): 79, 81.

27. Kliuchevskii, V. O., “Kurs russkoi istorii,” in Sochineniia v deviati tomakh (Moscow, 1989), 5: 36.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid., 177–79.

30. Mendeleev, D. I., K poznaniiu Rossii (St. Petersburg, 1912), 3542.

31. Ibid, 47–48.

32. Pelenski, Jaroslaw, Russia and Kazan: Conquest and Imperial Ideology (1438–1560s) (The Hague, 1974), 117.

33. Kliuchevskii, Sochineniia v deviati tomakh, 3: 86.

34. Kseniia Mialo, “Puti vosstanovleniia Rossii i ‘evraziiskii soblazn, '” Rus’ derzhavnaia, 1994, no. 10.

35. The description of the nationalists’ platforms is based on the survey by Andrei Andreev, “Kto est’ kto v Rossiiskoi politike,” Moskva, 1995, no. 9: 145–56.

36. Kliuchevskii, Sochineniia v deviati tomakh, 3: 87–88.

37. Vladimir Pribylovskii, “A Survey of Radical Right–Wing Groups in Russia,” RFE/RL Research Report, no. 16 (1994).

38. On Baburin, see Nezavisimaia gazeta, 9 January 1992; Segodnia, 29 March 1995, 2; and Radio Moscow-1, 6 March 1995. See also Laura Belin, “Ultranationalist Parties Follow Disparate Paths,” Transition 1, no. 10 (23 June 1995): 8–12.

39. Bitsilli, P. M., “Dva lika evraziistva,” Sovremennye zapiski 31 (1927): 425.

40. Megapolis Express, 5 May 1993, 29.

41. Melvin, Neil, Russians beyond Russia: The Politics of National Identity (London, 1995); Kolstoe, P., Russians in the Former Soviet Republics (Bloomington, 1995), 276–80; Zevelev, Igor, “Russia and the Diaspora,” Post-Soviet Affairs 12, no. 3 (1996); 265–84.

42. Yanov, Alexander, The Russian New Right: Right–Wing Ideologies in the Contemporary USSR (Berkeley, 1978); Dunlop, John B., The Faces of Contemporary Russian Nationalism (Princeton, 1983); and Dunlop, John B., The Rise of Russia and the Fall of the Soviet Empire (Princeton, 1993). See also Rakowska–Harmstone, Teresa, “Chickens Coming Home to Roost: A Perspective on Soviet Ethnic Relations, 'Journal of International Affairs 45, no. 2 (Winter 1992): 539–40.

43. Darrell P. Hammer, “The Challenge of the Russophile Ideology,” and Swoboda, Victor, “Prospects for Soviet Slavs in Conditions Favorable to the Establishment of National Freedom,” both in Shtromas, Alexander and Kaplan, Morton A., eds., The Soviet Union and the Challenge of the Future (New York, 1989), 3: 161–75, 3: 396–438. Swoboda demonstrates that those nationalists who argued that it was not in the Russians’ interest to maintain the empire were nevertheless against the secession of the Slavic republics of Ukraine and Belarus.

44. Rahr, Alexander, “Russia,” in Tolz, Vera and Elliot, Iain, eds., The Demise of the USSR: From Communism to Independence (London, 1995), 108–9.

45. S. A. Karaganov, “Problemy zashchity interesov rossiisko-orientirovannogo naseleniia v ‘blizhnem’ zarubezh'e,” Diplomaticheskii vestnik, 15–30 November 1992, no. 21–22: 43–45; Rossiiskie vesti, 27 February 1993, 2; and 5 June 1993, 4.

46. Kabuzan, V., Russkie v mire. Dinamika chislennosti i rasseleniia (1719–1980): Formirovanie etnicheskikh i politicheskikh granits russkogo naroda (St. Petersburg, 1996), 218.

47. Mialo, “Puti vosstanovleniia Rossii,” and Ksenia Mialo, “Vyzov istorii: Russkie i XXI vek,” Rossiia XXI, 1995, no. 7–9.

48. Kabuzan, Russkie v mire, 33.

49. Kuzio, Taras, “National Identity and Foreign Policy: The East Slavic Conundrum,” in Kuzio, Taras, ed., Independent Ukraine: Nation–State Building, Political and Economic Reform (Armonk, N.Y., forthcoming).

50. Laba, Roman, “How Yeltsin's Exploitation of Ethnic Nationalism Brought Down an Empire,” Transition 2, no. 1 (12 January 1996).

51. Beissinger, Mark R., “The Persisting Ambiguity of Empire,” Post–Soviet Affairs 11, no. 2 (1995): 167–80.

52. Ziuganov, G. A., Za gorizontom (Moscow, 1995), 38 and 44.

53. Ibid., 42.

54. Nezavisimaia gazeta, 16 March 1996, 2.

55. Nezavisimaia gazeta, 1 March 1996, 1.

56. Lebed', Aleksandr, Za derzhavu obidno (Kirov, 1995).

57. Markus, Ustina, “Foreign Policy as a Security Tool,” Transition 1, no. 13 (28 July 1995): 1217 . The Russian-Ukrainian treaty, in which Russia recognized Ukraine's territorial integrity, was finally signed on 31 May 1997.

58. Aleksandr Rahr, “The First Year of Russian Independence,” in Tolz and Elliot, eds., Demise of the USSR, 270.

59. Lapkin, Vladimir, “Rossiia protiv Lukashenko,” Moskovskie novosti, 18–26 May 1997, no.20: 7 , and Izvestiia, 24 May 1997.

60. Miller, A. I., “Obrazy Ukrainy i Ukraintsev v Rossiiskoi presse posle raspada SSSR,” Polis, 1996, no. 2: 130–35.

61. Moskva, 1995, no. 9. There are two main authorities in Russian historiography for Ziuganov. These are Stalin, who reinstated “several pages of authentic Russian history,” and Danilevskii.

62. Nezavisimaia gazeta, 15 December 1995, 2.

63. Melvin, Russians beyond Russia, 24.

64. Natalia Konstantinova, “Problemy reshaiutsia sovmestnymi usiliiami,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 31 October 1995, 3.

65. Melvin, Russians beyond Russia, 93.

66. As quoted in Vladimir Mukomel', “Kto–to predpochetaet Sovetskii Soiuz, a kto–to Rossiiskuiu imperiiu,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 15 December 1995.

67. Valerii Galenko, “Nuzhny novye formy pokrovitel'stva etnicheskim rossiianam,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 11 November 1995, 3.

68. Quoted by Svetlana Sukhova, “Belovezhskie vospominaniia,” Kommersant–daily, 28 February 1996, 3.

69. A. Andreev, “Kto est’ kto v Rossiiskoi politike,” and Mialo, “Vyzov istorii. “

70. Quoted by Stephen White in The Times Higher Educational Supplement, 1 November 1996, 16–17.

71. I. M. Kliamkin and V. V. Lapkin, “Russkii vopros v Rossii” (part 1), Polis, 1995, no. 5: 80. The polls were conducted in Moscow and eighteen regions of the Russian Federation.

72. Kutkovets, T. and Kliamkin, I., “Postsovetskii chelovek,” Informatsionno–analitecheskii biulleten’ (Moscow, 1997), no. 1–2 .

73. I. M. Kliamkin and V. V. Lapkin, “Russkii vopros v Rossii” (part 2), Polis, 1996, no. 1: 79.

74. Ibid., 81.

75. Kliamkin and Lapkin, “Russkii vopros v Rossii” (part 1), 80.

76. Ibid., 94.

77. Ibid., 87.

78. Ibid., 94 and 96.

79. Kliamkin, Igor’, “Russian Statehood, the CIS and the Problem of Security,” in Aron, Leon and Jensen, Kenneth M., eds., The Emergence of Russian Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C., 1994), 1112 ; and Argumenty i fakty, July 1997, no. 27. The author would like to thank Taras Kuzio for these references.

80. Lapkin, “Rossiia protiv Lukashenko,” 7, and Argumenty i fakty, July 1997, no. 27.

81. Russkie v novom zarubezh'e: Programma etnosotsiologicheskikh issledovanii (Moscow, 1994), 125. See also David D. Laitin, Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Nationality in Estonia and Bashkortostan (Glasgow, 1995).

82. The study was carried out by the Institute of Sociology in Kiev and the Kiev based Democratic Initiative in June 1995. Quoted in Kuzio, Taras, “National Identity in Independent Ukraine: An Identity in Transition,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 2, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 600 and 603.

83. Quoted by Melvin, Russians beyond Russia, 169n69.

84. Kutkovets and Kliamkin, “Postsovetskii chelovek. “

85. This is, for instance, the view of Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed, 139–40.

86. Rogers Brubaker's argument about “a secular decline in the ‘material’ significance of territory” in the post–World War II period is also valid. Ibid., 140.

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